The importance of keywords in SEO content

Ranking for keywords is not nearly as straightforward and simple. So should the target keywords disappear completely from your campaign?

Few marketing strategies have evolved as much as search engine optimization (SEO). They’ve been around for about as long as search engines, but the modern approach is fundamentally different from what people were doing in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Back then, SEO was all about keywords. You chose the right keywords for your strategy, stuffed them into every nook and cranny of your website, and eventually you ranked well for search queries that matched those keywords.

And today? Placement for keywords is not nearly as simple and straightforward. So should the target keywords disappear completely from your campaign?

Absolute SEO basics

In case you are not familiar with SEO, here is a brief overview. Search engine optimization (SEO) is about improving the ranking of your website in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for search queries that are relevant to your company. With a good strategy, you can achieve a higher ranking, which leads to more visibility and more visitors.

To achieve this, you need to take various measures, such as improving the technical structure of your website, writing lots of onsite content and collecting backlinks. But in the past, one of the most important pieces of the puzzle has been selecting “target keywords” for your strategy – specific search queries that you think your audience will use to find businesses like yours. Keywords with a lot of traffic and minimal competition were perfect for this. With a sufficiently targeted approach, you could dominate the rankings for this term and generate lots of traffic.

The fight against keyword stuffing and the apocalypse of semantic search

Why the hate for keywords?

It’s not really hate. Rather, it is a new way of looking at things. In the 2000s, companies around the world practiced a tactic known as “keyword stuffing“. They filled every piece of content on their website with keywords, regardless of whether they made sense. Entire pages were dedicated to spamming the same word or phrase – and sometimes keywords were “hidden” in the background of a page.

And why all this? Because in the past, if you spammed a keyword enough, you could probably rank for it.

However, this soon changed when Google introduced a series of updates that penalized keyword spammers and rewarded sites with high-quality content. Gradually, the keyword stuffers realized that their tactics were no longer effective, and they began to adapt their strategies accordingly.

During this time, the predominant strategy was to optimize for “keyword density”. That was a clever way of circumventing the system. The authors knew that if a keyword appears too often, it triggers a red flag in Google, but if it doesn’t appear at all, it’s hard to rank for it. They calculated that a word in a certain ratio to the rest of the content would optimize the content for this keyword without being classified as spam.

The 2013 Hummingbird update made things even more complicated by introducing “semantic search” to Google, which has been further refined over the years. Essentially, Google began to look not just at literal words and sentences, but at the context of all written content. It began to evaluate user requests based on intent and subjective meaning, rather than analyzing the requests as exact words, and began to evaluate website content in a similar way.

Because of this change, it is hypothetically possible to rank for a search term that does not appear once on your website. If your website has a high domain authority and writes content on a specific topic, you can easily succeed even if you only use synonyms and descriptive text on that topic.

Does this mean that you should avoid using keywords altogether?

The modern meaning of keywords

In today’s SEO, the functional role of keywords has not disappeared, but rather has evolved. Keywords used to be a tool that you could incorporate into your content to achieve a certain result. Today, they are more of a guiding force for your strategy.

It’s important to conduct keyword research so you can better understand your competition, user intent, and even the flow of web searches and traffic. Once you know what keywords and phrases your users are searching for and what your competitors ‘ rankings look like, you can choose your targets and build your strategy around them.

The big difference today is that it is no longer worthwhile to consistently optimize keyword density – and keyword stuffing is an absolute no-go. In fact, your target keywords should only appear a handful of times in the content you optimize for them. Instead, you should focus on producing the highest quality content possible and writing in a way that is both informative and natural. With better content and higher user appeal (combined with a link building and content outreach strategy), you should have no problem ranking for the desired target queries – and avoiding Google penalties at the same time.

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