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Keyword stuffing - seo no-no. Here's what to do instead...

by Helene Klaustrup

March 31, 2021

In older, simpler times (as recently as 2015) SEO was more straightforward, and optimising for keywords was a relatively simple matter of inserting your primary keyword every 100 words or so.

But Google has caught on and this method does not work any longer. In recent years, (2019 onwards) Google has become very good at understanding the relationship between intent, topics, and words - but it's still a machine and so has its limits.

In practical terms, this means that Google will look for "semantically relevant" words within a text to determine how good the content is and how relevant it is to the user. It also looks for consensus around a topic - a response to fight 'fake news' in the SERPs.

Identify your relevance

To identify what Google will consider 'good and relevant for any given search term, we look to what is currently ranking, as these pages are already being rewarded for their content by receiving those top-ranking positions. How can you be more like them?

Through reviewing these ranking pages, we identify similarities and identify semantic words and topics within the main topic of the content, which should be included in order to rank. Breaking it down to a more human level, if you're writing a history essay about the Second World War and your professor has a list of topics you need to cover (i.e. Hitler's rise to power, the holocaust, the allied forces joining the war effort, etc.) he will be marking your essay on how well you've covered those topics.

You can write an excellent essay covering Hitler's rise to power, the allies fighting back, and include a knowledgeable and accurate account of the impact after WW2. But leave out the holocaust, and you cannot receive full marks, no matter what. Even if you added in something great but wasn't asked for, that omission costs you points.

How to receive full marks

Only 'full marks' get shown on page 1 of Google. To address this, we write briefs in advance of creating the copy to ensure that keywords for these relevant ('marked') sections are included, in addition to the main keywords we are trying to rank for.

In order to address this, we write briefs in advance of creating the copy ensuring that keywords for these relevant ('marked') sections are included in addition to the main keywords we are trying to rank for.

Another important ranking factor is engagement metrics. Google has moved towards weighting engagement higher in recent years, which means that if a user doesn't engage with the site in a meaningful way, Google will move that listing down the rankings.

This means that it's important - not only for the bottom line but also for SEO - to keep users engaged on-page. The tone of the copy is an important part of achieving this. Web users have a very limited attention span and are easily distracted. The same individual might respond differently to an email or a brochure and be willing to spend more time reading.

But the type of page and content expected also plays a part in how dedicated they are to reading and engaging with your content. For a blog post or article, for instance, the user will expect and likely be happy to read through a longer piece.

Get your hooks in

While keeping an active tone is certainly helpful to keep them hooked, there is more leeway. On product and category pages, however, there is no such luxury, and users will give up and move on to greener pastures (or websites) if they aren't hooked immediately.

For this reason, it is a good idea to keep an active tone when writing copy for these types of pages. It needs to create a sense of urgency and engage the user. You should also include a strong opening paragraph, with a focus on the initial sentence. Short sentences.

You are trying to assure the user that they are in the right spot - that this is the place that best meets their needs. To do this, adding your primary keyword in a natural, contextual way is a good start, but you should also keep an eye on what the user's need is.

If their need is to buy a bottle of wine, make it clear that this is where they can do that - but don't be too obvious or 'salesy' as this will put them off. If you lead by talking about wines in general or the history of a vineyard, it confuses the user, whose limited attention span only skims the first sentence or two before deciding to to stay or leave (probably leave).

Different tones for different page needs

On category pages, the need is to find a wine, as opposed to buying one, so here the copy should assure them that this is the right place to do that. Again, tone is essential - you don't want to patronise your user but you certainly don't want to baffle them with jargon either. Keeping the text approachable and appropriate for your audience is key.

Again, to get a gauge of this, we look to what is currently ranking well, as these pages will have been rewarded for pitching their excellent content at the right level. Search engines know all this. And while you can rank with a passive tone, you are less likely to do so and very unlikely to rank if your content talks over the head of the users searching. Otherwise, medical research papers would rank better than natural remedy sites - and they generally don't.

However NHS content which is pitched at the right level, will generally rank better than either.

Obviously, there are many other factors such as authority and expertise that impact rankings. In our history analogy, the top rankings in Google would be from established historians who have a lot of clout and authority, while students could only really hope to rank on the bottom half on page 1 regardless of how good their essay is - until they build up their own credibility at least. This is why a more authoritative site is able to make bolder claims than a less established site can.

Stand out to stand out

Naturally, we want to stand out, and we don't want to write exactly what our competitors are saying (that would land us in hot water too) but we also don't want to be the academic student who argues with his professor over the validity of generally accepted truths.

Challenging and bettering the understanding is easier done once you are an authority - and to do so, you need to 'tow the company line' for a bit, add in your own unique insights and back up your claims when they do go against the grain of accepted truths. If you throw in one new idea here and there in your published content, it's probably a good thing, but rewriting the generally accepted truth will get you labelled as an outlier - at least by search engines who, despite great strides in technology, still have a limited and simplistic understanding.

And finally, it's important to remember that both keywords and expectations change over time - just as new theses, analysis and research is published in academic fields, so do the terms users search for evolve as new information becomes part of the general awareness.

As such, the essay you got top marks for back in 2010 might only score you 89% today because the bar has been raised and the requirements tweaked.

As a result, you should periodically review and revise your content to match today's user's need and expectations and stay relevant. Monitor your content's rankings, tweak and update your copy and look at what other sites are doing.

Do this successfully - and we’ll see you at the top of the results page.

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