Are keywords still important for SEO?

SEO Keywords

Over the last few years, the process of search engine optimisation has seen some massive changes. A number of major updates by Google have significantly changed the way search engine results are ranked. So are keywords are still important? Read on to find out.

How SEO used to work

Just a few years ago, the way SEO worked was very different. Keywords were central to search engine optimisation strategies, and page quality was often secondary to tactics like keyword stuffing. Businesses would create a list of search terms to rank for and create pages around each keyword phrase. This often led to a poor experience for web users, who ended up on pages that ranked well but didn’t answer their query or contain any useful information.

What’s changed?

Since then, Google has made a number of major algorithm changes, radically changing the way pages are ranked in their search engine. These include:

  • Panda – Panda was the start of Google’s effort to remove low quality content from search engine results. At this point, sites with no useful content began to be penalised.
  • Penguin – Next, Penguin focused on removing sites that were purchasing backlinks, instead, pages with genuinely useful content and natural links were rewarded.
  • Hummingbird – Possibly the most radical update, Hummingbird shifted the focus to semantic search. Post-Hummingbird, results were displayed that matched user intent, rather than those that exactly matched the search phrase used.

A move to semantic search

This move to semantic search formed the most radical change to SEO results. Google now analyses each search query as a collective whole rather than a string of individual words, displaying results based on its interpretation.

What this means in practice is that Google attempts to understand what the user wants, and match that with a page that contains relevant content. As an example, previously if you had searched for “weather” you may have been shown pages about weather cycles. Now, Google interprets your search for “weather” as a request for a forecast and shows you the current weather report for your location.

Conclusion – keywords still matter, but not in the same way

Although the way search engines work has changed, keywords are still important when creating web content. However, instead of creating articles designed to rank for a single keyword or phrase, it’s now about creating useful content around topics your audience are searching for.

It is still important to include relevant keywords in your content — especially those that your audience will naturally use within their searches. But there’s no need to create poor quality content around specific keywords in an attempt to get SEO-driven traffic.

Instead, today’s keyword research is about learning what sort of information people are looking for and creating exactly the kind of content they are seeking, answering their needs. Focus on creating high quality, valuable content that your audience will want to read, share and link to, and search engine traffic should naturally follow.

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