Key word SEO is at best, a hedged bet.

“It’s all about the meta tags”. That was a favorite saying of one of the salesmen I sat next to, selling websites for Myers Internet. Keep in mind that this was eight years ago. Yahoo was the king search engine, and only nerds like me used Google. This catch phrase was part of his sales pitch as to how Myers was going to make this Loan Officer’s web site rank high in the search engines. I’m not sure if he knew what it meant, but meta tags were little bits of code to tell a search engine what a web site is all about.

Search Engines weren’t all that powerful at the time. For Yahoo to know the focus of your web site, you needed to give them these digital Cliff Notes to help them sort it out. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but competition to rank highly in these engines led web masters to manipulate “optimize” meta tags until their site ranked best, even if it wasn’t. By 1999-2000 search engines like Yahoo, Alta Vista, and Lycos were becoming less and less effective as more people learned how to game the system.

The first time I used Google was simply astounding. I actually emailed everyone I knew to tell them to try it. By comparison, Google was leap-years ahead of it’s competition. The secret to Google’s success is that they concentrated more on the content published than the site publishing it. They layered that with a trust system that gave pages additional clout based on how many other sources linked to it. All of the SEO wizards had two new challenges. One, was to get as many people as possible to link to their pages. But more importantly, the second challenge was to figure out how to manipulate content to deliver the best possible search results. Most of this is done in a very white hat manner, allowing Google to continue to reign supreme in the search engine wars.

But Keyword SEO is beginning to create the same diluted results that Meta Tags manipulation did at the turn of the century. The premise behind Keyword SEO is to write content that is rich in certain terms of value. For instance, if your blog about Brittany Spears, and you mention her in the title of every post, then three or more times in the content of the post, making the effort to type out her name each time instead of simply saying “she”, then presumably, Google will come along and see that you are mentioning her quite a bit, and rank you higher when somebody queries about her. For the most part, this actually works. If your key words are focused on something less competitive than “Brittany Spears” you might have a decent chance of showing up well in search results.

There’s a downside though. You may want to garner lots of traffic from a particular key word, but those visiting may have no use for your site. There’s still value in planting you virtual business card in front of as many eyes as possible, but the work it takes to own a keyword can sometimes not be worth the trouble. On top of that, writers who become to aggressive in stuffing keywords into their posts become harder to read. Still, key word SEO is an effective online strategy today.

But what about tomorrow? Folks, my reason for writing this post is that I’ve seen the future today. Just as Google toppled Yahoo, I’ve seen the technology that can do the same to the current champ. I was just invited to contribute to Powerset Labs. This is a beta site to help develop Powerset’s new Natural Language Search Engine. It’s not a finished product yet, but from what I can tell, Powerset will make key words no more relevant than meta tags. When a query is performed, Powerset looks at what’s being queried, then thinks of all the other ways a human might make the same query, then searches it’s data base. The key words that were entered into that little search box are now mixed in with a thesaurus of synonyms and related content. All the time spent by a webmaster writing the same key word over and over will have a largely diminished effect. In fact, it might even hurt. Now, if the competition who wrote about the same subject, using a bevy of synonyms to your keywords, they might actually rank better.

I can’t tell you that Powerset will replace Google. Who knows, maybe Google will buy them, or maybe they will come out with an even more effective algorithm of their own. However, what’s obvious to me is that SEO has once again grown to powerful, and a dithering of key word relevance is sure to come.

0 thoughts on “Key word SEO is at best, a hedged bet.

  1. Lydia Taylor

    For the time being, the engine-who-shall-not-be-named is still Lord of the Dark Arts when it comes to search.

    As of you’ve noted, they are getting gamed just like search 1.0, but in the meantime between getting links with good anchor text and playing with keywords is as good as it’s gonna get.

    I do welcome engine 3.0 though. Somebody needs to mix it up with the Dark Lord. Sometimes I feel held hostage to one search engine.

  2. Justin Smith

    The technology they have just seems like keyword semantics and stemming to me which all the search engines are using now. Are they just claiming to have a more thorough search in this regard?

  3. Todd Carpenter

    Justin, It’s hard to know just how effective Powerset will be. Currently, searches are limited to Wikipedia. This is a real beta, not a public website trying to make excuses for it’s bugs.

    I don’t think it really matters if they pull it off or not. It’s obvious to them that too much emphasis has been put on keywords. It’s obvious to their investors. It’s probably obvious to Google as well.

  4. Dave G

    What you have described is not “SEO” it is “keyword stuffing” and is generally considered a bad thing to do.

    The goal should be to create the most relevant content for the market you are trying to serve…and make sure you make it easy for engines to find, understand and index your content.

    There is only one guarantee when it comes to search engines (new engines and mature engines), the one with the most relevant search results will win.

    If your website is the most relevant (and you pay attention to the points I mentioned above) – you will most likely do pretty well across the board.

  5. Todd Carpenter

    Dave, I think it’s worth noting that there’s a difference between keyword rich, and keyword stuffing. I’m not a big fan of either.

  6. Tara Jacobsen

    Blogging has taken us back to 1999 in terms of keyword “tricks”. I remember giving a class on SEO and explaining that you could trick the search engines by having “pamela anderson says that keller williams is her favorite real estate company” but that if there was no other mentions of her in the article it wouldn’t rank well over time. Thanks for the blast from the past!

  7. Carson Coots

    I thought that Google might do this already in some cases, like with locations… If you search for “texas” it might be the same as TX and the words “Austin, Houston, or Dallas” might even carry weight.


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