Rethinking SEO: How to Write for Search Engines in 2017

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It’s hard to keep up with all of the changes to search engine optimization (SEO), and keyword strategies are no exception.

But with advances in artificial intelligence (AI), constantly changing search algorithms, and shifting search behaviors, yesterday’s SEO techniques are no longer relevant.

If you don’t make some changes, your search engine rankings could take a hit.

The evolution of keyword strategy

The most important thing to remember when developing your keyword strategy is that the old rules no longer apply.

Keyword stuffing with a single search term is now obsolete and ill-advised. Topical search — which includes not only your primary keyword, but related keywords, synonyms, and any other relevant terms users might enter in their Google (or Bing or Yahoo!…) search box — is the superior strategy.

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In an article covering 2017 SEO trends, Andy Crestodina, co-founder and strategic director at Orbit Media, notes that topical — or semantic — search will continue to be a focus in the upcoming year:

“Google will continue to evolve into a semantic search engine, which means that smart marketers will focus on topics, not just keywords … The key is to find and use all the words and phrases related to your primary phrase, thereby spreading out your content across the broader topic.”

With the increasing use of mobile and smart technology, you’ll also need to consider conversational language, and how a growing number of online users will be searching in the future.

3 Steps to a Killer Keyword Strategy

Whether your digital marketing strategy focuses on brand building, conversion, or a combination of the two, here are the critical steps you can take to ensure your keyword strategy is in alignment and on target.

Step 1: Conduct methodical keyword research around content themes.

Named one of the top 6 SEO strategies for 2016, keyword research is still an important first step in informing your keyword strategy.

First, make a list of the major topics for which you want your content to rank. Then, under those topics, list specific keywords and phrases you think people will use to search for that content.

Finally, use tools that generate keyword data to help you select high-value search terms. Understanding measurements such as page visits from organic search, site ranking for particular search terms, and even competitor ranking, will help you determine which keywords to keep, and which to toss.

Here are a few keyword research tools to try:

Step 2. Conduct topical research that includes related keywords.

If you haven’t already, expand on your keyword research to uncover the related keywords, topics, and themes that resonate with your audience.

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Remember, you want to broaden your search reach, so you’ll need to look at the intent of your visitors — what you think they’re looking for — and not just consider the exact words they might type.

In addition to the tools above, here are some that are particularly helpful for conducting topical keyword research.

Step 3: Line up your long-tail keywords.

Armed with your keyword list and data, classify keywords into two categories: head and tail.

Head keywords are high-level, commonly used generic terms that don’t typically return high rankings. Tail keywords — in particular, long-tail keywords — are less used, longer phrases, but because they’re highly specific, they’re more likely to draw visitors who convert.

SEO guru Neil Patel recommends that long-tail keywords be four words or longer. For example, rather than using the keyword “bakery” in your content, you might try “German chocolate cake San Francisco” or “Where can I buy a banana cream pie at Fisherman’s Wharf?”

Since the latter terms are highly specific, you’re more likely to rank higher, and attract traffic from visitors ready to take action once they get to your site.

Is it still possible to write high-quality content if you’re worrying about search engine rankings?

The short answer is: yes.

To stay organized, make sure to include keyword research and targeting in your team’s editorial calendar. Note the broad topic, target keyword, and relevant keywords for each piece you produce.

If you conduct thorough keyword research, expand your focus to topical, conversational keywords, and zero in on long-tail keywords, you will rise to the top of the results list, for 2017 and beyond.

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