Why Keywords Still Matter

by Alan Eggleston

“Keywords are dead,” scream the headlines. If you believe the screamers, keywords went the way of the buggy whip and the BetaMax. Not so, and I’ll tell you why.

Photo: Phillip Stewart, creative commons license.

Photo: Phillip Stewart on Flickr, Creative Commons license.

At the heart of every search is a keyword. Or a couple of keywords. Or a string of keywords. But even at the heart of a keyword string is still a keyword. Every search begins with a kernel concept of what the searcher is looking for – the keyword, even if someone searches in the form of a question or asks by voice instead of by keyboard. “Restaurant.” “Chevrolet.” “Tacos.” “Book.” The search widens as the topic narrows to “a” restaurant or “a model” of Chevrolet or “a kind of” taco, so the keyword string better defines the search. It may be a universal search or the string may localize.

As a content provider, you still need to decide the overarching keyword and keyword string that defines your content. Then you need to optimize your page for it so – whether as a couple of keywords or a string or a question – a searcher can find your page. That should form the basis of your page title, meta description, H1 headline, some anchor text for links, and so on. More on meta tags in a moment…

Google would say, you write the content and we will decide the keyword string and where you place in any particular search in meeting that searcher’s needs. Content providers have been so concerned with making a top ranking, they have kept trying to rig the system to rank instead of trying to provide great content. The result is Google Hummingbird. Today, Hummingbird simplifies the search by looking at your content and finding nuance for the keyword string. But even with that nuance added in, you still need to begin with the keyword and keyword string. Working diligently with keywords gives you control of your content – not working with them gives the control over to your competitors.

What Do I Mean, “Optimize” for the Keyword?

What does it mean to optimize the page for your keyword? Well, for one thing, it doesn’t mean repeating the same keyword over and over again – keyword stuffing. That doesn’t work anymore. It means creating content that better defines what you mean when you write about that keyword. It means varying the words you use in your content to establish the nuance that supports the meaning behind your keyword. It means building links and anchor text that also add nuance through connecting to meaningful content – on your site and off-site.

So, what is different for keywords since the introduction of Hummingbird? Not much, it turns out. It is much harder to simply stuff a page with keywords, especially since Google killed off its free keyword tool and keyword reporting program. However, it hasn’t reduced your need as a publisher, editor, or writer to know your audience and reader and vary your keyword vocabulary. Google does offer the keyword planning tool as part of its AdWords program, and it allows you to use it free even if you don’t advertise (it says). And there are keyword tools on Bing and Yahoo, which are just as useful for defining keyword use. Furthermore, there are other “free” keyword tools (also this one and this one), meaning you get to use them free for a limited time – so use them wisely and use them sparingly.

How to Plan for Keywords

How would I plan for keywords today in the Hummingbird era? I would still plan pages around a keyword as before, but instead of amping up one keyword I would create nuance for it building quality content and quality links with useful synonymous keyword derivatives. For instance, if my site was about Chevrolets, I’d build in content about the Chevy, the Malibu, the Cavalier, the Impala, the sedan, the SUV, the car, the automobile, and so on. I would have a content-rich site that included not just sell copy about what’s on my lot and the service department, but also about the dealership, the company, GM, and the history of the brand. I’d also link to Chevy enthusiast groups and have a blog and keyword-rich social media links. Finally, I would have an FAQ page that addressed questions people might ask online trying to find my site.

How to Use Keywords in Anchor Text

A few words about keywords in link anchor text: Google has said it will penalize for using only keywords in links. They want you to vary the anchor text for links. For example, instead of always using “Google” as the anchor text for a link to the Google site, they’d like you to use more generalized words like “search engine” or “leader in search” or “did a search on such and such” or whatever words would fit the context of the link. The same would go for your site – also for link URLs. Don’t always use the home page of a site – go deeper into the site. Instead of www.google.com, go for www.google.com/about for instance, depending on the context.

How to Use Keywords in Meta Tags

I’ve heard suggestions that to optimize for Hummingbird you should write page titles as statements. I’m not sold on that. A page title functions much as a subject heading in your local library book catalog. The page title is where the keyword is very important and that the root keyword needs to stick out. Everything else has to build the nuance around it. Furthermore, search engines limit the number of words/characters you can have in a page title, so you shouldn’t waste those limited elements on useless statement words. I would focus on the keyword in the page title, then work with some nuanced keywords in the meta description, headlines, and especially in the body text and links. The meta description needs to be a statement but also has a word or character limit (I have found success with a 150 character and spaces limit) – again, be efficient with keywords and nuance-building words.

So, do keywords still matter? They sure do!

Are they harder to work with? Most likely, but even so you’re going to get more bang for your search if you don’t panic and optimize efficiently.

Will Google change the game again? Of course! But that’s what makes our work so interesting.


Vonnegut Editing Tool May Be Useful for Online Stories

Editing Tools for Web Editors

To celebrate National Novel Editing Month, Media Bistro’s GalleyCat reprinted a writing tool that novelist Kurt Vonnegut introduced during a New York City lecture. If you as a web editor work with fiction writers, the Vonnegut Story Grid may be a helpful tool for plotting a story. This article also leads to a blog by Derek Sivers, who reproduced a series of story grids by Vonnegut.

What other kinds of tools do you use to work with writers for editing stories? How might you use this one?

Introducing — Us!

Welcome to the Web Editors blog!

Beginning today, a group of very talented writers and editors, who are responsible for a great deal of the content across some of the web’s most influential sites, will introduce themselves and begin to educate and inform both the public and our colleagues of just what a web editor does, can do, should do and might consider doing, all based on our experiences within this profession.

The writers you will encounter are all currently from the Web Editors group on LinkedIn. Someone posted within one of the many discussions that there was not really a good blog resource available for the profession of web editors (Thank you Jonathan Reid!), and the idea to begin a Web Editors blog was afoot.

So over the next few weeks you will meet us, and learn how we came into this fine profession, and then a little bit about what each of us will be writing in our next post.

Web Editor: Cathy Hodson
As for me, I am Cathy Hodson. I began my career as an English teacher in a small town’s high school, then went back to suburbia to work in publishing as a writer and editor of engineering and manufacturing trade magazines for a little over a dozen years.

I was happily working as a writer and editor on an environmental engineering magazine, when the young woman who had been our web editor left the company. I had been feeding her product releases to add to our website, and as someone who had always drooled over technology and the latest gizmos, I threw my hat in the ring for her job. How hard could it be?

Still, I was surprised I got the job, having no experience as a web person at all. I didn’t know a stitch of HTML, what an authoring program was, or how the information that needed to get up on the website got there. I found out quickly that it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park, but it was terribly intriguing and what I learned that first year from some very patient colleagues has made my job exciting, thrilling and incredibly fun to this day.

Part of the thrill comes from the immediacy of the Internet. While a print article can take anywhere from 3-6 months to see publication, you can write something today and it will be on the Internet within a matter of seconds. Some say that’s also the problem with the Internet, but I prefer to think that the work of a professional and someone who cares a great deal for quality content, still rises to the top.

We hope you will continue to check back as our blog continues to grow. Some of us will be writing monthly, others semi-monthly, but hopefully over time you will get to know us and what we are passionate about.

My next post will be in mid-March, and I will be writing about managing a large website. In the meantime, tomorrow you will hear from Web Editor Alan Eggleston about how much of a geek you need to be to join the Web Editor profession. Stay tuned, and welcome!