A recent post on social media got me thinking. It stated keyword research no longer had any relevance, that it was old and outdated, and should now be ignored.
Were they right? Or is keyword research still relevant, and if so, how should it be used in today’s online environment?
Of course, several things have changed over the past few years. Here are three of the most important factors:
– Google released their Penguin and Panda updates that fought back against shady SEO practices such as content that had been over-optimized for particular keywords, and back-link profiles that were too heavy on their use of keyword linking.
– Google moved all their searches to HTTPS, with the result that searches were encrypted and website owners were no longer able to see which keywords had led a particular visitor to their site.
– Google released their Hummingbird update, which meant search engine results were more in line with the user’s intention, rather than the exact keyword they had entered.
The overall effects were as follows:
– It was now harder to determine the profit potential of different keywords, and therefore what to optimize content for.
– It became harder to get content ranked through keyword optimization, and over-optimization would work against you.
However, it didn’t mean, as many people continue to believe, that keyword research and optimization was past its use-by date, and of no further relevance.
Sure, there are many other factors now at play, like social media signals … but it doesn’t follow that keywords are now out of the mix completely.
It simply means you now need to work harder to create great content that offers real value, that people will want to share.
The only people really hurt by the changes – which is as Google had intended – were people creating valueless, non-original, poorly written content on the cheap to act as search engine fodder to artificially boost rankings. We should all be thankful such activities are now largely behind us.
If you want to rank well now, your content best be worth it.
But you still need to help Google and other search engines understand what your content is all about. And your focus should now be on working with Google, rather than trying to battle against their latest update to get your content artificially high.
Such an approach is far more positive for your business long-term, and holds far less risk. In a nutshell, you now need to:
(a) Create quality content in the first place;
(b) Help them understand what your content is about so they can rank it appropriately.
And this is exactly where keyword research comes in …
Ultimately, it’s all about supply and demand. You determine the ratio between the ‘demand’ (the numbers searching for particular keywords) and the ‘supply’ (the amount of content out there that already meets that need).
Do the research properly, focus your content on one keyword rather than another, and you increase your chances of getting well-ranked, with increased visibility for your business as a result.
This aspect hasn’t changed. What has changed is you need a different approach in your optimization efforts. So it’s now more about using semantically-related terms than it is about putting a particular keyword in a specific position based on the latest formula you read about.
You’re keeping it far more natural, while clearly indicating to Google what your content relates to.
Building links to your content still matters too, despite what you might have heard. Again, there are simply more factors in the mix, so the effect is more diluted than it used to be. But that doesn’t mean it’s no longer worthwhile. In fact, the opposite is true if you want to give your content greater prominence than all the other content out there.
Once more, in building your links, don’t worry so much about the exact keyword you use to link back. Instead, use a wide variety of related terms, as well as more generic text, natural text such as ‘click here’, your domain name, and so on. The key is really not to try too hard.
Let the content speak for itself, but gently guide Google in the right direction.
To conclude, keyword research still matters and should be part of your online marketing strategy. But it’s only one weapon in the arsenal, and only part of the story. Get too obsessed with keywords, and your content can lose some of its allure that would otherwise attract readership.
Remember you’re ultimately creating content for your readership – give that your primary focus, and use keyword research as an additional kick in the right direction.