As Google Moves Away From Keywords, Can You Optimize For Gist?

    July 14, 2013
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Today, keywords still play a significant role in search habits, and in how Google and other search engines deliver search results. The trend, however, is moving further and further away from this, especially on Google’s side. Google wants to become less dependent on keywords, and gradually doing so.

Do you see this trend as a problem or a potential problem to your online marketing efforts? Tell us what you think.

When Google launched the Knowledge Graph, it was clear how proud the company’s engineers and executives are of what they have put together.

Google’s Matt Cutts proclaimed, “It’s another step away from raw keywords (without knowing what those words really mean) toward understanding things in the real-world and how they relate to each other. The knowledge graph improves our ability to understand the intent of a query so we can give better answers and search results.”

SInce then, Google has made numerous enhancements to the Knowledge Graph, and has tweaked its algorithm in other ways that would seem to indicate a decreased dependence on keywords. In fact, there have probably been a number of changes related to this that we don’t even know about because Google stopped publishing their monthly lists of algorithm updates for some reason.

Then there’s search-by-voice and conversational search.

Google put out a pretty interesting Webmaster Help video this week in which Cutts discusses voice search’s impact on searcher behavior. In response to the question, “How has query syntax changed since voice search has become more popular?” Cutts talks about the trends that Google is seeing.

“It’s definitely the case that if you have something coming in via voice, people are more likely to use natural language,” says Cutts. “They’re less likely to use like search operators and keywords and that sort of thing. And that’s a general trend that we see. Google wants to do better at conversational search, and just giving your answers directly if you’re asking in some sort of a conversational mode.”

While search-by-voice is certainly a growing trend on mobile, Google, as you may know, recently launched its conversational search feature for the desktop, and improvements to that shouldn’t be far off.

Cutts continues, “At some point, we probably have to change our mental viewpoint a little bit, because normally if you add words onto your query, you’re doing an ‘and’ between each of those words, and so as you do more and more words, you get fewer and fewer results, because fewer and fewer documents match those words. What you would probably want if you have spoken word queries is the more that you talk, the more results you get because we know more about it, and so you definitely have to change your viewpoint from ‘it’s an and of every single word’ to trying to extract the gist – you know, just summarize what they’re looking for, and that matching that overall idea.”

Good luck trying to optimize for gist.

“If you take it to a limit, you can imagine trying to do a query to Google using an entire document or you know, a thousand words or something like that,” Cutts adds. “And rather than match only the documents that had all thousand of those words, ideally, you’d say, ‘Okay, what is the person looking for? Maybe they’re telling you an awful lot about this topic, but try to distill down what the important parts are, and search for that.’ And so it’s definitely the case that query syntax has changed. I think it will continue to change. You know, we allow people to query by images. You can search for related images by dragging and dropping a picture on Google Image Search. So people want to be able to search in all kinds of ways. They don’t want to think about keywords if they can avoid it, and I think over time, we’ll get better and better at understanding that user’s intent whenever we’re trying to match that up and find the best set of information or answers or documents – whatever it is the user’s looking for.”

These days, Google is pretty hit and miss on the relevancy front when it comes to voice search, but I have no doubt that it will continue to improve rapidly. It’s already gotten significantly better than it was in earlier days.

Can you optimize for gist? How will you adjust your SEO strategy as Google moves further and further away from keywords? Let us know in the comments.

  • http://signature.eu.com/we-promote/search-engine-marketing/ Steve, signature Image Consultants

    Nice post Chris. It’s a challenge for sure. Clients need to think more about the end-user. Does this webpage solve a problem? The days if trying to ‘game the search egines’ have long sinced passed. It’s a natural evolution as Google tries to improve the quality of the SERPs (for those not up to the challenge, there’s always PPC :-)

  • http://www.rankwatch.com Rank Watch

    As time passes by, as Google keeps on evolving and as many people start using mobile devices, SEARCH will definitely take a new dimension. COnversational search as Matt mentioned is a new, emerging and evolving type of search.

  • http://www.55communityguide.com/Guide/55_Communities/ 55plus Robert

    It seems to me that the larger sites would continue to do better because they have more content to form the basis of the “gist” of a subject. But staying on subject and developing a extensive knowledge base may help too.

    • http://cozumelmexico.net Bob Rodriguez

      I think that you put the hammer right on the nail. This is about moving toward large web sites that consolidate information and monitize their sites (like TripAdvisor). TripAdvisor in turn participates in ppc. All the big boys are happy. Leaving the small guys out to dry. It’s all about money. I persoanlly believe that this will catch up to them eventually. The bigger they are the harder they fall. But for the time being it’s all about PPC if you want to be on top!

  • http://Www.australianbizdirectory.com.au Online Business Directory

    Googles aim just like every other business is primarily there to make profit. Maybe there is a need to lean away from keyword. But I personally think it will hurt their pocket. This is because bulk of their money is made from targeted keyword. Today at least one in five businesses monetized their websites and use Adwords targeting keywords. Well, time will tell.

  • http://Www.terrapinhollowpress.com Steven Newby

    As a small business owner with a limited budget, trying to get noticed on the Internet has always been an uphill struggle. This potentially puts more boulders in the path, but I think ultimately it could be a good thing. As someone else here concluded: time will tell.

    • Robert

      I don’t think so Steven. I’m a small business owner too that’s getting KILLED by google. And as for a limited budget well with every change google makes it’s about down to $0.00 . I’m not even making enough to pay my monthly hosting fee.

  • NadineG

    Why is he wearing that horrible yellow T-shirt? What’s the matter with him?

    • Jay

      is his shirt color all you’re really taking away from this article and video? come on, there’s a larger issue here than his fashion choices

  • http://lots0cash.com lots0

    Google is moving away from keywords.
    Google is filling the SERP with it’s OWN sites and removing all those pesky “spamming competitors”(that means anyone that don’t pay google) from the google SERP.

    Simple fact is we(webmasters) trusted a snake in the grass(google) and now the snake is driving us ALL out of “his” garden…

    • fred

      what would you expect from a mossad/cia creation?

  • http://cozumelmexico.net Bob Rodriguez

    They are moving away from key words in generic search results. But they are keeping key words intact for their ppc program (their money maker). So you have to ask yourself. Which is more relevant?

    I know the answer to that. PPC is hands down more relevant to Google!! :-)

  • http://hostshark.co Andre Glegg

    Google can integrate this technology with Adsense and Adwords and get even better targeted results.

  • http://pagenotes.com/ Jim Williams

    I have a small website, I don’t do any advertizing, and to the best of my knowledge, my site has very few incoming links. But here’s the punchline: If you Google “pagenotes” my site comes up first. Have no idea what I’m doing right!

  • http://www.alltelecoms.biz/ allcommy

    Google always has improved Panda and Penguin so they can assess websites like the visitors asses. I understood this a long ago and I build ever my websites for my visitors but not for Google. My strategy has always proved successful for Google too.

  • Matt

    Google’s primary motivating factors should be clear to any idiot by now. $$ over Relevancy.

  • http://medicalbillingbizhq.com/medical-billing-books/ Paul “Medical Mastermind” Hackett

    What saddens me about Google is they create and implement all these strategies/resources to so call “Deliver The Best Search Results”! While they are fooling the masses with what they are doing those in the know (small and medium business & site owners) can clearly see Google is:

    Making it super hard for the small guy/gal with little to no technical experience to list well enough in their search engine. Their hope is we will have no other choice but to utilize their PPC platform in a last ditch effort to stay in front of potential customers!

    Google should just be truthful with everyone and change their promise from “Do No Evil” to “Pay To Play”! While many would not agree with their business model and ulterior motives, at least you could respect them for being upfront with you.

    • Adela

      I’ve been making small, local business websites since 2003. Over the years, the websites with original text that was written by someone who knew the subject have steadily climbed positions, especially more so lately. I do try to write a good description for each page, because it’s what the user sees on the search results most often. I don’t buy or make incoming links, no facebook buttons, no blog, no keyword density studies, etc., just the specific information the clients are looking for. The catch is that your website owner normally does not understand that she needs to mention the obvious and then elaborate on it, giving each website page a coherent body of text that pertains to a particular subject. I also try to keep a fluid user experience. My website owners spend less than $1000 a year on their websites.

  • http://musikterbaruindonesia.blogspot.com stieyyy


  • chris

    google spends so much time and effort trying to do battle with spammers that it is actually damaging the quality of its search results.

  • http://Mabuzi.com Mabuzi.com

    Revenue raising?

    One day SEO will be dead and we all will be PPC.

  • Dr Parnassus

    In 2001 this conversation occurred….it is only the date that was wrong

    “Do you read me, HAL?
    HAL: Affirmative, Dave. I read you.
    Dave Bowman: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
    HAL: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”


  • http://www.servicedofficeportal.co.uk Roy Watkinson

    TBH there has to be something new. The thought of putting together rubbish websites stuffed with keywords, specifically to get high in the rankings has to change. I like the idea but suspect in the early days some good content websites my get ranked for the wrong categories, bus as it evolves I am sure its a better way than trying to work out what the latest algorithm change is to try and stay ahead.

    That said, generally as a rule Good content sites have generally been high in the rankings anyway. I suppose the key to all of this is to create good websites and use common sense for the long term and no quick fixes.

  • http://www.msiddiqshamshad.webs.com Mohammad Siddiq Shamshad

    Columnist and Writer Mohammad Siddiq Shamshad,s web

  • http://www.linkedin.com/company/brick-marketing---boston-seo-firm Nick Stamoulis of Brick Marketing

    I think even if you try to optimize for the “gist” you still have to fall back on a series of keywords. There is no way to optimize for every possible way a person might search, but the “gist” can be summed up in some way, shape, or form. Those are your keywords. Maybe exact match won’t mean as much but somehow you have to lock on to the point of the search.

  • John Owles

    As a user of Google to search for information, it seems to me that the results are becoming less and less relevant. I estimate, even on simple searches Google results are currently about 60% false to 40% true. Even the ads, also a pain, are barely relevant.

    So, all in all, if they reduce keyword seach to zero, we will be sold nappy manufacturing machinery when looking for the life cycle of a herring…. Not a great deal of good.

  • http://www.dianestresing.com Diane Stresing

    You’re right, Nadine – the t-shirt detracts from the message. The message, obviously, is that Google is changing the way it manages search. (Those changes will, certainly, affect PPC – in Google’s favor.) The take-away for the rest of us is, How do I play best with Google now, and who else can I play with going forward?

    Marketing and sales existed long before SEO. Your salespeople (and other employees) and customers were once the best kind of network you could have. And maybe they still are.

  • http://www.tvsinternetmarketing.com/blog/ Carmen Rane Hudson

    This explains why the new keyword research tool only returns about 15 keywords instead of 800 variations on the same theme. Now I can stop worrying about it!

  • max

    Interesting to hear, but all theory, the fact is through all this abstract non real world stuff, search returns get more and more irrelevant with Google. Relevancy reached a all time low since about 10 years I dont understand why this guys dont get it. Probably they only listen to messages which pleases them but are deaf to the facts. It is not so clearly visible with mainstream stuff there they just bring the normal stuff like altavista 10 years ago, no much difference. But in the same moment were it needs thinking they fail, now why? Its totally clear to anyone who thinks and not only do wishful thinking (thats the real Google style)because their updated algo is based of none relevant parameter.

    Now what are this none relevant parameter? First are links which are mostly traded and bought (HOW CAN YOU TRADE THE TRUE) and second this authority component which is a total failure, have you ever seen any real innovative stuff coming from the guys? It’s the small ones who drive the development until they are bought, Google don’t understand the same system as what they are doing, why? because thats a other department and the communication between Google itself is almost not existent. They will deny this because they don’t want to hear, just like the old communists which also always denied everything until they where busted. I know it because I have to do with Google since more than 10 years. The worst what they ever did was to dismount this Mr. Schmidt, everything after now are real amateurs!

  • Shiloh

    All bow to Google or be destroyed. That’s right… just continue to let Cutts and Google tell you what you can and cannot put on your own website. Obey or be penalized and disappear from the SERPS. What a joke Google has become and Cutts thinks he is the internet GOD. Anyone that follows this crap is an idiot.

    We have filed a compliant with the FTC ( Federal Trade Commission) that this is unfair business practice and a monopoly. Google is trying to control content and advertisements unless they are their “approved” ads and their approved content. In essence price fixing and monopoly building.

    An FTC Complaint can be filed here, no matter how small or big your business is,


    Take away their power and use BING

  • http://linkconsultoriadigital.com.br/servicos/seo/ Link Consultoria Digital – Fernando Santos

    I believe that SEO work will not end. He needs to redo. In Brazil there are many possibilities for this bad explored.