Matt Cutts on Google’s Updated SEO Copywriting Strategy

By Karon Thackston. © All Rights Reserved

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 Google’s updates over time) we’ve moved away from strictly using the keyphrase as-is and more toward using the individual words within the keyphrases as we write.

I suspected that the changes I was seeing spanned Google’s databases. When it was confirmed during an email conversation with Google’s Matt Cutts it 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.” Once they started incorporating synonyms many 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.

Fast forward several years and Google has gotten more synonym savvy. There’s no longer a 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.

SEO Copywriting 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 keyphrase 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/hurts to also use the individual words within the phrase?

MATT: Keyphrases don’t have to be in their original form. We do a lot of synonyms 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 webpage (not in a spammy way of course), that makes our job easier since 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:

  • headline
  • subheads
  • ALT tags
  • 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/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) 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 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.

Stop struggling with copy that’s not ranking or converting like you want. Get some help at and watch how quickly your results improve.

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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. Dang, Karon. Thanks for yet another nuance about SEO Copywriting. Glad you have access to Matt Cutts to Ask the important questions specific to our field. Break up the keyphrases. I’m on it!

  2. Karon,

    Mat’s responses to your pragmatic questions on points of interest to us all in the bloggosphere raises two issues for me:

    1. Does the extrapolation of Mat’s advice mean that we don’t need to put commas between keywords?

    2. How does Google now deal with mis-spellings, particularly in respect of people’s names (example: in my own case, Segal – 5 letters – I have received correspondence with my surname spelt 10 different ways)

  3. Hi Graham,

    I’m not sure you’re following what Matt is saying. We’re talking about using the individual words within the keyphrases. So, in addition to using the complete phrase “Toshiba laptop computer” (for example) in your page copy you would also use just “Toshiba” and just “laptop” and just “computer” in the copy.

    I can’t say how Google deals with misspellings of names. I didn’t ask that question.

  4. Hi Karen,

    Great incites and info from Matt Cutts with Google. I do know that while Google may say one thing, they do another and I believe this is to keep people from knowing how to manipulate their rankings and algorithms. It makes sense that Google doesn’t want people to know what works and what doesn’t. So with that said, I think it’s great to hear what they say, but that doesn’t mean that what’s already working for you isn’t going to stop working. SEO is all about experimentation with strategies to find what works and keeping an eye on it at all times.

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