Many people underestimate the importance of keywords. When search engines review websites, one of the key criteria that affect individual page ranking is the presence of certain words and phrases. And while keyword usage alone won’t propel a website onto the coveted first page of search results, it’s arguably the single biggest factor.
Long tail keywords
Individual keywords are recorded and ranked alongside phrases of three to five words, known as long tails. For instance, ‘market’ is a keyword, whereas ‘Christmas market Manchester’ is a long tail. So-called ‘stop words’ (‘in’, ‘at’, ‘the’, etc) are disregarded by the search engine algorithms. While a festive stallholder at Manchester’s Albert Square wouldn’t expect to perform well for a universal term like ‘market’, a long tail identifies a more relevant (and local) audience. Long tails generally come in at a fraction of the cost of generic words in pay-per-click advertising, making them vastly more cost effective for targeted ad campaigns.
Identifying keywords for 2018 requires familiarity with industry news and emerging trends. A term that performed well in 2017 won’t necessarily be among the top keywords next year. Being quick to adopt (or discuss) emerging trends is advantageous, as is starting social media discussions on topics of burgeoning importance. This is a particularly good time to be researching keywords for 2018, since website modifications made before Christmas will have been factored into search engine results by the time everyone returns to work in January.
Search engines are evolving in response to our increasing adoption of virtual assistants, such as Siri and Cortana. Their soft, reassuring voices make us more likely to ask a question in normal English, compared to the abbreviated data strings entered into Google and Bing. Ranking highly for related topics involves assembling various blogs or content with internal links and industry references that position you as a leader in your area. Keywords in 2018 will be less valuable than a body of articles covering related subjects. It’s also worth considering blogs which ask (and then answer) questions virtual assistants may be asked, such as ‘what will happen to keywords in 2018?’
Preparing for the New Year
Keywords certainly shouldn’t be overlooked entirely in favour of long tails and common questions. It’s worth spending a couple of hours trawling through SEMrush, Moz or KWFinder to research trending words. In addition, look for long tail phrases your rivals are using to good effect. Competitor analysis can reveal niches or services other companies are promoting better than you. Providing you avoid plagiarism or unattainable promises, there’s no law against adapting your own website or social media presence accordingly.
The evolution of search engines and the advent of virtual assistants have made certain SEO practices counterproductive. Keyword stuffing used to achieve high rankings by tricking algorithms, but their evolving ability to interpret text like a human means excessive keyword use causes sites to be downgraded or blacklisted. Tag cloud shortcuts are out of fashion, and even inbound links are only counted if they come from reputable websites. Cut-price overseas link farms will be as detrimental in 2018 as Comic Sans fonts or a ‘click to enter’ landing page…