SEO was simple in 2009. All you had to do was figure out which keywords had a high search volume and saturate your website with that word. It was the recipe for ranking.
Fast-forward a few short years and focusing on keyword optimization provides only a fraction of the SEO benefit it once did. This is partly because there is much more content out there, but it’s mostly because of how technology and human behavior has evolved in this digital age.
Technology has evolved.
Google updates its algorithms multiple time each year. With each mysterious update, the search rankings change slightly. Certain SEO factors are elevated while other factors become inconsequential. As SEO professionals, we don’t know the exact nature of each Google update, but through trial, error, and close monitoring we are able to formulate ideas for ongoing SEO strategies.
One thing is for certain, Google has advanced far beyond being a robot that only ranks your site based on keyword density.
Search engines are now able to assess the quality of your content and not just the density of keywords. This is why context in your content is so much more important than the specific words you use.
Don’t write content for a robot, write for a human. After all, the search engine robots are basically human now.
Human behavior has evolved.
In addition to these advancements in technology, human behavior in the online space has drastically changed over the years. A decade ago, keyword stuffing worked because, well, that’s how people searched online. One to two word queries and then it's off to the races scrolling through results to find what you were looking for.
Now we have smartphones, smart speakers, smart home devices, and, subsequently, smarter people. We know how to find exactly what we’re looking for now so we don’t have to go through pages and pages of search results hunting for the answers.
It’s the reason why longer search queries garner more clicks than shorter ones. We’ve learned how to specify. We don’t search for “blue jeans” when we know we really want “levis 514 straight fit black jeans.” The web is more robust now, more specific. And we know how to use it better.
So if keywords don’t matter for SEO, what does?
Well, I wouldn’t say keywords don’t matter at all. They serve a foundational purpose of shaping your content so search engines know what you’re all about. But relying on keyword density alone for SEO in 2019 is simply not going to cut it.
As an SEO specialist, here’s my list of the most important aspects of a website’s SEO:
- Quality of content
- Optimized metadata
- Technical performance
- Site trust
This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a list of things that, in my experience, matter much more for SEO than keyword density. So if you need a starting point when assessing your website’s SEO, start by analyzing the things on the list above.
If you find yourself in a position with an SEO consultant who’s still relying on keyword density as the primary factor for search ranking, then it may be time to look for a new SEO partner.
How do I assess the quality of my content?
There’s a pretty simple formula for diagnosing the SEO quality of your website’s content. It’s E.A.T.
E: Expertise. Does your content position you as an expert? Is it specific and educated in its approach or is everything oversimplified in an effort to be “accessible?” Readability is important, but establish expertise is also important. Get creative and achieve both.
A: Authoritativeness. Is your content authoritative? In other words, do you position yourself as an established authority on the issue? Is your content backed up by facts?
T: Trustworthiness. Lastly, is there evidence that supports your content? Are there external sources you can link to that validate your content? The more you link to quality, similar content both inside and outside of your domain, the more trustworthy your website becomes.
View your content through each of these 3 lenses and decide where you stand. If optimizations are needed, make some revisions. Rinse and repeat.
Finally, SEO is an ongoing process. There isn’t a one-and-done SEO solution. Because the algorithms are changing and your competitors are constantly optimizing, its imperative that you establish a long-term SEO strategy to keep your site well-oiled for the future. The evolution isn’t over yet.