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The beginning of every year is always a time when SEO practitioners sit down to re-evaluate their strategies for the past year and set a new course for their marketing campaigns. This is the time when they force themselves to face the reality that the SEO landscape is constantly shifting, constantly evolving with the times.
In 2015, one of the hottest topics among SEO practitioners is keywords. Are they still relevant to SEO? Do we still have any use for them? Should we still embark on keyword-based optimization? Should we still target specific keywords in the content we publish? Is keyword research still worth our while?
Keywords and Keyword Research Through The Years
There was once a time when keywords meant everything to online marketing campaigns. Businesses spent hours researching keywords their target customers are most likely to use in online queries. They studied the potential of these keywords by analyzing the search volume, but also by figuring out how much competition they have for those words. When a business found keywords with low competition and high search volume, then that business is most likely to succeed in their SEO campaign.
That was because Google used to collect data about websites based solely on the keywords found on its links and pages. Businesses could therefore easily measure their SEO performance based on how well they rank for their chosen keywords. That is no longer the case.
Google has spent the past few years rolling out one algorithm update after another. They have adjusted Google Analytics such that it no longer offers keyword-specific data that used to help marketers gauge how much a particular keyword helped them acquire high search rankings. Google has also penalized websites that are seen to overuse keywords in their anchor text when they build links. Even websites with keywords in their domain were penalized.
All these changes have led many people in the world of SEO to wonder whether keywords are still relevant and if they should continue doing keyword research or not. To begin answering these questions, it is perhaps important to understand that what Google is actually trying is discourage businesses from sticking to an exclusively keyword-based SEO strategy. They want you to focus on user experience and other website quality factors instead of devoting all of your energies on specific keywords.
Placement Over Frequency
Okay, let’s end the confusion right here. Yes, keywords are still relevant. And yes, you should still embark on keyword research. After all, search engines still use these words for figuring out what your website is all about. And Google understands that people never type in whole sentences when they conduct online searches. They use words and phrases, which is why keywords will always be significant to a certain extent. Of course, that doesn’t mean your strategies shouldn’t change in 2015.
For one thing, it has now become important to focus more on the placement of your keywords instead of their frequency. If you’re targeting “fashion accessories,” for example, it would be a lot more helpful to place it once on your title tag and once in your header instead of inserting it three or more times into the body of your content. Headers and Meta information are Google’s top priority, with the body of the content coming in second and sidebars/footers last.
Meaning, Not Words
In the past, when someone types a query into Google’s search box, the search engine scans websites and then pulls out the words and phrases that match with the ones used in the query. Today, Google first interprets the data it finds in a website and then forms conclusions as to what the website is all about. It will then include the sites that it deems most relevant to the query in its search results. When you optimize your website, therefore, you should do so for meaning, rather than for specific words and/or phrases.
All About Semantics
If you think Google’s new ability to interpret the data on your website is creepy, then you’ll find this even creepier: Google also has the ability to interpret the meaning behind search queries via semantic search. This feature is part of the Hummingbird update that was rolled out in 2013. Yes, Google’s algorithm has indeed become quite sophisticated. Thanks to this update, the one-to-one relationship between search terms and keyword in web content has been erased and key words and phrases are now important only inasmuch as they allow for an accurate interpretation of what a web page is about.
To better understand semantic search, let’s assume that someone just typed “cheap fashion accessories in Doral” into Google’s search box. In the past, Google would include any site that has the individual words “cheap,” “fashion,” “accessories,” and “Doral” in its search results. With semantic search, Google now has the ability to understand that the user is looking for a place where he/she can buy inexpensive fashion accessories. Today’s search results are therefore a lot more relevant than before.
Considering the above information, it’s easy to understand that while keywords are still relevant to SEO, they have become a lot less important. They are no longer the “everything” they once were to online marketing campaigns, as there are now more factors that affect a business’ performance when it comes to SEO.
When you conduct keyword research these days, you need to bear in mind that the goal should no longer be to find the right keywords to incorporate into your content. Rather, it should be to find out what type of questions your target market is asking and what specific information they are looking for. You should then create web content that directly answers those questions and provides the kind of information they seek.
Use keywords only as a guide for creating the kind of content that will resonate with your target audience. And then focus on providing them with an excellent user experience on your site. Your search rankings should have no trouble rising and staying on top.