How Your Keyword Strategy is Failing You (And How to Fix It)

One day very soon, we’re all going to stop worrying about “keywords”.

And then we can all rejoice.






But until that happens, whenever “SEO” comes up, the next phrase muttered usually involves “keywords” and “rankings”.

This unhealthy obsession with “keyword + rankings” (that was a search operator joke) has long been misleading.

Historically, keywords gave us a fairly reliable way to measure progress in the otherwise abstract and confusing world of SEO. (Not to mention, the very real danger of cheap SEO providers.)

The problem is that today, keyword rankings are basically useless. Which means the way we’ve traditionally optimized and measured for them is basically useless as well.

Here’s why.

Why Your 2005 Keyword Strategy Doesn’t Work in 2015

Rightfully (or wrongfully), keyword rankings have been SEO KPI #1 for over a decade.

And back in the day, this made sense.

Search engines were more-or-less one dimensional, which made SEO a very straightforward process. Everyone, no matter who you were or where in the world you were searching from, would largely see the same exact search engine result pages (SERPs) when looking for a specific keyword.

In this environment, keyword rankings (as a metric) were very simple, reliable, and (I can’t believe I’m going to say this when referencing Google) transparent.

On top of that, analytics programs freely passed keyword referral data back to webmasters. Meaning you could see exactly which terms people used to arrive at your site.

By matching keyword positions or rankings with the referral data you were seeing in analytics, you could easily see the $money keywords – or which ones were driving success (in terms of traffic and conversions).

Unfortunately, none of this is true anymore.

So good thing you scanned over the last ~165 words anyway. 🙂

Something About Personalization

Today, everyone’s search engine result pages (SERPs) are being personalized based on your:

  1. Past browsing history
  2. Physical location
  3. Social media connections

Just to name a few. :/

That means the keyword rankings you’re seeing, instead of being static and universal like the good-ol-days, are completely personalized to you as an individual.

For example, look up a traditionally head (or super popular) keyphrase like, “Pizza” and you now get this:




Modern SERP’s pull from a variety of different sources (here you’ll see the huge prevalence and opportunity of local search emphasized), with traditional “organic” results pushed off a bit.

(This also means the role of “SEO” has evolved to include influential satellites like AdWords and Yelp. But that’s a topic for another day.)

The concept of keywords having one specific rank, and then benchmarking efforts against it, is today at best worthless, and at worst misleading.

But wait, there’s more!

Dude, Where’s My Keywords?

The second part of the keyword ranking equation was using referral data from your analytics to see how and where people are coming from.

With this info, then you could at least get an idea of (a) how people are looking for you and (b) how to use that information to do a better job of optimizing your site.

So even if keyword rankings are losing value, this referral data was extremely helpful in giving you clues to influential topics and keyphrases.

Now, SEO encompasses much more than just Google Search. Hoooooweeevverrr… Google Search is a virtual monopoly, meaning they can pretty much do whatever they’d like. Starting with, taking away almost all keyword referral data that gets passed to webmasters and site owners.

A few years ago, they moved to make all searches secure (except for ad clicks). Now in your analytics program, where you used to see the specific keywords sending you traffic under “organic”, you now see a [not provided] placeholder that accounts for the majority (~70-90%).

That means you can no longer see what keywords are sending you traffic from organic search….

… due to “privacy reasons”…

… but you can, however, pay them for it via AdWords.

How ironic. And convenient.

Keyphrases are still very important. Trouble is, we now have to infer or assume what keyphrases are popular and how to best optimize with huge gaps in verifiable data (and you know what they say about when you assume).

One of the easiest ways, is to simply alter our strategy a bit and focus on what we can control (our website) instead of what we can’t (keyword rankings).

The Simple Change to Update Your Strategy

If (a) keyword rankings are unreliable, and (b) keyword referral data is nonexistent, then… something needs to give.

Going forward, it’s easier to shift focus away from keywords (directly), to the performance of your landing and content pages instead (so you can indirectly assess topic performance).

Then reverse-engineer success based on topic – i.e. a broad set of long-tail keyphrases – instead of only one specific keyphrase. It’s messy, but practically easier (unless you’re interested in getting your PhD in SEO and analytics).

For example, one simple way is to take a look at your most popular content in Google Analytics from organic search:




Then cross-reference this information with some (remaining) query data in Google’s Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools):




And you can kinda get an idea of the long-tail keyphrases sending this page traffic (along with some position-related info – but let’s not over-emphasize this now, shall we?).

You can also use some paid tools, like Moz, to help track a certain number of keyphrases against specific landing pages:




In a way, this backwards process should actually benefit you by ensuring extra attention-to-detail when strategizing the information architecture of a site’s pages (and their respective keyphrases) in the first place.

The Holistic Future of Search Optimization

In today’s dynamic marketing landscape, SEO isn’t “SEO”.

Instead, SEO now takes a multi-faceted approach where you’re involving different disciplines (i.e. content, email, advertising, social), building a brand (i.e. investing in intangibles, not just conversions), and competing on multiple fronts (i.e. paid search positions, review & aggregation sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, beefing up your local listings, and more) – all at the same time.

Needless to say, this requires a lot of time, man (or woman – can’t accuse me of discrimination!) power, and sufficient investment.

The days of competing solely on (and overprioritizing) SEO are numbered.

But that’s not to say it’s any less important. In fact, search is only becoming more important and more influential in the buying process of customers.

Finding what you’re specifically looking for will always be priority #1 online. And that means search will be omnipresent and omnipotent because it’s so valuable (and profitable).

The trick will be to remain holistic and nimble as trends and platforms evolve.

About the Author: Brad Smith is the author of a BS-free SEO guide that shows you how to fix common mistakes while avoiding algorithm chasing. He’s a founding partner at Codeless Interactive, a digital marketing firm digital agency specializing in creating personalized customer experiences.


ABC News 24 boss Gaven Morris named ABC director of news replacing Kate Torney


The ABC has named Gaven Morris to replace Kate Torney as its director of news.

The move sees Morris take the reins of the public broadcaster’s 1,400 staff strong news division at a time when the broadcaster is in the process of looking for a replacement for managing director Mark Scott who is set to depart next year.

Morris, who has headed the ABC’s News 24 channel for the last three years, will take the role of director while head of news gathering Craig McMurtrie has also been named to the new role deputy director of ABC News.



ABC managing director Mark Scott welcomed the appointments, which came after a long and closely watched recruitment process.

“The ABC is the nation’s most trusted news gathering organisation and I am confident that in appointing Gaven and Craig it remains in reliable hands,” said Scott.

“Gaven comes to this role with a strong record in managing the complexity of large news rooms and, in particular, building news brands such as ABC News 24. He is well positioned to lead ABC News into its next chapter.”

Morris said that he was “pleased to be asked to lead ABC News’ team of dedicated staff and to serve the community by providing all Australians with an outstanding independent news service.

“In a changing media landscape, original and distinctive journalism is more important than ever. Craig and I look forward to leading the team.”

Before joining the ABC Morris previously work at Al Jazeera, CNN and Ten.

McMurtrie is an ABC veteran and was previously North American bureau chief and before that Canberra political editor.

Torney announced she would depart back in July to take up the role of CEO of the State Library of Victoria.

Nic Christensen 

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News Corp aims for five per cent circulation boost ‘ultimate family movie’ DVD offer

News Corp Australia are giving away a collection of DVDs for just $2.50 a copy in an effort to boost the circulation of its metro and regional newspapers.

Launching this weekend, readers are able to collect a different DVD of the Ultimate Family Movie Collection for 14 days with the purchase of any of News Corp’s metro and regional mastheads.

Nick Turner, head of retail marketing and media at News Corp, told Mumbrella: “Our number one objective is driving incremental circulation during that promotional period. We look for around 5+ per cent uplift during the three week period.


“We also look to drive engagement through our Rewards. We offer these deals to our subscribers at a good rate and it’s a good benefit for the loyalty of those people.”

The push is supported with a marketing campaign, created by Archibald Williams, running across TV, social media supported with a PR push.

The TV ad sees two kids treating their parents to an at home cinema experience, complete with $25 popcorn, to watch one of the DVDs.

It is complemented by the PR campaign which features 17-year-old New York Jackson Murphy, the youngest professional film critic in the US who won an Emmy Award for his work when he was 11. He created a video review of each of the 14 movies for News Corp’s masthead website.

This retail push is the sixth of its kind, with Turner saying the more detail and research News Corp is pulling out of the campaign results suggests they are driving frequency of purchase.

“Our big opportunity is not to try and get the older demographic to buy more than six papers a week, our opportunity is to get the families with kids who are only buying two to three newspapers a week, to come into the category more often,” Turner said.

Turner explained the family demographic is “over-indexed” in buying newspapers over the weekend however the habit doesn’t extend into the rest of the week.

“They still enjoy the physical experience of a paper but they might not have the time or the habit or behaviour of doing it. That is what we want to try and encourage, getting them back in the habit of engaging every day,” he said.

“What we do is get them in the seven-14 days picking up the product and engaging with it.”

Participating newspapers are:

  • The Daily and Sunday Telegraph
  • Herald Sun and Sunday Herald Sun
  • The Courier-Mail and The Sunday Mail
  • The Advertiser and Sunday Mail
  • Mercury and Sunday Tasmanian
  • NT News and Sunday Territorian
  • The Sunday Times (WA)
  • Gold Coast Bulletin
  • Townsville Bulletin
  • The Cairns Post
  • Geelong Advertiser

Miranda Ward

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