“If you don’t know the user intent behind the keywords you’re optimizing for then you’re doing it wrong. Also, if you are optimizing for keywords versus the needs of the user then you’re doing it wrong.”
– Jordan Kasteler, freelance marketing consultant
If you have a website, you’re probably quite familiar with conducting keyword research. This is a standard practice and has been used for as long as search engines have existed. These key phrases are the framework for the entirety of your presence in the SERPs.
Keywords are not the only rankings factors that search engines look at when determining a site’s position; in fact, there are more than 200 signals, making keywords a relatively small piece of the puzzle.
Considering that, along with the vast changes Google is constantly making to its algorithms, does keyword research and application still hold merit in SEO?
The Keyword Killer
I’m sure many of you are pondering what could possibly make keyword research an antiquated practice. The answer is Google’s 2013 Hummingbird algorithm update.
The update was designed to employ “semantic search,” which essentially means that search engines are becoming increasingly capable of understanding natural language queries and user intent. Understanding a user’s motive, the engine serves up the most relevant content and pages that correlate to the action Google thinks the person wants to take.
This effectively diluted the power of exact keyword matches and allowed pages to rank for keywords associated to the query that were not optimized for, or even included, on-page.
This, along with the constantly increasing competition over keyword rankings, has led to long-tailed keywords rising in prominence and authority.
But Google’s Hummingbird algorithm is not the sole factor potentially influencing the hypothetical death of keyword research.
As the technological revolution advances, more industries and tasks are relying on digital solutions to streamline and simplify common and complex duties.
This reliance on technology means that every discipline that leverages these types of tools is quickly evolving and transforming, as is the nature of everything.
In the case of search engines, digital assistants like Cortana, Siri, and even Google’s own brand of speech-to-text voice search are heavily impacting SEO as a whole; with keywords caught in the crossfire. This trend is only gaining steam with new devices like Alexa and Google Home entering the product arena.
These commodities are allowing people to change the way they search for products and information, disrupting the current order of SEO and keyword research. In time, these devices (and more sophisticated ones) could change how people interact with the Internet as a whole.
Considering that keyword relevance is changing in monumental ways due to the Hummingbird algorithm and advancements in search technology, combined with the massive influence of the Panda algorithm’s impact on thin content, what exactly does all of this mean for keywords going forward?
Researching Keyword Research
Since Hummingbird’s implementation in 2013, SEOs worldwide have been closely watching how this algorithm would alter the search landscape.
Many studies have been conducted on the matter in the subsequent years, and most of them draw similar conclusions. Neil Patel, distinguished digital marketer, recently conducted his own keyword study of more than 200,000 data points with the help of SEO providers Moz and SEMrush.
Ultimately, what the crew uncovered was that, “…top-ranked blogs did not necessarily have high keyword saturation, keyword representation or lots of high-DA backlinks.”
What these top-ranked blogs touted was incredibly comprehensive content.
So keyword research is actually dead, right?
Not exactly. . .
Future Ranking Strategies
Keywords are losing their power to other SEO-impacting factors. And that transfer of energy is moving from phrases to intent.
Since search engines are shifting their focus from keyword relevance to topic relevance, it is vital to explore pertinent topics to your industry and your users.
The powers of long-form content have long been touted, but Google’s algorithm changes have pushed the influence of in-depth and comprehensive blogs and articles to new heights. This is the key to ranking in 2017.
This is not to say, however, that keyword research is dead altogether. While crafting suitable and stellar content is where the power lies, keywords are still essential in the titles of the pieces, tags and should be sprinkled throughout the content itself.
In all honesty, this is a good thing for brands, marketers, SEOs, content creators, and everyone else who is trying to rank at the top of the SERPs.
For years, everyone has been reiterating that content needs to be written for people, not search engines. That keyword stuffing makes content read unnaturally and content optimization can be quite difficult at times.
With this information in hand, you can now switch a large portion of your focus from keyword research to topic research and content creation.
While content has always been at the bedrock of SEO strategies, it is now more important than ever. Success now lies in identifying the most pressing subjects to write about for your audience; which is a blessing because you can just ask them what they want through blog comments, forums and social media.
The most important things to consider when writing these newly-focused posts is intent. Why has a reader landed on my blog? What information does he/she seek to gain? What actions does he/she aim to take? These are all questions you should be asking before crafting your piece.
As semantic search continues to become more intelligent in the way that it recognizes user intent, keyword relevance will continue to plummet. That, however, only means that topical relevance is poised to become more important.
Do these revelations mean that keyword research will eventually go extinct? Maybe. That decision is truthfully up to Google. And since SEO is shifting, it’s safe to say that it eventually will.
Don’t stress about all of this too much right now. At this moment, what you need to focus on is creating incredible content that wholly covers a topic and caters to the user’s intent.
Do you think keyword research will become obsolete?