Prelude: The Historical Basics Of SEO
You could have knocked me down with a feather, when MOZ – iconic in the small world of SEO – posted on his blog in December 2016:
“H1 and H2 are best practices, but they are not going to transform or massively help your [Search Engine] rankings.”
Now, I don’t expect the layman to know the importance of H1 & H2 but to keep it simple, from the earliest web pages, H1 was “Header 1”, denoting that the sentence or phrase that followed was the equivalent to the title of an essay. It was a big deal:
- H1 meant (and still means) that this is what your page is about
- H2 meant “this is an important heading” – of which there might be several on a page &
- the language protocol continued with H3-H6 denoting headings with diminishing importance
Now, that’s gone.
Well, not exactly gone – H1 & H2 are still good / excellent practice – but patently, they’re no longer considered as important as they once were. Can you imagine being at school – more so, at university – handing in an essay without a title or sub-headings and still getting top marks?
Facetiously, I’d say “It would have to be a damn fine essay!”
But that’s the point! The Search Engines are evaluating sites through numerous factors and sometimes, some of them trump old site building protocol. One excellent example of why that might be is the increased data accessible to Google via Google Maps, which have resulted in dramatic changes in Local Search Results over the last few years e.g.
- in the past, if you searched for “Wollongong pizza”, the results returned would probably have covered the greater Wollongong area of about 30,000 people
- Now, a search for “Wollongong pizza” pulls its data from Google Maps’ inner city area, consisting of perhaps only 10,000 inhabitants
- I live in North Wollongong, about 1.5km (or 1 mile) away from central Wollongong but the Local Search results for “North Wollongong pizza” are quite different from those for “Wollongong pizza”
So, if you had a site beautifully optimized for “Wollongong pizza” your site might now only be receiving – all things being equal – one third of the traffic that it used to receive.
Another factor might be Google’s personalizing of Search results. If e.g. a pizza buying customer has been frequenting the same few Wollongong Pizza franchises for the last few years e.g. Dominos, Pizza Hut, Pizza Haven etc. his/her Search results may have be personalized to now predominantly display them. Your optimized “Wollongong pizza” site might not even show up in their Search results.
However, there is an important corollary, which is that, if you don’t build your site around SEO fundamentals, there’s a good chance that your site may not attract many searchers, at all, unless other factors are in your favor e.g.
- you really do make the best pizzas in town
- many customers have bookmarked you (and are by-passing the Search Engines, a powerful signal to them that your site is worth presenting to their other customers) or
- there’s a buzz about you on Social Media (i.e. customers reaching your site directly via a link from Social Media) e.g. you’ve hired your college-educated, presently-unemployed son to add some bizarre comedy to your Instagram account and he’s posting silly, faked images of pizza during great moments in history / Art etc.
Keyword Research Explained
So, given that your business isn’t an unexpected success, an SEO company would probably encourage you to create your site along tried and true paths. The first would be to follow nerdy protocols, such as H1, H2, site architecture etc., while the second would be to use Keyword Research to discover the core words and phrases that your page should be built around. It’s not a difficult idea to understand, simply because we’re all at ease with using keywords for a search. We expect the pages that we land on to answer our keyword driven query, even with Voice Search:
“Google, what the best pizza joint in Wollongong?” still contains the keywords “best”, “pizza” & “Wollongong”.
In even the near past, it would have been fair to say that Keyword Research entailed:
- cherry-picking the exact keywords & phrases that were being using by searchers for your (or similar) products or
- if you were lucky, discovering keywords or phrase that was being used that didn’t yet have pages built around them & then
- writing your pages around those exact phrases
e.g. suppose in my home town, Wollongong, let’s say Joe the plumber asked me to create a site for him. Checking the keyword data, I would see that:
- 2,512 were looking for “Wollongong plumber” every month
- 1,612 were looking for “Wollongong plumbers” &
- 975 were looking for “Wollongong plumbing services”
Being a reasonably small town, there were only two other plumbers who had sites – and they both had their home page built around the keywords “Wollongong plumber” but not “Wollongong plumbers” or “Wollongong plumbing services”. In the past, I might have been able to say:
Joe, my keyword research suggests that we build our pages around the keywords “Wollongong plumbers” & “Wollongong plumbing services”. We should clean up, because you’ll have no competition on those keywords, as no-one is using them.
Sure enough, we’d “optimize” his page and since the Keyword Research figures were always accurate (actually, they weren’t but let’s pretend that they were), our traffic would be 1,612 + 975 = 2,587, leaving the other two sites to squabble over the 2512! Then, if I was a bad guy – which I’m not – I’d have pointed out to Joe that there were also some common spelling mistakes that I’d discovered hiding in the dark corners of my figures:
- 375 were searching for Wollongong plummer
- 122 were searching for Wollongang plumber &
- 68 were searching for Wollongong plumming servise
So, we’d write a few sentences including these misspelled keywords and grab ourselves another 375 + 122 + 68 = 565 visits.
Of course, we wouldn’t want to broadcast those misspellings, so, the bad me would have used a number of tricky tactics, like writing the text in very small lettering and hiding it way below the perceived end of the page, or coloring it so that it blended into the background and didn’t appear as visible. Even as late as 2014 there were directives about how to use and not use hidden text.
Now, all of that has changed!
Search Engines have – for the most part – decided to treat keyword variations and the misspellings as one. The imaginary Keyword Research totals that we now receive for a “Wollongong Plumber” search is:
2,512 + 2,587 + 565 = 5,664
with no separate totals for “Wollongong Plumbers” etc.
As you might imagine, these changes have made many SEO copywriters quite unhappy, because there are, in theory, now fewer SEO-valuable words or phrases to build pages around! However, from a user’s perspective, it makes sense! I’d rather be served up one great page for “Wollongong plumbers” than three ordinary ones, two for “Wollongong plumber” & one for “Wollongong plumbers + Wollongong plumbing services”, each saying virtually the same thing.
For the quality SEO copywriters – and the clients who will support them – not much has changed. It’s all about and has always been about great content:
- there are old copywriting tricks you can use to keep people wanting to read, in my case, I use a personalized, chatty style – appropriate because I’m attempting to create a personal connection, a sense of trust and thereby gain your business. In that way, my style might be seen as a type of Sales letter. Of course, you’d need a totally different styles of writing for e.g. “Wollongong Plumbers”
- clever use of Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords – using software, we can enter a keyword and discover a spread of connected words and phrases, generally found around detailed discussion of a certain keyword e.g. in writing a page for a dentist about “root canal therapy”, we might discover LSI Keyword Research such as “cost, pain, side effects, danger, complications, swelling, symptoms, procedure etc. and quickly plot a grid of sub-headings for the page. The dentist could then add his professional comments (hopefully with keyword-rich details) to each of the topics and our SEO copywriter could then create an interesting page that conveys all the information that the dentist would want to convey and that the potential client would want to read
- another trick that I like is scanning Youtube comments or Amazon reviews – they are often rich in language, detail and keywords and can add genuine nuance because they contain experience and emotion
In the end, though, the test of any good copywriting, particularly SEO copywriting, is that while it’s carefully planned, nerdily researched and meticulously constructed, it should appear natural, informative and easy to read. If you’d like us to help you achieve that, feel free to contact us.
The Latest On Keyword Research From The Web
Tactical Keyword Research – December 2016
An excellent, very in-depth article from MOZ about how sophisticated Google Search Artificial Intelligence has now become. The first section, about how Google is now “understanding” keywords and associating them with Plurals, Stemming (root words that secondary words “stem from”), Synonyms, Abbreviations, Acronyms etc. is fairly easy to grasp. I strongly recommend that you check that part, at least, because it will really help you grasp what SEO copywriting should be aiming for. To be honest, the rest is pretty highbrow, even for me!