Do Keywords Matter Anymore for Search Engine Optimization?

If you pay any attention to what Google’s been up to lately, you’ve probably heard about this whole (not provided) phenomenon in Google Analytics. And, with the recent Hummingbird update, it’s becoming more and more questionable whether keywords really even matter anymore for search engine optimization.

I got an email from one of our account managers citing one of these articles about organic keyword data not being available, with the question:

This seems like it’s going to make your job more annoying. How are we going to work around this?

If you’re tasked with managing your website or SEO in any fashion, you might be wondering the same thing.

And here’s what I told him: I’m actually not worried about it at all.

We can get data from Webmaster Tools that tells us where a site is showing in search results (i.e. what kinds of searches are we appearing in).

There are keyword research tools that we can still use to help us prioritize topics/keywords and identify the words that our audience uses (vs. the words that we use).

And, as SEOs as a whole, we need to stop worrying so much about “Did we use the exact right keyword?” but instead focus on “Did we give the exact right message? Did we tell the story well? Did we describe the product accurately? Did we answer their questions? Were we helpful?” And instead of measuring what keywords we got traffic from, we need to focus on whether we’re getting conversions (leads, sales). In other words: Is your website growing your business? ROI!

With the recent change to Google’s algorithm, and it’s mission to display results based on intent instead of the exact word, we need to make sure that the intent of our content matches the intent of users. And that all goes back to good storytelling, accurate descriptions and providing helpful content for users.

Actually, in this case it does matter. :)

Actually, in this case it does matter. :)

Over the years the industry as a whole has gotten itself (and our clients) so concerned about little things like dog vs. dogs, but in reality, we’ve always just need to write natural content that reads well for visitors and provides helpful information. Now Google is finally smart enough to really capitalize on that and reward sites that are doing it. Does that mean that we don’t care about H1s or page titles or meta descriptions anymore? NO! Absolutely it doesn’t mean that, but it does mean that Google is officially endorsing what has always been my #1 rule of optimization: Be true to the content.

Do keywords matter anymore for search engine optimization? Yes. Keyword research can still help us prioritize topics and find the words that our customers use instead of the words that we use. And for those clients who want to see ranking reports still, we can run them, with the caveat that as search becomes more and more personalized, these rankings are becoming less and less meaningful. And, as Google is sending traffic based on intent, the keywords that you specifically want to rank on may be different from the keywords Google (and your visitors) understands your site to be about.

But, when it comes time to measure our success, it’s engagement metrics and conversions and leads that ultimately are going to be more important. You know — the stuff that TKG has always cared about anyways.

So, what do you think? Is this a good move, or is it just going to make your job more annoying? Tell me in the comments!

We may tease Leanne about being the only Canadian at TKG, but in truth she’s an online marketing pro with a breadth of experience including SEO, content marketing, analytics and more. She’ll be talking about these topics as well as high level marketing strategy.

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