Search rankings matter. Organic search accounts for a third of all traffic to B2B websites on average, according to HubSpot. That figure is closer to 40% for small companies, and almost 50% for industrial / manufacturing firms.
But does SEO still matter? Some are asking the question in the wake of this story from just last month: “Google confirms core search ranking algorithm update…but says there is nothing webmasters can do to fix their sites if they dropped in rankings.”
Yeah, it still matters. Now, just as pursuing a post-high school education doesn’t guarantee you a financially rewarding career, search engine optimization efforts can’t guarantee high rankings. But both are still the smart path to take.
Okay, but do keywords still matter? That seems to be a pretty common question. Again, the short answer is “yes.” While Google’s algorithm has gotten much better with semantic search—basing search results on searcher intent, context, and synonyms—keyword phrases are still the basis of search, whether entered on a keyboard or by voice.
So while “keyword stuffing” is a practice long dead and buried, it’s still important to have keyword phrases show up in your URL, headings, meta title, and page text.
And actually, given all the changes Google and other search engines have made to combat manipulative black hat SEO practices, one “keyword” now matters possibly more than any other for SEO.
That word is “authentic.”
No, not authentic in some squishy philosophical sense, but rather as in terms of being real and genuine—in three specific ways.
Google and other search engines seek to display the “best answer” for every query near the top of their search results. That’s why Wikipedia pages often rank highly: they are viewed as highly credible and generally accurate because they are written by subject matter experts, then reviewed and edited by other subject matter experts.
Content that is original and reflects deep subject matter knowledge will (almost) always outrank incoherently organized content cobbled together by duplicating ideas from various sources.
Every profession, every industry, every niche has its own unique vocabulary. For example, the acronym CFD of course refers to a Contract for Difference among financial traders. But means something entirely different (computational fluid dynamics) to design engineers.
Then again, CFD may refer to a constant fraction discriminator in electronics, a control flow diagram in business process design, a Congenital Femoral Deficiency in pediatric medicine, or to the Chicago Fire Department in the windy city.
An authentic subject matter expert will not only use the “language” of his or her target audience in a natural manner, but will also use terms properly in their specific context for the topic at hand. Content that reflects the way people search will generally outrank buzzword-laden content that reflects sloppy research more than in-depth knowledge and experience.
Building links on spammy directories and random social bookmarking sites is now pointless (or even counterproductive), buying links is a violation of Google’s terms of service, and begging for links is unpleasant and horribly unproductive.
Which means links have to be earned. And the secret to earning links is…authenticity. Authentic experts in any industry get quoted in industry articles, linked to by bloggers, get their content shared by fans on social media, and can easily obtain guest posting opportunities. Pretenders have a much rougher go of it.
Put another way, which of the following sequences of actions is likely to be more effective?
1) Meet someone for the first time, ask for a favor; OR 2) meet someone for the first time, build a relationship, ask for a favor.
Building relationships takes time, and effort. Often you need to give to get. But in the end, it makes asking a link, guest post opportunity, contribution to an expert roundup post, or other such requests much more comfortable to ask and much more likely to be fulfilled.
So yeah, rankings matter, SEO matters, and keywords still matter. And the most important keyword of all is “authenticity.” The shortcuts of the past are gone. No one can manipulate their way to the top of the search results any longer. But with authenticity and effort, those top spots can still be earned.