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August 30, 2012

Matt Cutts Reveals Google’s Updated SEO Copywriting Strategy

I’ve been suspicious for years now. Just from paying attention to the sites that come up in the search engine results pages (SERPs), I’ve seen differences. What I was finding was that the top sites didn’t always have the exact keyphrase multiple times in their copy. It appeared that (with all of Google’s updates over time) we’ve moved away from needing to use the keyphrase as-is and more toward using the individual words within the keyphrases as we write.

While I was suspicious, what I was able to confirm (during an email conversation with Google’s Matt Cutts) didn’t take me by surprise. As a matter of fact, this is what I’ve been teaching for at least 10 years now because it makes sense. Google has always preached “natural” and “relevant.” After they started incorporating synonyms several years ago, changing the way they recognized keywords seemed like a logical course for them to follow as far as copywriting goes.

If you’ve learned SEO copywriting from me through my Step-by-Step Copywriting Course, you should be good to go. If not, you’d better keep reading. You’ll want to start changing your strategy pretty quick-like.

As-Is vs. Individual Keywords

In the beginning (as the saying goes) were keywords (that grew into keyPHRASES). And from early on, those who were paying attention found that Google (and other engines) ranked pages that mention the keyphrases multiple times throughout a page.

The headlines, subheads, Alt tags, copy, and other pieces of text were all prime candidates for keyword insertion. That’s because Google was only able to do exact or partial matches.

But since Google has gotten more synonym-savvy over the last couple of years, there’s no need to cram keyphrases everywhere you possibly can. In fact, you may be surprised at what Matt Cutts has to say about this point.

So, instead of always using “blue suede shoes” as-is (the entire, original keyphrase together), you can also use just “blue” and just “suede” and just “shoes” within the copy. This is precisely the SEO copywriting technique I’ve included in many of my books and seminar sessions for years.

I’m going to paste the conversation between Matt and me below so you can read exactly what was said.

In Google’s Own Words

KARON: I’ve been noticing a trend over the last couple of years (maybe longer) as far as SEO copywriting goes. It seems the pages that are ranking well are not always using the keyphrases as-is, but are using the individual words within the keyphrases separately. For instance, instead of always using “blue suede shoes,” the page will also use “blue” and “suede” and “shoes” individually.

Can you confirm and/or comment on whether keyphrases always need to be used in their original form and if it helps or hurts to also use the words within the phrase?

MATT: Keyphrases don’t have to be in their original form. We do a lot of synonym work so that we can find good pages that don’t happen to use the same words as the user typed.

In general, though, if the words are on the web page (not in a spammy way, of course), that makes our job easier because we don’t have to rely on synonym matches to find good documents.

KARON: Has proximity of the keywords on the page also gone by the wayside? And, while we’re on the topic, is it still best practice to include keywords in certain locations on the page?
For instance:

1. Headline
2. Subheads
3. Alt tags
4. Anchor text link
Etc.

MATT: People can overdo it to the point that we consider it keyword stuffing, and it hurts. I would just make sure you do it in natural ways where regular people aren’t going to find it stiff or artificial. That tends to be what works best.

KARON: So, then, you’re saying perhaps put the original keyphrase on the page once or twice (to help Google out), and then just use the individual words within the phrase throughout the rest of the copy? If so, that’s what I’ve been suggesting for years.

In light of all the recent changes with Google, would using the keyphrase numerous times (which is what everybody has gotten used to doing over time) hurt the page’s ability to rank? I’m not talking about the infamous keyword density. For years most people have been taught that you do keyword research to find what people are searching for, and then you use those phrases (provided they are relevant) within your copy, within anchor text links, etc., etc. Still true or…?

MATT: Correct, as long as it’s done naturally, not artificially or in a spammy way.

As I’ve always said, “Never sacrifice the quality of your copy for the sake of the search engines.” It’s just not necessary. The next time you write a new page of copy, test this approach to writing for the engines and see if you get as good (or better) results than before. I’m betting you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


Karon Thackston is the President of Marketing Words, Inc., and has over 25 years of combined experience in marketing, advertising, copywriting, and SEO copywriting. Want to learn more about excellent SEO copywriting and content marketing strategies? Subscribe to Karon’s Marketing Words Copywriting Blog today for insightful articles and more.

83 Responses to “Matt Cutts Reveals Google’s Updated SEO Copywriting Strategy

    avatar Garrick Thomes says:

    Well described information. It clearly shows the importance of the natural and quality content.

    avatar Mohit says:

    Very true and precisely mentioned. Specifically after Google’s Panda and Penguin update it has become very important that one writes a copy in a very natural way without stuffing keywords as-is, instead use synonyms and break the keyphrase to help it look more natural to readers or to search engines.

    avatar Brian says:

    I have been practising this type of copywriting strategy from day one as well. Mainly for the reason of keeping the articles I write both fluid and readable. I also happen to think that when you discuss a certain subject the keywords do tend to occur naturally. I have to say that I still try and keep my primary keyword exactly ‘as is’ in the title and as far to the left as possible, because I still think this is the most effective way to get a search engines attention.

    avatar Andrew C. says:

    Great interview which confirms what we already know: that Google wants quality over quantity and you don’t need to focus so much on optimization but rather on article quality and relevance.

    avatar Andrew C. says:

    Great interview which confirms what we already know: that Google wants quality over quantity and you don’t need to focus so much on optimization but rather on article quality and relevance

    avatar Ant says:

    This is what we have been doing for a very long time although I do not think it rings exactly true for rankings as I still see black hat SEO’ers that keyword stuff rank fairly high in the SERPS !!

    avatar Carlos Justino says:

    Thank you for this useful information.
    I Have a question about SEO Copywriting Strategy,i´m in Brazil and i see a lot of site using far to much keywords, my question is does this new rules work in Brazil aswell or is it only in US?
    The amount of webpages with realy bad content is realy huge.
    Hope someone can help me with that.
    Thanks.

    Interesting interview, though we haven’t seen any client sites drop in rankings as a result of having keywords in the tags and content. We’re not doing any keyword spamming, just making sure our content includes the keyword. Still seems to work. Bigger issue for some sites seems to be the quality of incoming links.

    avatar Andy Aitch says:

    If folks only listened to Google from the outset there would probably be a lot more quality content out there on the World Wide Web in general because as far back as I can remember, Mr. G has always promoted good content and advised web publishers to write for their audience, not the Search Engines.
    Having said that, some smart SEO folks that tested how to rank well did actually discover that there were certain ways to get ranked faster and higher, namely by implementing both good and bad SEO with the former giving longer, more sustainable rankings, and the later a faster buck for less work.

    But Google themselves have sent out a lot of mixed messages over the years which kept a lot of people guessing, and speculating, and they should take some of the blame for all of the crap out there in cyberspace.

    I also think it’s cruel how they can flick a switch and a lifetime’s work of some decent site owner can be wiped out overnight. Because they hold a virtual monopoly on internet search, they should perhaps try to be a bit more responsible and compassionate on the way they conduct themselves. After all, what Google seem to have forgotten is that without us, us being those who build websites, there would be no Google.

    More openness and honesty is the way to go. I don’t know why the workings of the algorithms are always such a big secret? Google say they don’t want people to game them, but if the sole purpose of these algorithms was to rank sites that followed a certain set of rules, then we could all simply comply and may the best man, with the best site in a given niche, win, based on those rules.

    So long as they keep playing with the way in which sites rank, so there will always be second guessing, messing, cheating (by some), and blundering by those trying to do well.

    Perhaps Google just resent people getting free organic traffic and would much sooner they paid for first page exposure by way of AdWords? I mean, the company generates $25,000,0000 per hour, every hour, of every day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and it’s obviously not enough for them when they know there’s potentially much more to be had.

    They have encouraged webmasters in the past to report anyone paying for links in order to promote and rank their sites, but what’s confused me is that Google’s own AdWords is just another way of promoting a site by having paid links put in front of the eyeballs of internet searchers.

    It’s very slippery at the top of the SERPs these days, with a noticeable dominance on Google’s YouTube videos, Google images, and NEWS items whenever these are available for a particular search term.

    Andy Aitch

    Nothing really new here, but it is good to have confirmation from Matt.

    I’ve always told people that if they have to think about keyword density, then they are doing it wrong.

    Better to write for the reader and you’ll find in most cases that you’ll be using your keywords in an intelligent manner and also using LSI keywords as well.

    avatar A1Brandz says:

    The couple of things to remember here are :

    1. “Putting the original keyphrase on the page once or twice and then just use the individual words within the phrase throughout the rest of the copy”

    2. As-Is vs. Individual Keywords

    As per Matt this is good practice and can do wonders.

    Let’s implement it and see.

    avatar Idrus says:

    I enjoyed reading this article because in it there is an argument an authority SEO.

    People come into a search engine to find useful information. So it makes sense if the articles contain information in writing with the interests of the seeker-oriented. The article was written for what it is (naturally) without having to manipulate the number and location of keywords within the whole body of the article.

    avatar usaha says:

    Mostly natural linking will come after unnatural linking. People tend to promoted his/her website first to get natural linking.

    avatar Lumbar Spine Surgery says:

    I’ve been suspicious for years now. Just from paying attention to the sites that come up in the search engine results pages, I’ve seen differences. What I was finding was that the top sites didn’t always have the exact key phrase multiple times in their copy.

    Must work on google + and make quality back links and make natural link.and syndicate quality content for you website rank well.

    avatar James Harry says:

    Quality Content is must,which should be unique

    avatar thiet ke web says:

    I also think it’s cruel how they can flick a switch and a lifetime’s work of some decent site owner can be wiped out overnight. Because they hold a virtual monopoly on internet search, they should perhaps try to be a bit more responsible and compassionate in the way they conduct themselves. After all, what Google seem to have forgotten is that without us – us being those who build websites, there would be no Google.

    More openness and honesty is the way to go. I don’t know why the workings of the algorithms are always such a big secret? Google say they don’t want people to game them, but if the sole purpose of these algorithms was to rank sites that followed a certain set of rules, then we could all simply comply and may the best man, with the best site in a given niche, win, based on those rules.

    avatar Tom R says:

    Basically characteristic connecting will come after unnatural connecting. Individuals have a tendency to advanced his/her site first to get common connecting.

    avatar labor day says:

    woth reading. it helps a lot.

    avatar da day says:

    Content Articles bring readers interesting and I would love to share this article to my friend. sincerely thank you

    avatar da day says:

    Thanks for sharing it!

    avatar dau da day says:

    thank you so very meaningful content

    Awesome Post Thanks very much I really liked it

    avatar bNewTech says:

    I would love to share this article to my friend. sincerely thank you

    avatar Admit Card says:

    Personal style bloggers sometimes get a bad rap — caricatured as pretty
    JCECE
    I also think it’s cruel how they can flick a switch and a lifetime’s work of some decent site owner can be wiped out overnight. Because they hold a virtual monopoly on internet search, they should perhaps try to be a bit more responsible and compassionate in the way they conduct themselves. After all, what Google seem to have forgotten is that without us – us being those who build websites, there would be no Google.

    avatar Rahul Patel says:

    Very useful article.

    avatar tonny says:

    Thank you. Very meaningful content.

    avatar BSEB says:

    Thnaks, it was really informative, we have to be keep updated with the latest Google rules.

    its little tricky but now matt cuts has no role in google

    avatar SafyTech says:

    I am using this copywriting strategy from couple of years and achieved a lot with this.

    all the time google change our algorithm.

    While I was suspicious, exactly what I had the ability to confirm (during an e-mail discussion with Google’s Matt Cutts) didn’t take me by surprise. As a matter of truth, this is exactly what I’ve been teaching for a minimum of 10 years now due to the fact that it makes sense. Google has constantly preached “natural” and “appropriate.” After they began incorporating synonyms numerous years ago, changing the way they recognized keywords appeared like a sensible course for them to follow as far as copywriting goes.

    avatar apk says:

    Your website is so cool. I am impressed by the info that you have on this site. I will be wanting ahead for additional of your respective posts. Stick with it!

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