The Dos and Don’ts of Keywords

By Ashley Orndorff, aka Marketing Geek dos and don'ts of keywords a beginner's guide

Keywords are often considered the building blocks of SEO.

When users search for topics in search engines, keywords build their queries. Websites that are highly visible for keywords relevant to their business tend to attract more traffic – and deliver more results – for their associated businesses.

In the early days of SEO, keyword density was what mattered to the performance of your website. Whichever website had the most instances of a keyword on a page, and the most backlinks containing that keyword, shot to the top of the SERPs (search engine results pages). As search engines evolved and these tactics became widespread spam, everything changed.

Success in SEO was no longer about who had the most mentions of a keyword or the most links – but who had the best user experience and quality. Even with all the evolutions and updates since, SEO remains all about user experience and quality.

So, where do keywords fit in?

Instead of focusing narrowly on a specific keyword, you have to expand to broader topics and related terms to build context. Good keyword research still matters. It will help you identify the way people are searching for your topic and any related keywords that add context to the content you’re writing. Here are some dos and don’ts of keywords to help you out:

6 Dos of Keywords

Here are a few things to do and keep in mind as you approach keyword research and content for your website:

1. Focus on Searcher Intent

Good keyword research should be about more than relevancy, search volume, and competition levels. It should be about searcher intent. This will help you develop content to better serve your users and meet their needs. And, this is one of the biggest reasons why keyword research is important.

You want to make sure that the topics you’re targeting are relevant to your business and your bottom line. You also want to ensure whatever content you are providing actually aligns with what users need. Someone who is searching for a how-to guide is expecting to find just that – not a sales pitch with no actual instructions.

Matching searcher intent with your content helps improve user experience. If your content matches a user’s intent, meets their expectations, and provides real value to them, they are less likely to bounce back to the search results to look for something else. Instead, they’ll stay on your website, engage with your content, and show search engines that you are the relevant source for their query.

2. Think Context, Not Keywords

Since Google’s 2013 release of the Hummingbird algorithm update, context has become more and more important. With semantic search, voice search, context-based queries, and machine learning, the context of your content is more important than individual keywords.

About 15% of the trillions of searches Google processes every year have never been searched before. The context of your pages will help search engines determine relevancy for these and other queries. Yes, individual keywords are still involved and are still important. However, the way you approach keywords is different.

3. Pillar Content and Topic Clusters

To rise above the noise, you need to start thinking, researching, and writing in topics and supporting concepts. This approach is often referred to as pillar content and topic clusters. Your pillar content, or pillar page, typically refers to the broad categories you’re focusing on.

The topic clusters refer to the related and supporting concepts. When you are planning content around this structure, a pillar page might be related to one of your service categories, while topic clusters may be content related to individual services under that category.

Using MIND as an example, SEO is one of our service categories. To employ this approach on our blog, we have an SEO Best Practices Guide, which serves as a pillar content piece. Since the post you’re currently reading is about keywords, a subject related to SEO and a supporting concept within it, it is considered a topic cluster for the SEO pillar content.

As you continue to build out content, you can, of course, get more and more in-depth and granular as you continue to meet the needs of your users. These would be considered subtopics to your topic clusters. Starting out with pillar content and topic clusters in mind helps you build context across your website more easily. Not only that, but it also structures your content in a way that makes the most sense for users, which also tends to structure it well for search engines crawlers too.

4. Cornerstone Content

In addition to pillar content and topic clusters, there is also cornerstone content. Cornerstone content refers to the content pieces you are the proudest of. These are the in-depth articles that are informative, well-written, and best reflect your business. Due to its informative nature, pillar content done right is often also cornerstone content.

5. Make Quality Your Goal

Above all, your goal with content should be quality. Beyond that, whatever keyword research you do to expand or optimize that content should also be focused on improving that quality. If you’re not going to put the effort into producing quality content, you may as well not make it at all. Low-quality content is one of the SEO mistakes to avoid; anything less than high quality can hurt you.

6. Write Real Content for Real People

Most importantly, make sure you write real content for real people. Buyer personas, which are fictional representations of your ideal customers, can help you. Good buyer personas paired with good keyword research will give you a great idea of what topics your customers are interested in.

Even further, you’ll be able to determine how they search for and talk about them too. This is one of the tips for writing an effective blog post for your business.

4 Don’ts of Keywords

Whether outdated, strictly forbidden, or just lazy, these are a few things you should not do when it comes to keywords:

1. Stay Away From Hidden Keywords

Hidden keywords, or invisible text, refers to content that is visible to search engine crawlers but not to human visitors. In the past, adding keyword-rich content to a page and hiding it was a spam tactic used to try and scam search engines into thinking a page was more relevant than it actually was.

People who used this tactic thought this would increase their keyword density, add content to the page, and result in search engines giving their page more authority. In the early days of SEO, this may have given a boost. Now, it’ll just get you penalized.

2. Run From Keyword Stuffing

Many years ago, keyword density would determine the relevancy of a page in search engines for a specific keyword. The page with the most mentions of a keyword won. Now, stuffing your content with keywords is considered a spam tactic and it will hurt you.

Using this spam tactic, a short paragraph about apples might end up looking like this:

“Apples are delicious. Red apples, green apples, yellow apples, and more varieties of apples. There are tons of apples to choose from when you are looking for apples. Plus, apples make delicious apple snacks, like apple pie, apple cookies, apple strudel, or just apple slices! Apples, apples, apples – they’re the best!”

It’s true, this is not great writing. But, keyword stuffing was never about great writing – it was about fitting your keyword in as much as possible. Oftentimes, people using this tactic wouldn’t even try to hide it in sentences; they would just repeat the keyword and its variations in a list.

Avoid keyword stuffing your meta descriptions, as well. Use one or two, but refrain from any more than that. Using keywords in your meta descriptions is just one of the steps in writing meta descriptions.

It doesn’t make for useful content or a good user experience. If you’re writing content for your users, providing value and a good user experience should be at the top of your list. Yes, you do want to mention keywords related to the topic of your content. However, you do not want to go overboard.

3. Do Not Skimp on Quality

When it comes to search engines, quality wins. If you’re not putting out quality content, you may as well not be making it at all. It’s easy to churn out several 150 to 300-word articles about nothing. Though you may see some traffic increase to your site because you’re publishing content, it won’t last or continue growing over time.

Plus, the more low-quality content you publish, the more likely you are to be devalued in search engines. Users are not interested in poor quality. Poor quality does not help them, so it is irrelevant. Users and search engines do not care about irrelevant websites – end of story.

Furthermore, mediocre or even “pretty good” content won’t cut it. With millions of blog posts published daily, the content landscape is ridiculously competitive. If you want your content to stand out, it needs to be the best. At the very least, it needs to be good enough to compete.

4. Avoid Focusing Too Broadly or Narrowly

Doing keyword research right is one of the best ways to get your content noticed. When you are researching and evaluating keywords, you can’t just cast out a huge net and work with whatever is there without narrowing it down.

If your keyword research is too broad, your content will usually end up too broad as well. You may end up focusing on things that are far too competitive. Then, whatever traffic you do attract could be irrelevant because your content doesn’t provide enough context for a specific topic.

On the other hand, you can’t put on blinders and miss the big picture either. Focusing too much on specific, long-tail keywords may be great for a subtopic content piece addressing a very specific question, especially if it’s relevant and important to your target audience.

However, only focusing on long-tail keywords often causes you to miss out on a lot of potential. When your content is so hyperfocused, it’s only providing context for very specific, low-volume keywords, which can make it irrelevant for broader keywords that are related to your topic.

When you’re evaluating keywords during your research, try to strike a balance between search volume and competition. And remember, individual keywords aren’t the goal – context is.

Create the Best Content You Can

With so much content published daily, you need to focus on creating the best content you can to stand out. Doing that means focusing on content that serves your readers and provides them with real value. You can’t do that if you misuse keywords or let yourself become too boxed in by them.

Contact us for a meeting with the MINDs and learn how to take your SEO to the next level with content written for your users!

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