How Important Are Exact Match Keywords?

how-important-are-exact-match-keywords

Whether you’ve been doing SEO for a while or you’re just getting into the topic, there’s a good chance that you’ve already done some research on keywords. In fact, you’ve probably received quite a bit of advice on how to best use keywords–that you should focus on long-tail keywords and phrases; that you need a specific keyword density so search engines can pick up your content; that you should be adding keywords into headers and creating anchor text.

Well, at one time, all of these tips were true. While many of these practices are now outdated, there’s a reason you’ve been hearing so much about keywords: At one time, keyword-focused strategies were at the top of any SEO’s game.

So the question remains, how important are exact-match keywords now? How do keywords translate into useful information for search engines? Read on and find out!

Back in the day

Because search is an ever-evolving practice, search engines have had to make a huge number of adjustments in how they rank sites over the years. These adjustments are referred to as “algorithm updates”. And with each of these algorithm updates, SEOs find new ways to help boost page rank. So back when the web was less sophisticated and the algorithms weren’t quite as effective as they are now, search engines looked for pages with keywords that matched the search query exactly. These were called exact-match keywords.

Keyword stuffing

Once SEOs noticed that the usage of exact-match keywords would get sites ranking higher, they began putting those keywords in all the content on the website. They’d put it in image descriptions. In headers. In footers.

It got so bad that they’d even put it in the background of the site–yes, as in the space behind the text and images–and just change the color so that it blended in with the background color. Talk about obnoxious (and shady).

Now that is something that Google strongly dislikes. In fact, they wrote a whole piece about why hidden text and keyword stuffing is bad. Needless to say, it didn’t take too long before they started penalizing sites that stuffed keywords.

Keyword density

A tactic used alongside of keyword stuffing was adhering to a specific keyword density. Many of the people who used to stuff keywords realized that the search engines had begun to penalize them for it, so they decided instead to hit a specific density of keywords per article, thinking that this made the text appear more “organic” to search engines and thus would not be flagged as spam. Their density goals usually ranged from 2-5%, and the keywords had to be an exact match.

Of course, this led to really sloppy writing. We’re talking keywords and keyphrases shoved in roughly every two sentences, leading to repetitive, grammatically- and syntactically-incorrect content. It was so obvious that it was “optimized”. And soon, Google began flagging many of those articles as spam, too.

So how do exact-match keywords work now?

As a part of the Hummingbird update in 2013, Google began taking semantic indexing into account. What does that mean? It means that the search engine is smart enough to parse sentences and pick up on keyword variations as well as topics and themes. This eliminates the need to try to stuff strangely-worded keywords into your content.

So let’s say that you run a site promoting salon services and you’re located in Atlanta, GA. Before, with exact-match keyword phrasing, you might only want your content to reference “salons in Atlanta, GA” so that you could rank locally for salon services.

With the Hummingbird update in place, however, you wouldn’t have to worry about it. If you have claimed your Google business listing and made sure that your address is correct, you’ll already have a location associated with your website. As long as your site contains content about salon services, Google will understand that when someone is searching for salons in the Atlanta area, there’s a good chance they might be looking for your page.

So if exact-match keywords aren’t as important now that Google utilizes semantic indexing, what should you focus on?

Website structure

When it comes to your website’s layout and the way the code is structured, you might think that SEO has nothing to do with it. Well, you would be wrong.

If your site is easy to navigate, then visitors will find the information they’re looking for without much trouble. Google looks at this data–how long is someone on your site? Do they click around?–which, if they stay a while and look at your content, implies your site has what they needed. But what if they just back out immediately? This would suggest they didn’t find what they were looking for, and Google will assume your site isn’t relevant to their needs.

So be sure to title your pages with descriptive words. Make your menus easy to navigate. Ensure your web designer has enabled a site map. All of these things are far, far more important than exact-match keywords.

Site speed

Something that you might not even consider to be an issue can often really make or break your SEO efforts–if your site is slow or has errors in loading, you could be damaging your ranking without even knowing it. So what can you do to make sure your website loads quickly?

  • Clean up any extra pages that you don’t use anymore (perhaps from an old design).
  • Get rid of plug-ins that are broken, outdated, or are otherwise unused.
  • Ask your web developer if there is any unneeded media or outdated code that you can get rid of.
  • SSL encryption could possibly give a ranking boost, although it’s not significant.

Other content tips

If you’re writing your own content, here are some good things to keep in mind:

  • Use proper grammar and sentence structure. Writing poorly comes off as spammy.
  • Choose a topic and stick to it. By using the topic keywords organically throughout the post, you will tell Google what the page is about.
  • Do not repeat the same words over and over again. You’ll look spammy.
  • Interlink your posts. Google loves links, including links on your own site.
  • Use images. When you use images with proper titles, you increase reader interest and you tell Google more about your topic.
  • Encourage conversation. Leave comment sections open. You can earn trackbacks to your post (other links) and make it easy for people to engage with you.

And there you have it! Exact-match keywords aren’t important today, but staying on topic and providing fresh, relevant content for your visitors is. So keep practicing your writing and let the ideas come naturally–and remember that you need to write for people, not for search engines.


Internet Local Listings is an internet advertising company in Santa Ana, CA, serving clients across the country with the best website marketing services available in the industry. Visit us here for more information, or give us a call at (888) 770-3950 to discover how we can help you be seen online.

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7 SEO Myths You Need to Trash Immediately

Whether you’re new to SEO or you’re a long-time veteran, you’ve certainly heard your share of opinions on the practice. Keyword density matters according to one person, while another claims it doesn’t. One person proclaims Facebook to be pointless; another says it’s essential to your marketing campaign.

It can get downright exhausting to listen to these kinds of things. So today, we wanted to take the top 7 SEO myths we hear, and debunk them for you. Can you think of any others? Let us know!

1. SEO isn’t a long-term investment

“I did SEO once. Isn’t that good enough?”

Nope. In order for SEO to work, you have to keep at it. If you lost weight once, would you expect it to stay off forever? No. You have to make lifestyle changes to keep yourself healthy and trim, and the same goes for your website: If you want to grow your traffic, you have to keep promoting, keep updating, and keep connecting with your customers.

2. SEO is a scam

This usually ties in with the above concern. When people aren’t seeing their sites at #1 on Google within three days of working with an SEO service, they start panicking. Surely, because you’re paying for SEO, it should be done right away… right? If not, you’re just being scammed by some shady, fly-by-night operation. What a ripoff!

No, that’s not exactly true. While there are some out there who seek to take advantage of small business owners, that can be said about any industry. There are always going to be “bad apples” in the bunch, and there’s nothing you can do about that. What you can do, however, is learn how to spot them. Don’t think that just because someone is bad at their job, that all of us are!

3. Google doesn’t take any cues from social media

You’ve probably heard it before: Social media doesn’t help you rank in Google, because Google doesn’t care about your social media updates. While this is technically true in that Google does not care about how many fans or retweets or “likes” you have, that doesn’t mean that your social media sites don’t help your presence.

Confused? Let us explain.

If you follow best practices for your social media accounts, when people search for your company, your profiles should show up. Now, this might not directly affect the ranking of your website, but it gives people who search for you a whole host of options to connect with you. Furthermore, when people share your content via social media, it could bring attention to your work and allow others to contact you and/or build links to your site naturally. And these things will affect your ranking.

4. Link building is pointless now

Nope.

It seems that every so often, someone starts proclaiming link building to be dead (or SEO, or Facebook, or viral marketing, or… you get the picture) and then tons of people follow suit, crowing the same soundbites everywhere. But link building isn’t pointless. It never has been, and it probably won’t be.

Google does take ranking and relevancy signals from sites that link to you. If you have done a good job building a network of peers the natural and honest way, you have nothing to worry about. Forging relationships and providing fresh content are things that Google wants you to do. But if you buy links or pay someone to implement other black-hat SEO techniques (black-hat meaning bad; Google will punish your site if you’re caught using these methods), you’ll pay for it in the long run. This kind of link building is pointless; not the honest way.

5. You need to include a keyword density of x to rank

2%? 5%? You’ve heard it before: If you don’t maintain a certain keyword density in your content, Google’s going to overlook your site in favor of someone who does it correctly.

There’s definitely a nugget of truth to using keywords in your content: As the search engines crawl your page, they look for phrases consisting of related words. They can then conclude that the site is about a specific topic.

But that doesn’t mean you have to use the exact same instances of keywords a certain number of times. If you try to stuff too many keywords into your content, you’ll end up looking like a spammer. Instead, try to focus on writing clear content that revolves around one topic. So if you’re a nail salon, try writing a post about top nail trends of 2015. Or you could write about the top three brands of nail polish to try this spring. Do you see how clearly those topics are defined? By writing content around such a focused topic, you’ll naturally use language that cues search engines to look for certain keywords and keyphrases. You can also consciously make sure to include your keywords a few times, just for good measure.

6. Anchor text all keywords

This actually used to be an SEO truth. But then you started seeing sites with the same keyword or keyphrase repeated over and over and over, and every single time, the keyword led to the same page.

Google came down on that practice pretty hard.

Nowadays, it’s better to include links to your other pages (or to external sources, if applicable) by simply linking phrases like “click here” or “read more”. It’s not that it’s necessarily bad to link using keyword-rich phrases, but it can appear to Google that you’re linking specifically for the purpose of SEO, rather than providing valuable content for your readers. So try not to overdo it, and just link to things in a natural way rather than forcing it too hard.

7. Paid search will increase your organic rankings

Paid search can help you drive traffic to your site for the duration of your campaign.

But there is no data saying that paid search will help you rank organically.

Think about it: Companies with millions to spend on advertising would have it in the bag. Companies with smaller budgets couldn’t even compete. There’s already competition for pay-per-click bids; but that just helps Google determine which advertisements to show first. So until search engines decide to allow paid search to influence rankings, you can safely assume that this is not something you need to worry about.

Which SEO myths bug you the most? Let us know in the comments!

Internet Local Listings is an internet advertising company in Santa Ana, CA, serving clients across the country with the best website marketing services available in the industry. Visit us here for more information, or give us a call at (888) 770-3950 to see how we can help you be seen online.