Algorithm Academy
23 September 2016 | Asad Imam

The Algorithm Academy: #4 Keywords

Welcome to the Algorithm Academy, your six part guide designed to make you a Google genius. We’re going to be teaching you about Google’s algorithm and its ranking factors; from what makes you rank, to what has a negative impact on your rankings.

Today’s topic is keywords, and we’ll be telling you everything you need to know, from how keyword research has changed over years and how you should create a keyword strategy in light of the latest Google algorithm and functionality changes. 

Keyword research is one of the heavily debated topics in search marketing at the moment. The debate has been recently fuelled by the changes made by Google to its keyword planner. Essentially, marketers with low monthly spend are not getting exact monthly volume figures for keywords.

Instead, marketers are now presented with a range of search volume. The argument that ‘keywords are dead’ is gaining momentum, however, this is far from true.

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Regardless of the changes made by Google, search engine users – i.e. your customers – will not stop using queries. Since search engines have existed, a search has always begun with a keyword query and this will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future, at least until voice search or  personal assistants move into that space.

That said, the new Google features and algorithm updates have certainly added extra dimensions that you should consider in your keyword strategy. Focusing on the user and fulfilling intent should now replace keyword volumes as the main criteria when it comes to choosing keywords.

The changing paradigm

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In the last 5-6 years, Google has made many changes to its algorithm, as well as to its overall features and, most crucially, the search page. These changes strongly point towards putting users first.

It began with Google encrypting keywords in Google Analytics, then came Panda and Penguin  that penalised over-optimisation of content and links with keywords.

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Later, Google revamped its algorithm with an update called Hummingbird, which truly brought semantic search to life. The search engine not only returned pages by simply matching the queries with the documents in its index, it began to interpret the contextual meaning and intent of the phrases.

This also allowed the search engine to effectively understand natural language through voice search and still return relevant results.

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The update was only just the beginning of Google’s obsession over delivering the best user experience. In the later years, it introduced HTTPS, Answer Boxes, Featured Snippets, Mobile-friendliness and RankBrain as ranking signals, all with the aim to continually improve the user experience.

For a successful and future proof search strategy, it is, therefore, important that your keyword strategy is attuned with Google’s objective of improving the user experience.

Your Keyword strategy for 2016 and beyond

Keywords that generate useful content

When it comes to optimising content around a keyword strategy, it is critical to keep in mind universal search, knowledge graph, featured snippets, rich snippets and local packs.

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For example, if you are a business selling motor spare parts, then creating content around ‘how to .. ’ based queries will allow you to feature as part of the universal search while fulfilling user intent.

Alternatively, if you are a business that is affected by location, say a chain of clinics or dentists, then creating content with location-based keywords will add towards fulfilling intent.

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In terms of creating regular content, it is important that you have a clear understanding of all the possible questions your target audience want to find the answers to.

When you answer those questions, you will have plenty of opportunities to embed the main keyword your brand wants to rank. Because this process of creating content starts with fulfilling intent, keyword inclusion will be naturally organic.

Related keywords

Hummingbird’s semantic search capabilities meant that Google was able to identify the meaning of the words and make connections with other related words. This means that when you are writing about a single topic that is perhaps based on one or two main keywords, ensure to include other related topics and keywords within the copy.

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For instance, if you are a dermatologist in London, you should support your primary treatment keywords with richer content using keywords that reflect how the process works, the scientific terminology,  what technology is being used, what the side effects can be, what is the timeframe for results to show etc.

Keywords that fulfil intent

Visibility tools and Google Search Console now provide access to a large basket of terms that your webpages are generating impressions for. These keywords should be able to highlight what is your target audience interested in knowing from you.

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These baskets of keywords can be classified by different intent types and then content pieces can be created around them.

For example, if you are a used car seller then creating content that compares different brands of cars on many factors can help your site appear natural and attract long tail traffic.

Keywords that are relevant to the target demographics

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At the time when RankBrain is the third most ranking factor, it is important that your keyword strategy takes it into account. Writing detailed content with synonyms, related keywords that cover the full range of your target audience and the different terminologies they use should reflect in your keyword strategy and the content produced on your site.

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As long as text pads on your devices exist, keywords will continue to be used for making queries by the users on search engines. However, the obsession over the exact match use and search volumes will continue to decline in light of the ever-changing landscape of a Google search page.

Old factors such as keyword volume, keyword density, keyword prominence, and frequency will continue to lose relevance and focus will continue shifting towards how keywords and phrases add value to the content on your site.

For brands to be an authority on a topic, developing a keyword strategy around user experience and fulfilling intent will be paramount for long term success.

Asad Imam

Asad Imam

Search Director - Responsible for directing SEO strategy and implementation to achieve industry-beating results for all agency clients.