If you’ve gone any distance towards having a website created for your business, or making one yourself, you’ll know that there’s such a thing as ‘Keywords’. These are used in at least two areas on a webpage, and in two different ways. But they’re both used for the same reason. Or, at least, they were, historically. Until now.
So, we’ll run you through how they were used historically, why they’re still used now, and why they’re part of a minor controversy in terms of usage going forward.
Keywords in days of yore
Once upon a time, search engine robots would look at an invisible (to the user) section in the HTML on a website in order to figure out what was on the page. That section was called metadata, and the specific area was meta-keywords.
Webmasters would type specific words into that area; words that described what the page was about. Some less scrupulous webmasters would type high-ranking words in there that had nothing to do with the page, and this worked out very well for them until search engine creators figured out this dirty trick and put a stop to it.
Their solution was to find other ways to help their robots understand what the page was about.
One of these ways was to look for the keywords within the content of the page, and this is still done now.
These two different ways of using keywords historically are still both used, some of the time, but mainly it is the keywords within the content that is the most important thing. Google still uses these to figure out your content and match it to searches. It also uses other techniques to get insight into who, where, what, and why the content on a web page, and we’ll cover that in a different blog post.
Metadata certainly still has its use; in fact it’s evolved into more ‘modern’ uses that are very useful for working social media.
The minor controversy around keywords
Google’s Hummingbird update was added somewhere around the end of August 2013, and was announced at the end of September the same year. One of the things that have changed is the way in which the search engine interprets your search queries.
Those of us who have grown up with the internet from its infancy will have been trained in the art of reducing a question down to a few … um … key words. So, for example, the query ‘where’s the nearest pub to the coast-to-coast walk at Kirkby Stephen’ might become ‘pubs Kirkby Stephen’. Not because the search terms need to be short, but because there were only some important (key!) words that are needed in order for the search engine to work its magic.
However, many users have always used direct questions like the original query, and Hummingbird has been designed to help Google cope better with this.
Hummingbird now takes a query like ‘show me the nearest vet in Adelaide’ and rewrites it within its own databases to something more like: ‘veterinary practices Adelaide, rather than bringing you a series of search results that engage the word ‘nearest’.
This adjustment meant that many people began to believe there was no need to include keywords in either the content or the metadata.
Those people were wrong.
If you rank for the old style search queries like ‘veterinary practices Adelaide’, you’re going to find that you also rank for the search query ‘show me the nearest vet in Adelaide’. So continuing to use keywords within the content is fine; not just fine, but best practice.
Using them in the metadata is also fine, but they must also be in the content, because most search engines don’t look in the metadata any more for ranking purposes.
EnCoCreative works in the keywords through the content, and also uses a set of other techniques to ensure that our site and those of our clients rank well.