If you want to save some time and get right to the point, make sure you are writing quality, unique content that helps your users get what they are looking for. This concept comes up so often in my blog posts and talks with clients. It seems overly simplified, but if you are running a small business and have little time to dig deep, think along those lines.
This post won’t go deeply into how the latest Google AI works. If you want to get to the heart of that process, I would highly recommend you follow Bill Slawski as he has his finger on the pulse of all the latest Google patents and how they process queries. I have always viewed my job to follow people like Bill that are experts in certain areas and bring the most important pieces to the small business owner. In recent weeks, with both Google’s announcement of the coming of MUM, an even more advanced way to process and understand search queries and provide the right results, and meetings with some prospects and clients who still have an understanding at a much more rudimentary level, I wanted to touch on the evolution of the keyword quickly, so you can understand how it is progressing and how to stay ahead of it with great content. As Google gets smarter with their algorithms, they simply understand user intent and quality content better than ever before.
Early Keyword Research and Keyword Density
In the early days of SEO, the content side of SEO (ignoring links) was mostly about specific keyword matches. Most of us remember when the high-ranking pages seemed to just repeat a keyword or phrase over and over on a page to the point of exhaustion and annoyance. The search engine valued having the keyword appear in the content too much. Sites would just repeat words and it created a bad user experience. Google was much more rudimentary in understanding keywords. In fact, when I started here in New Jersey, there was a significant difference between targeting “NJ” searches vs “New Jersey” searches. Google didn’t understand that they were essentially the same. As Google evolved, they started to understand synonyms and plurals a little bit better, but that early time did still show a lot of repetition of individual words and people focusing on keyword density or making sure your target keyword showed up X number of times on your page. Thank God for the users, this period is in distant history. Unfortunately, I think many people are still in this mindset when it comes to keyword research and even writing content.
Semantic and Entity Search
As Google’s algorithm evolved, it gained a better understanding of subject areas and entities. It became not necessarily about a keyword, but about a topic area or entity. The purists may say I’m grouping a few steps on the path together here, but I’m trying to keep things simple. Basically, this step in the process shows that Google understands other “supporting” words that should be included in the content for it to be better content and be a better response to the user question. A great example I like to use here, which I have to admit I first heard at an SMX Advanced session years ago is the “NYC attractions” example. In the initial keyword-only phase, a top-ranking page for this search would likely have the phrase “NYC Attractions” on it 10-15 times or more. But that isn’t helpful for the user. As Google understood semantic search and NYC as an entity, they started understanding the other supporting content that also needed to be included to have quality content. Things like the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty are terms that should definitely be on a page that ranks for “NYC Attractions” searches. They are not the core keyword, but they are important nevertheless. That is understanding this concept at the most basic form. If Google understands a topic as an entity, there are a whole host of other terms that come into play. Those other concepts add to the quality of the information that Google is returning for the searcher.
BERT and MUM
As SEO continues to evolve, Google will take this further and further. In the “NYC attractions” example above, there are probably great pages that could rank for that search that don’t even include the keyword. Google is getting smarter and smarter at understanding user intent and giving more value to the supporting information instead of the specific keyword. The keyword still matters in the sense that it is good to know what people are searching for, but whereas that was most of the job in the early days, now it is just the beginning. Once you have a keyword phrase to target, the research has just begun. You should look to understand that keyword as an entity and understand what information people are looking to gain when they search that phrase. As a small business targeting product and service searches, it isn’t just about saying you offer a service anymore. Users are looking for information on how your process works, your background, what others are saying about you, your pricing, whether you have worked with their specific problem, and much more. As an expert in your field, you know this information. You just need to get it into your content. Though this seems to be intimidating to many small business owners, it should actually be a relief. One of the most common questions I get is to what to write about for content. There is typically a never-ending flow of ideas for content to aim for different types of users with different and specific needs. This will keep new content ideas coming. Google is always getting better. You don’t have to understand how it works other than to keep putting out great content that is in a digestible form and informs your users with what they need to make the purchase decision.