Stop Wasting Time on Keywords and Start Writing

Updated November 2019

I first brought up the subject of ignoring the content marketers preaching ‘keyword research’ and being overly concerned with crafting the perfectly SEO optimized content in a LinkedIn article I published back in November 2015. Since then I have continued to educate small business owners who insist that they must do keyword research or can’t let go of their SEO concerns.

I get it. The need to rank has been drilled into us. We have been told that in order to rank, we must do research. We must use the right keywords. I have found that to be utter bullshit for most small businesses, mostly based on my publishing content since the early 200os.

The best way to start ranking?

Start writing and publishing valuable, quality, easy to read and digest content.

Content creators are so concerned with ranking they inevitably create content designed for Google, not their readers. While showing up in SERPs matters, it does no good if what shows is of little value to the reader to too cumbersome to read. You will never convert.

The single best advice to start ranking is to ignore most of those SEO rules at the outset. Focus on writing content which addresses the concerns of your customers and clients.

  • Provide answers and solutions to their issues.
  • Provide advice.

Write your content as if you were directly answering a specific question you have been asked. This will keep it natural and organic.

Keep it natural

Your goal should be to have what you write sound to the reader the same way you would tell them verbally. Content creators have a habit of being verbose, that more words are better. They add keywords and phrases they would not normally use in conversation in an effort to ‘get Google’s attention’.

Yet, the more the content reads as conversational, the easier it is to read and understand. Then layer in an effective social media marketing and email marketing to get the content seen. Start generating traffic – without Google.

Well-written, valuable and consumable content (if you have a targeted audience) will start driving comments, sharing, and conversions on the blog itself and through social media. Google will take notice. On site comments are a direct indicator of the value and authority. Social sharing is still a big indirect ranking factor.

The side benefit – not writing for Google’s algorithm means no negative impact when it changes.

Creating authenticity

Keeping your writing natural isn’t only about making your content easier to read. It creates consistency in your voice between how you say something and how you write.

It creates authenticity. It makes it easier for others to connect and bond with you, even if only in the slightest way. It’s those bonds which become the basis for relationships.

For any relationship to develop or survive, there needs to be a level of trust and authenticity. You cannot say one thing and do another. You cannot behave one way with some people and a different way with others.

The more natural your writing, the more what you write matches what you would say in person, the more YOUR true voice will show, and you will be more authentic and trustworthy.

A couple of side notes about keywords

Understanding the language your client uses is critical. This is where keyword research matters most. We each have words and phrases we use for specific things. These come from our cultures, religions, regional dialects, etc.

Do you call it pop, soda, or soda pop? Tennis shoes or sneakers? Lift or elevator? Rent or let?

The broader your audience’s location, the more this type of keyword research matters. You need to know how your audience refers to something and use those words and phrases, not what you use.

We have never done any keyword research for the content on this site. Yet (as of this editing), Moz’s Link Explorer tool has us ranking for 424 keywords (the “number of keywords for which this site ranks within the top 50 positions on Google US).

Per Moz link explorer: Number of keywords for which this site ranks within the top 50 positions on Google US.

A deeper look at those ranking words, they are what our clients are searching.

How does that happen without research? If you are speaking to your audience and you are an authority in your industry, the words and phrases come out naturally. They appear in not one article, but consistently across all of your content (a big reason to to have a solid content marketing strategy).

Those phrases across a breadth of content on your site is a far better indicator to Google you are credible.

Our chosen keyword or phrase is an afterthought. Rather than creating content around a keyword or keyword phrase, we create content around an idea., then we look for a common theme. It helps in editing to dial in the content a bit better. It’s a check on how well we stayed on topic. Did we end up on too many tangents.

We’ll then use that focus word to ensure our article title, URL slug, and meta description clearing match the content. We’re after three things in this process:

  1. Telling Google what the content is about and its focal point (helps them better determine based on user search intent if it should be shown.
  2. To as closely match what shows in SERPs to the searcher’s intent.
  3. To ensure that when it does show and the reader clicks, we have provide the information they seek.

While this can reduce overall impressions of our content in SERPs, it means a better click-through rate (more targeted) and lower overall bounce (more on page time). These are additional ranking signals.

Consider this from Rand Fishkin:

“In his Moz Blog post “It’s Time to Stop Doing SEO Like It’s 2012,” Rand Fishkin backs this up, noting that these days Google is far more concerned with the quality, relevance, and thoroughness of content on a page than with how many times a keyword is used. He says,
Yes, it’s still wise to use the keyword that searchers type into Google in your title, your description, and on the page. But repetition-based rules are not gonna boost your rankings, and may inhibit your usability and content quality, which have far greater impacts.” ~ Keyword Density, Perficient Digital.
And that’s from 2017!
For more thoughts on the subject, read Neil Patel’s thoughts on whether keywords even matter at all. (published in 2017 and updated in early 2019)

It really comes down to this:

If you want to rank, dial in your audience, focus on putting pen to paper with content within your expertise. Do it naturally and authentically. Write from the heart. Address the needs of your reader. Create new regularly and use the tools available to you to get it distributed.

Don’t get bogged down in the technical and stop relying on Google. Do the above, with well-written, valuable content created regularly, you will rank in time without the risk of losing it at the next algorithm update.

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