Keyword research—and using what comes out of it on your website—has become a dirty word. And frankly, because of how it’s been abused, I’m not surprised. Keywords and their incorporation into website content has been much maligned in recent years due to black hat SEO tactics such as stuffing, hiding text, and content duplication.
But keyword research isn’t as bad as you might think. In fact, in some cases, it’s essential. You just have to think about it in the right way.
SEO Is About People
Truthfully, white hat SEO and keyword research can coexist—and happily. At its core, white hat SEO is all about optimizing for users while following the guidelines prescribed by search engines. The thing is, search engines nowadays are pretty darn smart. With the advent of semantic search and RankBrain, and the explosion of enhancements to the search engine results page, search engines have an impressive understanding of what kinds of information users seek. It’s in their best interests to do so.
Search engines are free. Google doesn’t make any money when you type in a query and click through to a website. But they do make money on ads. The more useful you find their organic results, the more likely you’ll be to return. And the more you visit Google, the higher the likelihood you have of one day clicking on an ad displayed there. That’s its income stream.
So while Google may not be providing users with everything they need out of the kindness of its little data-fueled heart, it does so nonetheless. What’s the takeaway from this? If SEO is all about optimizing for search engines, and search engines focus on providing users with what they seek most, then modern SEO is all about the users.
Keywords Aren’t for Stuffing
If your website isn’t showing in search results, it’s an indication that search engines may deem what’s on it to be irrelevant and unhelpful. It means you may not be providing users with the answers they need when they seek information online.
Hey, we’ve all been there. We think we’re creating great website content, but it’s just not ranking well. If this were a static billboard on the side of the interstate bearing a message that wasn’t resonating, that would be a problem. But we’re not relegated to the side of the road; we’re online. And the beauty of the digital world is that it’s nearly always tweakable.
To make sure your content is truly user-focused, it’s helpful to start your project with keyword research. This will help you ensure you’re headed in the right direction. But if the phrase “keyword research” still rubs you the wrong way, think of what the phrase really means at its core: user research.
Imagine you walk up to someone on the street and ask, “When you search for information online, what words do you use? What questions do you ask? What are you hoping to find?” You then take that information and use it to create a content development strategy focused on providing users with the information they want—in words that resonate with them.
That’s what keyword research really is. And if you perform it to its fullest extent, considering everything from competition level to search volume to user intent, you’ll greatly improve your website’s user experience and, in turn, search engine rankings.
Keyword Research in Practice
I listened to a Content Marketing Institute webinar recently that mentioned the AAA website and this very subject. After doing keyword research, AAA discovered users frequently searched for discounts online and infrequently used the word “savings” when doing so. Given that “savings” was the way AAA described this service on their website, they had a problem.
Instead of doubling down on their internal preferences, they replaced all instances of “savings” in their content with “discounts.” The result? A vast traffic improvement from just that one change alone.
AAA’s traffic increase wasn’t the result of keyword stuffing. It wasn’t because they tried to game the system. The change they made improved their site because they researched keywords familiar to their users and started talking about their services in the same way.
They thought of their users first, and their users thanked them for it through increased website engagement.
Becoming Findable Online
You can work to improve organic traffic to your site just like AAA by performing keyword research and focusing your content on what you uncover. This is especially true and important for healthcare websites given the organic search competition and extensive, varied terminology used to describe provider specialties, medical conditions, and care services. It benefits you to pepper your content with terms your audience understands. SEO and keyword research can help you make it happen.
Remember: Keyword research and user-focused content aren’t mutually exclusive. At its core, modern SEO isn’t about optimizing for search engines. It’s about tailoring your content for what users seek and need. After all, if no one ever finds your content online, what good is it?