Keywords as SEO: The shift from stuffing to user intent

In yesterday’s blog post about the sin of thin content, we mentioned how keyword stuffing used to be a legal and credible SEO technique but isn’t anymore. That got us thinking about how the art of a keyword-focused website page has evolved over the years. What’s changed about this once-killer SEO technique, and how do we implement keywords into today’s online marketing strategies?

Keyword stuff: a thing of the past

According to Stoney deGeyter, who recently contributed to Search Engine Journal, “one of the primary roles of SEO from the beginning has been to optimize content to rank for keywords. In the the past, many SEOs told you to target only one keyword (or phrase) per page in order to keep it focused.” Although the concept of having focused website pages (static pages and blog posts) makes sense, it’s easy to see how the idea of keyword density was born from it. The page is narrowly focused on one keyword, so the more times the keyword occurs on the page the better. Right? Well, yes, but back then — not now.

So, what did Google do? They rolled out an algorithm to combat keyword stuffing, of course! Google’s Hummingbird, which originally launched in September 2013 was designed to return better results in SERPs by focusing on searcher’s intent as a ranking factor. Search Engine Journal stated the following about what Hummingbird does in an article dated September 26, 2013:

“‘Conversational search’ is one of the biggest examples Google gave. People, when speaking searches, may find it more useful to have a conversation.

‘What’s the closest place to buy the iPhone 5s to my home?’ A traditional search engine might focus on finding matches for words — finding a page that says ‘buy’ and ‘iPhone 5s,’ for example.

Hummingbird should better focus on the meaning behind the words. It may better understand the actual location of your home, if you’ve shared that with Google. It might understand that ‘place’ means you want a brick-and-mortar store. It might get that ‘iPhone 5s’ is a particular type of electronic device carried by certain stores. Knowing all these meanings may help Google go beyond just finding pages with matching words.

In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.”

User intent: today’s keyword SEO

So — with the launch of Hummingbird — Google began ranking sites in SERPs based on the topic of the site and the site’s authority rather than on the keywords themselves. Think about it like this: If you want to rank for “dental implants”, but your content fails to say much about the things dental implant patients find important (benefits of dental implants, how implants are placed, the cost of dental implants, causes of missing teeth, who needs dental implants, etc.), you’re not going to get there. What sets your content apart from the billions of pages of content Google has the power to analyze and rank? Not repeating the words “dental implants” over and over, that’s for sure.

Does that mean keywords are an irrelevant SEO strategy these days? No. “Dental implants” and variations of the words should appear throughout your content, but focus more on providing value to your target audience — in this case, the individual who might search for dental implants on Google. deGeyter leaves us with a piece of good advice:

“Focus on the topic in relation to the visitor’s need. You can literally write dozens of authoritative pages on a single topic, all with a slightly different focus. Each of those pages will rank for different sets of keywords, which should tie directly into what type of content a particular searcher is looking for.”

Not sure how to identify your keyword targets? Want to know how your keyword targets fit into your blog posts and website copy? The experts at MDPM Consulting are here to help! Give us a call at (972) 781-8861 or send us an email at