Tag Archives: SEO

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!


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.


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?


So shut up about keywords.


Imagine that the Internet is a planet, and that every website is a plot of land. Now, imagine that your business owns a plot of land in the UK, but that you also want to establish a small building on a plot of land in Algeria. You think that if you can build an outpost in Algeria, people in Algeria will think you’re great. Imagine that you go to Algeria and walk onto a plot of land which is owned by an Algerian farmer, and begin to build your outpost without his permission. Imagine that he gets angry and punches you. Then imagine that the police show up.


This is the rough, stupid end of link-building – the dregs of grey- and black-hat SEO. But the analogy of trespassing and constructing without permission serves its purpose; we can no longer think of link-building as something carried out by an individual for their personal gain. It is, at the very least, a joint venture between two people who own plots of land. I’d go as far as to say that there’s a third party whose participation, or at least consent, we need: the reader.

So what was, for a brief blip, a matter of cunning and guile, suddenly looks an awful lot like traditional marketing. For instance:

  1. We need to be aware of, and sensitive to, the business objectives of others. If a potential partner’s success is reliant upon their credibility, we need to fact-check anything we contribute three times over.
  2. It takes time to build a relationship with trust and understanding. This is not a flash-in-the-pan exercise; a couple of quick emails back and forth will not bring about the kind of partnership we need.
  3. An introduction from a mutual colleague, friend or acquaintance will help us to work better together, as will a face-to-face meeting, or at least a conversation on the phone. When the audience is involved in our thinking, we can’t cut corners on message.
  4. We need to recognise the limitations and be restrained in our co-operation. If two companies support each other all the time, it looks strange to real humans and it looks strange to search engines. What’s newsworthy or interesting is newsworthy or interesting. What isn’t, isn’t.

This is revolutionary and probably terrifying for the technology companies that have grown and made SEO their domain: an industry notorious for its lack of charisma has suddenly been asked to suit up, shave, and learn to talk to real people about real opportunities for collaboration.

Credit: Aidan Jones

Credit: Aidan Jones

Most or many of them won’t clean up their act, or at least not until it’s too late. Some will be incapable, and others will be unwilling. But the writing is on the wall: the people who will succeed in marketing their websites are the people who know how to talk, how to make deals, how to spot opportunities and how to appeal to their market.

Proper businesses, then.