Keywords used to be the heart and soul of every SEO campaign. Google would rank sites solely on the keywords in their content and their links. This, therefore, meant that people could judge the success of their SEO campaign purely on how well their keywords ranked. All people had to do was figure out what keywords they wanted to rank for and away they went. This made it easy for almost anyone to set up their own SEO campaign.
However, these black hat SEO ways of working are now gone, although some SEO experts still believe keywords are important. It is true that keywords do still offer some insight on how well your SEO is performing, but there are now that many factors that contribute to the ranking of your website, that the relationship between keywords and SEO success is now far weaker.
Below, we look at a range of on page factors that Google now sees as far more important that keywords.
Website Structure and Navigation
Google now sees website structure as a hugely important factor in terms of how it ranks in the SERPs. As Google has become more sophisticated over time, it has also become more thoughtful about its users. If your website is structured smartly and is easy for users to navigate, then Google will reward you for this. They would rather you use a user-friendly website than be pulling your hair out over a badly constructed, hard to navigate website. The basic structure that Google believes websites should follow is as follows; header, body, sidebars and footer, all including relevant information.
One way to improve the navigation of your website is with internal links. The more internal links on your website, the shorter the journey for a user to travel from one page to another, thus making your site more user-friendly. It is also very important to have a crawlable XML Sitemap that lays out your site. This offers a quick way to communicate directly with the search engines and helps you get new pages and content indexed quicker.
It is obvious that keywords aren’t completely dead; Google still needs some form of text to figure out what it is your company/website does. There used to be a relationship between keyword quantity and rankings. However, as explained before, this black hat technique has now retired. Now, Google prefers to see highly relevant, natural information in and around your website with small doses of keywords included in them.
You can break your site down into key areas in terms of where Google offer more authority for keywords. Meta information and headers take top priority with body copy second, and side bars and footers taking the least priority.
With the progression of Google’s algorithm comes sophistication and intelligence. Over the years it has developed so much it is scary and it continues to improve every day. In the past, Google took the keywords on your website and paired them with relevant search queries. Now, Google takes in all the data from your website and makes its own assumptions of what your business does. So, theoretically, you could optimise your site for 3 separate keywords, but be placed under 1 category by Google.
Therefore, when optimising your site today, you should forget about keywords altogether and focus on making sure your site is natural, to the point and highlights exactly what you do as a company.
Back in August 2013, Google introduced the Hummingbird algorithm. The major talking point of this update was the switch to ‘conversational search’. Before the Hummingbird update, Google would try and find matches for certain words e.g. for the search “Where is the cheapest place to buy a sofa in Kent” Google would take ‘buy’ and ‘sofa’ and try and find pages to match these key terms. However, the Hummingbird update took search to the next level. Rather than taking specific keywords from a search, it now looks past this and looks at the meaning of the search, bringing a far more personalised and accurate SERP and reducing the importance of specific keywords.
Therefore, if your website content makes you seem like a seller of cheap sofas for locations in and around Kent, you would have a good chance of showing up in the SERP, even if your site isn’t optimised for this phrase.
Site Speed and Security
It’s no secret that the quicker your site loads, the better it will rank. As we know, Google are always working to the customer’s best interests and a customer is always going to want to be on a site that loads quick over one that doesn’t. Therefore, it is hugely important you work on cleaning up your site’s cache, optimising your images to make sure they are the correct format and dimension, cleaning up your code and getting rid of any unnecessary scripts etc. It is also good to know that SSL encryption helps give your rankings a boost. The key here is to make sure your site is as fast and secure as it can be.
As you can see, there are now many factors to consider over your choice of keywords when it comes to making sure your website ranks.
The onsite optimisation of your site is now far more complex than making sure you have the right keywords in the right places. You now have to factor in Google’s intelligent understanding of the human language and remember that it will make its own assumption of what your company/website does, rather than you telling it through specific keyword phrases.
So, to conclude, the importance of keywords has dropped significantly over the years due to Google giving more importance to other factors, and although they are still part of an SEO strategy, they have fallen down the pecking order a fair bit.