How to Create an Effective Keyword Strategy for 2021

By Marissa Clemenzi, Organic Search team
TOPICSFeatured, Organic Search, SEO

No, SEO is not dead. But it has changed — a lot.

In this article we will explore the impact of machine learning and natural language processing on search engine optimization. Specifically, we will focus on how updates to the core Google algorithm and changes in consumer behavior have transformed our SEO keyword strategies. Then, we will look at emerging trends in SEO that could help you reach your optimization goals.

Since the Google search engine was launched in 1996, we have seen SEO change dramatically. Yet, Google’s goal has remained clear and consistent: Return the best results for the user. Every year, Google updates their search algorithm hundreds of times. In fact, in 2018, Google admitted to 3,234 updates — or an average of 9 per day. Many of these changes go unnoticed, but others have lasting impacts.

Major Google Algorithm Updates: 

With the integration of machine learning into algorithm updates, Google has become smarter and more “human” than ever. As Google constantly changes and adapts to human search behavior, merchants must keep up.

Google’s Hummingbird update was created to help Google better understand the intent behind search queries and deliver more relevant results.  Although keywords are still an important part of SEO strategy, the 2013 Hummingbird update made it possible for a page to rank for a query, even if the user did not enter those exact words.

In 2015, Google added RankBrain to its core algorithm, which is a machine learning AI system that interprets search queries and provides timely and contextually relevant information. Before RankBrain, the top results were chosen based on traditional ranking factors such as domain authority, keyword matching, and link profile. Now, search queries are interpreted for true intent and provide much more useful results.

On October 1, 2019 Google launched the Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, or BERT algorithm. This update rattled the SEO community as rankings fluctuated across the board. Google later disclosed that the update affected 1 out of 10 search queries. BERT has been trained to learn conceptual relationships between words to discern a user’s search query and its true intent.

Looking Ahead

According to media analytics firm Comscore, 50% of all searches will be voice searches by the end of 2020. With the rise of smartphones, smart homes, and smart cars, voice search is making its way into our everyday lives. By 2022, 55% of households in the U.S. are estimated to have at least one smart speaker. Voice search is becoming popular for its convenience, as we can search while we’re cooking breakfast, getting ready for work, or driving in the car. As more and more devices become equipped for voice search, typing will become less popular. This is important because there is a big difference in the way we type versus the way we speak, and therefore, in the new way we search.

In her article COVID-19 Accelerates the Paradigm Shift from Touch to Talk, strategy analyst Shanna Walia described COVID-19 as “being an accelerant of the adoption rate of voice technology, on both the enterprise side and for consumers.”

There has been a huge increase in people who both work and shop online. This has led to spikes in voice search, especially via smart home devices. We knew that voice search was here to stay, but COVID sped up the process more than we could ever have imagined.  The pandemic has affected how we live — and how we search. Now, we must adjust to our new normal.

How to Boost your Organic Rankings in 2021: 

A thorough research strategy involves being aware of what type of content top performers are ranking for. Completing a keyword gap analysis is a great way to find missed keyword opportunities that your competitors are ranking for, but you’re not.

  • Optimizing for voice will make you eligible to show up in featured snippet results on Google. Rich snippets are shown at the top of the SERP and have been found to bring in more traffic as well as increase a site’s organic click through rate.
    • Sometimes referred to as schema markup, structured data adds context to your content by categorizing and organizing the data on your site. Structured data may not directly affect ranking factors, but it does help Google better understand the content on your site and can lead to a stronger relevancy signal.
  • Incorporate LSI keywords, or latent semantic indexing keywords, which are relevant words and phrases that help Google better understand the content on a webpage. LSI keywords connect the topic of the copy to the keyword. Synonyms don’t count as LSI keywords as they have the same meaning and do not broaden the topic of the content any further. For instance, when writing a post about running, “jogging” would be a synonym, not an LSI keyword, but “cardio,” “marathon,” and “sneakers” would be semantically related keywords. Instead of targeting just one keyword per page, you should target a variety of topically related keywords throughout the same page
  • Write longer content. For content to truly be informative, it should include at least 1,000 words. Longer from content includes informative guides, blog posts and whitepapers.
  • Include videos and images with descriptive alt text on your site. Be sure to use LSI keywords in the alt text to connect the media with the copy. Focus on concepts rather than keywords. Write for humans in their natural language, not robots.
  • Hire content writers who are experts in the field. If they are truly knowledgeable about the subject they are writing about, semantically related words will naturally be a part of their writing. Working with an experienced and reputable e-commerce marketing agency can give you a competitive advantage in content creation. The team at Exclusive offers a holistic marketing approach as well as a content on demand program for those solely interested in creating more quality content for their site.
  • Be sure to keep up with algorithm updates to avoid penalties to your site. Working with an e-commerce marketing agency will allow you to be involved in as much or as little of the process as you want so you have the freedom to focus on other aspects of your business strategy. The SEO experts at Exclusive will use search engine optimization best practices to keep you up to date with industry trends and Google updates. To learn more about improving your website performance, get a free e-commerce analysis.

Tools to Improve your Current SEO Strategy

Use related searches that pop up as part of Google’s autocomplete feature or at the bottom of the SERP.  These queries are especially helpful because they are exact phrases that users have typed in. This gives us insight into related queries, as well as a better understanding of how users phrase their searches.

Google does recognize some synonyms, so it is important to choose a variety of keywords to optimize to avoid penalties for keyword stuffing. You can use LSI Graph to generate a list of semantically related keywords which can be used for on-page optimization.

Google natural language API uses machine learning to analyze texts including the sentiment and syntax in order to better determine searcher intent.

Keyword Surfer is a great extension that will show keyword ideas, their similarity to the entered keyword, and their search volumes. It will also display two boxes with additional keywords titled “related keywords” and “people also search for.”

Another way to see common search phrases on Google is to use their Keyword Planner Tool, which suggests relevant LSI keywords for free. You can also see the number of monthly average searches and competition level of the keywords, which are sorted by relevance.

The Future of SEO

In the same way that an effective SEO strategy from five years ago appears antiquated by today’s standards, future strategies will also age current-day practices. And that’s why paying attention to emerging SEO trends — like the ones shared here — is more important than ever.

So, SEO isn’t dead; it’s just molting.