Keywords have long been known as one of the key components to search engine optimization.
But in recent years, technology has progressed and the algorithms have adapted. One of the newest systems added to the mixture is RankBrain, which uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to better interpret pages on the web.
With the changes to the algorithms, many industry workers are wondering how important keyword relevance still is.
How keywords fit into the scheme of search has indeed changed. But keyword relevance is still very important to strong SEO. Here’s why.
Keywords Provide Context About a Page
Keywords are still a critical part of creating context about a given page on your website.
Most pages on your site will have a certain specific theme. Each product page highlights a unique product. Each blog post talks about a particular topic.
Every keyword helps to paint a picture of the given page. The search algorithm looks at the words and phrases on the page and determines what the page is about.
This is no different in principle from what previous iterations of the algorithms did. But in many ways, your keywords can now go farther than ever before.
Previously, a keyword or phrase was taken verbatim. You would only rank highly in searches that included the exact phrase. But with the newer updates using more AI, the algorithm is better able to infer actual meaning from your keywords.
So while the specific keyword doesn’t mean that much, just having a relevant keyword does.
It doesn’t matter if your blog post’s keyword is “prepare for a hurricane” or “hurricane prep tips”. As long as you use something relevant and have other ranking factors in your favor, you’re in good position to show up on a search for hurricane preparedness.
Without keywords, your individual pages would not provide the context the algorithm needs to correctly analyze and interpret the meaning of the page.
Keywords Shape a Site’s Authority
Just as keywords provide context about a specific page, the same can be said about a website as a whole.
When determining rankings, the search algorithms don’t only look at the individual pages that they might link to. As one of the many factors the algorithms analyzes, the website, as a whole, impacts how a page might perform.
Much of this has to do with the site’s authority on a given subject.
If your website is full of keywords related to the subject you address on a blog post or product page, the algorithm assumes that the website specializes in the topic. Specialization highly correlates with expertise and trustworthiness, so a site that looks authoritative will often gain the upper hand in rankings.
Here at Fanatically Digital, we talk about social media, SEO, and other marketing topics. Keywords related to those fields are all over this site. When we posted this article, Google’s algorithm saw that our other content was in a similar vein, and thus this blog post looks reliable.
But you wouldn’t come to our website for a recipe. If we posted a recipe for baked chicken, that recipe wouldn’t show up on Google because our website isn’t one that frequently posts recipes.
Keyword relevance is still vital to providing proper context to what you post online.
Google Can Still Penalize You
Keyword relevancy isn’t only about affirmatively using keywords relevant to your company and content. It’s also about steering clear of black-hat and detrimental practices.
Keyword stuffing is the practice of using a keyword as many times as possible in a post, even if it isn’t used in a natural way. In the past, this technique was used by some as a way to manipulate search rankings for a term.
Keyword stuffing was occasionally successful in its goal, but it was frowned upon by industry leaders for its lack of quality. Over time, Google became smarter at identifying stuffed keywords, and it actually began to punish the websites who used this practice.
Even though exact-match keywords don’t have the same priority they once did, keyword stuffing is still considered black hat. That means Google can still tank your rankings if they realize you’re doing it.
It’s a novice mistake by somebody trying to improve their SEO to cast a wide net when it comes to keywords. Any keyword we can rank for must be good, right?
Wrong. It does little good for your business website to rank for words or phrases that have little to do with your work. Your restaurant shouldn’t rank for keywords related to an auto mechanic or a shoe store.
Anybody who might happen to find your site through an irrelevant ranking won’t be a rich lead. They’ll visit your site, see that you aren’t what they’re looking for, and then immediately get frustrated and leave.
This hurts your bounce rate, which in turn hurts your SEO. A high bounce rate indicates to Google that you don’t provide the quality that people need. They’ll drop you in the rankings across the board.
It’s still important to be aware of your keyword usage so you can avoid doing things that could penalize you.
Keywords Help the User
We talk so much about what keywords mean to the technology and computers and algorithms that make up the Internet.
But we’d be remiss not to discuss the significant impact keywords have on the actual humans that are searching for information.
You work so hard to please the algorithms and you’ve managed to make it on to the front page. But that’s only half the battle. Now you need the searcher to actually visit your site.
No matter how much the algorithms get better at comprehending the intent behind a search, only the person typing in the query truly understands what he or she needs. Improved AI can make assumptions, but sometimes those assumptions are wrong.
The rearrangement of a few words can make a big difference in meaning.
Using relevant keywords in your titles and descriptions help show the user what your post is and how it can help them. Using the right keywords can make them click on your link instead of a competitor’s.
Stay Updated on Keyword Relevance
As the algorithms continue to change, the way keywords factor into the mix will likely change as well. For the best results, it’s important to stay updated.
For the latest news on keyword relevance and other SEO topics, stay tuned to our blog.