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Do Keywords Still Matter for SEO?

Feb 5, 2018
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With the rise of RankBrain, Machine Learning and other aspects of today's dynamic search engines I've seen a lot of content that tries to discount the fundamentals of search. This includes proclamations that links, keyword research, and other foundational SEO practices no longer have significant value. Not only do I think these people are wrong, I think they are steering many in the wrong direction. In the video below, I share why keywords still matter (and will continue to matter) and how AI, Machine Learning, and NLP use keywords.

 

 

Video Transcript:

Hey what's up, everybody? Welcome to 'Hack my Growth.' In today's episode, we're going to be talking about keywords; and more importantly, asking are they still relevant in today's world when it comes to SEO? All right, let's go.

Hey, what's up. If this is your first time watching, please hit the 'subscribe' button below. We'd love to have you as part of our community. Today, we're talking about keywords; more importantly, keyword research and ranking. Do they still apply today when it comes to SEO and trying to grow your visibility online? Where does this all fit in, in the age of semantic search when we hear terms like 'AI,' 'machine learning,' 'natural language processing?'

People start to throw out assumptions without ever really understanding what's going on behind the scenes when it comes to search, when it comes to Google, and when it comes to our content. You can write all the content in the world that you want, but if it's poorly written, it doesn't have the right context, you're not authoritative or trustworthy, or even relevant to your audience; you're not going to rank. You're not going to drive traffic.

Rank still matters; maybe not in the same way. You shouldn't be obsessive about rank, but rank tells a story. We can learn something from where our page is ranking. It may fluctuate more often than it used to. There's a lot of different factors. It doesn't mean you're irrelevant to SEO, content marketing, digital marketing strategies as a whole. It still plays a role and it's really helpful for us to see in a tangible way if what we're doing is actually working. 

How do keywords work, and how is Google really understanding this when it comes to what we call semantic search? The difference between old search and new search is this thing called 'semantics.' It's not the way that we are used looking at the word. It's purely an English way, like the semantics of the way a sentence is written. It's a little bit more related in the realm of database architecture, and Google moving from what they would call a "string to a thing."

Basically, what we want to do is think of Google as this giant database. Here's this knowledge graph, right? This is everything they know about the world. This is all the content that they've crawled, all the websites that they've indexed. This is all the information that they've gathered over their existence. They're using this knowledge to then deliver the best results possible.

Now in the past, we would have a piece of content. We have a page, and we have our keyword in our title, keyword in our tags, and then throughout the content. Now, we used to have this thing, we talked about called keyword density, right? You want to make sure you're in the right keyword density; 3% keyword density. Don't keyword stuff, blah, blah, blah. That was being talked about all time. 

The reality is, keyword density is something that Google's never used. Google has never actually said, 'Okay, what's the keyword density of this page?' They've never used that. What they've actually used is something called TFIDF. This is a process in natural language processing, where it looks at the term frequency, and then it compares that to other documents that have similar or related terms to see how relevant that piece of content is.

It's looking at these terms, maybe it's a keyword or a related term to that keyword, and seeing how often is this showing up on this page. Now let's look at other documents that are seen as credible and authoritative, and relevant. How often is this term being used? Then it's got this algorithm or this math equation that's built out, which has log rhythmic in it; and we're not going to talk about that because I don't want you to fall asleep yet, ... that determines how relevant this content is within the right context.

What Google's doing is leveraging this massive amount of knowledge that they have over here when they crawl a page to understand its context and to understand where it fits. Now, keywords are important because it helps Google understand the context. We want to write them as naturally as possible, and we want to use what we call lead semantic indexing, or LSI keywords, which is our related keywords or similar keywords; where you have inbound. But Google also understands that inbound marketing compass is digital. Content marketing, SEO, social media marketing. It's all part of the same strategy that co-exist together. Those are all relevant terms, and it's going to start weighing those against pieces of content.

The reason I believe that keywords are still important is keywords kind of give us a focus. The reality is today's search, we want to focus on three things. We want to be authoritative. We want to be relevant. We want to be trustworthy. We want to be trusted.

Now, authority, we get links, right? Links are really helpful in our authority, but also we need to consider where those links are coming from. We know the importance of backlinks. It's still important to have backlinks. They help build the site's authority. If we have authoritative sites pointing to us, we're seen as more authoritative as well; or at least perceived that way. We get some of that link back passed to us. 

Relevant. This is where keywords come in. This is why keyword research is still important. People still use keywords. Yes, voice search is on the rise, but in the B2B world, it's still mainly desktop. I mean predominantly desktop users in the B2B space. Go check your Google analytics. All the time, I see this. It's like 85 to 90% of B2B users are on desktops, not mobile devices yet. They will use mobile, but they're mostly searching on desktop.

Even if you're in the B2B community, having a keyword research strategy is still important. People have been taught how to ask questions to Google. Now, voice search has changed a lot. People are asking more natural questions. 'Hey Google, what's the capital of Florida?' Or those types of questions where Google's going to go and use that query and understand what's going on in their knowledge base to pull that answer back.

We still need to understand that this context and relevance that needs to be placed, and keywords are used. We even use that in language. When we talk about language, we don't call them keywords; but we have a theme to the things we're talking about. Otherwise, people don't know what we're talking about. There are certain terms that are more prominent, you know? You can say the 'big game' all you want, but really people are talking about the Super Bowl. There's a difference, right? That Super Bowl is a keyword in conversation when you're talking about football. Just break that down and step back a little bit, like a human being, and try to stop outsmarting the algorithm. You're not going to do that.

Another reason that keywords are important is what I talked about with "string to things". A string is a keyword or a combination of words put together. It's a string. In computer programming or software development, a string is a keyword or a phrase that is input into a certain part of a database. Then, that string can be related to another string. So like in a relational database, you could have customers and their name would be a string; not a number, it's a string.

Well, Google is helping that string and breaking them down, so now we have string. We're going to break those down into person, place, or thing. What they're doing is trying to understand the context of the string. It doesn't mean that they just ignore strings. It means that they're trying to understand strings from a deeper level. Is this a person? Is this a location? Is this a thing? They're trying to attach meaning to the strings, calling them 'entities.'

Now, we look at what Google's doing here. We go, 'Oh, machine learning. AI. This is so cool.' Machine learning, AI, natural language processing; none of that works without data input. You have to feed a machine data in order for it to produce an answer, or to learn. The way that we input our data is through content. It's through keywords. It's through context. It's by helping Google understand what our keyword is. It's helping Google understand what this string means, and giving them the context around the strings. 

Keywords are still extremely important because they give us focus and they help us understand where we're headed. Now, keyword ranking and rank tracking, do it moderately. It helps you understand if you're trending in the right direction or not. Data is useful to help point you in the right direction, to know if what you're doing is working. 

Now, the algorithm is changing, sure. You can change in the rankings during the day. It happens all the time. There's a lot of factors going in; but we can't just rip one part of search out, or one part of digital marketing out, and assume that all you have to do is write content, or all you have to do is have a pillar strategy. Those are great, but without focus and without this prominence here that's helping Google; what they're trying to do is change from strings to things helping them understand what you're talking about. Feed the beast the right data and help it to understand, make it easier to crawl. 

The other thing about this, it's going to help your readers because you're going to have focused content. They're going to know what you're talking about. Then, you're going to back it up with all this context and relevance, which builds trust. This is something that has to go through your entire campaign; not just in SEO but in your content, in your social, that you're building the right context. You're using the right terms and phraseology that people understand what you're talking about. Then, you walk them through this process.

Google is an amazing tool. It's one of the most amazing tools that we've built as human beings. I didn't build it, but you know what I'm saying. As the human being, it's a powerful machine; but it's only as good as the data that we put into it. 

Last week, I talked about garbage in, garbage out. Early days of Google, they didn't have the best rankings. It's getting better because there's more information to feed into it. Now, the better that we can help them understand our site, understand the terms that we know the users are searching for, that's why they give us keyword data; because it's still important.

Track it, understand what you want to rank for, understand why you want to rank for it; then become authoritative. Become relevant. Become trustworthy, creating good content and making sure that you're helping Google in that transition from strings to things by telling them what you're talking about, why it's important, and why readers should also pay attention to your content.

I hope this offers some insight into the power of keywords. They are still important. I hope that you take some time to do the research. It takes time to really understand this, but take time, run test, tweak, and continue to put your best effort forward. Until next time, Happy Marketing.

 

SEO Keyword Research Template

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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works has also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing solutions.

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