Today we’re talking about keywords.
To be specific, we’re talking about the meta keywords found in the <head> section of your web pages (highlighted in yellow below):
On a WordPress site, you get these keywords into that spot through the use of an SEO plugin. These are the keywords that you’ve heard need to be entered for the site overall, and for each page and post, separated by commas. The plugin provides a special box on each edit screen for them, usually in a section with other items, like page title and page description.
Much sleep has been lost and hair pulled out over keywords through the years. And for a long time now, it’s been much ado about nothing, because…
That article was posted on September 21, 2009, on the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog. (Go ahead, do the V-8 slap with me…lol)
You see, once upon a time, keywords meant everything. Google collected data about a site solely based on the keywords that were present on its pages and in its links. It was a simple, one-to-one relationship.
But, that made it easy to abuse, and some of the more opportunistic humans among us started stuffing keywords to get rankings. ( So much for the honor system, eh?)
Google’s job (and this is true for every other search engine out there) is to provide the best answers to every search query.
When you look at things from a search engine’s perspective, would you continue to base your work on something you know for sure people are using to give themselves an unfair advantage?
No, you wouldn’t. The search engines got wise to this, too, and stopped considering meta keywords altogether.
This put Google and the rest of them in a sticky situation, though. How were they supposed to figure out what rank to give all these billions of web pages?
Google looks for meaning, not for specific words.
When Google scans your site for information, it no longer pulls out the keyword phrases it thinks are relevant and matches them to user searches.
Instead, there’s a middle step.
Google interprets the data on your website and begins to form its own conclusions about what your site and your business really deliver.
If that seems a little creepy to you, you aren’t alone — Google is becoming extremely sophisticated.
For example, according to Google’s own research, deriving meaning from the synonyms of keywords accounts for up to 70 percent of searches.
That means it doesn’t matter that you used the phrase “auto repair shop” exactly several times throughout your website. You could use “auto repair shop,” “car repair specialists,” and “vehicle repair facility” on different pages, and Google could theoretically put you in the exact same spot.
In some ways, this makes our job of creating content easier. We can worry less about sounding like a robot because we’re trying to use our keyword phrase. We can just say what we have to say.
Semantic search is another spooky function that’s been in Google since 2013.
Semantic search is responsible for us being able to type in natural language questions and get frighteningly accurate answers in search.
A great example of this is what happens if you type in the title of this post. Try it:
does Google still care about keywords or not?
Look at the difference between the words I used – care about – and the word use. From a dictionary perspective, they’re very different. But in the context of what I’m really asking, not so much. Google is now smart enough to figure that out.
So what came up as the first result is the exact answer to my question. (Insert Twilight Zone theme music here…lol)
Mobile search is driving a lot of this.
Think about it. We’ve all got smartphones these days. We tap that little microphone and ask Google (or Siri, for iPhone users) for “cheap tacos in Tulsa” as if a real person is listening. More importantly, we expect a relevant answer.
If search engines dissected this phrase based on keywords, it would look for any site with the words “cheap,” “taco,” and “Tulsa” in them, which could populate anything from taco restaurants to stores to festive gatherings that happened to feature tacos.
Instead, semantic search interprets the meaning behind the search query — you’re likely looking for an inexpensive taco restaurant around Tulsa — and then searches for companies that might fit that description (again, ignoring keywords in favor of the meaning behind them).
As long as your content makes you seem like an inexpensive restaurant and your location is listed as near Tulsa, you could show up in the results — even if you don’t have that exact phrase on your site.
We couldn’t get a useful answer if the search engines didn’t know how to interpret what we’re asking. So, creepy as it may be, we’ve kinda done this to ourselves.