03/25/2013  |  Posted By:

At the beginning of the year, Search Engine Watch heralded, “Keywords Are Dead! Long Live User Intent!” It’s a shocking statement - after years of carefully tuning lists of keywords, where are organisations supposed to turn next?

We know that Google’s algorithms change pretty frequently, but this particular change signals a shift in how we develop and optimize content for the web - one that we feel is a win-win for everyone all around. For those of us whose day-to-day involves strategizing to strengthen our clients’ online presence, we know this is a natural (and welcome) progression in search technology.

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Inevitably, however, others will wonder: What does “user intent” really mean? How will it affect what I put out there?

Worry no more - JPA breaks it down:

What is “User Intent”?

Contrary to what you might think, the concept of user intent is not a new one. In fact, it has been discussed for a number of years, with the true application of the technology being rolled out much more recently. In a nutshell, user intent refers to the kind of search terms that are being used to find information on the web, and a search engine’s ability to determine the terms in context depends on their understanding of a user’s online behavior - something supplied in spades by social networks.

Now, instead of searching for simple, broad terms like “science” or “science books”, users are composing search strings that are more complex - “where to buy used science books” or “what’s the best way to study for a science test?” Google has responded by tweaking their algorithm to crawl page content, searching for matches to this type of query, and contextualizing the results with what they’ve learned from a user’s past online behavior.

Does this mean I get to stop putting in metadata?
No - metadata is still important for search. (Even though odds are, you are neglecting your metadata anyway.) And unique metadata (not the cookie-cutter kind) is still important for search. And so are keywords. Just not like you think.

Wait - I thought you said Keywords Are Dead!
They are and they aren’t. Search engines still seek relevancy in retrieval - and keywords (especially “long-tail” keywords) play an important role there. But not in the way you’re used to: lists of keywords, loitering around in your metadata, hoping to get asked to dance - these are no longer the sole determining factor as to whether your site’s content is relevant to a user’s search.

What is important, however, is careful content planning - using your researched keywords and keyword phrases within your actual content in an artful, intelligent, informationally-rich way. Search engines are looking to retrieve pages that serve up real, relevant content, not just pages that have been stuffed with loosely related terms.

But it’s important that I stay “on message” - so what does that mean for my content?
Staying on message is important for every organization, big or small. Users appreciate consistency. But don’t confuse being “on message” with “using jargon”. Through due diligence, identify your audiences and really speak to them - in their language, not yours. Engage an outsider to examine your content for clarity, substance, and reader-friendliness, and stay away from terms that only those your immediate industry will understand (unless they are your audience).

Ultimately, Google’s changes benefit everyone: the organizations who take time to compose real, rich content; marketers and communicators, who can more closely tailor their pitches and be assured they’re reaching the right audiences; and the users, who are actually receiving what they’ve asked for. Now that’s a real return on investment.


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