Is keyword relevance still relevant?

Absolutely. So much so that information is available on how query relevance can play a big part in how the rankings are structured. When first looking at this data it was quite intimidating material and I felt immediately under-prepared for such a read-through of heavy substance.
But we don’t have to delve into technical-speak to understand the principles of how Google’s algorithm works.

algorithm picture

Image sourced from FathomCafe.com

So in its simplest form, what does the search engine do when a query is typed in? Essentially Google has to work out a “relevance score” which measures the details between the query and the “rules” it uses as a basis for its algorithm. The rules will include elements such as the meta-data and incoming anchor text and with this information it then decides whether the query is relevant to the webpage.

At this point it gets technical, where query models and document models (see here for further explanation) are used to ascertain what the query is asking and then it’s put through the final stages of a scoring function. So if you are desperate to read more on the in-depth analysis of how relevance is structured, take a look at the SEO Moz post here which describes in headache-inducing detail how the calculations work and has more visual aids to help describe the algorithm.

Although there are some elements to the algorithm that are useful to know, it’s just as essential to know how to apply key-phrases to a strategy. Sections of the technical breakdown show “tokenisation” and spelling corrections which are related to splitting the query string into words and literally breaking each part of the query down piece by piece. So it is important that you choose the right key-phrase for your campaign and that it is relevant to your business. This is where keyword selection is crucial.

Shouldn’t SEO be more than Keyword Targeting?

Yes. And it is but keyword targeting cannot be forgotten or abused in equal measure because ultimately, SEO is about making your site as valuable and as relevant to the user as possible. By appearing for the key-phrase that is most relevant to your business you are giving yourself a great chance of growing your customer base. If you don’t appear in the search results for a particular phrase, it’s probably because the search engines don’t calculate you as a positive relative match to the user query. As SEOs we’ve always had to play by the rules set down by Google and query relevance is no different. It is maths, based on an algorithm they have created but the fact that we understand the importance of that calculation (if not all the mechanics of it) means that we know how to approach keyword selection more effectively.

In SEO, brand recognition is equally as important now because being a “trusted source” no longer depends on solely how many links you have pointing to your site and on the quality of those links. Social interaction is the key to engaging with your customers and personalising the experience and the on-site user experience is vital to getting conversions from customers who navigate through your site comfortably and effectively. But a successful SEO campaign is still heavily reliant on using key-phrases in order to target specific customers and to give the site valuable visibility in the search engines. If that means more complex algorithms have to be created and implemented to achieve that more accurately, then so be it. As relevance calculations become more accurate, our keyword selection and targeting can be too. We can take the key aspects of the calculations and as long as we understand what we need to do to adhere to those guidelines, we can continue to be successful with keyword-targeted SEO.

In my mind, there is ultimately a benefit to Google implementing more and more complex algorithms and there is also a drawback. With a structured basis for delivering results it should ensure the right results are displayed. On the flip-side of that, the more complex they become, the more hoops site owners have to jump through to be in the results and as we’ve seen from various instances over the last year, algorithm changes are all well and good but they are not 100% accurate, which can cause a lot of frustration for site owners. Whether it’s a link profile that has been cleaned up after a penalty or a site that adheres to all the rules, is it fair that search engines can hold your business in its hands and play a part in its fate? Even when we’re playing by the rules?…