SEO writing is under fire as Google ups its game with the addition of Google BERT and Google MUM. We are swiftly moving into a future where keywords may not be the key to SEO-friendly content creation. You may be even asking yourself if it matters anymore. That is what I want to look into today.
SEO Writing Great Debate
Does the content writing or the search engine optimization strategy matter more? I never questioned this before. I’ve also put all my eggs into the basket that keywords are the most relevant aspect of SEO. Where we should put all our focus.
My mathematics blog was never meant to be optimized. I want to focus instead on community strategies that I’ve learned as a community manager. That is because the content isn’t really about serious mathematics. Optimizing on those SEO relevant keywords wouldn’t be effective as I wouldn’t be writing on those topics in an expert way. I didn’t believe that I could compete.
Yet, gradually over time, I’ve seen upticks in Google Search for some posts that have blown my mind. Two ranks were completely unexpected.
“One Harry Nilsson” on the first page of Google as of 5/24/2021
“Creative Play in Mathematics” top spot on Google as of 5/24/2021
It is Never About Luck
That is what I’ve been asking myself. SEO content writing may now be more about the writing than a focus on any specific keyword. That’s bad. It means that current SEO strategies may not be up to par for accounting for what seems to be luck. But I wonder, is there a happy medium?
SEO Writing for Google Search
SEO writing is changed by Google AI BERT and MUM. Both these acronyms refer to an AI that is being applied to Google Search queries. They are meant to help understand language and media. The intent is to build more relevant and useful search results.
What is BERT and How Does it Impact SEO?
“Last year, we introduced and open-sourced a neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training called Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, or as we call it–BERT, for short.”
I am not even sure what that means but I’m pretty sure about what it does. When applied to a search query, BERT can look at the context of words and not just individual words. It understands words that become before or after giving meaning to the whole query. It means that we don’t need to try to type into the search box what we believe the search engine can understand. We can just ask our questions no matter how complex that query is.
Google Search understands with more clarity than ever how humans speak.
This has to change the way we think of SEO relevant keywords. Word choice matters more than ever and that is a writing technique, not something we think robots are capable of understanding. We must understand the connotation, the denotation, and even grammar to get our content to show up for the right queries.
I think that is why writing on its own is probably now ⅔ of the battle of SEO content writing.
What is MUM and How Does it Impact SEO?
Again, we should go straight to the source when it comes to describing what Google Mum is.
MUM tackles the issues of multi-step queries. If a task is complex enough, it may take you multiple searches to collect all the knowledge you need. Google wants to solve this by bringing it all to you under one search covering all the information that you may require.
They use the example of this situation, “You’ve hiked Mt. Adams. Now you want to hike Mt. Fuji next fall, and you want to know what to do differently to prepare.”
You’d have to do a lot of careful research online but if you asked an expert in person they would be able to tell you exactly what to do.
What I find most interesting about MUM is that it understands that you might need content like trail maps, height elevations, weather, and gear. It can create a query that uses multiple forms of media to answer your questions.
Mostly, we are moving to the future of the AI featured in shows like Star Trek. Able to understand complex queries, multiple languages, different media, and more. Presenting the knowledge you need to complete whatever task is at hand.
I’ll add this, Google just announced that it is now training its algorithm to better recognize factual information. Improving the accuracy of the search results it returns. This is called Google KLEM.
The focus of all three of these Google AI is natural language processing.
Does this make keywords irrelevant?
Keywords Will Still Matter
We don’t know the future but I do know this as a writer. Keywords are about clarity, not search rankings. We use repetition of key phrases and words to make arguments and are therefore always important to how we communicate with others.
What will change is the complexity of our content creation. We have seen how well pieces of more than 2,000 words perform in search engine results. I think this is because they can answer more complex queries. I think there is still a place for content that is simpler but that probably isn’t search engine optimized as much as community or audience focused content. After all, community is a large part of a successful content strategy too.
SEO Writing Techniques for the Future
Here are the factors that I think we need to consider when it comes to changes in Google Search.
More informed and factual content will win
This is the future that Google wants and that is clear from the changes they are making. When you are writing content, don’t just think of your main topic. Scope it out. What relevant information can you bring into your piece?
Try to tackle those complex questions. Don’t just talk about traveling to Brazil. Talk about the itinerary, the weather, the must-see spots, getting your visa, travel tips, etc. The more comprehensive your content is the better it is going to rank and the more questions it will answer.
I think more than ever we are going to need content creation that lives in multiple channels. Think about audio, video, and images. Your focus might be less on creating that main blog post and more about creating that long format video that you can turn into clips, images, audio, and transcripts. The blog is where all your media can live together in one long text document.
Prepare for content creation routines to get longer. If you are new to all this, think about how you can shorten your routines and focus on the things that you can do well. Look for automation tools like Co-Schedule and Zapier.
A new blog can outrank big competitors
I was shocked that my blog of only three years outranked Scholastic for a top Google Search ranking. Even as an SEO content writer, I was impressed. Big publishers still own top search results but if you can differentiate your content enough then you can still get those top spots.
You have to be thinking of all things that are going to separate you from others. Your unique point of view matters and you don’t want to add to the same-samey results that we tend to get. Write different headlines. Create content that doesn’t already exist. Find a way to stand out.
SEO Writing Strategy Matters
Ranking on writing alone does feel like pure luck. Is it possible? This is what I think happened. I think because I am a trained SEO content writer that I’m always using best practices when I can. I think that I also created content that matches better with what people are looking for in search. The fact that I’ve held those rankings month over month with algorithmic changes means that I am doing something right.
Even as Google moves to recognize natural language queries there is still room left for strategy. I think the first bit is understanding what content shows up in those featured snippets. Understanding how that content answers a question is key. I don’t know if those rankings are worth it yet but they show us how Google thinks.
Lastly, while doing your keyword research do not separate it from search intent. Context is king here and you can’t use them in a vacuum and assume you have got your content right. Look at Google Search results and understand what information people are looking for and try to answer those questions.
Is Search Engine Optimization Still Relevant in 2021?
The answer is yes. What will change is the format our content creation takes. We are now being asked not to just write the best match for a query but the most comprehensive. Content creators are now tasked to be true subject matter experts. Your research and knowledge are now more than ever the focal point of what you do.
The thing is that Google AI is only going to get more intelligent and sophisticated with time. We have to not stop thinking about what that means. Is it possible to create an AI that thinks like a human? We may find out sooner than later.