Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Humanizing Your SEO Keywords

The Death Of Traditional SEO

Traditional SEO is dying and has actually been dying for quite some time now. Google, holding the lion’s share of the search market, has been on a quest to humanize big data. The company wants a world where our search technology values and prefers quality content over the “black hat SEO” infused garbage that cluttered the digital world.

You might not have noticed it. This change came in the form of penguins, hummingbirds, pandas, etc. The major algorithm updates Google has pushed over the recent years have all focused the search engine’s sights on high quality, human content. From these updates, it has become harder and harder to utilize traditional SEO methods. In fact, many experts and practitioners have made radical changes to their SEO approach.

Whether this is all for the better is still up for debate. What isn’t up for debate, however, is the need to adapt.
The Death Of The Keyword

In the past, one “go-to” SEO technique was the keyword: a simple word or phrase to include in the content and metadata of a site. We did this to get noticed by search engine crawlers: add a keyword here and there in the body, title, metatags, etc, and you’d be good. Unfortunately, this approach became abusive. It became too easy to create content that was effective for search crawlers, but not quite as much for human readers.

In Google’s string of algorithm updates, the preference for traditional keywords has decreased. In fact, Google has been known to penalize sites where this traditional SEO tactic has been used at the loss of quality content. Because of this change, a new approach is required to fill the gap left in the keyword’s wake.

Humanizing Keywords

It turns out you don’t have to radically change your approach to SEO keywords. Instead, you have to use keywords in a more human manner.

Dr. Andy Williams, author of “SEO 2014 & Beyond” asks a simple question, “Does your article (or site) sound as if it was written by an expert?” The answer to this question is a litmus test for how human your content appears to Google. The more human, the better. The key lies in the choice of keywords, the variety of keywords, and how these keywords are used.

Niche Vocabulary

If you open up a textbook on any subject, you will find a natural list of terms and words that are often used when talking about said subject. In many ways, these words makeup a unique language for the subject. To humanize your content, you have to identify and use this unique subject vocabulary.

  • Discover the Language – just like with traditional SEO keywords, the first step is to figure out what words and terms you should be using for your topic. If you are a subject matter expert writing in your expert field, then chances are you naturally know this niche vocabulary. If you aren’t familiar with the language, however, then some research will be required. Search for a list of common terms, or analyze a few other articles written with the same topic, to see the language others use with a given subject.
  • Use the Language – once you know the niche vocabulary, you have to use it in a natural way. The days of randomly seeding an article with loosely connected keywords are gone. Your content must be written in the way an expert would write or speak about it. The easier it is for your audience to read it, the more Google will likely value it.

The reason why all this works is simple: niche vocabulary is natural vocabulary. Before, keywords that might been useful for SEO wouldn’t have necessarily been the most relevant to the subject. Conversely, terms that were most relevant to the topic might not have been the most obvious choice as a traditional SEO keyword.

A Public Speaking Case Study

As a speech educator, I’m naturally writing articles about public speaking to share with the world. In the past, my traditional SEO keyword approach would have been straightforward: find a keyword generator, type in “public speaking”, and then pepper my content with the top five keywords that came up. Sometimes this approach would have resulted in a natural sounding article, but more often than not, my SEO trickery was blatant to human readers.

Given that I’ve been doing this whole “public speaking” thing for over 12 years, it’s safe to assume I’m pretty familiar with the niche vocabulary. Once I began to realize and embrace the changes that Google brought with its algorithm updates, the process of making more optimized content actually became easier. All I had to do was write articles in the same language I would use elsewhere with real humans. Suddenly, less relevant keywords (ie “fear of public speaking”) that I would mention many times in an article disappeared. Relevant terms (ie “delivery”, “attention grabber”, “ethos”, “topical organization”) that would have never come up in a keyword search had more importance. The terms that related more to the actual topic became more important.

Embrace The Change


Niche vocabulary is a method for not only making your content more search engine friendly, it also makes your life easier. This allows you to write in a way that is natural for you, your readers, and the search engines. So, the next time you’re tempted to use that keyword generator, take a breath and just write. Chances are you will make something more optimized with a lot less work.


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