SEO Tips: Themes Not Keywords
By James Atkinson, LLB
Over the past half decade, Google and the other search engines have quietly completed a massive transformation of the way search engine rankings work.
This change has made older methods of SEO obsolete.
I have conducted extensive testing to figure out what the search engines are up to and, together with a small group of search engine aficionados, have engineered a new type of keyword research SEO to work with the new algorithms.
It appears that a majority of webmasters still remain oblivious to the seismic shift that has taken place. Many webmasters still visit forums to endlessly complain about Google and how difficult it is to rank high.
Meanwhile, sites optimized in the new way are shooting up in the search engine results, outranking competitors who by the old standards should have stayed on top.
My tests show that designing theme-based - rather than keyword-based – web sites, can have dramatic rankings results. Remember, a very large number of web sites remain unaware of the changes. Theme-based optimization can boost your ranking relatively quickly.
You can see these new algorithms in action for yourself. Simply go to Google and search for any term you like, but use the ~ tilde symbol in front of the search term.
For example, search on:
~dog [make sure the ~is directly in front of the word]
Google will show some words in the search results in bold. These are the word “dog” itself, plus words that Google has decided are closely related:
You can see from this list that Google has expanded its view of the keyword “dog” outside the realm of simple keyword matching to include a network of related keywords.
It considers the words above highly relevant to a search on “dog,” even though they do not contain the word “dog.”
This list does not reflect the full scope of keywords that Google considers relevant to the word “dog,” but it does show you that Google is no longer thinking individual keywords or key-phrases – it is thinking networks of related themes.
If you visit the Google AdWords Keyword Tool and search on “dog” you’ll see the resulting terms are sorted by relevance. The keywords at the top are what Google considers the most relevant to the word “dog.” This is another clue that Google is thinking themes, not keywords.
Google is looking for pages that use natural-sounding language – the kind that a real dog expert would use. That expert wouldn’t just repeat the word “dog” over and over but would naturally use other related words and concepts.
For example, the expert may talk about dog breeds, puppies, dog training, dog health, and so on.
Theme-based optimization is meant to mimic the thinking and language patterns of real human subject matter experts.
Google and the other search engines want to see theme optimization, not simply keyword optimization as in the past.
Google’s goal is always to deliver relevance to searchers. It is doing this by looking for sites that demonstrate expertise across a range of themes in a topic.
Google determines what themes are most relevant to a topic by scanning its index of “authority sites” and working out which themes have high “co-occurrence” (they are frequently talked about together on the same page).
In other words, co-occurrence is a percentage that reflects the number of “conversations” in your market that mention keywords together. Thus, covering your market’s themes more comprehensively than your competitors is absolutely crucial for high rankings.
If you do cover themes properly, Google will perceive you as more relevant and having more expertise in your chosen topic than your competitors.
The results? You can achieve lasting high ranks, swallow your market whole, and obtain greater rankings stability. If you create relevant content that solves your searcher’s problems - you’ll make the search engines and searchers love you.
Once you understand that relevance is always the search engines’ number one goal, you will be able to align your strategy with the direction the search engines are moving in. You’ll be able to swim with the tide, instead of always fighting against it.
Many webmasters believe that the search engines are arbitrary and design their algorithms based on whims. Many SEOs seem to believe Google is out to get them personally! Fortunately, this paranoia does not reflect how the search engines really operate.
Everything the search engines do is governed by ttheir desire to deliver more relevant search results. Seen in this light, SEO and algorithm shifts make a lot more sense.
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