Search engines are the interface between online browsers and the pages that they get to read. So while we want to write informative content that answers the questions browsers are asking, at the same time we want to be sure that we are incorporating all the elements that will help our pages get noticed (in a good way) when the search engines start to crawl.
Oh yes, keywords are still a basic mainstay of effective SEO – so long as they are used naturally and in context.
Keywords alone won’t get your page to rank, but they are the first filter mechanism that most search engines start with.
Feel free to use keywords in headlines, title tags, subtitles, image tags and within the main text of the page. Just don’t go stuffing them into every sentence or this will turn off your readers, probably raise red flags for the search engines and may even cause your page to be down-ranked.
Instead of overstuffing your text with repeating keywords, make use of your online thesaurus and use synonyms and close variants instead. Search engine algorithms are very sophisticated and recognize that synonyms are interchangeable.
Besides, searchers use many different terms to look for the same information on line – and the more of these terms you can incorporate into your text, the more likely your page is to rank high on SERPs.
Imagine the types of questions a searcher might ask and try to include their words and phrases within your copy. You’ll find your text reads far more naturally and becomes more dynamic.
In addition, the more synonyms you use, the easier it is for the search engines to confirm the subject matter of the page. So if you write about “plants” and “shrubs”, for example, or about “plants” and “factories”, the search engine will be able to put your subject matter into its relevant context.
Read more about how Google search engines and algorithms interpret language at helping computers understand language.
Google uses a complicated term to describe this concept – term frequency–inverse document frequency or TF-IDF – but the idea is really quite simple.
It is not so much how often you use your keywords and synonyms, but how frequently these words are used on your page compared with the average frequency of their use in other documents.
So, common words such as “the”, “and”, “to” etc, are completely overlooked by search engines because they appear so often in just about every document.
In a similar way, it is easy to see that the word “hat”, for example, is used far more frequently than the term “Panama hat” and the relative rarity of using the expression “Panama hat” would indicate to Google that it is a significant indicator of context when its crawlers find the term on a web page.
Google’s Ngram viewer is very useful for making these comparisons and a lot of fun to try!
Using low-scoring TF-IDF words and phrases won’t by itself significantly improve your SERPs ranking, but it will add to your overall page richness and provide firm clues for the search engines as to your page context, meaning and relevance.
The most important part of the page is the body text – this is where most of the search engines concentrate their focus. Side bars, footer, headers and other none-body text areas are not considered as important as the body text itself.
So imagine the part of your text that you would prefer to show on a mobile phone screen and concentrate your SEO efforts here first. All the sections that wouldn’t appear on a mobile screen are likewise considered of secondary significance by the search engines.
Take a look at semantic elements to find out more about how you can mark up your page using HTML5 semantic elements to define the context of each page section and make it easier for search engines to crawl.
Search engines also consider the relationship between different words and phrases depending on how they are placed on the page.
– Words within the same paragraph are read as more semantically close than words from different paragraphs.
– Words in a list are considered equally inter-related to each other.
– Words in a heading or title bar are considered equally inter-related to the rest of the text.
Understanding how search engines interpret the significance of the proximity of words can help us to decide on the most appropriate word order and how to make our sentences and paragraphs flow.
There are three important aspects to understand about this concept:
– Google and the other search engines are sophisticated enough to recognize the meaning of phrases, not just of single words.
– Google and the other search engines can also recognize the close relationship between certain phrases when they appear together on the same page.
– Google and the other search engines will use phrases and the co-occurrence of different phrases as indicators of page context and meaning – and to decide on the relevance of those phrases in terms of where the page ranks on SERPs.
The technical term for this is phrase-based indexing.
So if you are writing about “Ellen DeGeneres”, for example, it is very likely you are also going to use the terms “late night talk show”, “comedian/actress”, “Emmy award winner” and “NBC Universal”. When all these phrases appear together in the same paragraph the meaning and context of the page becomes very clear to the search engines.
If your page is further interconnected with incoming links from different pages that contain other co-occurring, related phrases then the context becomes still clearer.
Search engines are continuing to look for further ways to refine their search algorithms so that they can improve on their abilities to return the most relevant pages according to browser searches.
The most likely next step will be to introduce algorithms that can interpret the relative importance and strength of any relationship between the different entities or elements mentioned within the document.
For example, on a page that mentions several times the words “Cinerama”, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, “The Little Mermaid”, “Aladdin” and includes the phrase “Walt Disney” just once, the search engines will be able to recognize that the relationship between Walt Disney and the animated movies is much stronger than their relationship with Cinerama and so will give the term “Walt Disney” more significance, even though it appears just once.
Understanding how search engines interpret the text we write can provide important guidance as to how to best plan our content so that it places highly on SERPs.
Far from meaning that we should write for the search engines, instead we are being pointed back towards using diverse vocabulary and lots of synonyms to create relevant and meaningful content that answers browsers questions and is presented in tight, cohesive paragraphs that flow logically from one to the other….
Doesn’t it sound a little reminiscent of high school English?