How the Google Zoo Has Forever Changed SEO Copywriting

searchAs far back as I can remember (circa 1999), search engine copywriters have been told to use keywords as often as possible.  According to most, proper optimization of a page involved things like writing for keyword density ratios, including keyphrases in every file name, every page name and every tag… at least once.

The common way of thinking for a decade or longer was the more keywords you could work into a page, the better your rankings would be.  Early on in the life of Google, that was pretty much true.  But, since the release of all the animals in the Google zoo (Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird), SEO copywriting has made a 180-degree shift.

How Did We Get Here?

It’s no accident that website owners and copywriters were taught to incorporate keyphrases into their text frequently.  Search engines are text machines.  They can’t see pictures or listen to podcasts.  In effect, search engines are deaf and blind.  The only thing that guides them is text, and that includes the words in file names, page names, image tags, meta tags and page copy.

Because of the level of technology Google had in the early days, it depended on exact-matching of the words in a search query to the words on and behind the page (in the HTML code, for example).

A Panda on the Loose

Several years ago, however, Google began to make significant changes with the Panda update.  In the name of quality, the Big G began to police things like trust elements, duplicate content, originality and value.  Article directories and ecommerce sites that used manufacturer-provided content took huge hits, while others scrambled to make sure their content met Google’s new standards.

Penguin Freezes Out Over-Optimization

Around a year later, Google unleashed the Penguin update. Unnatural linking practices and the over-optimization of web pages were added to the list of things which website owners needed to be wary.  That frequently meant reducing the number of times a keyphrase was used and increasing the use of synonyms.

The Hummingbird Algorithm Takes Flight

Most recently, Google announced their entirely new ranking algorithm called Hummingbird, which had actually been running for approximately one month without the general population knowing it.  One of the major highlights of Hummingbird revolves around spoken searches and conversational searches.

Essentially, Hummingbird is better at recognizing and understanding how spoken search queries and typed search queries could mean the same things.  (Again… synonyms.)

When you combine the impact of all three updates, you begin to see that Google is no longer interested in blindly matching keyword for keyword.  Rather, they want to understand better what the searcher is trying to achieve, so they can deliver the most accurate results.

What You Should Do Now

Whether you’re just starting to write copy for your website, or your existing text is several years old, here are my suggestions:


  • Shoving keywords into every place possible.
  • Trying so hard to optimize the page. (Google doesn’t need that much help anymore.)
  • Focusing on formulas and densities.
  • Optimizing for one or two keyphrases.

  • Using exact-match keyphrases sparingly.
  • Using individual keywords.
  • Writing naturally with a sprinkling of keywords.
  • Placing keyphrases and keywords where they make sense, not where you think the search engine wants them to go.
  • Incorporating synonyms in addition to your chosen keyphrases.

By making some simple adjustments to your copy, you could quickly get up to date with Google’s three-year campaign to improve search quality. Providing better copy and content for your visitors will give you a win-win with search rankings, too.

Want me to guide you through the steps of optimizing your copy in the new Google era? My video series “Writing With Keywords” will get you up to speed in less than 3 hours.

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About Karon Thackston

For over 25 years, web & SEO copywriter Karon Thackston has created optimized copy and content that has increased conversions & search rankings. Find out more about Karon on Google+.


  1. One particular challenge I have in my “day job” is clients who want Google results. They completely miss out on other important search engines like Bing and Yahoo – or all-important social media traffic. Google is frustrating and has punished good websites with changes over the last few years. I think content producers should stop focusing so much on Google, produce content their readers will love and use traffic drivers OTHER than Google for a richer analytic portfolio. At least now you can produce that kind of content without punishment from the G monolith.

    • I agree that Google has a long arm, Angela. I think they’ve gotten too big. I completely understand Google’s position of wanting to provide their searchers with the most relevant results possible and even agree that this should be their goal. I mean, what company wouldn’t want to provide the best possible? But I agree 100% that companies must diversify their traffic. If they don’t, it is THEIR fault, not Google’s, that they have all their traffic taken away during Google updates.

      It’s Business 101 that you never depend entirely on someone or something that is out of your control to drive your business growth. Like you said, there are tons of ways to drive traffic that don’t involve Google.

      That’s why my online marketing consulting service has grown so much. I get a ton of businesses who are sick and tired of growing their website traffic only to have it taken away by Google. They don’t know how to diversify effectively so I show them and help them set up a plan they can follow.
      Karon Thackston recently posted..Driving Traffic to Your Site Without Google My Profile

  2. Thanks for the great article! I appreciate the summary of changes over time and the tips for moving forward!
    Kelly Butcher recently posted..What’s Your Passion for Business?My Profile

  3. Karon,
    Thanks for such a common sense summary of the Google Zoo (to date) and the no BS advice about SEO and keyword inclusion.
    Kathy Henderson-Sturtz recently posted..First step in overcoming procrastination is acknowledging your problemMy Profile

  4. Thanks Kathy! That’s what I’m aiming to provide. 🙂
    Karon Thackston recently posted..Driving Traffic to Your Site Without Google My Profile

  5. Karen, excellent article and information as always. I really find your high-level description of the animals in the Google Zoo interesting. I guess the old SEO saying “Content is King” is particularly relevant now.

  6. Nice article Karon. You and others may be interested in reading my SEO friend Ben Kemp’s recent hard-hitting article at SiteProNews on the effects Google is having on the SEO industry – and its own search results – here . I have worked with Ben for many years and he is despondent about the effects Google’s recent activity is having on people’s businesses. Your points (and others’) about not having all one’s eggs in one basket are salient but the fact remains that, whether we like it or not, Google has an almost monopolistic position in the search industry – hell, it’s become a verb! – and many feel that they have some responsibility to keep the playing field rather more level. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

    • I have never thought that about Google. It’s their search engine and they can do with it as they please. However, in the process, they are ticking business owners off royally and people are beginning to realize after all this time that there really is a huge list of ways to drive traffic that don’t involve Google. My prediction is that people will begin to pay less and less attention to search engine rankings as they become harder to quickly achieve. And they’d be smart to take that step quickly.

      I have always said right from the beginning that SEO needs to be **part** of your marketing plan, but it does not need to BE your marketing plan. Just like I would never build an entire business around selling products on Amazon or making affiliate sales from one particular company. That puts them in control of my business instead of me. And *I* would be to blame for the failure if it happened, not Amazon or the affiliate product owner.

      Just sayin’ 🙂
      Karon Thackston recently posted..Driving Traffic to Your Site Without Google My Profile

  7. I think Google’s message is clear. Write good content and you will get better position in the search results. It has always been the mantra of many SEO experts. Content is what makes a website gain traffic. For some reason, instead of content , keyword given more importance. Well, things are changing and we need to change mindsets, too.
    Dallas SEO Geek recently posted..Don’t Throw Away Another Marketing Dollar! 7 Things You Must Know Before You Buy SEOMy Profile

  8. In years past, before Google had the technology it has today, it had to have an exact match of keywords in order to assess what pages were about and rank them. So this is some arbitrary change they are making on a whim. It’s a progression of technology that is allowing them to use other signals in addition to keywords so that there isn’t the dependence on exact-match search terms.
    Karon Thackston recently posted..Why Jill Whalen Left SEO & What Advice She Has for YouMy Profile

  9. Thanks for the summary. For many years I continually got new clients for my business from top rankings in Google. After all the animal updates and losing rankings my leads disappeared. I’ve now diversified my traffic generation by utilizing YouTube videos (which rank fairly easily), video ads, social media and content marketing. I learned my lesson not to rely on Google.
    Herman recently posted..How To Add Or Swap An Audio Track From YouTubeMy Profile

  10. You’re not the only one, Herman. It has happened to waaaay too many people. I agree 100% that SEO should be **part** of your marketing plan but it should not be your entire marketing plan. That’s where this series came from:
    Karon Thackston recently posted..Matt Cutts on Google’s Updated SEO Copywriting StrategyMy Profile

  11. Great Article, Karon!
    I’m sorry I missed this the first time (when it was originally published). I saw this via your newsletter – thanks!I assume that even though this is “Old” in internet time (7 months now), is it safe to assume that this is still timely – correct?

    Thanks for sharing!
    Paul Taubman recently posted..How To Deal With Email Unsubscribers?My Profile

  12. mitch wilson
    Twitter @

    I agree with not shoving too many keywords into your website. That can be a real turn off for google, and even result in your website being marked as spam.
    Thanks for sharing!
    mitch wilson recently posted..Promote Your Business With Instagram InfographicMy Profile

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