Why “SEO” and “keyword analysis” are dirty words
Yes, dirty words. Because we content creators, at some point, lost sight of the human element. We started to look at SEO as an artificially established set of rules and at keywords as a prescribed list of words we had to chase in order to win. Just look at the terms “search engine optimization (SEO)” and “keyword analysis.” If language is indicative of our approaches, we are without doubt guilty of dehumanizing and ignoring what should be our only priority when it comes to any content strategy—our users.
Instead of optimizing for and learning about our users, we allowed ourselves to get sucked into the Google ranking game. But there is hope yet. Voices of a new movement in the SEO world are emerging, and the call to humanize the user is becoming stronger and stronger.
I contend that to truly understand and help our users, we need to change the language we use, and we need to learn our users’ language. The first step, though, is to acknowledge that Google doesn’t hold all the power, but that the user in fact does.
Humans rank pages, not Google
Why is it that we fear the judgment of Google? Is it that we think Google can make and break our content and thus our businesses? Well, maybe it could, but if your page ranks highly in Google, it likely does so because this happens:
- You create a page Google can easily find and decipher.
- Many people type the same (or very similar) language into the Google search bar to find an answer to their question, need or desire.
- Google lists pages that contain language most closely related to the searcher’s language.
- The searchers scan page descriptions of the listed pages and decide—based on your language—that your page contains the best answer.
- The searchers click the link to your page and read your content.
- The above is repeated many times.
In short, as long as the required structural elements are in place, the right content (i.e. smart content) containing the right language (i.e. the user’s language) and the user’s interaction with your pages are all that is needed for Google to show off your content. If our content doesn’t reach our users, it is largely due to a disconnect in the language we use and our blind reliance on tools to show us the way to rankings.
The source of SEO and language dissonance
As Google became smarter in deciphering the intent behind a user’s search query, we have allowed ourselves to become complacent analysts. Instead of trying to learn about our users’ language, we abused keyword tools and started to look at keywords as something to conquer.
We may have been asked “to rank for,” “to own,” “to break into” or even “to steal” keywords, and on the way to our small successes we forgot that we were supposed to learn about our users, their needs, their wishes, their dreams, and their culture so that we can help them succeed.
Granted, as humans, we are imperfect and are influenced by our emotions, distractions and stresses, and our language reveals the same. We are neither consistent nor always clear. In many ways, Google has treated our users more humanely than we have. Google has learned to consider inconsistencies and accidents in communication. And we need to do the same. To understand our users and their intentions, we have to learn to really listen to them.
Do’s and don’ts of user language analysis
Whether you use tools such as Google Analytics, Bing webmaster tools, Brightedge or MindTouch search reports, you will end up with a list of terms and phrases actual humans typed into a search bar to find information.
Depending on your tool, you will either look at language users used to find your content specifically (such as with Google Analytics and MindTouch search reports) or you will look at language users used to find information from anyone on the internet. You decide which of these users you want to help become successful and which insight is more important to your content strategy. No matter which analysis you decide on, keep the following in mind:
- Remember that keywords are not words collected by some authoritative entity. They are recordings of natural, human language.
- Stay focused on the user. Your goal is to understand the users’ needs and the language with which they express their needs. Your goal should never be to “rank.”
- Don’t look at single terms in isolation, no matter how hard it is to ignore search volumes and page rankings.
- Look for searches that contain similar words and highlight popular themes.
- Don’t focus on exact phrasing, rather look at the idea or major thought behind each query.
- Ask questions about the user’s possible intent. For example, if “best practice” is a frequent search term, ask yourself whether users are looking for best practices in general or whether they looking for specific best practices.
- Use your analysis to create content (or reword content) to align with your users’ needs and language. If necessary, restructure pages to allow users to find often sought-after content more quickly.
The reward of humanizing your SEO efforts
It doesn’t matter whether you are in position one or three on the SERP or whether you have a snippet. These factors may give you bragging rights (and there are certainly some things you can do to increase your visibility), but in the end, only your users’ needs for your content will determine your relevance.
If you produce content around your users’ needs and pay attention to their language, your users will find your content and click on your articles. And before you know it, your pages will move up the SERP and you may even get a snippet—not because you had a brilliant keyword strategy, but because you truly cared about your users, the humans who need you.