Why Keywords Still Matter

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Last updated: August 2023

Can Keywords Still Improve Your SEO?

If you’re keeping a close eye on the latest Google updates (and you should be), you might start to notice a pattern. For a while now, algorithm updates have centred around providing users with smarter, more context-relevant results, with less focus on the importance of individual keywords and keyphrases. However, this does not mean your keywords are less relevant than they were before.

While Google may be getting more intelligent, it isn’t disregarding key words completely. Rather, it is simply applying greater nuance to each search, and therefore providing you with even more opportunity to rank for searches connected to your target keyphrases, such as synonyms, so long as the search intent remains the same.

To put it simply: The way Google interprets your keywords has evolved over the years, but the importance of selecting the right keywords has not. In our previous guides, we’ve covered how to complete keyword research, and how to utilise your keywords. Now, we’re going to dive into why it all matters.

Take a Look At Keyword Intent

Keywords are there to show how relevant your content is to the search term inputted by those browsing search engines, looking for an answer to their questions or a product that closely matches their query.

However, sometimes there may be discrepancies between the keywords used, and what the user is actually searching for. Remember, the average internet browser may not be aware of industry jargon. Over time, search engines have gotten better at guessing what the search intent is, and matching this to results optimised for relevant keywords.

As an example, if I search for “Brazilian hairdresser”, Google will provide me with results relating to Brazilian blow dry hair treatments, rather than stylists of South American descent. When planning your keyword optimisation, it is always a good idea to do a manual check, and make sure the search terms you’re thinking of actually match what you’re optimising for.

Where Keywords No Longer Matter

While keywords are undoubtedly still an important factor to your onpage SEO, there are several outdated keyword practices you’ll want to banish from your repertoire.

In years past, many SEO professionals have warned their clients about their keyword density, obsessing over getting specific phrases mentioned an exact number of times. In 2023, this is far less relevant. Whilst you should still pepper your content with keywords and its variants where appropriate, do so sparingly, and focus instead on creating high-quality, helpful content that abides by Google’s EEAT guidelines.

What is more relevant than ever, however, is the use of varied keywords that are semantically relevant to your main keyphrase (sometimes referred to a LSI keywords – Latent Semantic Indexing). Search engine algorithms are growing more intelligent, and able to connect the dots between the queries searchers are using, and the kind of content they are looking for. This allows search engines to provide content that answers search queries, even if the keyphrase isn’t mentioned at all.

The Importance of Search Volume

Many people fixate on highly searched-for keywords, and if a search term doesn’t have thousands of potential searches a month then they’re not interested. I adopt a different approach. If I sell “red-eyed tree frog flip flops” but only 10 people a month are searching for this term, I’m not going to ignore it in favour of a more generic and highly searched-for term, I’m going to do everything I can to ensure that the 10 potential customers a month get to see my website at the top of their search results.

People who are looking for exactly the product I’m selling are much more likely to buy, and these are the people I want to show my site to. It’s for this reason that I leave until last the researching of potential search volumes that each term might expect per month.

Our guide to using Google’s AdWords Keyword Planner covers this in more detail, but here’s a brief rundown on what to do:

Create a free account, select “discover new keywords”, copy and paste your search term groups into the ‘enter products or services closely related to your business’ box and click ‘Get Results’.

You can filter your results to the UK only, drill into a specific city or other geographical regions or view all global traffic as well as implementing a range of other filters (not relevant to this exercise so I won’t go into them here). Personally I tend to use the UK only results as many of my clients’ businesses are UK focused, but I also really like the localised search insights that are available.

Next, you can select to see the average monthly search volumes for the past 12 months (the default setting) or you can specify a date range to suit you within the past 12 months and then compare this to the same period last year or another custom time slot. This is a particularly useful feature for observing how search trends are changing over time. Is your keyword getting more popular or less?

Export this data back into Excel, alongside your initial keyword research, and match the average monthly search volumes with your respective search term groups. Annoyingly these results never come out in the order in which you imported them, however you can easily use a VLOOKUP function in Excel to match the two back together again without having to reorder your entire list.

Making The Most of Your Research

The more research you conduct into your potential customers and their search activities, the greater your understanding of their search intent will be and ultimately the better placed you will be to make sure that your offering meets their needs, and optimise your website accordingly.

If you’d like more support with your keyword research, or if you have any questions about anything we’ve discussed, our team would be happy to help.

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Magnus Linklater SEO Consultant

Author: Magnus Linklater

Magnus is an SEO specialist and online marketing professional with over 25 years of digital and traditional marketing experience.

As the founder of Bespoke Digital, Magnus has worked on technical site audits and content marketing campaigns for hundreds of clients and regularly writes about SEO strategy, tips & tricks.

Find Magnus on LinkedIn

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