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David Mills
By David Mills on June 01, 2018

Keywords Are like VHS Tapes

Keywords are like VHS Tapes; if that’s all you have, you’re going to miss out on better opportunities.

Some things that you thought you knew about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) aren’t true anymore.

If you are not a marketer, getting your arms around how search engines rank and display websites is difficult. Usually, people who need marketing know two big things: 1) They need to rank at the top of the search page so people will find them and 2) rankings are based on keywords.

The first thing that you have come to learn—that you need to rank high to get visitors online—is still true. But the second one—that it is based mostly upon keywords—is now an obsolete idea.

Here are the battle lines:

  • You (the school, healthcare provider, small business or nonprofit) want people to find you and get involved by visiting your website.
  • They (the people who own the search engines including Facebook, Google, Bing) own the secret software that decides who will see which page. They want a couple of things:  they want people to keep using their search engine, so they try to give searchers what they want, and they don’t want people to “game their system” to serve up things that people don’t want; and, don’t forget, they want to sell you ads.

So the precious piece of knowledge that you’ve acquired, that search rankings come from keywords, is a victim of progress. Like a VHS tape, it still kind of works, but it’s becoming just as obsolete as the VHS tape and player.

Why has this happened? Well, because Google decided to start hiding keywords, so they could stop people from gaming the system, and so they could sell us more ads. Of course, you can still view keywords when you pay for advertising. Can you blame them? Another reason for the change is that the software for all of these powerful search engines has gotten a lot smarter. That software is not just looking for simple keywords any longer but the whole lexicon of human communication, complete with its synonyms and inferences. It is getting very good at searching the way that people actually communicate.

These new and smarter algorithms combine a number of factors, but instead of just looking for keywords, they are measuring the content’s value based upon how it lines up with the entire latent semantic index—all the words that normally get used together. It’s not just about one keyword, but the right context.

Don’t think “keyword.” Think “valuable conversations.”

Another big thing they are looking for is how real people interact with the content. Engagement (which is a measure of how valuable people think your content is to them) can only be answered by the same strategy that answers the context challenge—by placing really well-developed content on your website.

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So maybe it is time to trade in your VHS tapes and your collection of keywords for something much more powerful—online content that offers the best available resource for the people you want to serve. It won’t have just one keyword, but rather hundreds of related words that make sense to people. Valuable content will tell the search engines that you are speaking to humans rather than search engines. The reward, like trading up from VHS to streaming high definition video, will provide you with a lot more opportunities for people to find you online.

Published by David Mills June 1, 2018
David Mills