Understanding the keywords used by your target audience is the basis of internet marketing success. But talking to one of my digital marketing agency customers, it’s clear there’s a lot of confusion in the online copywriter camp about what to do and what not to do.
You need an online copywriter who knows the key term basics
If you want your site to be visible to a specific target market with a specific set of needs, it’s vital to grasp the whole keyword thing or at least have a decent understanding of the basics. Your online copywriter needs to know where and how to use the key terms you’ve chosen to the best effect.
First, lets look at keyword mapping, which means associating the terms you’ve identified with relevant pages or other digital assets on your site.
Compiling lists of terms your audience is likely to use, collating them into themes and associating each with a page, suite of pages, blog post or whatever, helps you identify areas where more content is needed to support search engine indexation for those terms. The process can also identify gaps in your current key term coverage, via gap analysis, and highlight where you need to create extra content people will appreciate.
Once your key terms have been mapped, it’s important to use the terms the right way. It’s easy to over-cook it, so here are some simple guidelines.
1. One or more primary, topic-defining key terms should be identified, and the primary one used:
- At the beginning of the page title
- In the top level <h1> heading of the page
- At least once in the copy, ideally within the first paragraph
- In copy associated with backlinks to the page
- As anchor text in onsite links to the page
- In social promotion of the page
2. Associated and synonym terms should be used throughout the copy and potentially associated with backlinks to the page, for example in press releases, guest posts, tweets and so on.
3. Copy should NEVER be stuffed full of key terms. If the volume of the copy naturally supports just a few relevant key terms, that is exactly what you should do. Over-egg it at your peril!
4. It’s no good focusing all your organic search promotion efforts on a limited collection of generic keywords. While it used to work, in a fiercely competitive landscape it isn’t a viable SEO strategy. Google’s algorithms and quality evaluation processes are clever enough these days to identify tactics used to promote rankings for specific, high-value search queries. If they detect it, it’s highly likely your rankings will be suppressed. They might even apply a penalty.
5. It is far more sensible to develop lists of thematically related long-tail terms and adopt a content-centred approach. Your aim is to add genuine value and create useful, relevant site content that visitors will love. Which is exactly the approach Google encourages site owners to take.
Here are some basic guidelines for keyword use
- target two main keywords per page maximum
- the primary keyword should always be the first term in the page title
- the primary keyword should be included in the <h1> heading of the page
- images on the page should include relevant terms in their ALT text where appropriate
- ideally the primary keyword should be included in the page URL, too
- onsite navigation links should use relevant keywords as anchor text
- text content should contain keywords and synonyms without being stuffed
- content should be unique, relevant, recognised as genuinely valuable
When you use your primary keywords appropriately and the topic of the page is reinforced by the dominant page content, Google should clearly associate your page with its topic-defining keywords. Which is what you want.
Head terms versus long tail terms
It makes sense these days to forget competing for head terms, the top level key terms that are almost always ridiculously competitive and a real challenge to rank for. An example? Say you’re an insurer. You might think you want to rank for the term ‘motor insurance’. But every other bugger and his dog are competing for it. And anyway, conversion isn’t that good.
If you want to spend less time, effort and cash as well as converting more visitors to paying customers, it makes a lot more sense to choose longer tail key terms. You might identify ‘buy fully comp motor insurance’ as a good one to go for. OK, fewer people might search for it in the first place. But the visitors you get are more likely to buy from you, simply because they’re closer to a buying decision, as evidenced by them searching for a term including the word ‘buy’.
About Moz.com Metrics
Getting to grips with keyword difficulty helps you choose which terms to focus on. It looks at competition, ie. how many pages have already been indexed by a search engine for the query. It examines authority, in other words the ranking strength of a page based on incoming links and the site’s domain authority, a measure based on quantity and quality. And it looks at relevance, ie. how well the ranking webpages match people’s specific search queries, looking at on-page ranking factors like keyword presence.
Having a good idea of the strength of the pages that already rank well in your sector puts you in a better position to choose key terms that are worth optimising your site for, as well as helping you determine keyword difficulty.
- the Page Authority metric reveals how well a web page is likely to rank in Google’s search results using a logarithmic scale from 0 to 100
- the Domain Authority metric predicts how well a website is likely to perform in Google’s organic search rankings. Like Page Authority, it uses a logarithmic scale from 0 to 100
- MozRank is a link popularity score reflecting the importance of a web page based on the number and quality of links to it. It also uses a logarithmic scale 0 to 10
- MozTrust is a global link trust score. Links from authoritative home pages like university and government sites tend to convey a high level of trust. The closer a page is to such link sources, in terms of links, the higher its MozTrust score, expressed as a logarithmic scale between 0 and 10
Google Hummingbird algorithm update – promoting natural language
Having said all that, things have just changed. How? Google’s new ‘Hummingbird’ search algorithm has subtly altered the key term landscape yet again with an update designed to handle complex queries and facilitate better ‘conversational’ search.
As searchengineland‘s Danny Sullivan says when talking about ‘speaking’ searches, ie. those carried out using mobile phone speech recognition software:
People, when speaking searches, may find it more useful to have a conversation.
“What’s the closest place to buy the iPhone 5s to my home?” A traditional search engine might focus on finding matches for words — finding a page that says “buy” and “iPhone 5s,” for example.
Hummingbird should better focus on the meaning behind the words. It may better understand the actual location of your home, if you’ve shared that with Google. It might understand that “place” means you want a brick-and-mortar store. It might get that “iPhone 5s” is a particular type of electronic device carried by certain stores. Knowing all these meanings may help Google go beyond just finding pages with matching words.
In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.”
What does it all mean for key term research and use? In practical terms, Hummingbird means the words within the query, and their wider context, are more important than ever. If you continue to write naturally, taking the Big G’s advice on board like I do, it’s designed to reward you by putting your content in front of your target market. If you try to crowbar terms into a place they don’t contextually belong, or rank high for phrases regardless of the context, there’s no marketing advantage.
It’s also great for users, which is your primary focus. Here’s an example. If I wanted a holiday in France I wouldn’t naturally type ‘France holiday’ into Google. It’s more natural and logical to type in something human and conversational like I want a dog-friendly holiday villa in the Dordogne. So searching, as a punter, should become easier and more fun post-Hummingbird, delivering precisely the information we’re looking for.
Here’s what Reuters have to say about it:
Google is trying to keep pace with the evolution of Internet usage. As search queries get more complicated, traditional “Boolean” or keyword-based systems begin deteriorating because of the need to match concepts and meanings in addition to words.
“Hummingbird” is the company’s effort to match the meaning of queries with that of documents on the Internet, said Singhal from the Menlo Park garage where Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin conceived their now-ubiquitous search engine.
“Remember what it was like to search in 1998? You’d sit down and boot up your bulky computer, dial up on your squawky modem, type in some keywords, and get 10 blue links to websites that had those words,” Singhal wrote in a separate blogpost.
“The world has changed so much since then: billions of people have come online, the Web has grown exponentially, and now you can ask any question on the powerful little device in your pocket.”
Key term research evolves into market research… at last
Google says Hummingbird hasn’t changed things for SEOs or anyone else who publishes content on the web. The guidelines remain the same. You still need to create high quality, original stuff. Hummingbird simply lets Google process the ‘signals’ you provide in new ways to make the search experience even better for users.
Despite what some panic-mongers are saying, SEO isn’t dead. But Hummingbird has consolidated something that’s been on the cards for a while. Key term research has grown up. Now you need to think in terms of market research instead. Which means putting users first by identifying who your audience is and what they want, then delivering it as best you can to meet their needs. If you do that, Google will smile at you.
It’s beginning to sound an awful lot like traditional direct marketing…
What about key term research and the online copywriter?
I don’t carry out key term research for my clients – I stick to the writing bit. But there are plenty of clever folk out there who can do it for you, and I highly recommend you take advantage if you want to win good visibility and get your message in front of the right people, in the right place, at the right time, more of the time.
If you provide a list of key terms, I will weave them into your copy creatively and seamlessly, bearing best practice in mind and focusing on quality content every step of the way.
If you don’t provide key terms I will exercise common sense, logic and creativity to bring into play phrases your audience would be likely to use when looking for products or services like yours.