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Do Keywords Still Matter?

While AI and NLP reshape the landscape, keywords remain vital for Google's indexing. Stay aware of evolving trends for sustained online visibility and engagement.

Do Keywords Still Matter?

Are keywords still important today?

Keywords – ranging from single words to complex phrases – are still instrumental in shaping website content to boost relevant organic search traffic and essential tools for connecting the target audience with your website.

But just how much? Let’s explore.

There is no short answer to this. If you ask whether keywords in queries are essential to provide a list of relevant files to satisfy an informational need, then the answer is no.

But if you ask if keywords matter to Google’s indexing and retrieval system, the answer is absolutely yes.

Let’s take a closer look.

Why Keywords Matter In SEO

Keywords are the key phrases commonly used by consumers to find what they are looking for online.

They use the search bar in their browser to type in the terms, which are usually made of one or more words that describe what they want.

There are many types of keywords, including:

  • Branded.
  • Non-Branded.
  • Local and Global.
  • Brand + Geography.
  • Brand + Product, etc.

Here are four ways keywords continue to help brands.

1. Keywords Help Indicate User Intent

Keywords are directional. They give very good clues that “point” to the kind of content the searcher is trying to retrieve.

However, there is still a vocabulary problem between the index system and end users, who have many different ways to ask for the same thing or something similar.

This is why Google and other search engines have extremely advanced query expansion technologies.

For example, an end user typing “solar energy” as a query may well see the first result for solar power, which may be more relevant and useful to satisfy the informational need than another page that only has a direct match to the words “solar” + “energy” to qualify it.

Plus, timestamps appended to keywords in the index for temporal analysis give a clue to freshness to help detect trends, and then there has to be event detection for news results.

And so much more.

So, yes, the closer a user can get the query to match the relevant content, the better.

However, users tend not to know what they’re looking for (if they did, they wouldn’t need a search engine), so search engines must be sophisticated with definition and association discovery.

2. Keywords Help Find Quick Wins

Finding quick wins or striking distance opportunities, especially for keywords that bring in conversions for other channels, should be your quickest path to improving organic visibility.

For example, if you’re a large-scale retailer like Walmart and you’re ranking in position 13 for Nintendo Switch, which has millions of searches per month, that would be on my priority list to optimize.

I would examine and optimize the landing page, internal and external links, etc., to see what you need to do to get this term on the first page of Google to drive more sales and revenue.

search volumes for Nintendo SwitchScreenshot from author, December 2023

3. Keywords Help Identify The Right Target Audience

When we perform competitive analysis and look at keyword visibility for a prospect or current client versus the competitive set, we can uncover a content gap.

We could find they don’t have content related to that topic or that the content they have is not ranking or optimized.

For example, I previously had a financial client who wanted to rank for “Tesla Loans.”

After looking at competitor visibility, we noticed competitors ranked for “Tesla Financing,” and my client did not have “Tesla Financing” in their page title, headings, body content, etc., and therefore did not rank for the term.

But loans and financing are not synonymous.

Once we developed content for “Tesla Financing” instead and optimized it, marked it up with schema, built content around it, did some internal linking, promoted the content, etc., conversion rates increased by 15% YOY.

The keyword “Tesla Financing” helped us identify the proper target audience that had a much higher search volume than Tesla Loans.

bulk keyword analysisScreenshot from author, December 2023

4. Keywords Help Drive Traffic

Most traffic occurs on page one of Google. In fact, the top result alone takes 28.5% of the clicks.

If you increase visibility into the first page, your site can drive a considerable amount of incremental traffic, which can potentially lift sales on keywords that have high volume.

Having a top position on a low-volume keyword is not meaningful.

Instead, focus your efforts on keywords that drive business value and have some volume and holistic content that answers questions end users will find useful.

Far too many clients and articles focus on counting keyword success stories instead of measuring the impact of those successes (or not).

Should We Still Track Keywords?

The answer here is an overwhelming yes. Keywords still provide value by delivering traffic, conversions, visibility, and sales in prime positions.

For enterprise-level brands with a lot of products and services, it can be expensive to track keywords because there can be thousands or millions of keywords to monitor across desktop and mobile.

It’s a great idea to keep a golden keyword list of terms that deliver the most business value to your brand, i.e., traffic, revenue, and conversions, and a mixture of non-brand, brand, and product keywords that are vital to your first-page visibility.

A brand wants to know what its highest volume terms are doing and get as much traffic as possible from those keywords.

It makes sense to track a few hundred keywords per core business line and region for enterprise-level brands.

Tips For Finding The Right Keywords

Before you start using a wide variety of keyword research tools, always think like a customer and ask, “What is the purpose of my website and what problem am I going to help end users solve and satisfy their information need?”

If you can answer that question, you are on the right path to defining your audience and your content and keyword strategy.

One of the keyword research data sources I like to use is paid search data if it is available. If you have historical paid search data, you can see which keywords resulted in conversions and sales, which can help define what content you should create.

Additionally, you can use tools like Google Keyword Planner, KW Finder, Moz Keyword Explorer, Semrush, Ahrefs, and Long Tail Pro, offering diverse functionalities to aid in finding the right keywords.

At the end of the day, SEO is all about delivering qualified traffic that converts into customers. If your site is receiving a lot of traffic and no one converts, what is the point?

(Unless, of course, you have a site that depends on ad revenue, affiliate traffic, or any other advertising model.)

When Keywords Are Actually Useless

Some SEO pros are still focusing on keyword density. News flash: Keyword density does not matter.

Stop trying to stuff keywords into content – it won’t help you get higher rankings if you have your primary keyword at 10% KD, etc.

Focus on writing content that will satisfy the informational need and give users what they want.

I also still see sites using the keyword meta tags. Google devalued that a long time ago, and it has no ranking value and won’t move the needle.

Lastly, using exact match anchor text for all your links is not a good idea. Anchor text should be a mixture of brand and non-brand with different keyword variations.

Google is sophisticated, and if you have too many keywords with exact match anchor text links, you can send off an alarm, and your site can potentially get penalized.

Wrapping Up

While the landscape of SEO and the role of keywords have undergone significant changes, especially with the advent of AI and NLP technologies, keywords remain a crucial element of SEO strategies.

Their proper usage and understanding are integral to connecting with the target audience, understanding market needs, and ultimately driving traffic and conversions.

Always focus on the user experience and E-E-A-T as Google’s focus on providing valuable, relevant content to users has led to the emergence of E-E-A-T (Expertise, Experience, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) as a key ranking signal.

Creating content that genuinely addresses user queries and demonstrates first-hand experience is crucial.

The evolution of SEO practices towards a more holistic, user-centric approach underscores the need to stay updated with the latest trends and tools to maintain effective online visibility.

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Featured Image: Red Deer/Shutterstock

Category SEO
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VIP CONTRIBUTOR Winston Burton SVP, SEO at Acronym

Winston Burton is a highly accomplished and seasoned professional in the field of SEO and digital marketing, boasting an impressive ...

Do Keywords Still Matter?

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