While it is true that the importance of keywords to search engines is on the decline, it is not dead. The focus has merely shifted. In the past, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) utilized several outdated practices, such as stuffing keywords into a page, which has evolved to be more about the placement of the keywords and the relevance and intent of the query.
SEO has gone through many changes since its inception in the 1990’s. While there is no clear moment of creation of SEO, it can be argued that it has existed and evolved with the development of search engines and the internet. Ever since it was realized that a person or business could market and sell through the internet SEO has existed in some form.
Modern SEO has evolved around Google’s search algorithms. In the past, Google’s algorithm did not change much, and only updated every few weeks. If a website was ranked number 1 for a keyword it was basically guaranteed that spot until Google made another update.
In 2010, Google launched Caffeine. Caffeine was the first major update to Google’s search algorithms, which most involved indexing and expanding their search results to include more of the ever growing internet. Since Caffeine, Google’s algorithm has gone from changing every few weeks to changing every day. Most times, these changes are not announced and it is up to SEO practitioners to figure out what the changes might have been.
Since Caffeine was launched, there have been 3 major changes to Google’s search engine algorithm. The first was Panda, which was launched in 2011.
The purpose of Panda was to try to show better quality sites higher in search results and move down or remove sites that may be of lower quality. It did this by targeting sites that had pages with very little content, pages with duplicate content, and pages with low quality content. Websites with content that was targeted by Panda were hit hard and their ranks were lowered or they were deindexed until sites remedies all unnatural SEO they used on their website.
The next iteration of Google’s search engine algorithm was Penguin, which was launched in 2012. While the Panda update focused on content and keywords, the Penguin update focused on the other “half” of SEO, backlinks.
The goal of Penguin was to reduce the authority that Google gave to sites that used unnatural linking techniques in order to gain an advantage in the Google results.
In September of 2013 Google announced that it had started using a new search algorithm in August of that same year called Hummingbird. Hummingbird was meant to be precise and fast by giving more attention to every keyword in a query. Rather than just focus on words, Hummingbird would look at the whole query to better understand the meaning of the query.
Hummingbird interprets the meaning of a query based off of the placement of the keywords. Searching for a “car repair shop” is very different than searching for a “repair shop car.” Both keyword phrases have the same words but in a different order. In the past either one of these keyword phrases would have yielded the same results since they contain the same three keywords. Now, however, Hummingbird looks at the placement and can differentiate between the two phrases.
One of the biggest factors that Google has made towards interpreting meaning is the extra step they added to their search algorithm. Instead of just scanning a website looking for keywords and producing the website with the highest number of keywords that match your query, it now stops to analyze what it has found. It actually looks at your entire site and draws conclusions as to what your website is actually about. Your site could be riddled with keywords, but if they are all synonyms then Google’s algorithm will take that into account and ascertain what it is that your website is about. So loading up your website with individual keywords no longer has much sway. Instead, it is better to give your site an overall meaning that Google can surmise and use to better produce results.
Want to learn more beyond keywords? Check out our post “5 SEO Myths to Overlook in 2015” to gain further insight as to effective SEO practices for your website and business.