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Keywords and SEO in 2013

Monday, September 16th, 2013 by Emily Mace

SEOOver the course of the last few months we’ve talked a lot about how we in SEO use keywords and how this has changed in 2013. Then, on Friday I went to Brighton SEO, which was an interesting eye opener. I saw how this is a universal thing with people from all corners talking about how Google has moved the goal posts and how the old approach to keywords should change as a result.

How keywords used to work

When I first started at Vertical Leap (some five and a half years ago), we all used keywords in the same kind of way: a campaign would have 20 or so keywords selected for it and these would be the sole focus of our optimisation work. This was how I’d worked in previous guises and how we worked here.  In operating this way, we were able to achieve real results for people for a select number of short tail keywords, which were the target of their business plan.  For example, we would go after the term ‘life insurance’.

As a result of this, a large number of keywords outside the main list we were focussed on would gain rankings and visibility in the search engines as well. This meant that the clients had traffic to both the hero terms and other search phrases which helped deliver traffic, as well as the conversions people wanted to see on their site.

What’s changed?

As many of you know, Google has changed a lot in its algorithm over the last couple of years and many of these changes have affected how sites are seen by the search engine, as well as their ranking.

Panda has targeted sites which are seen by Google to offer low quality content, aimed at reducing spam in the search results.  As a result of this, many sites have seen their overall rankings drop off

Penguin targeted sites which have low quality links pointing to them. This affected both sites which previously performed link building but also – in some cases – sites which had been victim to scrapers copying their content, which created a large number of links back to their site.

Anchor texts have also become something which Google heavily monitors with the Penguin update. Previously, getting some links to your site with your ‘life insurance’ keyword could help increase rankings, but this is less likely to work now. This kind of linking can be seen as unnatural and not how a real link might be tagged in Google’s eyes. This means the old quick win of building a couple of links and getting a ranking which we used to see now no longer works.

One of the core results of the recent changes is that focussing on a short list of keywords for a site will now result in less rankings for these terms, as the more work you put into a handful of terms, the less likely you are to rank for them. Now, working on a wider range of terms delivers better results, but more of that later.

Both of the most recent updates have made the visibility of brand websites more pronounced.  Increasingly, for a wide range of terms, the top results visible in Google are branded sites. This is something which started some years ago when Google seemingly preferred the branded sites over their non-branded counterparts.

Another big change is how people search. As the world becomes more web savvy and more people search using mobile devices, the syntax we use when searching has evolved. People are more likely to search using longer phrases and to ask questions rather than just search for ‘life insurance’. Part of this is human nature; we are more likely to ask someone a question like ‘do you know a good place to get life insurance?’ rather than just say ‘life insurance’.

Evidence shows that longer keywords which contain more specific searches are more likely to convert, as these come from people nearer to the end of their buying cycle who have refined their search to be more specific.

How keywords work now

As a result of these changes, the ways in which keywords perform and how they are used (by both Google and people searching shorter terms like ‘life insurance’) do not hold the same benefits. You can no longer add a couple of title tags, a nice targeted keyword and build a couple of exact match anchor texts to see an increase in rankings.

Chasing the hero keywords in this way will not result in many rankings for websites in this new world and, as the evidence shows that more traffic and conversions come from the more specific keywords rather than short terms like ‘life insurance’, this change couldn’t have come at a better time.

To get the best results from your website, the change in tide has meant that we have to change how we view and use keywords.

Using a broader list of more specific rather than hero short keywords like ‘life insurance’ can help you get better search visibility in the search engines. This can then lead to more visits and conversions, rather than focussing all your attention on keywords where the first two pages of results are branded websites.

Using more specific keywords gives you a much broader set of search terms to work with, meaning you are less likely to overuse a keyword and can also focus on a wider range of phrases in the content you are creating. This means you are less likely to be seen as providing spammy content and can look more at how to type pages which answer questions people are searching for in Google.  Rather than created lots of keyword focussed pages for terms like ‘life insurance’ which would look spammy, you are now able to create pages which will help visitors by answering specific questions, which in turn creates more content for the keywords which will drive more qualified traffic to your site.

Don’t get fixated on a short list of keywords which are more for vanity. Instead, consider all the terms which could be driving traffic to your site, then you will see better rankings, more visits and more conversions.

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About the author

Emily Mace

Emily Mace

Emily joined Vertical Leap in 2008 and is now the Senior SEO Campaign Delivery Manager. Emily previously worked in training, IT Support, Website development as well as SEO and worked for local Government departments and Tourism South East. Emily gained Google Analytics Individual Qualification in 2011, and regularly blogs on the technical aspects of SEO, sharing her expertise with our readers. Follow on Google+