Why Keywords Can Still Drive Architecture and Content

Keywords and keyword targeting are two of the most basic and longest-running elements of SEO. You might remember that there was even a time when SEO meant just having the right phrases built into your meta keywords to rank (ah, memories).

Of course, there was also a time when humans clubbed squirrels and cooked them over newly-discovered open flames.

Things change. We still eat and we still use fire; we just do it differently now.

Keywords remain one of the foundational elements of good SEO. Sure, maybe the days of building an architecture that sprawls to cover every possible version of a keyword phrase are past, but a site still needs to be built with keywords in mind. Whether you’re designing the site map or creating a URL structure, those search phrases still need to be at the core of your process.

Naturally, there is always the possibility of going too far.

Can too much attention to keywords become an obstruction to the user experience? It can be. Too many indistinct variations can run a user in circles, providing little clarity on how to find what they are looking for. Choosing a keyword as a title based solely on search volume over actual relevance can also be misleading.

Your job as the SEO is to stand ever-so-delicately at the epicenter of the tipping point. Do it well, and you’ll find yourself with a keyword-driven site architecture based on user intent rather than specific word strings.

Looking At the Meaning, Not the Words

Choosing the right keywords starts with the research: a long process that can sometimes be a pain. It involves hours of sifting through a series of words with one minor variance or in a different order, and are often not even grammatically correct. The research here isn’t so much about finding every version of a keyword that you plan to shove into a page, but identifying the redundancies and the dissimilarities that have a story to tell.

The repeated phrases can inform you about the topics that dominate users’ minds. For example, researching the phrase “SEO” in my favorite keyword tool, SEMrush, I discovered there are more than 3,000 keywords associated with the acronym.

Can I target all of those phrases with one page? LOL. No.

Would I even want to? Absolutely not!

Could I use multiple pages to cover a good chunk of them? Well, that’s where things get murky; the decision becomes not whether you can, but whether you should. As we embrace a world where sites are built for users rather than search engines, we should only build those additional pages when the phrases represent wholly unique user intent.

For instance, “What is SEO” or “SEO definition” are wildly different from “SEO companies” and “SEO agency.” One pair suggests a user attempting to learn about the concept, whereas the other likely represents a searcher attempting to locate services. The mindset difference could be posed as education versus transaction.
So whether you approach the topic with a navigational landing page or an informative blog post is not determined by examining the search phrases themselves, but by understanding the meaning behind the search.

Deciding What Deserves a Page

When it comes to structuring a site, the prevalence of a theme is what lends itself to architectural design. Three thousand phrases associated with “SEO” indicates a strong interest in the overall subject so if you offer “SEO services,” you should probably have a dedicated SEO page. However, that doesn’t mean you need 10 pages on SEO just because there are enough keywords being searched that you could.

A slightly tougher distinction might be the difference between “digital marketing” and “Internet marketing,” with 355 and 404 separate keyword phrases in SEMrush, respectively. The two concepts are arguably different with digital spanning content beyond what is on the Internet. Yet from a use intent perspective, you could easily combine the ideas into one useful landing page. The modifiers would then determine the secondary focus, whether it relates to services, tools, education or a geographic location.

If keyword research is being used to lay out a site map, construct a navigation or determine how to divide up content accordingly, its subject matter – not its modifiers – should be the distinction.

A Seamless Integration

Once you’ve determined that a concept like “SEO” or “digital marketing” deserves its own page, the next objective is to create quality content. This content should not only be helpful to users, but should also simultaneously send the right signals of relevance to search engines.

That doesn’t mean forcing as many repetitive keywords as possible onto the page. Instead, it supports insightfully utilizing common modifiers and relevant ideas to describe your value propositions. The fact that these specific modifiers like “services,” “consulting” or “expert” are being searched, tells us they can drive traffic.  Additionally, it helps verify the language that a searcher identifies within their quest for information. Whether their search is educational or transactional, finding the right balance between search strings and semantic support is what determines the overall quality of a page.

This is also where keyword integration becomes something of an art. To write content that is mindful of SEO and hints at its intentions without screaming “keyword, noun, verb, adjective, keyword” takes an equal, in-depth understanding of the business, market, user mindset, and keyword set. That is a lot of integrated comprehension, which isn’t easy. It is often done incorrectly.

Proper keyword integration takes practice to weave together a tapestry of expression able to function as both a narrative and a blueprint. Done well, a keyword-based page is still storytelling, but it uses the keywords as though they are the names of the heroes and villains in a book. They are recurring and pervasive. More importantly, they are surrounded by crucial details and supporting characters that inform their journey, bringing them to life in a meaningful way.

Walk the Line

Could you choose to ignore keywords altogether – search phrases be damned – and just write your content? Sure. The possibility of ranking for your brand and a few other words is still there. Of course, they may be the wrong words.

When you abandon keywords, you essentially abandon the desires of the consumer. What they are searching for is representative of what they want, so give it to them. This extends beyond just sharing products, service offerings, or in ambiguous concepts on your site. Your delivery must be clear and succinct with precise, meticulous copywriting and site structure.

Keywords aren’t an enemy of user intent. In fact, they are our clearest insight into the minds of searchers. When that insight is applied properly to prioritize intent over volume, keyword integration can add to the user experience, while still helping a site achieve its best chance of being found and ranked. But don’t force keyword optimization and don’t take phrases at face value alone. Rather, leave yourself open to hear the tale they are telling and let their story help you tell yours.

Related reading

A screenshot of visual search on Pinterest. On the left is a picture of a copper angle-poise lamp, with the words 'Visually similar results' above it. Down the right-hand side are a number of pins showing similar lamps.
Simple Share Buttons