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Updated for 2015: Improving your search engine optimization (SEO) is about more than keywords. These days it is about the comprehensive user experience for your website, as well as the keywords.
Shaking the keyword ranking obsession of the past but still finding the right words to use to generate traffic to your website is quite the balancing act these days. What the average person doesn't know is that Google and other search engines constantly fine tune ranking algorithms which are a complex set of variables that determine how to prioritize the list of websites that will be displayed to someone looking for information. In fact, hanging a hat on keyword ranking as the lynchpin of your online business strategy doesn't work like it used to and is a very fragile approach. A few tweaks to the ranking algorithm and all of the time, effort and money is lost, literally overnight.
You are called upon to go much further than just finding the words to get your site to rank well in the search results. Some thought must go into what happens once you have the traffic because engines are examining you for the best experience as well as the technical hulabaloo associated with programming a website. Millions of visitors to your site won't help if they don't stay, click through your site and convert to leads and customers. Beyond the benefit to you in converting visitors to leads, Google doesn't want to waste the time of people looking for things by showing them websites that don't perform well. This reflects poorly on them. So, even if you think you've plucked out a nice set of keywords to use - how you use them is even more important.
Think of your audience first, last and always. Value is the heart and soul of engaging and commercially valuable content. What information will your audience find of value? This is what you should be sharing. Identifying a marketing persona (fictional "Mr. Customer") and imagining what this person would need to find on your website is the source of your content strategy. Create content that would be meaningful to your ideal customer. It’s what you will use to decide on topics for articles, white papers, web text, calls-to-action, landing pages, blog posts etc. When it comes to keywords, they have a role here too but it isn't the old cut and dried formula of merely trying to be the website that uses the phrase the most on their website or checking off a laundry list of SEO oriented tasks (in spite of all those scary reports that are showing up in your email box on a regular basis). How the content delivers is important too, in fact in 2015 Google will stop delivering websites in their search results for those using a mobile device that are not optimized for mobile.
The keywords should meet 4 important criteria to be of any value for helping people find your useful content. They must be relevant to what you have to offer, commercially valuable, produce enough search traffic and not be too competitive for you. There are a wide variety of tools available to evaluate keywords for these criteria. An online search will provide many options for you to consider for finding a tool for evaluating your keywords. You need one that at minimum evaluates the keywords for search volume and competition since you can make an educated guess for relevancy and commercial value. Here is a deeper explanation of the four criteria:
The growing trend online is away from pure search engine optimization and toward the inbound marketing approach which includes not just relevant keywords but high quality, well planned websites that provide value and not just sales pitches to people who are looking for information in order to make qualified buying decisions. Take the time to create excellent content, consistenly use language that encompasses not only the keywords you identify as valuable but human, helpful engagement from them. Do all you can to help people find what they need in a convenient package to turn your website into a qualified lead generation machine!
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