Once upon a time, when the internet was new, and search engines were simple, search engine optimization was born. Originating as a way to bring excellent content to the top of the search rankings, soon “black hat” SEO techniques began to appear. These techniques had the sole purpose of gaming the system and pushing their websites to the top of search rankings, and companies began jamming keywords into their pages and metadata without giving any thought to the comfort and enjoyment of their potential readers. User experience was deprioritized and search engines became dirty, broken places where consumers went only out of dire necessity.
Then came Google, and new rules to increase your search engine rankings. Google was the first search engine with an algorithm that brought excellent hits to the top of the page, and now that search was useful, search became huge.
Keyword-rich content across multiple pages began to take priority in the never-ending battle to stay at the top. User experience was still deprioritized, but with crawlers trolling content, cleverly (and not-so-cleverly) integrated keywords became the weapon of choice for smart users.
As people started to use the internet for ever more for everyday things, whether they use short keyword searches or phrasal searches, Google and other search engines had to continuously update their algorithm to create better search results for their users. Whenever the algorithm changes, the structure of SEO has to change with it, trying to keep pace in the ever-shifting quest to game the system and keep your site ranked high. Today, having backlinks and multiple keyword-laden, content-heavy pages won’t keep your rankings good if your backlinks are irrelevant to the subject, or your content wasn’t written with the end user experience in mind. The current state of SEO can be likened to a popularity contest – and, just like in high school, the prom queen is still the prettiest, most fascinating website around.
What does that mean? It means that the more human beings like your content – proven through clicks, shares, and the other ways we interact with the internet – the better your PageRank will be. Search engines are prioritizing relevant, interesting content that was created with humans in mind over strings of keywords. This is one of the main reasons that company blogs and social media pages have become an integral part of content marketing: they provide natural ways to create and share content that humans will find entertaining and shareable. What’s more, is those shares create some of the relevant backlinks that help boost your rankings.
Now, there is a place in the Queen’s regime for keywords – after all, everyone needs cronies, and keywords are what people actually use to search. But, instead of cramming keywords onto a page, they should be used to guide, influence and color your content. When your keywords appear naturally throughout the page, your users will feel less like they are being marketed to and more like they are interacting with you. By lessening the abruptness of your keywords, you create a naturalistic internet environment that people want to be a part of, which also boosts your rankings.
SEO rankings may have changed from outright keyword battling to a subtler popularity contest, but they still aren’t an arbitrary and mysterious force, choosing some pages over others. Search engine algorithms are easily manipulated with a little finesse; by constantly creating people-driven content that will be interesting enough for people to click to and entertaining enough for them to share across social media your website will rise through the search ranks and remain the belle of the ball.