The Art and Science of Keyword Clouds in SEO Strategies

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No matter what language you speak, from English to Urdu to ASL, it follows some fundamental characteristics that mark those sounds and signs as information. One of the main characteristics of language is the frequency of word use. Information theory lets scientists tell language from non-language just by studying these frequencies even if they can’t understand the language itself. Even dolphins’ sounds follow the same frequency graph, leading some researchers to believe the animals are communicating information as readily as you communicate to your readers.

Word frequency isn’t just a model of dolphin language or a way for archaeologists to understand ancient writings. The science has a more immediate and practical application for content writing. Old-school SEO relied heavily on optimal keyword densities and using key phrases exactly as users entered them as search strings. That led to content optimized for simple counting algorithms that human readers found ugly. From cuneiform on clay tablets to today’s tablet computers, language has followed established rhythms; keyword-stuffing disrupts those rhythms and creates unreadable content.

Search engine algorithms have become more complex in an effort to more closely approximate that natural sense of rhythm inherent in all information-rich communication. A better model is not the unnatural keyword-stuffing but a probability cloud of semantically related terms. Instead of a sudden, jarring jump in the frequency of a favored keyword, a keyword cloud uses a range of linked words and phrases that enhance natural, information-rich content to give it a higher profile with search engines.

Developing a Keyword Cloud

To some extent, keyword clouds happen naturally. If your business content team is developing a series of articles and blog posts about your film production company, for example, then movie-related terms will occur as a natural outgrowth of creating information-rich content. Those terms are key to giving search engines the ability to index your site correctly. The word “film” by itself can have numerous contexts from biology to still photography, but when surrounded by contextual cues such as “shoot,” “video” and “movie,” the meaning becomes clear to human readers and search engines alike.

Synonyms are also vital to building a natural keyword cloud. Using the same words throughout an article may have appealed to less sophisticated search engines, and the technique was a mainstay of early SEO. Repetition bores human readers, though, which is why print writers make smart use of synonyms. Search engines value synonyms as key indicators of quality writing. Synonyms also help users who choose less common search strings, an important element in reaching a wider audience and embracing regional dialects.

An effective keyword cloud generally contains a primary keyword or phrase, but it surrounds that starring concept with numerous supporting roles and bit parts. The frequency of these ancillary keywords and phrases should rise with its proximity to the main subject. SEO specialists and content creation teams can tailor this collection of associated keywords for maximum impact on human readers and search engine results pages.

Keyword Clouds vs. Tag Clouds

Keyword clouds are related to the tag clouds you often see in a sidebar or banner, but they aren’t quite the same. Tag clouds are links removed from content and displayed for easy reader access; keyword clouds are behind-the-scenes maps of relevant information developed by your content strategy management team. They’re only visible to visitors as integral parts of your site’s copy, and they may or may not be active links.

The distinction between keyword clouds and tag clouds is an important one because as Google’s Matt Cutts describes on his blog, tag clouds can be overdone. An over-optimized or too-large tag cloud can look like keyword-stuffing to Google, which is something that a well-constructed keyword cloud avoids.

Good SEO and good writing are becoming more and more intertwined. Outmoded keyword-stuffing and keyword-counting strategies are out; natural writing is in. You don’t have to speak SEO jargon to understand what information-rich language looks like, but your content team can use it to put together an effective keyword cloud.

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