Once you start down the road of search engine optimization, one phrase is beaten into you: keyword research.
You’ve got to do your keyword research.
The success of your blog begins and ends with your keyword research.
In fact, an entire industry has been built out of this belief. Dozens of companies have been born with no other purpose than to help you do your keyword research.
Alas, keyword research isn’t all that we’ve been told it was. At least, not anymore. Like so many other things born in the 80s and 90s, keyword research has evolved into a whole new concept from what its original intent was.
Actually, to be more specific, search engines have evolved. They no longer rely on keyword placement and density to determine what a page is all about. They read and glean the based on context.
Yea, just like a human!
And as search engines became more sophisticated and could stop relying on keywords, optimizing your blog posts for search engines has had to evolve and become more sophisticated as well.
Don’t Believe Me? Try a Search…
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Head on over to Google and type in a search, any search.
In fact, I’ll run a search with you and search for work at home schedule.
Wait, what is this?
I specifically searched for the key phrase work at home schedule. Yet neither of the first two results from Google show that key phrase!!
If keywords still worked the way we think they should work, shouldn’t either of these two top results have the key phrase “work at home schedule” somewhere in their title? Presumably, the title is the most important place to use your key phrase. In fact, neither of these results even have the key phrase in their URL — another key placement we are often told to use for search engine optimization.
Well, I know for a fact I wrote a blog post about how to create the perfect work at home schedule. Now, if you read that blog post, you’ll see I’ve done everything I’m “supposed” to do for search engine optimization for that keyword: my key phrase is in the title, the URL, at least one heading, the page description, the first paragraph, image ALT texts, and used sporadically and naturally the actual text.
So, going by the logic of all the search engine optimization rules we’ve been told, any blog posts (like mine) with my searched key phrase should come up first. Then these blog posts with related key phrases in the titles and URLs would come up after, as they clearly also answer the question being asked.
Unless Keywords Just Don’t Work That Way Anymore.
Or, more specifically, Google doesn’t work that way anymore.
You see, by relying on keyword density, Google opened up a can of worms. It was way too easy for people to rank their websites without actually giving people what they were searching for — a big no-no as far as Google is concerned. Google’s priority, first and foremost, is that the person looking for answers finds those answers when they click on a link from the search results.
And that meant Google had to learn to read like a human: gleaning concept from the context.
Which also means that if bloggers want a shot at ranking their posts in Google, they have to change the way they use keywords.
Now, before you throw all your spreadsheets up in the air or start pelting me with spitballs, let me just say one thing:
Keyword Research for Bloggers is Not Dead
Not by a long shot. It just doesn’t need to be the focal point of your content anymore. No more spending hours and hours researching a keyword, comparing search volume and ranking difficulty, and then figuring out how to make it sound natural when you want to rank for a key phrase like “working from home discipline.”
Because really, can we even use that key phrase in a sentence and sound natural?
Rather than starting with the keyword, I start with my reader: what are you searching for? What question did you ask Google that brought you to this specific blog post? I choose my keywords based off of that question.
And then I make sure to answer that question. Because after all, if I don’t answer the question, then it won’t matter how many headings I have with that phrase, or how many times I’ve stuffed that keyword into my paragraphs — Google will never show you my page unless I provide you with an answer to your query.
So, without Heavy-duty Keyword Research, How Can Bloggers Rank Higher in SEO?
I’m glad you asked. Google reads like a human, but it’s still a program. And that means it relies on humans like us to feed it more information. Think of Google as Johnny Number 5 from Short Circuit: constantly seeking input.
And it’s up to us, content creators, to provide that input.
- Pick a niche. I know, sometimes people just want the freedom of being able to say “I have a lifestyle blog.” I get it, I do. Having that freedom to be able to write about anything at all, just whatever comes to mind? It’s a powerful lure. And by all means, you absolutely can choose to write about anything that happens to pop into your head. But consider this, Google uses the content of your website — not just the one page — to help rank your page. So, if you have 300 blog posts on different subjects, but only one of them is on that keto recipe you happened to try…do you think that keto recipe is ever going to rank? The answer is no. Now, if you’re okay with not ranking, then that’s fine. But the fact that you’re here reading this tells me that you are probably trying to rank. And that means niche. The more often you write about a specific topic, the more Google will remember that you write about that topic — and the higher your authority will climb.
- Focus on Your Reader First. What does your reader want? What is your reader asking for? And are you delivering?
- Treat Google Like a Human. If Google can’t read your content, then it’s not going to serve it up to a human to decipher. Stay away from practices that make your blog hard to read, such as keyword stuffing.
- Create Outstanding Content. Not just good content — quality content that adds value to your reader’s experience on your site. There’s a reason why the posts that typically end up ranking high in Google have over 1800 words in them (even though SEO-helper tools like Yoast stick with recommendations like “write a minimum of 300 words”). You don’t want to just write out the answer to a question: you want that answer to be so good that the reader wants to share it.
- Choose 3-4 Core Keywords. These are the keywords you want to be known for and always want to pop up for in search results. For example, maybe you want to always come up when someone searches for “beauty blogger” or “travel blogger” or even “travel agent” or “freelance ghostwriter.” Choose three or four, maybe even five (but no more than five) of these core keywords that you want to be known for.
- Make Quora your new best friend. You probably won’t find Quora listed as a keyword research tool, but you will find it listed over and over again for content ideas. Here’s where it comes in handy for keyword research: pop in one of your primary keywords into its search box and check out what happens. Quora returns a list of all the most commonly asked questions related to that primary keyword!! Hello longtail keywords! You can also use Google Keyword Planner, Moz’s Keyword Explorer, Answer the Public, Soovle, and Keywords Everywhere to find longtail keywords. Don’t worry so much about search volume and competition while you write out these keywords as you would worry about whether or not you can use the phrase naturally in a sentence.
- Focus on One Longtail Keyword per Post at a Time. I know, all those SEO plugins give you this cool feature where you can try to optimize your post for two different keywords…like you can choose “work at home schedule” as one keyword and “work from home routine” as the other keyword. But in all honesty, it’s much easier to try to focus on on one and rank for that before adding in a second keyword variant. Plus, because Google takes everything into context, what you should do is choose a primary keyword (in my case, “work from home”) and then create a cluster of posts that relate to that keyword — each one focused on answering a question for a different longtail keyword.
- Place Your Keywords in Key Places that Will Tell Google About the Content. Google no longer cares about whether or not your keywords are included in your website’s meta tags (in fact, it no longer even checks for a metatag for keywords). Nor does Google care about keyword density the way it once did (nope, doesn’t check for that either). But it does still care about those titles, headings, and descriptions. These are the key areas that will tell Google what your blog post is about — because why would you have something like “work at home schedule” in the blog post’s title if the post had nothing to do with working from home or creating a schedule to make working from home more productive? This all goes back to Google learning how to read like a human: humans scan pages and pay attention to headings, bullet points, and titles. So, Google weighs those spots a little heavier.
- Create an Internal Backlinking System. At the end of this blog post, you’re going to see me do something: you’re going to see me include a list of related blog posts and link to them. I do this for three reasons. 1) I’m hoping that by the time you finish this blog post, you will see another one you are interested in reading and will choose to go and read it, 2) the words you use in the link helps tell Google what the post is about, and 3) Google uses incoming links as a factor for ranking. The more links coming in, the more Google believes in the quality of the content. Now, incoming links from different websites are, of course, stronger than any incoming links I could post to myself here — but those incoming links are still important. And, the site linking to you does matter. If I were to link to Neil Patel’s blog post on how to rank in Google, he probably wouldn’t even notice. I’m not running a spammy site, so my link wouldn’t drag him down in the rankings, and I’m so small that it would barely be a blip on his analytics radar screen. But if Neil Patel was to link to me? Whole different story, there. His domain authority alone would prompt Google to say “whoa, this post must be good.”
- Be Honest as You Optimize your Images. Obviously, Google doesn’t have eyes. So it relies both on programmed image readers and ALT text to glean context from any images you might place in your blog. An old trick used to include using these ALT tags to stuff a bunch of keywords into — after all, that way Google could see them but the human readers wouldn’t. This is no longer the case. Google uses both because it is trying to determine the content within your blog post without keywords. So, if you have your image’s ALT tag read “keyword research for bloggers” but the image is of a desk — Google is not going to make that connection and could knock you for it. Google wants you to describe the image for screen readers, so people who can’t see the actual image can still know what it shows: “keyword research for bloggers blog title overlay showing a desk with notes on top” is much better as an ALT tag than simply keyword stuffing.
Keyword Research Doesn’t Have to Take up Your Entire Day Anymore
Which is awesome if you ask me. These changes help ensure a pleasant experience every time I have to search the Internet for something. But it also means that ranking in search engines is going to be a long game. You aren’t likely to write up a blog post and have it rank high in Google organically within the same day unless you already have a well-established domain authority.
But, as long as you keep focusing on your reader, answering their questions, and making sure their experience on your site is a good one, you’ll have no problem getting found.
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