SEO: Stop relying on keywords and become thought leaders

Google’s (not provided) keyword data is changing how SEOs work. At least it should be.

Ruth Burr’s recent Moz post on the subject got me thinking. We need a fundamental change to how we approach SEO and content creation. While it is still possible to trawl through keyword data (using AdWords, Bing and various other tools and metrics) and create content for targeted words and phrases, this is reactive, not proactive.
One of the fundamentals that Google’s search algorithm was built on was authority, with Page Rank as it used to be, and this is truer than ever today. Now we’re seeing more and more that Google favours pages written by what it perceives to be topic experts or thought leaders. This seems to be where search is heading. As Google moves from being a search engine to an “answer engine” with the advent of semantic search, we are likely to see increased competition in the SERPs from, yes, Google. The variety of different SERPs now is incredible, with Google presenting their own answers to many search queries.

So how do SEOs keep their content relevant in such an environment? Well, at the moment, it’s hard to tell but there are probably a few good places to start. Things like Google+ authorship are good additions to blogs and articles. Of course, links from relevant and authoritative websites are key and will continue to be so. This means strategic link acquisition is as important as ever. Eric Ward wrote a good piece on how Hummingbird will affect links.

Otherwise, I think we need to change the model of how we approach and create content. Excuse the simplified process.

The old model of:
1. Keyword research
2. Generating ideas
3. Publishing content
4. Social / link building

Is being replaced by:
1. Generating ideas
2. Keyword and audience research
3. Publishing content
4. Social / link building

It’s the top two points that are key. We need to be fitting keywords to ideas, rather than fitting ideas to keywords. Obviously, we will still optimise our content as well as possible, finding the best keywords to maximise traffic and click throughs etc. but the ideas need to come first. They need to be useful, informative and answer at least one question that a user might ask. When writing content, think: what could my user (whether an industry expert or potential client) learn from this page? Many of the tools and process we use may remain the same or similar but it requires a fundamental change in how we think about creating content.

Another way of thinking about it was put nicely by Ruth Burr in her post:

“we need to shift our focus from getting traffic from keywords to getting traffic to pages”

With the competition out there, not least from Google itself, as well as its relative unpredictability when it comes to algorithm changes (pretty sure there are still SEOs undoing the dodgy backlink damage they did for years), it is even less safe than it used to be to rely on keywords for traffic and business. SEOs must work with marketing and content teams to create webpages that provide real value to users. Authority needs to be earned, like good branding, it cannot be produced overnight. To stay relevant in the SERPs we must be thought leaders near the top of our field, employ all the optimisation tactics we have at our disposal, while diversifying our strategy.

Tim Hodge
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Tim Hodge

Tim Hodge lives and works in Sydney. He specialises in web content including SEO and social media. He also writes about craft beer, art, culture and football.

Feel free to contact him on Twitter @timothyhodge, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Tim Hodge
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About Tim Hodge

I’m Tim, a human being living in Sydney, Australia. I spend a lot of time despairing over Leeds United and the rest of it writing, making/looking at art, reading, watching films and dabbling in SEO, social media and content marketing.

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