March 17, 2015

Zen + The Art of Keyword Optimization

This is the latest installment of our blog feature, On The Brink, in which our Digital Analyst Manager and resident Batman expert Jonathan Brinksman breaks down the latest and greatest trends in digital marketing. Whether you’re a seasoned expert or total newbie, Jonathan will be offering expert, accessible insight into the ever-changing digital world.

Keyword optimization used to be so simple: I had my website, I’d go into Google Analytics, and I’d look at what keywords were driving traffic to my website. Then, I’d write some stuff on my website that contained those keywords, and I’d get more traffic to my website just like that. All was right with the world.

Nowadays, if I want to rank organically, I need to have the best content to support search terms – I can’t just be throwing keywords at my problems anymore. On top of all of that, since Google started encrypting search data a few years ago, I’m not even 100% positive which keywords are actually driving traffic. Things are not so simple.

Regardless, my point stands: we still need to be less focused on keyword stacking, and more focused on our content. But how can we tie that content to specific keywords?

Well, let’s back up. What we really want to focus on is user intent.

Search marketing is, at its core, intent marketing. When users type in search queries, they have an end goal in mind. They’re looking for content that answers their question.

For example, if I type in “top cars of 2015,” what is the most relevant content that I’m looking for? I’ll tell you: I’m looking for a list of the best 2015 model cars, ranked according to merit.

Let’s take a look at that SERP:

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There’s something you should notice about the first natural listing. Specifically, it doesn’t contain the phrase “top cars of 2015” anywhere in the result. Here’s an even more detailed analysis of the on-site SEO elements of that particular page:

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You can Control+F all day, but you’ll never find “top cars of 2015.”

So why is this the number one search result for that query, then? Honestly, a lot of reasons, but these are the two most important:

  1. The least relevant reason to our current discussion is domain authority. Car and Driver is a large, trusted source on the topic of cars, so it stands to reason that their domain authority is strong enough to directly influence ranking for topically relevant queries. However, I’m more concerned with the next reason.
  2. This is the best content available to “answer” the intention behind my original query.

I mean, just look at this page’s content. Not only is it user-friendly, it also further breaks down into even more digestible content where I can quickly and easily hone in on the “top” car for me.

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Here’s the problem, though: While Google has advanced to the point where it can understand intent versus content, and we as marketers are right there alongside them, our methods for optimizing pages for specific phrases are still a little behind. I’d bet a lot of money that nine out of ten SEO professionals would still recommend adding more of a given keyword to a web page’s content if you want to rank for it.

They’re not wrong, but they’re definitely not right either. It’s a lot more complicated now. As marketers and content generators, we have to be stronger at providing answers, rather than providing keyword-rich pages.

So we can just start ignoring keywords altogether, right? Absolutely not. Keywords are still the most effective way of quantifiably measuring a page’s optimization. And data is useless if it’s not quantifiable (also, I’m pretty sure it stops being data at that point).

Before you can even get into the question of how to optimize for a keyword, you need answer the question of whether or not you even should optimize for that keyword. Really, you need two things: data and understanding.

Ultimately, the answer of how to optimize your page is not as simple as we’d all like it to be. If SEO were simple, though, I’d be out of a job. And that’s really the point – your website is likely a critical component of your business, and organic search is likely your top-performing channel, so it’s important for you to invest in it by working with professionals who understand online channel management and have access to the kind of data that you need to make an informed content strategy.

Also, I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but [cough] that’s EXACTLY what Delucchi Plus does. Hint hint.