The search-engine landscape is ever-evolving, with algorithm updates, changing guidelines for best practice and developments in what users expect from webmasters. It’s crucial to ensure you move with the times. Keyword optimisation is one of the central elements to rank well on search engine results pages (SERPs). Making sure you aren’t using outdated techniques is crucial to remaining competitive in SERPs.
To understand where we are going with keyword optimisation, we need to know where we have been. So, 15-20 years ago, you could expect things like:
Keyword stuffing really worked in the late 1990s and early 2000s, so webmasters stuffed content and every tag possible with keywords.
Use plenty of keyword variations
Search engines weren’t great at detecting the different keywords matching the same intent, so webmasters would include variations of keywords that they wanted to rank for in their content. So, if I was targeting red jackets, I’d also have red jacket, red jacket accessories, red jacket accessory, red jackets accessory…you get the idea.
Exact-matching keyword stuffing was the name of the game here, and the more variations you included, the higher chance of ranking for all of these terms.
Use keywords in every tag
Any and every tag that you could put a keyword in was placed there.
Sometimes brands would outrank other companies by stuffing keywords into their domain and sub-domain name. Using our example of red jackets, redjackets.redjackets.info could sometimes outrank other established brands – it sometimes lasted for a while, too.
People would want to cloak their content – showing one set of content to search-engine crawlers to rank well and showing different content to actual people. They did this because they knew that if people read keyword-stuffed content they wouldn’t stick around for long and would find another site that was better.
Keyword optimisation did improve over the years and some of the old techniques were making their way out. However, keyword optimisation in 2008 would have these type of elements.
Keywords used in specific, important places
By 2008, keyword stuffing was in decline, and optimising keywords became more targeted. Places where keywords needed to be used were in the title tag, meta description, URL and Heading 1 (H1).
Exact-matching important in certain places
People were creating pages for different keywords that shared the same intent. So, using our example, there could be a page dedicated to ‘red jacket’ and another dedicated to ‘red jackets’. Although an extreme example, this did happen and the pages often ranked well.
Links become more important
Gaining backlinks became incredibly powerful and were crucial when trying to rank. Writing to gain backlinks was heavily prized.
Now take a jump forward to 2019 – keyword optimisation has changed a lot. Here are the keyword essentials:
Solving the search query is crucial
If you want a piece of content to rank well, you need to produce it with the aim of solving a searcher’s query. Content that does this will rank well and tend to stay there, assuming everything else stays constant. Sure, you can have quick success if you keyword-stuff, but Google is adept at spotting this and will penalise you quickly – check out Google’s guidelines on content violations here.
Intent matching is key
Today, you wouldn’t create different pages targeting keywords like ‘red jacket’ and ‘red jackets’ – you’d create one page that incorporates both, thereby creating one page to serve the same search intent. Keyword optimisation comes into this as you’ll need to weave both keywords into your copy editorially – not pack them in.
Nowadays, cramming keywords into every tag possible is not the done thing. The two most important places to have your keywords are in the title tag and in the content. Including keywords in these two elements benefits both searchers and search engines. Both elements act as a signal to what your page is about – just don’t stuff them in.
There are other places that are good to have your keywords in, but aren’t crucial to ranking successfully. They are:
Use related keywords
Google’s algorithm is pretty advanced now and is good at identifying words that relate to each other. Google can recognise that Greenwich, Croydon and Barnet are all boroughs of London. It knows there is a relationship between these three words and London, so if you have a page targeting the keyword ‘London’ but don’t have these types of keywords in it, then you risk losing rank to a page that does.
Using related keywords in your content helps to build the relevance of the page, increasing its chances to rank well.
User experience more important than ever
User experience is now at the forefront when producing online content. There are many ways to ensure good UX, from page speed to size of font, but optimising keywords in 2019 means high-quality copywriting that solves a searcher’s query. Recruiting the help of a copywriting agency can ensure content satisfies search engines and people. It’s also worth mentioning again, but keyword stuffing is completely outdated now. Who wants to read the same words over and over again on a page?
Keyword optimisation has evolved greatly over the past 20 years, from keyword stuffing to editorial-based, keyword-focused content. In 2019, you should be incorporating your keywords into your title tag and your content naturally. And as long as you’re focused on creating high-quality content, you’ll see that you don’t need your keywords everywhere to be visible.