Back in the day, keywords were the everything of SEO. People would literally write their keywords hundreds or thousands of times, finding ways of hiding those keywords from readers – blending them into backgrounds, positioning them far from the page’s centre, or using other shady tactics.
Those days are dead – so are keywords dead too?
The answer is a resounding no! Let’s take a look at why keywords are still so important, and how we can use keyword research to guide our content creation strategies.
The core of SEO
The title of this section is a bit tongue in cheek – there is no one “core” to SEO, other than the goal of ranking well on search engines.
The question I ask you is this: ranking well for what on search engines? After all, people still search using words, right? We want to find the words that people are using to search for products and services similar to yours, or to find information relating to your business, and target those words.
Those are our keywords.
We can group these keywords by intent. A lot of searches have informational intent – the user is trying to learn something. Other keywords have commercial intent – the user is looking to buy something.
We can say those keywords are top-of-funnel and middle to bottom-of-funnel, respectively. By finding out which keywords related to your business have commercial or informational intent, we can map out our content plan appropriately to get the pages on your site to rank for those terms.
When individual pages start ranking well, the whole site starts ranking better (if your site structure is properly laid out). That’s why keyword research is core to SEO. By targeting based on intent, frequency, and competition, we can carve away at your competitors by creating more relevant content – all to make room for you at the top of the SERPs.
Keywords aren’t dead
You’ll hear some people making bold claims about keywords being dead. “Voice search has killed keywords!”, they’ll say. “Natural language processing means keywords aren’t relevant!”, they’ll cry.
Both of these claims are, to be blunt, preposterous.
First, let’s address the voice search claim. There are two important things to keep in mind:
- A large number of searches are still text-based
- Voice searches still use words
That means it’s still essential to target text-based keywords. It also means that voice-based keywords are still targetable – they’re just different. Nothing about voice searches means that keywords are dead.
And on the natural language processing front? It might sound like we’re beating a dead horse, but NLP still relies on – well, words! Just because queries aren’t being formatted to suit search engines’ needs anymore, doesn’t mean that certain keywords or phrases aren’t present in particular search queries. We can still divine intent and subject based on keywords – and we can still target keywords.
Keywords as a guide
The main difference created by NLP is that Google can understand semantics much better than it used to. That means it looks at a page (and a site) holistically – it understands based on semantics what a page is about, and by linking its understanding of individual pages, it understands what a site is about. It understands queries much better, too.
That means we can’t simply include keywords in our content – the content we create must be both unique and uniquely useful to users. Imagine your website offers a subscription shaving service. We can create content that’s tangential to “subscription shaving service”, like:
- Guides to facial hair styles
- Guides to keeping razors sharp
- Guides to different types of shaving cream/aftershave
And so on. This will attract users who are interested in things semantically-related to subscription shaving services, and will help search engines better understand what our site is about. We can only accomplish this by doing keyword research, understanding what the clients we want to attract are searching for, then creating appropriate content.
This is really only the start of why keyword research is so valuable – and we could expand in depth on any of the topics broached above. We’re a Winnipeg-based SEO company, and keyword research is particularly useful for local searches. Want to learn more? Get in touch with us.