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SEO doesn’t mean what it used to

Your audience doesn’t owe you a thing.

As a content creator, you probably understand this harsh reality better than most. Content exists to serve an audience, not a brand. Your content is a dialogue between you and your audience and that’s the way it should be.

But what about search? Stuffing and hiding crazy amounts of keywords and jockeying aggressively for better SERP positions have turned search and SEO into a one-sided conversation in the marketing strategy.

But Google has been catching on and working hard to ensure search does for its audience what content does for ours.

Out with the old

What does SEO (search engine optimization) mean? “SEO is a marketing discipline focused on growing visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results,” according to Moz, one of the foremost SEO consultancy platforms. It means enhancing your digital content assets to appear more frequently (and higher up) on search engine result pages (SERPs).

While SEO as a concept is staying the same, the tactics are changing dramatically. Things like keyword stuffing and black hat link building have been blacklisted by Google for quite a while now and for good reason. A recent update to Penguin proves they’re getting serious about cracking down on these.

But some tactics are not antiquated quite yet; slowly, though, they’re becoming outdated.

Looking out for #1

“Your SEO strategy should aim to increase traffic, engagement and eventually conversions,” says Tereza Litsa on Search Engine Watch, “and this cannot be achieved by merely focusing on the site’s position in SERPS.”

With content volume at an all-time high, getting on page one is very difficult and costly.

Hyper-focusing on keywords

By focusing too much on specific keywords when building a website or creating content, the result will almost always be lopsided and one-dimensional. Your content will be clunky and your readers will most certainly notice.

This suggests that content quality and digital experience are playing a much larger role in search engine results than simply having the right collection of keywords.

For the people

Google calls the shots when it comes to search, right?

Wrong.

Google doesn’t roll out big updates and invest heavily in their Knowledge Graph merely for their health. They do it for the users. Just like any other B2C company, Google provides a service to its users. If its users don’t find that service useful, Google is in trouble.

By using their powerful Knowledge Graph and collecting almost absurd amounts of data, they improve and update their algorithm to better suit the searcher. This means Google isn’t so much a search engine as it is a data-collection engine, all while it is fostering an unbreakable bond with content.

Are keywords dead?

Reverend Lovejoy said it best: “Short answer, ‘yes’ with an ‘if.’ Long answer ‘no’ with a ‘but.’”

Sam Nemzer, an SEO guru over at Moz decided to test whether keywords or topics yield better SEO results.

The result was underwhelming. “…does this mean that we should or shouldn’t…forget about keywords and focus on topics?” Nemzer concludes. “Somewhat unsatisfyingly, the answer is a strong “maybe.”

Yes, keywords are dead IF Google continues to favor a more comprehensive approach to search. No, keywords are not dead, BUT simple keyword targeting is very quickly becoming an ineffective and antiquated way to reach page one.

SEO and content

The way SEO is changing follows the exact same path content marketing has charted in the last several years; this leads to better results for the user. As the demand for relevant, high-quality content rises, so does the user’s desire for better search results.

That’s not where the similarity ends, either.

Good SEO, much like high-quality content, begins with answering the questions your audience is asking. We do some keyword research on the front end by generating topics to get a sense of a client’s biggest opportunities. But the keywords we submit to our clients along with those topics are often different and aimed more at capturing the intent of the audience.

Conclusion

As long as search engines are around, SEO will always be in the conversation. And that’s a good thing. Search data provide content creators with extremely powerful tools and allows us to speak to our audience.

But the relationship between content and search is much more symbiotic than it used to be, and that means content’s influence on search (and vice versa) cannot be ignored. Content marketers who think of SEO more holistically will begin to rise to the top.

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