When search engines first became the way we looked for information on the Internet, they operated something like a very limited card catalog.
To find an article on Dean Martin, you would need to search "Dean Martin," not "heaviest drinking member of the Rat Pack," and you'd still probably end up with results on Sam Martin, Aston Martin, and maybe even recipes for martinis.
As the Internet has become the preferred way to gather information and the sheer amount of information on the Internet has skyrocketed, search engines have gotten smarter, learning from the way we ask questions in order to give us the best possible answers to search queries.
As soon as paid advertising became a reality, marketers began to look for ways to ensure that their content would appear on the ever important first page of search results.
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Since then, Google (as the most prominent search engine) and content marketers have been in an ongoing tug of war, with Google wanting to make sure that visitors get the pages they want, and content marketers wanting customers to come to their pages.
But Google's desires and content marketers' needs are not actually in opposition. If you understand what Google wants to do, you can give your audience what they want within Google's framework and create a perfect storm of buzz and interest. Let's talk.
Understand the Meaning of "Things, Not Strings"
Between 2012 and 2014, Google unveiled Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird, updates to its search engine and search algorithms that changed how the search giant determined which pages it would show customers based on their queries.
Previously, pages would be ranked basically on how many times a keyword was used. This led to pages that were written solely to convince Google to rank it well, using awkward keywords in sentences where they didn't fit.
When Google unveiled these updates, they advised content marketers to stop thinking about "strings" of keywords and to start thinking of "things" that they could share with their customers.
Instead of trying to brute force manipulate keywords, they advised web designers to create high-quality online content that would share information, go deep on topics, not replicate content that was already present on the web, and be linked to other sites as authorities.
Conducting Keyword Research for Things Instead of Strings
Before these updates, keyword research was a pretty straightforward matter. Write a page using a keyword that had a lower rank, and you'd see your page climb in Google's rankings for that keyword, which would increase your page's ranking. So simple that everyone was doing it, and often without creating quality content in the process.
Modern businesses need to use a different approach to add to their pages. A great way to get started is to consider what questions and concerns your audience has. If you run a page on fountain pens, for example, your customers might be interested in your experience with the new model of Pilot's Vanishing Point, or you might realize that visitors to a page about tourism might be interested in Black History in the area.
Go to a keyword research site, SERPstat.com is one of the best and allows users several searches per day for free accounts, and type in your keyword. The tool allows you to search for popular niche questions which are a great start for creating a content that visitors want.
Remember to look at the results as suggestions; don't assume that because you typed in "pilot fountain pen" you should use "pilot metropolitan fountain pen review" four times in particular locations of your article. Instead, realize that people are searching for reviews of this other pen in particular, and to generate more organic traffic, you might position your fountain pen article as the Vanishing Point versus the Metropolitan.
You could then write about both pens' performance, nibs, feel in the hand and show off samples of your writing with each pen.
Focus on Providing Great Content
Back when we all had to actually use card catalogs to find anything, the author and title catalogs were fine when you knew what you were looking for, but it was the subject card catalog that was really a work of art; that and a good reference librarian meant that you could find the answer to just about any question.
When you're creating content for your site, think of the page in terms of what questions it answers, what subject it addresses, and what it gives the customer. If the page provides value and offers information that would be hard to find elsewhere, there are good odds you'll see that page climb the search engine rankings without a problem.