When you’re planning your SEO strategy, keywords matter less than they used to—and that’s good news for marketers.
The new way forward lets you build content off of broader concepts and use keywords in a supporting role, which will come as a huge relief to anyone who has spent hours poring through search terms in the Google Keyword Planner.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. We’re well overdue for the days when borderline shady keyword tactics can take a backseat to generating good content based off of the right concepts.
But how can you navigate this new reality effectively, without forgetting how to use keywords along the way?
Keywords vs. concepts
It wasn’t long ago that ranking for a particular term meant stuffing your article full of related keywords, whether readability suffered in the process or not.
Google has slowly but surely eroded the value of these tactics over the last couple of years through better recognition of the intent behind searches. In response, savvy content marketers have moved into building articles around a small handful of focus keywords while trying to deliver truly valuable content. Still, even though most of us recognize that building content around a topic readers care about is priority number one, sometimes old habits die hard.
How many of us have seen an awkward term like “how I make orange soda” getting better traffic than “how to make orange soda” and sacrificed the English language at the altar of traffic? How many of us have strained to get that keyword in?
Given how much credibility you stand to lose with those tactics, it’s little wonder that many of us have been seeking a balance between concepts and keywords for a long time now. And that day is here.
Why concepts rule
As HubSpot puts it bluntly, the average business’s SEO problem isn’t an SEO problem at all. It’s a content problem.
Too often, we start backwards when we’re planning new content. Instead of starting from a useful, broad topic and developing it alongside some smart keyword research, we find a high-value keyword and build, say, a blog post.
That’s how you end up with “Broken Soda Maker What Do I Do: A Guide” instead of “A Guide to Fixing Your Broken Soda Maker.” We’re creating content that the Keyword Planner tells us ought to be relevant to searches. But our post winds up written and framed in such a way that very few people in our audience will find it useful.
The specifics of a search should matter less than the intent. But intent has historically been the most difficult thing for search engines to figure out. If you write a smart piece of content about making your own soda that people want to read, Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and the rest would ideally get that in front of your audience ahead of an overstuffed listicle.
As marketers have gotten serious about making content valuable for readers, and search engines (with their loads of behavioral data) have gotten serious about relevance, it’s logical that someone searching for a topic of interest like soda makers should be connected with content that matters to them based on what they’ve browsed and searched for in the past. That should be (and will eventually be) true even if they put in a very general term, which is why you should start from the concept level and drill down from there.
Of course, you need to still drill down further into a specific topic in your post, which is why…
The value of keywords today
Keywords will always remain useful ways for you to organize your content and tighten your focus within a particular product. And they’re still a valuable way to capture searchers looking for something very specific.
For example, you can reasonably infer that a searcher looking for “best cheap soda maker” is ready to buy and looking for guidance on a reasonably-priced, quality product. Including that term in your article about why your soda maker fits that criteria is a tactical way to go about earning search traffic.
Smart sites, like Kissmetrics, will tell you that technical SEO work is not the major driver of digital success in 2016, and with good reason. Fretting over your meta descriptions is an entirely different thing than including relevant, high-value long tail keywords in your blog content.
That said, don’t let that dissuade you from doing your usual research. You’re still competing against the 90% of companies using content marketing, and you don’t want to get beaten at your own game by someone who has the definitive series of guides to making your own grape soda.
Ultimately, the reader wins when you’re not cramming keywords into your post and focusing on broader, relevant concepts above all else. And when the reader wins, you win. Just start from a high-level topic and work your way down. Figure out what you want to talk about, then find the terms searchers are using to have that conversation.