Keywords have been the cornerstone of anything that has to do with SEO campaigns, website optimisation and content marketing, to name but a few. It was based on a simple principle: web spiders don’t know what your website is about unless you tell them, and if a page appears to be relevant to a search term, they will rank it according to a number of factors.
So by doing your keyword research diligently and adding them to your website in a Goldilocks fashion – not too often, not too scarcely – you were on the right track.
However, over the years, search engine ranking was refined through a series of algorithm updates with the aim to evaluate a website’s relevance by looking at their content more broadly, rather than just checking that they were ticking the right boxes with the right keywords. The goal was to have web crawlers read material almost like humans do to promote quality and to penalise so-called ‘black-hat’ techniques like keyword stuffing.
In 2013, Google launched the Hummingbird algorithm, whose ‘semantic search’ capabilities – that’s conversational search for you and me!- is said to herald the end of keyword-based ranking systems. Such a move makes sense when Siri and other voice recognition software encourage people to ‘talk’ to them for searches, and searches are now increasingly being expressed as questions.
Google confirmed that keyword-based ranking is still an important component of Hummingbird, but it is only one of 200 factors taken into account. So even though it may not yet be the end of keywords, let’s look at the pros and cons of using them.
• Finding niches and gaining competition insights
Targeting the keywords with the highest number of searches isn’t always the best solution. Niches can be more lucrative, and focusing on products and services that bring in higher margins is a very valid commercial approach. So doing keyword research around them will help you identify areas less optimised for but which could be as profitable.
It can also inform your sales and marketing strategy. If you are a telecommunication network supplier for example, keyword research will show you that there are hardly any searches for the term ‘analogue lines’, signalling that the demand is weak and there would probably be little sense in continuing to offer them.
Checking what your competitors have chosen to optimise for is also useful and will give you invaluable information as to which terms are worth pursuing.
• Staying ahead of the curve
Optimisation is a process which is never done and dusted and which requires on-going maintenance. Search terms will come and go and what worked last month may not now. Google Analytics and other keyword research software provide historic data along with search volumes, and will show you the fluctuations of popularity of keywords. It enables you to ride the wave of a keyword on the increase, leave it when it falls and identify seasonal patterns, helping you plan ahead rather than react to your digital environment.
• Finding out what’s hot
Keywords in themselves may be less important than they used to be in terms of page ranking, but they have an indirect advantage: they can help you find out what people are interested in and build content and blogs around it. Writing around hot topics will not only ensure that you are offering relevant content to visitors but also help your website rank higher.
• Correcting assumptions
If there is one thing that keyword research has taught us, it is not to make any assumptions about what people search for as they are, invariably, mostly incorrect. Only keyword research will give you unbiased, impartial results and not doing it is likely to result either in too narrow a focus or incorrect terms.
• Keyword stuffing
Anybody working in optimisation will know the dangers of keyword stuffing.
You have found the perfect keyword, not too competitive, high searches and 100% relevant. How tempting it is to over use it! But if you are not careful, web crawlers will interpret it as ‘keyword stuffing’ and you will get penalised. Not only that but it can put visitors off too.
• Writing for search engines
A close relative of the point above is favouring search engines over human beings, and avoiding this pitfall is a delicate balancing act. Yes, without search engines noticing you, nobody will ever see your website, but at the same time, once visitors have found you, they will promptly leave if your content isn’t relevant or interesting. The trick is to let keyword research inform your strategy so that you can offer what people are looking for but ALWAYS put user experience first.
• Narrow focus
If your whole strategy relies on keywords and their search volumes, your only measure of the results of your SEO strategy will be quantitative. While the number of visitors to your website is obviously very important, other elements are as valuable, for example the percentage of organic traffic, how long visitors stay on your site, which is an indicator of quality, bounce rate, overall visibility, conversion rates, etc…
Keyword research can give you too narrow a focus and make you brush aside qualitative results if you make it the exclusive way to set direction.
So, in conclusion, is keyword research obsolete? Absolutely not. It is a powerful tool which will give you invaluable insight into your audience, but as we have always said, end users should always be at the heart of any SEO strategy. Completely turning your back on keywords leaves you at risk of misdirecting your digital marketing campaigns, but likewise, too great a reliance on keywords can make you vulnerable to being too focused on a single approach.
What is the solution? Well, you could get in touch with us! We are experts in optimisation, content marketing and paid-for searches and are highly skilled at juggling all the factors that bring success to a long term SEO strategy. Send us an email or call us on 09 360 2299.