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If Mark Twain Was a Keyword

By Erin Sparks
November 22, 2016

Reports of Keyword Death Greatly Exaggerated

This is true. A new writer recently looked at the notes for a content page and questioned the short list of keyword terms I’d asked her to include.

“Aren’t keywords dead?” she asked.

The answer is… yes, and no.

Yes, because five minutes (well, several years) ago keywords were being stuffed pell mell into every nook and cranny of the mass produced content that SEO-hungry websites churned out to get first-page search results. It was common practice, and it resembled starving piranhas going after a big frog.

And weirdly, the results were about the same – too many numbers meant not very much substance. What did it matter if you showed up #1 in the search results for “ball” if you’re a beach shop and the search was for “ball bearings”?

The dark days of keywords

Not only was keyword stuffing a crime against rational thinking, it was a soul-killing exercise for writers with even a modicum of integrity. And economically – it was wasted time and money.

This genus of SEO practitioners promised unicorns and rainbows, but there was no pot of gold at the end – there was only disappointment on both sides of the screen. Most of those ‘good’ rankings were worthless because they were aimed at the wrong target.

Busted by INTERGOL (that is, the Google police)

Google famously figured that out Band waddled in with a penalty-wielding Penguin, forcing websites into figuring out they actually needed good quality content that addressed the actual needs of the users.

In the time since Penguin (followed closely–and alliteratively–by Pigeon for local search), content has steadily evolved.

Part of that evolution was the boomerang effect of “kill all the keywords!” The mere mention of “keyword” was enough to bring out the torches and pitchforks … and so the keyword went underground.

But there was the remnant. There always is. Keywords survived and remained integral, providing the Venn diagram overlap of what the searcher wants and what the seller has.

Just – no more stuffing, please. (Only turkeys should get stuffed.)

Keeping up with the (search) Jones

So, the gentle resurrection of the keyword was accompanied by the evolution of search – which began to recognize the coming game changer of mobile and voice search.

Now a new era has dawned – the keyword is more a keyterm – the long-tailed descendent of the single word or simple phrase. If people are talking to their Echos or into their phones asking, “Where is the best regular restaurant to get a good vegan meal?” then your search terms need to accommodate accordingly.

SEO is morphing

SEO has never been just search results. It’s always been the optimization of search – an entire recipe that includes analytics, keywords, website structure, metadata hygiene, useful content, and social media. It’s the matrix through which you package your pitch so it can be delivered as pre-qualified information.

If content is king, it reigns in the land of Buyer’s Journey

The Buyer’s Journey is the new direction of content, and this is space in which keywords now thrive.

With the advent of Buyer’s Journey, SEO strategy is becoming more about consumer support and conversion strategy.Good digital marketers seek to get proper insight into the consumer’s intent as he/she performs particular searches.

Understanding the “why” of the search is crucial to lining up the right information in front of the seeker – and long tail keyword terms still play an important role in that.

Old tool, new use

So, nah, keywords aren’t dead. Snopes will verify that report as greatly exaggerated. But they have been re-born – and the good news is for you, the user. Thanks to the humble keyword (and its evolution) the Internet abyss grows ever more possible to navigate sensibly.

Indeed, Mark Twain understood the value of this. He was also quoted as saying:

“We write frankly and fearlessly but then we optimize before we post to the website.”

(Just kidding – he said ‘modify’, not ‘optimize’.)