Shut Up About Keywords

Forgive the rudeness, but I’m at my wit’s end.

Stop talking about keywords. They don’t matter.

Well, that’s not strictly true. They matter in some ways. They matter from a research perspective, still; if you’re growing your business abroad, for example, you might be able to gauge priorities from search volumes. You can still – for now, at least – find out what people are actually searching for, which is certainly a valuable asset (remember when we had to, like, ask people?!) But that’s about it. If you’re still clinging onto keywords as the crux of your SEO strategy, here’s why you need to stop:

Google Understands Language

Seriously. I work for a translation agency, so I know that Google Translate has a long way to go before it competes with real people, but I would argue that Google’s understanding of linguistics and word usage is probably the most sophisticated of any non-biological entity in the world. It certainly understands synonyms. But it also understands relevance, and intent, and pragmatics.

Quick, put the keyword on the page three times! Shoehorn it in! Stick it in a thesaurus and get two exact synonyms in there too!

No.

Write your page’s content for real people with a background knowledge of your keyword. Get it in there somewhere, if it sounds natural. If it doesn’t sound natural, change it a bit. It’d be cool if it goes in the title. Doesn’t go in the title? Get a word in there! Two, if you can! But treat it like a marketing exercise with a keyword consideration; not a keyword exercise with a marketing aspect.

See, you might just be able to cling onto this cliff right now, but it’s eroding. In a year’s time, you’re going to look an idiot when Google is way more intelligent about recognizing on-page over-optimization.

Anchor Text Is Dead

Or dying. Over-optimization penalties are becoming more and more prevalent. Does your link portfolio contain thousands of links with optimized anchor text? That looks strange. Naturally, it’s going to include a few click here s and more than a few instances of your URL. So every time you decide to build some links (you shouldn’t be building anyway, you should be earning) with really targeted anchor text, you’re hurting yourself now and you’re hurting yourself even more further down the line.

Co-Citation

Google understands the Internet. I mean, duh. And it knows what it means to be mentioned around words, around other brand names, alongside links to authoritative sites. Read your keyword research. Understand what your audience is searching for. And then sit down with this knowledge and write. If you’re any good, the keywords will naturally find their way in somewhere. Don’t go and screw it up by placing an ugly, stuttering, out-of-place link on it.

Care About More Than Data

It makes me sound like a hippie every time I say this, but SEO is becoming much less of a numbers job than it used to be. Your key skill as an SEO now is communication, and you don’t need to jeopardize that for anybody.

Shut up about keywords. Shut up about link profiles. Bear these things in mind but focus your efforts on tailoring your systems to be best-practice ready. Instead of spending time making sure you’ve got a link profile where 30% of your anchor text is optimized, set up a system that naturally arrives at that number.

It’s kind of like the target culture of hospitals. If you want waiting times to be lower, what’s the best option? Set a target of lower waiting times, or improve efficiency and quality of care so that waiting times, y’know, get lower?

Exactly.

So shut up about keywords.