Why Keywords Still Matter

Nov 11, 2014

Google’s Hummingbird update was designed to wean the search engines away from the keyword-centered programmatic search algorithm that has dominated the search landscape for years. Hummingbird is the first major overhaul of Google’s ranking algorithm of its type since 2001 and introduces semantic thinking to the search process.

keywords matter

Rather than looking at each search term separately, Google’s search algorithm now examines the contextual relationship of each word that makes up the search phrase in an attempt to understand the intent of the search user. Rather than simply returning results that match a few keywords, Hummingbird aims to return results based on the entire search phrase.

Google’s post-Hummingbird algorithm focuses on concepts over keywords, and on the contextual relationship between the concepts. Rather than concentrate solely on simple keywords, SEO practitioners need to think in terms of search topics that relate to those keywords.

Is Google Abandoning Keywords?
Search engine users no longer type in simple one or two-word queries that return simple results based on those keywords. Users have learned to use longer and more relevant search phrases that yield results more aligned with their intent.

For example, consider the way a fitness enthusiast might search for information about running shoes. In the old days, he or she might have simply entered the key phrase “running shoes” in the search query box. Today that search might consist of the phrase “running shoes that help prevent jogging injuries” in order to receive more relevant results that better match the user’s real intent.

Google isn’t abandoning keywords per se but it has changed the way the search index servers interpret the meaning of the search query. You need to add synonyms and related terms to your keyword phrases if you want to be considered relevant in the eyes of Google.

Keywords are Still Important for SEO
Once you research a set of initial keyword terms that will resonate with your target audience, expand those terms into as many related topic streams as possible.

keyword research still matters

Returning to the running shoes example, you might develop a list of terms such as

  • Running shoes for people with flat feet
  • Running shoe retailers near my location
  • Running shoes for women
  • Different brands of running shoes

Your content should be built around keyword topic streams rather than just the keywords themselves. Instead of keyword stuffing your article with “running shoes” in every other sentence, think in terms of topics that relate to those keywords, and write in a natural and informative style.

Optimizing Your Web Properties
Keywords can be classified as having either commercial intent or non-commercial intent. Commercial intent keywords are those terms that tend to be used when a user is ready to make a purchase, while non-commercial intent keywords are generally used when people are simply looking for information.

Use commercial intent keywords when optimizing your home page and other main business pages such as your about page, and product or services pages. Save your non-commercial keywords for use on your site’s blog pages, frequently asked questions page, and other information pages.

Add your keywords and their qualifying terms to your on-page SEO elements such as page title and Meta description as well as to H1, H2, and H3 tags. Don’t use Meta keyword tags – Google no longer needs them, and they expose your keyword profile to your competitors.