Say No to Keyword Cramming: How to Effectively Use Keywords

Think back for a moment to your college days. It might be painful, but we’ll only be there for a moment. Undoubtedly, you remember all those essays and papers that were such a struggle to write. Did you ever use buzzwords, i.e., words that you barely understood but knew the professor would appreciate?

You might have used those words because you hoped the professor would notice them and assume from this that you really understood the concept, thus giving you a better grade. This concept transfers well into marketing in the form of keywords. But instead of trying to bump up your college grades, you’re trying to keep your business ahead of the competition. Efficient keyword usage is an important part of this process.

In recent years, the way we use keywords has changed. Here’s how you to use keywords properly and make the most out of them.

What’s the Big Deal with Keywords?

First, what’s a keyword, anyway? A keyword is a particular word or phrase that captures a concept. It’s also a word or phrase that people are likely to enter in a search engine. It could be something as simple as “Chinese restaurant” or something as specific as “Wi-Fi business phones.” Keywords are placed in content and headings to ultimately increase the SEO rank of a website. They’ve always been a significant factor that search engines use to determine a site’s rank.

But while keywords are most often associated with SEO, that’s not their only significance. Keywords are also a great place around which to build structure. They are the “charged” words in your content and represent the important concepts or ideas that define your content. Using them keeps content focused and relevant.

Keywords establish credibility if used correctly. If a business can make effective use of keywords despite being relatively new to a market, it can prove that it knows what it’s talking about. On the other hand, if keywords aren’t used correctly, readers will pick up on that, and the business’s credibility could be damaged. Keywords should not be ignored in your marketing strategy.

How Has Keyword Strategy Changed?

Kid stuffed with bunnies

Image via Flickr by Bruce Clay, Inc

Search engines have traditionally assigned a higher rank to websites with more frequent use of keywords. For example, if you had a website on crafting, and all other SEO-increasing factors on your site were equal to those of another site, the page with more instances of the word “crafting” (if that was your keyword) would probably be awarded the higher rank. The result of this was content that was stuffed to the brim with keywords, often at the sacrifice of quality. Keywords were used often used so frequently that they confused, bored, or annoyed readers.

Enter Panda. Panda was a Google update that hit the web in 2011. With Panda, websites with higher-quality content were given higher ranks. Rank no longer depended solely on keyword frequency and placement. This caused websites to start moving away from keyword-heavy content, but the shift accelerated in 2013 when Google became smarter and came up with its Hummingbird search algorithm. Hummingbird enabled Google to understand meaning, context, and intent. After that, the use of word-for-word keywords stuffed into content started to fade.

Some search engines, like Bing and Yahoo, still look for exact keywords, but where Google goes, others usually follow. It probably won’t be long before other engines follow suit and start using semantic search algorithms.

How to Effectively Use Keywords

So please, don’t fill your content with the same word over and over again. Previously, you could justify it, but now it’s just bad writing. While many writers are all too happy about this development, it does change things. Before, keyword strategy was simple: integrate the keyword as often while still making sense (although sense was sometimes sacrificed). Now we have more options, which complicates the process a bit. How do you use keywords effectively today?

It’s not possible to avoid keywords altogether. We need to retain keywords for what they provide in terms of recognition, credibility, and structure while raising the quality of the writing. Use word-for-word keywords the way you’d use hot sauce – sparingly. A little bit is great for the flavor, but if you dump in too much, your meal’s ruined. The relevancy of your keywords is more important than their frequency.

As mentioned earlier, keywords can give your content a structure and a center. But now, instead of building your content around the narrow meaning of a single word, focus on an idea. Stick to that central idea throughout your content, and you’ll use enough similar words and phrases to increase SEO. For example, if you’re writing a piece on great family vehicles, you no longer have to keep using the exact phrase “great family vehicles.” Instead, you can focus on the concept of how these vehicles will benefit families. Google will recognize the context and meaning and rank the page accordingly.

Instead of repeating a word over and over, now you must make your content consistent throughout, which adds yet another level of depth to writing. Expand on the same idea throughout your content and guide readers through smooth transitions from one point to the next. Don’t let your readers get lost. Remember that you’re not using redundant keywords to keep readers on track, you’re working with ideas now.

The marketing world hasn’t done away with keywords. In fact, they still play a very important role in SEO. It’s critical to use good keywords, keywords that accurately reflect the concepts you’re presenting and that are the most likely to be entered into a search engine by a person seeking information on those concepts.

But good SEO is much more than than having high-quality, keyword-rich copy. In fact, keyword-stuffing almost guarantees that a website will be ranked low. Writers now have the freedom to write content that is more meaningful and more engaging, while still using content to increase SEO. So if someone stops you on the street and asks you to try cramming more keywords into your webpages, just say no.

About the author

Michael Walton

Michael Walton is a freelance writer at CopyPress, writing tutor, and novelist. He has a passion for crafting creative content that meets the reader's needs, satisfies them, and leaves them wanting more. He is currently nestled among the mountains of Utah.