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Do Keywords Still Matter For SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) sure has come a long way since the days of keyword stuffing, DMOZ  and PageRank when the presence and prominence of keywords within a webpage’s content could have a significant impact on its ranking in search results.

Keywords and content are still inherent parts of SEO. But, as search engines get better at understanding what searchers really want, do keywords as we’ve always known them still matter? And, are keywords still the most important part of an SEO strategy?

What if we’re in the age where keywords aren’t as important? How can we continue to use keywords to make sure we’re serving our potential site visitors’ needs?

Understanding intent = The “key” to keyword success

Ask any SEO pro what the most important factor is when choosing or optimizing keywords and they’ll probably tell you it has to do with “intent.” For example, if you’re performing a search for “shoes,” how does Google understand the intent behind that search. Are you looking for:

  • Information about running shoes?
  • Sites that sell shoes you can buy?
  • The history of shoes?
  • Different types of shoes?

Searcher intent is at the heart of every great keyword strategy. If you’re trying to rank for a keyword that doesn’t match your page’s content, you’re probably not going to rank very well.

Google has made several key changes to their search algorithm aimed at providing searchers with results that best match their intent (particularly the Hummingbird update in 2013). As Google compiles more and more data about keywords and uses that to inform search results, the websites that get rewarded with high rankings will be the ones that are able to answer and provide definitive topical answers that match the intent of users’ queries.

How to make sure your keywords still matter

To make sure your keywords still matter, you have to nail down your prospective searchers’ intent. Using our “shoes” example from above, the types of searches you can filter your potential keyword targets into will fit into one of these categories:

  • Navigational – probably a branded search term. Someone looking to get somewhere specific. Example search query: “Where can I get Nike skateboarding shoes”
  • Informational – very likely a “fat head” search term. Someone looking for information about a particular person, place or thing. The searcher is probably closer to the outside of the conversion funnel. Example search query: “Types of Nike Skateboarding shoes”
  • Transactional – searchers who know what they want. In general, they are ready to buy and are likely performing a long-tail keyword search. Example search query: “Nike Stefan Janoski Max Size 10.5 Blue”

Keywords still matter but make them topical

Don’t get hung up on choosing a thousand variations of the same keyword. As Google gets better and better at understanding searcher intent, the importance of keywords will get diluted. Instead, try to focus your keyword strategy around content topics.

Try to answer questions for your searcher that might lead them to discover your website at every stage of their path to purchase. Using specific landing pages, position your site as the answer to the navigational query, the informational query and the transactional query. That way, you’ll be able to leverage your site’s authority as the answer to a searcher’s every need.

Need help with your optimizing your site for better search engine rankings? Contact Mindstream Media to get in touch with one of our SEO professionals.


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