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October 15, 2012

Organic Seo: Do Keywords Matter Anymore?

Joey Piazza
Joey Piazza Digital Director

The short answer to this question…No..and Yes.

Google cares very little, or some may say not at all anymore, about what you have to say about your own website. After a decade or more of tolerating people gaming the system, the experts think they have finally come up with a way to stop the cheating. We will get into that in a minute, but let’s first discuss how we got here…

Google used to rely heavily on Keywords. These are terms picked up by search engines on your website, whether in title tags, meta tags or your content. They would use these terms to establish what your site was about and how they should direct search traffic. Allowing website creators to determine what search traffic they should garner quickly proved a fool’s errand. Crafty developers and SEO consultants found ways to rank highly and not necessarily for the phrases in which their site was most relevant. The name of the game was, is and probably always will be traffic. The constant need for traffic gave birth to all kinds of “black hat” SEO tricks of the trade and spurred the exponential growth of a cottage industry called Search Engine Optimization. Once Google successfully stamped out black hat techniques such as repeating terms, white on white text (so that only the search engine spiders see it) as well as content and link farms, it had to find a way to be more credible in the results it was returning. Google wants more than anything to deliver you to the most relevant possible site for your search and relying on the developer just wasn’t working.

This led to a near total reversal in philosophy. If they couldn’t rely on developers maybe they could determine a way to utilize the expertise of the end user instead, the person actually visiting the site, but how could they effectively capture this sentiment and intent? For years they thought they had the answer. The focus would shift greatly to how many links you had to your site from other relevant sites. Google would still rely on the developers to set the tone in what they would like to rank for, but the rankings would then be determined by how many sites around the internet linked to your site as a resource for your preferred content. Links from sites with high page ranks and relevance to what you wanted to rank for became coveted, and SEO consultants started developing sophisticated link building programs. The more back links from relevant sites, with keyword titled links, the higher you ranked. It was as simple as that.

This is essentially how it operated until recently. As back links became important and blog networks grew, those SEO consultants were able to once again game the system to a certain degree. Utilizing directories, blogs and link repositories to artificially boost rankings. This strategy was in no way full proof. As the algorithms became more finely tuned, Google was eventually able to determine relevancy and more often than not get it right, but some sites were still being crowded out by borderline dishonest link building campaigns. Let’s face it, just because a site has the most links to it, does not mean it’s the most relevant.

That brings us to where we are today. In it’s current form, Google does not even index your keywords. It relies on both back-links and social mentions and shares. Google is attempting to move to an informational democracy Utopia. One in which your site is basically evaluated for relevance by the people that visit the site. Google now assumes that if your site is relevant, it will be shared by people in such a way that this sharing will occur in front of the audience most interested. It relies, almost solely, on the power of crowd sourcing. The rise of social networking and sharing, especially sites like Reddit and Digg, have allowed Google to take the developer almost completely out of the equation, at least from a keyword integration perspective. The philosophy is both deadly effective and simple: If your content is worthy, it will be found and shared.

So if Google doesn’t use your keywords why are they still relevant? Keyword phrases are still the way Google views searches and most importantly relevance. You must evaluate the keyword terms that will bring people to your site, seek out links and shares accordingly. Keyword evaluations also show you how much competition exists for certain terms and where important links come from. One of the most important things any brand can do is utilize the power of blogs. The saying goes “Blogs rule the internet” and this has never been more true. Links are especially important when they come from an influential blog. Every post from a blog with high traffic has the potential to go viral. As a marketer, you should be reaching out to influential blogs, offering products and looking for reviews. So my advice in this new world of informational democracy is reach out to people because potential customers, much like Google, no longer care very much about what you have to say about yourself.