Are Keywords Necessary? The New Google And SEO Focus

A couple years ago Google released a new update. It was called Hummingbird and it was an improvement on Google’s basic approach to search.

Since it was founded, it seems that Google has always looked for the best way to answer the questions people were asking.

In 2013, Google took a step with the update mentioned above.

Since then they’ve continued the progression they’ve been making throughout their existence by focusing on finding better answers.

With Hummingbird, the focus took on more context for what people were searching for and why they were searching for it.

Answering Questions

For a long time, Google used keywords and links to find the best answers to questions.

In the late ’00s, things got a little muddled in the online world. Some websites could “game” the system a little bit by focusing solely on using keywords and links and rank for keywords and questions.

This meant that the quality of the content, or of the answer to a question, wasn’t the most important factor in determining the rankings.

Google, seeing this, had to change course. And they probably had already been doing that anyway. Again, it’s their goal to find the best way to answer the queries people ask.

The Best Answers. The Best Sources.

Today, after a series of changes and updates including Hummingbird, Google is very good at figuring out how to provide the best answers from the best sources. Search hasn’t shifted totally away from keywords and links. Those two items are still important, but they are not as heavily weighted as they once were.

In fact, it’s possible for a page to rank for a keyword without even having that keyword on the page.

How is that possible and why would that be good?

Here’s an example search for “Eau Claire Beer“.

The previous best SEO strategy would be for a page targeting that keyword phrase to make sure to include “Eau Claire Beer” in their title tag, heading and maybe 5-10 times or whatever in the copy on the page.

Not anymore. And that’s a good thing.

Google has gotten beyond keywords. They know that language is more than simply saying an exact keyword phrase.

In this result, you’ll find beer manufacturers in Eau Claire. You’ll find visitor pages that list those companies in the area. You’ll find news articles. You’ll find lists. All these answer the question about Eau Claire Beer.

Google understands context better than ever. And they keep getting better. They look at a variety of indicators. They’re looking at overall websites. They’re reading descriptions on those websites to figure out what the overall website is about as well as its individual pages. They’re looking at what others have said about the website. They look at indicators that show that the site is answering questions to an audience.

These indicators and more lead to the results you now see on Google. You don’t just see pages that list keywords all over the page. That never helped anyone and it’s why Google remains the number one search engine. They provide the best results and they’re getting better.

Writing Content For Your Website

So what approach should you take with SEO today?

Designers are often asked about their ability to help businesses rank well in search engines. In the past, designers might have been instructed to make sure to include keywords in title tags and on pages.

That’s not a good approach anymore.

The goal of content on a website is to explain what you offer your target audience. Do that in the clearest way possible. Make it easy for people to understand how you can help them with your service or product.

Don’t focus on keywords.

Do focus on the language your target audience understands. By that I don’t mean Spanish or English. I mean use terms that your customer will understand. That might mean explaining what industry jargon means. A dentist might know what periodontal disease is, but patients need it spelled out as gum disease.

Create Ongoing Content

It’s also important to create ongoing content for your website. And potentially on social media and in other locations (ex. guest blogging, podcasting, etc.). Focus on answering the questions your target customer is asking in relation to your industry.

In real life, when you answer questions in this way you earn trust. The more questions you answer the more trust you build. Think of your community. Chances are that the most well respected individuals are those that answer questions and that have done it for a long time.

Google can now see who the trusted sources are in various industries and fields. They know that providing results for queries is about finding trusted sources and the best answers. If you make it routine to answer questions your entire website will be lifted up for queries.

If you’re a dentist and you are trusted you’ll rank for all kinds of keywords without necessarily putting those keywords on your site.

It’s a new way of looking at SEO and it’s good because we can still focus on keywords a bit, but focus more on providing better answers to the questions our target audience is asking.

Photo credit: B Gilmour. via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Dayne Shuda
Dayne Shuda
Dad, husband, golfer, and bow hunter. Owner of Ghost Blog Writers.