20 January 2016

Organic Search Ranking--Keywords and SEO


Welcome! This is lesson eleven of our currently ongoing Internet Income course to enable you start and run a profitable online business. In previous lessons, course author, George Little, has broken down important principles using simple English to explain how to succeed in today's fluctuating global market. In this course, he continues to reveal tips, real-world advice, and in-depth, step-by-step instructions on setting up your Internet-based business. Read the 10th lesson here.

Recall the five goals of Internet traffic building we stated in Lesson 3:
  • Utilizing effective branding,
  • Obtaining good publicity, including links to your site from popular pages,
  • Obtaining an effective search engine presence,
  • Utilizing and maintaining flow in the placement of your Internet ads, and
  • Maintaining an effective social media presence.
Starting in Lesson 4, we began providing a brief overview of each of these five goals. (We will cover each in much more detail in later lessons.) We are now on goal number 3, "obtaining an effective search engine presence," in our overview.

In our last lesson, we outlined the three main principles of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as follows:
  1. Make your site as informative and/or entertaining as possible.
  2. Chose effective keywords and then properly integrate those keywords into your meta tags and your content.
  3. Stay current on the recent announcements from the search engines.
In this lesson, we're going to discuss the second of these three main principles of SEO, providing an overview of the relationship of keywords to the goal of obtaining an effective search engine presence.

Chinese Dragons

The collective human imagination spanning across many ages and cultures has created a fictional animal that looks like a reptile, is very large, can fly, and breaths fire. The Chinese iteration of this fanciful creature, often featured in their ceremonial parades, has a very long tail (more like a flying snake than a flying lizard or crocodile). If dragons ever existed, as some whimsical people like to believe, no one doubts they are now extinct.

Likewise, many experts today claim that keyword-based SEO is also now dead and gone.

While I personally believe that dragons never existed, I know for a fact that keyword-based SEO flourished and thrived for many, many years. But, I do not question that what it came to mean, and how it was often practiced, should now be relegated to history. That said, there is still much we can learn from history.

The search engines are now quite evolved and sophisticated. They started out more simple. It all begins with a search. In the earlier days of the search engines, when someone typed in a search, Websites were searched for the presence of words and phrases to determine the relevance of a site to that particular search. If someone searched for "boats," the early search engines searched the wording of all of the Web pages in their indexes for the word "boat." Pages that contained the right proportion of the word "boat" (in relation to the other words there) in their meta tags, titles, and content were the pages returned. If there were many such pages (and it was not long before there were), the search engines used other factors (such as the number of inbound links) to evaluate the order of the pages in the results. Search engines have now revised their techniques, however. Using semantics now, they search for meaning rather than simply searching for words.


Semantics has to do with meaning. Google now attempts to ascertain not just what words are used on your Website, but what the words on your Website mean given the context. In the evolution of search engine algorithms, I'm guessing they first started including synonyms for the keywords. If someone searched for "boat," the search engines would also look for sites that contained the words "ship," "watercraft," and "yacht"--even if they didn't have the word boat. The next step in the evolution was likely to use something akin to artificial intelligence by creating presets of ways to express certain meaning and then looking for the combinations of words likely used in those expressions.

For example, if someone searched for "boat," and your Website discussed the history of transportation on water, even if it for some strange reason didn't use the word "boat," it could be determined that the person searching for "boat" might have some interest in your site. That is, your site might be relevant to this search. Conversely, if someone searched for "means of transportation across waterways," another site about boats (which used the word "boat" often) would be considered relevant to that search even though the search did not contain the word "boat."

It works both ways.

Whether the development of semantic searching was devised as a means to detect keyword stuffing (i.e. attempts to deceptively influence search engine results) or just evolved in the ongoing effort to make searches more precise, it helps the search engines to detect attempted manipulation (and to detect unintended manipulation) that results in an irrelevant result.

Since these concepts are abstract, let me use this lesson as a specific example. If this lesson were available to the general pubic and indexed by the search engines, would the search engines want to direct someone looking for information on Chinese dragons to this page? I think not. There is a little bit of information about Chinese dragons--as well as dragons in general--on this page, but not much. This page is about SEO and keywords. It is not really about dragons. Since I'm discussing dragons again here for this example and will be discussing Chinese dragons again below (you'll have to wait to see why), the word "dragon" and the phrase "Chinese dragons" appears many times on this page. If a search engine were just using keywords alone to determine relevance, it would disappoint searchers truly interested in learning about dragons by sending them to this page. The search engine would not have done its job well. Thus, they have learned to look at the overall meaning and import of a page, not just the words used.

Are Keywords Dead?

I would not go so far as to say that keywords are dead. The effectiveness of keyword stuffing and manipulation is dead--and that's a good thing. But, understanding the concepts of keywords, understanding how they were used historically, and understanding how they can continue to be useful still remains very important. We know now, though, that we must also take into account synonyms for our keywords and the overall import and meaning of our pages must match our keywords. It is no longer just about keywords, but I believe keywords and the study of them are still very important.

Where people went wrong in the past was in elevating the concept of keywords to something with magical powers rather than just understanding that words are crucial to conveying meaning and information--and some specific words play a key role in that process for certain subjects. Thus, it is still quite legitimate to speak of keywords, we just need to dump much of the baggage that has accumulated around that expression over the last couple of decades.

You can still use some of the old methods of keyword research to gain much useful information about your customers. You can still use some of the old methods to help your Website attract your target audience. There are sources that will tell you what words and phrases are searched for most often and by whom. Knowledge of the searches your target audience makes and how they use those results provides you with insight. Also, the formulas we used in the original course (and will discuss again in this course) are still useful for determining the value of keywords and key phrases to your Website. When using paid search advertising (PPC), it is still helpful to know if paying for a search term is losing you money or making you money.

But, you need to also take it up a notch, as we did in the original course, and study which words or phrases bring you the best visitors--the visitors that buy from you or otherwise enhance your site's goals. Much of the old information and many of the old methods are still useful in gaining the insights we need to succeed as Internet marketers. We just have to keep it in the right perspective.


Using single keywords is a shotgun approach that is rarely financially profitable. Single keywords (such as "boat" or "dragon" or "gem") get many, many searches in a short period of time. But, using single keywords does not "qualify" your visitors. That is, it brings in a wide variety of people, many of whom have no interest in buying from you or otherwise enhancing the goals of your Website. Studies have shown that it is more profitable to use a key phrase (rather than a single keyword) in order to narrow the field of visitors to those more likely to convert (i.e. buy something or otherwise further the goals of your Website).
Two terms have appeared in the articles about keywords to denote these longer, more specific, key phrases. One of those terms is "gem." A gem is a key phrase that does not have much competition (and thus costs less to use if you are paying for keyword PPC) yet provides you with highly targeted traffic.

For example, let's say you have a page promoting the fact that you rent and sell catamaran sail boats on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Using the single keyword "boat" will bring you lots of visitors who have no interest in what you have to offer. They may be looking for powerboats. They may be researching the history of boats for a school paper. They may live on the other side of the world with no plans to visit Florida. On the other hand, the key phrase "catamaran sail boats Florida" will narrow the number of people who click on the search engine results and only those with some interest in what you specially have to offer will do so. This key phrase is called a "gem." It's rare, but it has great value.

The other term--a much more widely used term--is "Long-Tail Keyword." (I think it is misnamed because it's more common definitions require 2 to 3 or more words being used in a key phrase. Thus, it should be called "Long-Tail Key Phrase." But, I will adhere to the common practice and call it "Long-Tail Keyword") A long-tail keyword is a key phrase that is very specific, often containing several words. The key phrase "catamaran sailboats for rent or purchase on the Gulf Coast of Northwest Florida" would be a long-tail keyword. Long-tail keywords bring you far less traffic, but only traffic that is very interested in your offering and usually ready to act on that interest.

Whether a specific key phrase is a gem or a long-tail is often a matter of debate. The definitions are not that clear-cut. In truth, it is a matter of degree. A key phrase that narrows the visitors some is a gem. One that narrows the visitors extremely is a long-tail. What you call these key phrases is not the important thing. Understanding the concepts of how and why they work the way they do is what is important.

About Those Chinese Dragons

When data from a large number of searches is plotted on a distribution graph, some say this graph looks like a Chinese dragon. Thus, the "long-tail."

The green area represents the shorter and more common keyword searches and is called "The Head." These searches include only one or two common words. The tail represents the multi-word key phrases. These searches have more than two keywords and are specific. As for a particular search (such as "boats"), the frequency of the search is much greater than more specific searches (such as "catamaran sailboats for sale or rent in Northwest Florida"). But, of all the searches made, there are more multi-word specific searches than simple searches in the long run. That is, when you look at the frequency of the type of search rather than the frequency of particular searches, the long-tail keywords win. With enough time, the tail gets long enough that 70% of all searches made over time are long-tail searches. (That is, over time, the majority of all searches made contain several words and are very specific. Each such particular phrase, however, is rarely searched. The combination of all of the multi-word, specific phrases, though, amounts to more searches than all the single word searches made.) Many believe the long term profit from search engine optimization comes from the long-tail keywords--at least for sites that promote a particular brand or product.

In this lesson, you learned that much of the old information about keywords is no longer applicable, yet understanding keywords is still important. As the search engines have learned to use semantic searches, keyword stuffing no longer works. You have seen another example of why trying to cooperate with the search engines, rather than manipulate them, is the best approach in the long run. You help the search engines do their job by optimizing your site for those most interested in what your site has to offer. To do this, you should use "Long-Tail Keyword" optimization rather than relying on "The Head." That is, you should design your site and proportion the wording and meaning of your content to optimize its discovery by those who are truly seeking the information it has to offer, rather than simply trying to acquire as many visitors as possible.

In our next lesson, we will introduce you to the basics of using keywords and key phrases to obtain good SEO. You can read the next lesson here: Staying Current with Search Engines.

By George Little, Panhandle On-Line, Inc. For more information on the Internet Income Course and other works and courses by George Little, see http://www.profitpropulsion.com

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