Wednesday, 7 September 2011

SEO Beyond the Keyword

The other day I was on the phone with a client who was delighted with our SEO Services. That always feels good! My client wanted to add a new keyword to his campaign, and when he Googled it, he discovered that, although we had done no specific, targeted work on this keyword, he was already on Page 1!

Since SEOs (including me) emphasize keyword research and keyword selection, how is it that an SEO campaign can help a client site gain ranking on a different keyword? I am going to offer two explanations: One involves the long tail, and one involves authority. Both factor into an excellent SEO campaign.

It’s About Crawling

Before we get into details, it’s important to understand Google’s ability to “read” your content. Google is constantly attempting to understand language, semantics, and context, and every day, it gets better and better at that. That’s great news for you because, if you describe your product and services clearly and in detail, Google will use the language on your site to build a rich vocabulary that might be pertinent to your business.

Here’s an example: Give Google the set “toy, doll, teddy,” and it will predict “bear, plush, and handmade” (among others). But a list of words is one thing, a sentence or sentence fragment is another. Search engines want to understand how we use language. Google “who is pete” and you’ll find St. Peter, Pete Rouse, Pete Seeger, and many more. But change it to “the who is pete” and BLAM, Pete Townsend of The Who. “The” makes all the difference!

Why does all of this matter? Because, providing you have a good website that does a smart job of conveying your professional message, and provided you work on appropriate keywords in your SEO Services, Google will learn additional keywords from crawling your site. Using the above example, I, as your SEO, might be focusing on the keyword “giant teddy bear,” but your site doesn’t just say “giant teddy bear” over and over again. (Keyword stuffing is not only a bad idea, but an outmoded one.) As search engines crawl your site, they find “plush bear,” “plush doll,” “baby doll,” and more—keywords that weren’t necessarily an explicit part of your SEO campaign.


Ranking for a different keyword: “plush bear doll” instead of “giant teddy bear,” is an example of how authority expands the breadth and reach of your keywords. The SEO Services work I’ve done improves the authority and visibility of your website, and this, in turn, confers value onto the other keywords appearing on your authority pages. Needless to say, it also helps make my job easier should you expand your keyword list in the future.

The Long & Short of It

The long tail is another way that building up a keyword helps other keywords. A long tail is a three or more word keyword phrase that contains within it a one or two word keyword/phrase. Usually the “short tail” phrase is highly competitive. “Giant teddy bear” is a typical long tail example—the short tail is “teddy bear.” “Teddy bear” has 110,000 exact global monthly searches, which is a big windmill to tilt at! “Giant teddy bear,” on the other hand, has 2,900 exact global monthly searches. Although it’s a much smaller number, those are visitors you’d be happy to have, and the more specific keyword will tend to bring visitors more intent on purchasing (meaning better conversions).

But a funny thing is happening. Since that short tail is contained within the long tail, the entire time that you’re building rank for “giant teddy bear,” you’re simultaneously carrying “teddy bear” along with it. I’ve certainly seen it happen that a short tail keyword breaks through to page one based only on our long tail efforts. Other times, as the long tail reaches page one, the short tail moves from a rock bottom position of invisibility up to page two or three. While that SERP isn’t going to bring a great deal of traffic to your site, it’s certainly much easier for us to consider doing direct work on the short tail keyword after that growth has happened.

The bottom line: A good SEO-optimized website is an integrated whole. Additional keywords, including short tail keywords, will naturally tend to be helped by smart SEO efforts.

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