Garden furniture. It’s an image that looms large when I’m asked for my opinion on keywords. I’ve been writing content long enough to remember: a.) when the floppy disk was the only way of transferring files from one PC to another; and b.) the day I was asked by a client to shoehorn phrases such as ‘garden bench’ and ‘patio set’ into an online product catalogue at a 10% frequency rate. Just consider that statistic for a minute. One garden-furniture-related phrase every ten words. The shambles that resulted from that unholy alliance of tanalised timber and SEO intransigence still has the power to bring me out in a cold sweat.
Content-driven SEO – a leap of faith?
But could the shifting sands of SEO actually be good for online business? The emergence in 2013 of an evolving search engine algorithm that not only punishes an over-reliance on empty keywords but actually rewards a return to more natural language patterns and the development of quality content is, if anything, long overdue. For me, the really great thing about Google’s current keyword-bashing strategy isn’t just that it slices through the cold dead heart of keyword tyranny, but, more importantly, that it frees businesses to focus on what they should be doing anyway: forging an honest, reciprocal connection with their customers.
Before we can connect, however, we need to understand what’s important to our audience and – crucially – we need to care. It’s not a revolutionary concept. It’s what successful businesses in the real world have always done and what the filter of technology so efficiently masks and muddles. If companies dare to allow their marketing activities to be driven by the desire to make their customers happy, the noble thing could become the powerfully right thing for long-term profitability, too, as it generates loyalty and goodwill alongside increased sales.
SEO – adapt and survive
Of course, there’s no point in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It’s not so much that SEO is no longer relevant, more that we perhaps need to take the approach of optimizing our websites for audiences rather than for search engines. I’ve long held the belief that we should be writing content for people, not search bots, to read. Surely if we begin by creating top-notch content and then use all the tools we have – blogs, social media, PR, newsletters – to share it far and wide, we can build businesses and brands we can be proud of.