Has Google Killed Keywords in SEO?

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Google undergoes updates on a daily basis, but most are invisible to end users and even to SEO experts. One big change that came in shortly after the Hummingbird algorithm update, though, threw some SEO content providers into an uproar: The search engine giant confirmed that it intends to encrypt searches, effectively shutting down keyword data released to webmasters. The process started in 2011, but has accelerated after the Hummingbird changes, leaving many SEO experts and content marketers wondering where to go next.

Without the keywords provided by Google Analytics, many thought, how will content creators know which way to go? Do these changes mean keyword usage in SEO is dead? Should marketers turn away from content marketing or SEO and toward conventional tactics? On the contrary; the changes mean that optimized content is more important than ever.

Over-reliance on keywords and backlinks may have let some SEO firms game the system and artificially push sites that were light on content and heavy on ads to the front of Google’s results pages in the past, but that strategy no longer works. Google’s stated reasoning behind encrypting keyword data is to provide greater privacy, but in the process, the old standards of analyzing keyword data and stuffing articles with them have become obsolescent. That doesn’t mean the keywords no longer work, though; it just means webmasters won’t be able to catch a glimpse behind that particular curtain.

The solution is simpler than it seems: Write naturally about a subject while linking relevant information, and your content will automatically contain the necessary keywords and backlinks to succeed in the post-Hummingbird Google environment. Just because the handy list of keywords is slowly being replaced with “not provided” results doesn’t mean the keywords aren’t still effective; they’re just invisible to those who might otherwise use them to artificially inflate a website’s value to Google users. In other words, a site that has intrinsic value – one with rich content, engaging writing and must-share news – will win out over one that relies solely on mechanically derived keyword densities and low-value backlinks.

Google may be hiding its keyword data behind a screen, but that doesn’t make the data any less important. If anything, ranking high on search engine results pages is crucial. An estimated 90 percent of buyers use a search engine at some point in their purchasing decisions, and Internet access is all but ubiquitous thanks to smartphones and tablets. At every point in the buying decision – from initial browsing to reading reviews to comparison shopping to finding a nearby location to making a payment online – customers use search engines. Companies that ignore such a powerful sales tool do so at their peril.

You might have heard the advice to “dance as though no one is watching” to get complete enjoyment from the act. The same formula for joy also applies to content creation; when your writers write as though no search engine is sifting through the article to find a few relevant backlinks and counting keywords to measure against an ideal density, they largely succeed at SEO. Content creation strategies for people and for search engines are increasingly overlapping, so by satisfying human readers, you also hit Google’s sweet spot. That isn’t all there is to it – if it were, then any well-spoken writer with something to say would enjoy first-page success – but it’s an absolutely essential starting point.

Google hasn’t killed keywords; it’s integrated them into the overall value of a site instead of placing an arbitrarily or artificially high value on them. A site that weaves keywords, meta descriptions and worthwhile links seamlessly into its content has a tremendous advantage in next-generation SEO.

© Business Content, Inc. 2013 All Rights Reserved.

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