What’s the Deal with Keywords?


You need them, right? They’re how Google and other search engines find your site online. How the algorithms know what your content is about so that people searching for that type of content can be pointed to it.

But how Google uses keywords has changed drastically over time. So it is vital that you avoid falling into old techniques that are no longer effective – and often even penalized!

The Wrong Way to Use Keywords

Early SEO success depended a lot on not just finding and using the right keywords, but making them present. What do we mean by that?

While every “expert” out there had their own specific formulas for how best to rank well in search, the general idea was that you needed to find a specific keyword, repeat that exact keyword several times in each piece of content, and make sure that keyword was used in things like meta tags, anchor text for links, and so on.

Basically, the idea was that the keyword or keywords you chose should be used all over the place to signal to Google that your content really was related to that keyword, so they would be more likely to place it higher in their rankings.

But today? Doing that is called keyword stuffing. And it not only doesn’t help improve your search rank — it can actually lead to penalties from Google. 

 So, how should you be using keywords? Do you even need to think about them anymore? Yes, but…

Don’t Start with Keywords

Getting ranked for a keyword and getting a ton of traffic can be exciting. But if that traffic boost doesn’t lead to revenue, there’s little value. 

So don’t start your SEO journey by compiling a ton of keywords. Start by thinking about your audience. 

What brings them to Google – and how can you give them the info they want?

Here’s the key though: you know more than they do. You know what they should be concerned about. Or what questions they should ask. That can lead to SEO content that doesn’t result in conversions. So you really need to take the time to put yourself in their shoes. 

Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Think about questions you get asked a lot. What info do people want during sales calls? When you meet someone at a networking event?
  • Go talk to your target audience. Ask them questions about their problems or opportunities related to what you offer. 
  • Do marketing exercises. Donald Miller’s StoryBrand helps you think about what you offer from your target audience’s perspective. Completing an audience persona is another great exercise. 

Then focus on creating the best content to answer that search query. Write it naturally. Your keywords will be there without you having to try. 

Nowadays, Google understands that “attorney” and “lawyer” are synonymous. You don’t need to tell them you’re an “Austin plumber” 10 times because it’s on your Contact page, your footer, and your Google My Business profile. 

And Google’s ability to understand what your content is about will only improve as AI grows more sophisticated. More importantly, when your content is written for humans, it’s more likely to motivate a human to actually read it — and hopefully convert into a sale.