Are you, in general, satisfied with the relevancy of Google’s results to your search, or does the search engine often miss your intent?
When you google something, the search engine’s algorithm needs approximately 100 milliseconds to analyze over 200 ranking factors and yield the most informative, relevant, and valuable results that adequately answer your query.
We, to an extent, grasp how the search engines process that much web data and correlate it to a certain query; however, the search algorithm is, for the most part, shrouded in the veil of secrecy.
Over the years, Google ranking algorithm updates somewhat bluntly described the perfect website:
- it loads fast
- it’s mobile-friendly
- it has an abundance of useful information
- it provides good UX
- it has no spammy links or duplicate content, etc.
On the other hand, SEO and digital marketing whizzes were, throughout that time, unearthing other potential ranking factors, such as the length of meta descriptions, domain name and age, brand mentions, and others.
So, with that many on-page and off-page factors being taken into account when ranking a website on SERPs, where do keywords fit in?
Do keywords still matter – and why – we had the opportunity to discuss with SEO experts from the top Miami web design companies. Plus, we share their tips on how to approach keyword research and optimization for your website’s best search ranking performance.
What Are Keywords in SEO?
From the point of view of Internet users, keywords are words or phrases that we type into search engines to find what we’re looking for.
Conversely, for SEO specialists and website owners, keywords are the words or phrases you integrate into your web content to match users’ queries.
Of course, keywords are sensible – we don’t account for just any random string of letters as a keyword – rather, keywords are meaningful words, placed in context and carrying a specific user intent.
SEOs differentiate various types of keywords:
- short (head) keywords vs. long-tail keywords – shorter, broader terms vs. longer phrases with more specific search intent
- branded vs. unbranded – with or without a brand name included in the keywords
- seed vs. page-specific – relevant to the majority of your website (e.g., DIY tools shop) vs. relevant to a specific set of pages (e.g., DIY garden tools)
- keyword categorization based on the sales funnel stage – ranging from customer’s awareness to consideration, conversion, and finally, retention
- global vs. local – searching for products and services in certain locations or ‘near me’
- evergreen vs. topical – popular year-round queries such as ‘news,’ ‘weather, etc. vs. ‘Christmas gift ideas’ or ‘best summer seaside destinations
You can integrate different keyword types into your optimization strategy to fine-tune your customer targeting. Combine several of these into your ideal keyword to achieve specificity and relevancy for targeted queries, such as:
- Valentine’s gift ideas for DIY lover Chicago
- Walmart organic cheese prices
- dog groomer near me
The Role of Keywords In SEO
So, do keywords really still matter when optimizing your web content? The answer is yes, but not in the way they used to.
Back in the days of ranking algorithms onset, websites used what are now considered black-hat or gray-hat, i.e., forbidden or unwelcome, SEO practices to rank for a specific keyword. At the time, most of them relied on keyword stuffing – repeating a set phrase on a web page frequently – or reorganizing words in keyphrases and using synonyms to ‘break’ the keyword repetition.
However, as search engines became more intelligent, integrating specific search queries into your content turned obsolete.
Keywords In The Age Of AI Algorithms
The significance of optimizing for search keywords has been questioned even more after Google’s 2013 and 2015 algorithm updates, Hummingbird and RankBrain. The two updates focused on improved understanding of complex and conversational searches and integrating an AI-driven machine learning of user behavior towards particular search results.
So, after these updates, Google’s (and other search engines’) algorithms proved capable of rendering content meaning even if the content isn’t brimming with keyword variations.
Thanks to AI and machine-learning advancements, today’s algorithms seek natural-sounding, relevant, and useful content to serve users.
Of course, keywords still stand as the pillar of content creation; after all, you can’t rank a hair salon website for kitchen appliances (but if you do, you’re doing something wrong). It’s because no matter how good your site performance may be, your hair salon website simply lacks content on the topic of kitchen appliances to show up in searches.
Therefore, the best SEO practice regarding keywords is to implement your target keywords only when they suit the context.
Researching how users search for a product/service/information isn’t crucial only for good organic rankings. Understanding keywords is also beneficial for running paid campaigns, content ideation and creation, competitor analysis, backlinking, and much more.
How Do Keywords Affect E-A-T?
E-A-T is a part of Google’s Search Quality Rater guidelines that play a significant role in how a page will rank organically. The acronym stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, i.e., the deciding criteria Google uses to determine a web page’s overall quality.
So, the greater expertise, authority, and trustworthiness a web page demonstrates, the higher it should rank. Working on your branding, mentioning authors’ names and bio in articles, and keeping the content up to date are some strategies to improve your website’s E-A-T, but where do keywords fit in?
Well, to create expert content your users will find relevant and valuable, the first step is to understand what your audience is searching for – including their search intent – and then meet and exceed their needs.
The process of good content creation begins with detailed keyword research; however, understanding your target queries isn’t beneficial for your site’s content quality alone. Keywords are equally important to integrate into the anchor texts of your backlinks.
As the concept of E-A-T applies to links pointing to your site as well, strategic anchor texts that include keywords allow for page authority to pass on your web page for that specific topic.
In practice, building backlinks from different (authority!) websites with synonymous anchor texts – such as ‘SEO basics,’ ‘SEO for beginners’ and ‘beginners’ guide to SEO’ – provide a signal to Google that your page is highly relevant for these queries.
Keywords Beyond SEO
Integrating keywords into content strategy shouldn’t stop at the level of the website. Rather, knowing what your target audience is interested in is an amazing starting point for content ideation and creation across your social media platforms.
When you post on your social media about a relevant topic for your brand, you’re more likely to attract the right customers, achieve greater engagement on your post, and ultimately – retain prospects that are likely to become customers.
Transform your blog posts into an infographic, short video, or a carousel image, and answer your customers’ burning questions before they even ask them.
Keywords As The Path To A Deeper Understanding Of Users
Keywords help you optimize web content for better search rankings and greater visibility among users that are more likely to become your future customers.
Yet, vice versa holds true as well – your target users’ queries can serve as an excellent source of inspiration for keywords to next include in your content.
Adapting web pages to suit user searches or building content based on user queries – both strategies can be equally beneficial for your website’s SEO.
In the next section, you’ll discover how to tap into the hearts and minds of your target customers by leveraging simple keyword research tools.
How To Find The Right Keywords For Your Business?
Many business owners and digital marketers take keyword research for granted – and fail miserably. The main issue why some keyword strategies disappoint is because users have a completely different understanding and perception of a business than those doing the actual business.
Imagine a luxury transportation service that drives customers exclusively from NY to Boston. Without much research, the business could set up its Google Ads campaign with “NY Boston taxi” or “NY taxi” keywords. After all, their line of work is a taxi service, right?
Well, not so much. Most searchers would look for a local NY cab, so the business’ Google Ads budget would drain by 9 AM, yielding zero conversions due to inadequate keywords.
So, without knowing what your target customers are searching for, you could end up targeting the wrong keywords or those with low search volume, meaning there’s no one to see your content.
Of course, the trial and error period is absolutely expected when tweaking your target keywords. Yet, you can minimize the time and money spent on empty clicks with good research and testing.
Luckily, there are abundant keyword research tools to help you better understand your target audience, such as KeywordTool, Ubersuggest, Answer The Public, and Google’s Keyword Planner. Besides, you can always study your website’s Analytics and Search Console data to unearth more valuable keywords.
Keywords or Keyphrases – Which To Optimize For?
Keywords, also referred to as ‘keyphrases,’ can be either a single word or a multiword phrase, often termed a ‘long-tail keyword.’
Single-word keywords generally have a larger search volume, meaning more queries during a set period; however, their search intent is often questionable. For example, typing ‘pizza’ on Google can suggest the user is (among countless other possibilities):
- interested in ordering a pizza
- looking for a pizza recipe
- examining pizza’s nutritional value
- researching the history of pizza’s origin
- searching images of pizza
Basically, a ‘pizza’ query is too broad to be useful to users and websites alike – users get way too much information, whereas websites can’t pinpoint the user’s search intent to optimize and rank for it adequately.
On the other hand, keyphrases are longer and more specific search terms users type to find the needed information. These ‘long-tail keywords’ saw a steep increase in use thanks to the advent of voice search, which gave birth to more conversational queries rather than searching for a string of unrelated words.
So, it’s a no-brainer which keyword type to optimize your website for. Compared to shorter keywords with bigger competition and search volume, low conversion rate and vague intent, long-tail keywords:
- have lower competition due to their specificity
- offer greater content visibility as you aim queries with fewer searches
- help in better ranking for short-tail keywords included in the keyphrase
- improve rankings of new pages thanks to their relevancy
- achieve better conversion rate as the content matches user intent
To Sum Up – Where Do Keywords Stand In The Realm Of Search Engine Optimization
Despite what some web optimization specialists may think, keywords are still very relevant to SEO.
Besides increasing your chance of improved search engine rankings, optimizing for the right keywords boost your visibility among the target audience, attract their attention and help in converting them into happy customers.
Ideating content for your website and social media profiles, setting up effective paid campaigns, and achieving trustworthiness in the eyes of Google and users alike wouldn’t be possible without keywords.
Sure, the way keywords are significant for SEO has drastically changed compared to just a few years back. Successful keyword strategies are mature, data-driven, incessantly tested, and flexible to continuous algorithm updates by major search engines.
Strategizing your website optimization efforts based on wrong keywords isn’t only about the low search rankings and fewer website visits. Relying on inadequate keywords can cost you the time and money you invest in paid campaigns, building backlinks, and site optimization.
Therefore, perform keyword research as often as possible to keep up to date with the latest trends in your industry, integrate keywords in a natural and innovative manner, and provide quality and value throughout your digital presence.
AI, machine learning, and other tech advancements will surely continue to reshape the keyword landscape, but the time when keywords will be obsolete in search engine optimization is not anywhere near today.
Bruce is a digital marketing specialist and freelance blogger. He is devoted to exploring digital marketing trends, new technologies and sharing knowledge across the web. In his spare time, he writes a lot about new business strategies and digital marketing for DigitalStrategyOne.