Keywords have always been an absolutely fundamental part of SEO. Ever since the very first words were typed into the very first search box, they’ve represented the cornerstone of search, and have always played a huge part in how a user gets the right results for their query.
Keywords have always been so vital to any SEO strategy, as they have always been used by search engines to determine how relevant a site is to a specific search query.
In simple terms, if the words used in the search term and in a website match up, the site will be considered as a potential result for the user.
In the early days of search engines, matching up keywords was virtually the only method of determining what pages would appear at that much-craved number one spot. Whichever page had the most relevance to the search term would get prioritized and displayed to the user.
But times have changed, and now there are thousands of indicators that suggest to search engines which pages are a suitable result for a specific query.
And in this ever changing, ever progressing SEO world, is there still room for the keyword? What relevance do they now hold? What might be taking their crown, and what might all this mean for your SEO strategy?
Basically, are keywords dying out?
I’m sure you’re kept awake at night with these questions spinning through your mind, but torture yourself no more, we’re going to put your questions to rest.
1. Location is Finding it’s Place
If you type in a generic service or product into Google’s search bar, you’ll see something you’ve become pretty accustomed to, the Google results page and all its useful and easy-to-use features.
Here’s an example where the search query is ‘clothes’. Pretty basic, pretty generic search term, and one that, according to SEMRUSH, gets 301,000 searches every month. So, a good choice to appear for right at the top of the first page on Google.
For us, the most striking feature on the results page is the map of our local area, with clothes shops pinpointed on it. It’s a really useful feature; if I’m in an area and searching for clothes, Google Maps tells me exactly where some of my closest options are.
I’m seeing relevant results and having a good user experience. And this is the entire point in search engines, to provide a useful, quality experience that will satisfy my burning desire to empty my wallet.
It’s pretty clear that location plays a really big part in determining what pages are relevant for the user. Even the organic results are for pages that are designed for a London-based audience.
The results you get for a search term rely significantly on your location.
And as location technology and geo-locations become more and more advanced, they’ll only become more relevant to SEO. No longer will you get universal results for the search term ‘clothes’, based on keyword optimization alone, you’ll get localized, and therefore more relevant, .
2. Intentionality Matters
Now more than ever, we’re seeing results appear that take the intention of the user into account. For that reason, the relevance of keywords has taken a knock, as search engines put more of a focus on why the user is searching a particular term, rather than what they are searching.
Basically, there is now a real focus from search engines on serving the user pages that match their intention.
The easiest way to think about this concept is by using the example of a person looking to buy a car. They might start by searching something like ‘what is the best car to buy in the city’. Then they’d see a page like this:
This is known as the informational stage of the search process. The person searching is looking for information about a range of different products, but they’re not ready to buy. So, despite including the words ‘car’ and ‘buy’ in their query, Google is able to interpret that you’re not actually interested in buying a car, you simply want to have a look at some of the options out there for you.
Say you’ve done your research and for some reason you’ve decided that you’re tempted by a smart . It would be pretty reasonable to expect you’ve now reached the navigational stage of your process and would search something like ‘how good is the smart fortwo’.
You’d get presented with organic results that look like this:
Every single result is a review. Makes sense. Google understands you’re still not ready to buy, you just want to get an idea of the quality of product before you go putting your hand in your pocket. Your intent is to learn more about one specific product.
Now let’s imagine you’re the kind of person who sees a two-star review and thinks, “yes, this is the car for me”. Despite the fact that we really can’t be sure about any of your actions at this point, it’s still pretty likely that once you’ve settled on a product, done your research on it and decided you want the car, you’d make a search along the lines of ‘buy smart fortwo’.
It really shouldn’t surprise us that in the transactional stage, the results page is entirely made up of results geared towards selling you the car:
Hopefully this gives you an idea that the users intent, what they actually want to do, matters to Google.
3. The Internet of Things Is Now a… Thing
The internet legitimately seems to be integrated into everything now. Your car, your watch, your speaker, even your fridge.
These ordinary household items with the ability to perform online searches are known as the ‘Internet of Things’, or ‘IoTs’.
The growing abundance of them is changing the way we interact with search engines in a pretty major way, because as platforms, they operate in a completely different way to computers and phones.
How do we interact differently? Well, there is one characteristic that really sets IoTs apart from the classic computer. We speak out loud to our search engines.
Think about how you use your Alexa, how you interact with your Google Home Speaker, your Samsung Smart TV. You speak to them.
You don’t type in a query and wait for the results, you literally ask the device a question, and the increasing trend in this way of interacting with search engines is having some interesting effects on the role of keywords in search.
The fact that users speak to search engines means that queries are becoming more natural, you don’t just say ‘stir-fry recipe’ to Alexa, you don’t say ‘GoT season 3’ to your smart TV, you might ask ‘How do I make a stir-fry?’ or ‘Play Game of Thrones season three’.
Longtail keywords, more specific queries that aren’t just made up of one or two words, are becoming more and more influential, and in some circles, people believe single keywords that are less specific may become obsolete.
In the past, you might have wanted to be careful of trying to optimize for natural sounding phrases like ‘premium villas in the south of France’, and instead been better off optimizing for something along the lines of ‘premium villas south France’, as users tend to be concise with their keyboard searches to only get the most relevant results.
Now though, with users saying longer, more natural sounding phrases and questions more and more frequently, we could be seeing the end of keywords as we know them.
4. What Does it All Mean for My SEO Campaigns?
So, the way we interact with search engines is changing in a big way, and some will tell you the future of keywords is on the brink. ‘So, I can just disregard them? Can I forget about keyword research and optimizing titles and URLs? Can I just focus on making great content and leave the world of keywords behind? With all these advances, are keywords dying out?’
The fact is, as long as search is around, keywords will be too. Although we’re well past the days where you would see a list of organic search results that just listed and ranked sites that matched a query in its title, in its copy, and in its URL, keywords still matter.
Although other factors such as location and intentionality are playing a more and more significant part in the concept of search, without keywords there can be no way for search engines to truly provide relevant results.
In our example about buying cars in the city, Google still knew that we needed results relevant to cars. Just because the intention was to research, we weren’t served with pages about cats or fidget spinners. Keywords still form the basis of relevance in search.
Just think of location, voice search and intentionality as ways of building on that relevance. Instead of getting a list of organic results about clothes, you will get a map that shows you your nearest clothes shops.
You will get results that match where you are, what you want and based on how you make the search. This is an opportunity for you. It’s an opportunity for you to get ahead of the field and make your results the most relevant out there.
By undertaking clever keyword research and optimizing your pages for natural sounding, longtail keywords. By registering your company on Google My Business and appearing on maps results, you have the ability to really stand out from the competition and keep up with this ever-growing trend in the SEO world.
A really good way to optimize for voice search is by including a really comprehensive FAQ page on your site. Think about the most popular voice queries. They’re essentially frequently asked questions, right?
By answering these FAQs, you have a great chance of ranking well for these search terms and appearing in the most sought-after spots on Google results pages: position zero.
So, are keywords dying out?
The world of SEO is changing, there’s no denying it. Our digital assistants are edging us closer and closer to a dystopian future involving the end of privacy and the end of free will, but convenient internet searches.
Gloomy prophecies aside, the way search is changing gives you a great opportunity for your business, as concepts such as voice and location-based searches become more prominent, but don’t listen to anyone that says keywords are dead.
Those old SEO stalwarts from the beginning of the internet are going to be around as long as search is. If they weren’t, we’d start getting some wildly interesting results that would quite possibly have nothing to do with the search you’ve made.
So to answer this blog title: no.
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