A colleague of mine once related the story of an Irish friend, who worked for a company that built corporate intranets earlier in the decade. Speaking of her company's website optimisation strategy, she confided in him: “Ah sure, we're calling the stuff we do 'knowledge management' now – everybody else is!”
Thinking you can effectively “own” a search term and part of the traffic it generates was a reasonable policy, right?. “Knowledge management” happened to be a popular search term at the time, and so as long as the business in question delivered a service relevant to the concept, however tangentially, it made sense to capitalise on the number of people searching for that term.
Well, perhaps. But more than a bit limiting today. An effective keyword strategy will help drive search results, for sure (for the moment, at any rate), but as Rebecca Churt touches on in her post on SEO Myths (Myth#1), search engines have evolved. They are now far more focused on detecting, measuring the authoritativeness of, and reflecting quality content. And they are doing this in ways that are subverting the traditional top-to-bottom ranking of search results.
Getting your business found now depends more than anything on having backlinks from high quality content environments. The dark arts of keyword-stuffing, link-farming, and referencing 'knowledge management' just because it's fashionable, are not fooling anyone any more - especially not Google.
Authority vs. keywords
So what are those “quality content environments”? As we noted in a previous post, good content that informs, helps or entertains people increases the probability of recipients sharing or linking back to that content from their own platform, site or blog. These are the links that tell search engines that that person (or website) "endorses" your site. Based on the 'authority' of the sites providing those backlinks (in large part defined by the number of quality backlinks they have themselves), your site will increase in authority.
But keyword optimisation is still a long way from dead. Although major search engines are moving to encrypted search, meaning, as Hartley Brody writes for Hubspot, that tracking individual keywords and phrases will eventually become “less and less possible”, there are still credible keyword search tools that provide valuable guidance on the keywords to include on your website and in the content you share.
Brian Clark, in his excellent eBook Keyword Research – A Real-World Guide, outlines a number of keyword management solutions, including:
- Wordze – Fifteen different keyword and marketing tools, with a free trial
- Keyword Discovery – Keyword search statistics from “all the major search engines worldwide”, with a free trial
- Wordtracker – Reveals high-performing keywords and intelligent interpretation of competition
These tools, Clark explains, work by estimating the number of times people search for phrases and the competition for those keywords – but the vagaries of the internet mean that the figures aren't reliable as absolutes. Instead, as he says, “You can gauge the popularity of a topic relative to other topics.”
But it's about more than just identifying the popularity of any given keyword – it's also about identifying other terms that, statistically, across the huge volumes of content on the internet, tend to be associated with those keywords. This simultaneously provides a wider canvas of searchers to appeal to, but also the beginnings of a more refined understanding of the specific interest profiles of each different kind of searcher.
A genuinely refreshing realisation is taking hold, off the back of traditional keyword research and SEO, as well as the more recent developments in search engine intelligence. It should be treated as a much more holistic process than it hitherto has been – and one that primarily addresses the information needs of the buyer.
Optimisation isn't just about leading a horse (internet searcher) to water (your website) any more – it's about guiding buyers through your website to ensure they encounter content that is helpful enough for them to take note of and remarkable enough for them to share.
To paraphrase Hartley Brody again, a three-step plan for ensuring that optimisation benefits buyers once they're on your website, as well as when they're en route to it in the first place, might look like this:
- Identify and promote your highest converting offers
- Breathe new life into high-performing content
- Identify low- and high-converting landing pages and ensure they're being promoted in the right ways to help them perform their best
It seems that getting found is now arguably the easy part. Getting shared is where the hard work of optimisation really starts.