I’ve been lucky enough to be able to successfully navigate the world of SEO for my clients for over ten years. Though I tell people all the time that the ABC’s of SEO have been the same since the beginning, the DEF’s do change quite frequently. What I mean by that is that Google is getting smarter and better with their algorithm and their ability to find the best answer to their queries.
It has always been about providing the best answer for the search query or “keywords” people type in. Strength has been measured by inbound links for as long as I have been in the industry, along with user experience and that type of thing. Google has gotten better and better at figuring out when people are cheating with links and also with figuring out how to learn the language and how words interact.
When I started in the business over 10 years ago, you would see significant differences in results for such simple searches as NJ and New Jersey applied to the same keyword. Nowadays, though there is still some variance, Google understands synonyms and has the search history to see what people want when they are typing or now saying certain searches.
This changes the way we write to keywords or keyword concepts, as I like to think of them. I’m sure you have all seen the old page that unnaturally says the same phrase over and over again so that it can rank for that phrase. Google understands that that isn’t natural. They have also learned for high volume searches what other words should go along with a core keyword concept.
The example I use today is the keyword phrase “NYC attractions”. I live near the NYC area and that seems like a reasonable search for someone coming into town for a few days. As you can see from the image that accompanies this article, the title tag for the #1 organic result doesn’t even have attractions in the first 55 characters. It also never has NYC included. We all now that title tags have historically been an important part of “on page optimization” and the way to aim your page at certain search results. This search itself shows Google understanding of synonymous phrasing. The TripAdvisor results uses “New York City” instead of NYC, and “Things to do” instead of attractions, yet still is #1. Of course, TA is an extremely strong site and highly respected with a great link profile, but it goes to show Google’s understanding of language.
Furthermore, on the landing page on the TA site, “NYC” and “Attractions” each only show up once, and the NYC shows up just in the title of one of the listed things to do. It wasn’t necessarily put there as content from TA. This makes sense because someone searching for NYC attractions, is not looking to see that phrase show up fifteen times, they want to see a list of things to do or attractions. That’s what they get. Google understands this and applies it for results.
Now use this example to keep in mind for your own site. Think about what your visitors are searching for and how you can provide the best content to answer that search. You know your business better than anyone. Someone searching for the answer to a flooded basement or lawyer, may want to see that phrase on the landing page, but they also want to see the asnwer to their problem, not just that phrase written over and over. Google simply rewards you for giving your customers, who are their customers, what they want. They have a history of people hitting those pages with poor content and bouncing right back to google to search again. If they find what they want, they stay, and even call you. Google sees that and rewards it.
So remember that keyword research isn’t as much about matching a phrase exactly over and over in your content, it is about presenting the best answer to the search query. I would still recommend using the core phrase in your title tags. The Attractions example is a bit of an extreme one, but is still relevant. Just remember that the phrase isn’t the only answer, the answer is the true answer. You are providing an answer to a query. Make it a good, thorough one.