Why Trying to Rank for Keywords with SEO is a Mistake
Do Not Try to Rank for Keywords with SEO
Once upon a time, marketers were able to pick keywords and specific phrases for websites to rank for in search results. There were tactics that could be taken to go after specific keywords that would improve SEO. Now it might sound crazy to say that continuing with this strategy is a mistake but search engines are evolving. Trying to rank for keywords does not work anymore. If your business is not constantly adapting your digital marketing strategy to account for SEO, it is a mistake!
Get more information on what SEO, or search engine optimization, is in our article What is SEO?.
To have a useful presence for users and to be found by your audience, SEO matters. Digital marketers need to have an active strategy around SEO. Businesses that are not paying attention to the details of the content on their website will notice that rankings will suffer.
Search Engine Algorithm Updates With Keywords
How search engines catalog websites is always changing. Over the years there have been some major search engine algorithm updates. There are, in fact, hundreds of these updates each year so how search engines look for information and rank websites is in constant flux. So are keywords still important?
In 2013, the Hummingbird update made major changes to the SEO world of ranking for keywords. It allowed searchers to go after topics and subtopics, instead of . This allowed Google to understand semantic search to focus on synonyms and related topics. So they no longer needed the specific keyword but could understand more.
That came along with smaller updates that came along throughout the years. This was really the beginning of natural language and voice search and not just a keyword search.
The reality is that none of this will ever be complete. It will constantly evolve and your business has to keep up with it to be found online. How we used to do SEO with ‘exact phrase match’ became completely irrelevant and is no longer there.
BERT = Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers
In October 2019 another big update came along called BERT. This update was one of the largest in the search history. Again, it’s affected being able to rank for specific keywords.
What does it mean and what happened with this update? Search engines were able to interpret the meaning of a word by words that came directly before and after a word. It is so large that it only affects queries 1 through 10 and they are still working on rolling out different aspects of it. It’s beyond the boundaries of Google hardware.
User Search Intent
Now Google is looking at what the user’s intent is. What are they trying to solve? It’s moved beyond keyword-ranking specific searches. It is looking to solve the user’s problem and solve it quickly.
What is the query or the question that they’re asking? Users go to Google to get questions answered.
You will, however, still get results when you search keywords. Let’s say “plumber, Indianapolis” for example. Google determines the best results based on who has provided the most, and best, information on everything about that topic as a whole, not a specific page that has “plumber, Indianapolis’ on it. That outdated strategy of one page or keyword stuffing will fail.
So why even bother with keyword research? Should you do it?
Yes. How you search is going to be completely different from how someone else searches. Keyword research tools give perspective to understanding what people are searching for. There are great tools that will get you to long-tail queries. These are really several words together in a search query or to simplify it more, a question. You want to go to the basics of who, what, when, where, and why. Answer those questions on your website. Choose and optimize blog content that digs deeper into these questions and shows your business’s expertise.
Keyword Ranking Tools
Should we still be using keyword ranking tools?
Yes, but again, they have evolved to give topics not just keywords. It gives you context and you can see trends going up or down. There are lots of tools:
You can do more complete keyword research by using these tools.
Another great tool for keyword research for what you are ranking for is the Google Search Console. But, is it accurate on what you’re ranking for by keyword query?
Kind of but not exactly because of what is called personalized results. Personalized results is a search feature that came out in 2004 where all search results are associated with your browser cookie browser record. All the different browsers store how you search (including on mobile devices). Your searches are not only based on the relevance of those websites to your query but also on what you’ve previously visited in that browser. It is giving results based on your previous searches and interactions.
Google remembers how you have searched before and serves you different results than everyone else. It displays results based on the algorithm, which has narrowed down what you will likely want to see based on past activity.
Incognito Mode Searches
Does Incognito mode really work for not getting personalized results?
Incognito really means that it doesn’t save your cookies (or your temp internet files, or browsing history). But, that doesn’t mean Google hasn’t stored your search results at a higher level to deliver personalized search results. Incognito mode doesn’t work and besides that, browser cookies are going away.
So what you see in the Google Search Console for keyword ranking is an average position across the say, “The United States”, of where you rank for certain keywords.
Maybe you get into the search console and think “Wow I’m number 3!” You can’t just see a keyword at #3 and do that exact search and see the same results. Ugh, it can be frustrating and confusing because there are so many considerations.
There are also some other limitations with Google’s own tool. You can only get national results (think, United States). If you need to know where you rank for local results, it’s tougher. You cannot view down to the detail of local results of say “Indianapolis SEO Company”. SEMrush does give you some of this information but it’s a third-party tool and they are gathering their info in their own way and not necessarily how Google does it. So even when you combine tools SEO is tricky.
What should we be doing in Google Search Console?
There are trends with keywords and phrases. And we should look for those trends.
There are also lots of different data sets that we have to look at to understand if we’re moving in the right direction when it comes to SEO.
Biggest SEO Challenges
Keyword rankings do not matter at all. It’s really only a symptom of whether or not you’re on the right track.
There’s a lot to SEO. It’s involved, requires attention to detail, and it’s always changing. You cannot just write for a particular keyword phrase. Search engines are looking more for those long queries that people are searching for. In conclusion, SEO and content strategy for ranking for keywords search results is nowhere near straightforward! It’s complicated and takes experience.
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Jennifer Denney has been in digital marketing since 2006 and has seen a wealth of changing landscape in digital marketing. She has seen the rise and fall of many marketing tactics. She is deeply rooted in understanding the metrics that showcase the value of certain types of digital marketing. She produces weekly live shows with Lorraine Ball, solocast with Elevated Marketing Chats, and conducts a weekly podcast called Elevated Marketing Dot Podcast.