SEO Keyword Strategy in 2016: Shotgun Blast or Laser Focus?

Keywords have long played a central role in SEO, both as a dictatorial force responsible for shaping user search behaviors, and as a strategic focus for businesses looking to get in on the action. Originally, the mechanics of keywords were fairly straightforward; Google used the frequency of keywords as they appeared throughout the web to determine which sites were associated with which terms, and then applied keywords from user queries to that established database.

seo keyword strategy in 2016

Today, the use of keywords is much more complicated. Google’s algorithms have become so complex they now avoid keyword-based associations altogether. While its processes do use the presence of certain words to create a contextual construct for each website, there is a barrier of semantic processing that prevents a direct application. To explain, when you enter a query in Google, Google no longer tries to pair the keywords in your query to results on the web. Instead, it evaluates the intention behind your query, and then searches for a “best fit” candidate in its network of indexed sites.

For this reason, keyword strategy in the modern era has changed dramatically from what we once knew. However, keywords are still important as a strategic element of any campaign.

Why Keywords Are Still Valuable

First, let me be clear; keywords are no longer valuable in the way they used to be. That is to say, optimizing for a certain keyword phrase will not help you rank directly for that keyword, to the extent that it once did. This association is a remnant of an algorithm that is many years past obsolete. Instead, optimizing for a group of keywords can help you refine your business’s website so that Google better understands your purpose, and can help you indirectly target more niche buyers.

For example, let’s say you own a used musical instrument store, but you want to cater toward people learning instruments for the first time. Incorporating keywords like “used instruments for beginners” or “music lessons for beginners” (assuming you offer the service) will help clarify the intentions and purpose of your business to Google, rather than more vague phrases like “used musical instruments.”

That being said, there are two main strategies you can use to select and incorporate keywords into your SEO campaign.

The “Laser Focus” Strategy

The laser focus strategy involves a heavier emphasis on a smaller range of keywords. The idea here is to identify a handful of super strong competitors – less than 10 keywords that all have a high search volume and low competition rating, indicating that they have ample user interest but fewer companies competing for relevance in those areas.

The advantage is that if you focus on these keywords strongly enough, you’re almost certain to become a top relevant brand for them, and in turn, you’ll generate more traffic.

The “Shotgun Blast” Strategy

The shotgun blast strategy involves a lighter emphasis on a wider range of keywords. Rather than exhaustively researching which keywords are the best according to Google data, you’ll be selecting various pools of keywords based on certain topics.

For example, that used musical instrument store might choose keywords based around brass instruments like “used trumpets” and “used trombones for beginners,” as well as topic keywords about woodwinds and percussion as separate groups. You’ll be spending far less time on each individual keyword, but you’ll be covering far more keywords overall. It’s a way of hedging your bets.

The Clear Winner

A smart strategist might point out that it’s better to rank on page one for one keyword than page two for five keywords. This is correct, and implies that the laser focus strategy is superior. However, you must remember that keyword frequencies no longer have a one-to-one correlation with ranking results. You can spend a year optimizing for one keyword but still struggle ranking for it for hundreds of possible reasons.

The better strategy, both in terms of potential results and in terms of efficiency, is the shotgun blast approach.

The more diverse the language on your site is (as long as it still pertains to a particular niche), the better Google will understand your business and the higher your domain authority will be. Plus, you’ll bear almost no risk of getting penalized since your keywords won’t be popping up to an alarming degree. You’ll cover more ground, support a long-tail keyword strategy, and keep your site safer from manual or algorithmic penalties for perceived manipulation at the same time.

Where to Place Keywords

In 2015, it’s no longer a matter of simply injecting your chosen keywords into your site or page as often as possible and in as many places as possible. You need to be tactful and mindful of Google’s algorithmic rules if you want to avoid getting penalized and maximize your chances of getting found through search.

Page titles, h1 tags, and meta descriptions are still important for SEO, but make sure you’re writing them using natural language and try not to include the same keyword repeatedly in an unnatural way. It’s also a bad idea to duplicate any titles or descriptions. Aside from that, the best way to include keywords on your site or page is in the body copy itself. Again, just be careful not to include the same exact keyword phrases too many times, and keep your emphasis on sounding natural.

In 2015, the best keyword strategy is a diversified one that covers a lot of ground with a lot of topic-based keywords. Your primary objective shouldn’t be ranking for any one keyword; it should be on increasing your total domain authority through content quality and relevance to your target audience. If you can do that, and remain patient enough to get through the first few months of questionable results, you should have no problem achieving real progress in the real estate that is SERPs.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

Author: Jayson DeMers

Jayson DeMers is the founder & CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based SEO agency. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.

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