It’s Time Retailers Weaned Themselves Off Keywords

Despite all the hints, statements and actions from Google over the past few years, there are still many retailers that visibly place a great emphasis on keyword use in their websites and SEO practices. From keyword stuffing and awkwardly-written copy to turgid page titles and unnatural link anchors, it seems a large section of the market can’t seem to get the message.

For the record, the message is: while keywords are still important, they should not and need not be focussed on in the same way they used to be 5 or more years ago. Here’s a collection of reasons why:

  • Thanks to Google completely shifting to SSL now, all the keyword data is shown as “not provided” in analytics tools. So you can’t tell how any given keyword is performing and therefore measure whether all that optimisation has been worthwhile.
  • Semantic search, being sped along by the new Hummingbird algorithm means Google can provide useful results for conversational queries that don’t contain traditional keywords.
  • Personalised search results override older keyword-driven signals with implicit data that’s personal to the user who’s searching.
  • Google’s on page textual analysis is now so complex that well-written copy is far better than trying to repeat a keyword a few times or place it into the first paragraph. Any small benefits gained from doing so are neutralised by the compromises made to the quality of the text.
  • The anchor text of links has been devalued and the words surrounding a link matter more.
  • For a retailer, there is no cost-effective* or safe way to make a page rank 1st for a single keyword without curious over-use of the term. And even if you did it would be at the cost of numerous long tail opportunities.

*I mean the cost of the process is so high, it is highly unlikely the budget could ever be recouped by a retailer via the search traffic gained directly from the activity. Plus, with keywords not provided any more, you wouldn’t even be able to tell.

While it’s clear that keywords aren’t as useful as they were, there are still a number of ways to continue to use them. In many ways, the new situation is liberating for SEO and marketing strategists.

Keyword research is still highly valuable in identifying subjects and keyword groups to prioritise. Knowing seasonal or geographic trends, relative popularities of various product groups and related search behaviour is very useful for strategy creation.

Writing great copy (like Google has always said) will please users and search engines alike. Copywriters need no longer be instructed by SEOs wanting them to mention their keyword 3 times every hundred words and instead focus on creating the most informative, entertaining, persuasive content they can.

There is no longer any need to think too much about the search engines when creating copy and meta data. No more must we agonise over which synonym, plural or spelling variant to use. We can focus on the product and the customer.

Google’s use of increasingly diverse signals and ranking factors as well as their use of social signals means that humans, not search engines call the shots now. Focus on them, ignore the algorithm and get the traffic you deserve.

Paul North, Head of Content and Strategy at MediaRunSearch

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