Are Keywords Still Important for SEO?

By Ruth Hawk, Monday, October 21, 2019
Magic 8-Ball

Back in the early days of search, keywords were the heart and soul of search engine optimization. Filling content with the right search terms was an almost guaranteed way of drawing in visitors and making money off of your site.

Keyword Search

Considering your keyword strategy is still important in website content but in a different way.

Today, some argue, keywords are no longer necessary. Google’s algorithm is so advanced that it can figure out what website content is all about without needing specific search terms to tell it.  Others, however, argue that using search terms in website content is still an important way to get seen and ranked by the search engines. Who is right? It turns out that, as with many things, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Google is always changing its algorithms.

The original approach to SEO, filling website content with search terms, did not result in useful content. Often, pages stuffed with keywords did not actually discuss anything relevant to search engine users. Since Google’s overarching goal was to deliver the best possible content to its users, it introduced the Panda algorithm in 2011. This new algorithm could identify, and penalize, content that was irrelevant, short, or otherwise not useful.

Since then, Google has introduced thousands of algorithm changes (to the tune of hundreds every year). Each one alters how keywords affect search. The frequency with which these algorithm changes occur means that a strategy that worked one month might not work another month. Your rankings may change. Without professional support, it can seem fruitless to keep plugging keywords into your content, hoping to stay on top of the search results.

Google’s algorithms are more intuitive today.

Today, the level of sophistication within Google’s algorithms is extremely high. In fact, Google’s algorithms can infer information from your content without it needing to be explicitly described.

For example, the search engine can correctly categorize your business by the prices you charge for your goods or by synonyms for the keywords your content actually contains. Thanks to this intuitiveness, it is easier for the search engine to understand your website, regardless of how many keywords you include in your content.

These algorithm changes are good news for search engine users. They continue to deliver increasingly meaningful and relevant content to users. Plus, the pressure to deliver content that will rank well in the search results motivates businesses to continue improving the quality of the material they put online.

What it has not always been good for, however, is keywords. Some people now argue that keywords are unnecessary. After all, if a search engine can figure out what your content is about without keywords, why bother including those search terms at all? Just write quality content and let the search engine figure out the rest.

Voice search is changing the SEO landscape.

Another factor driving changes in the SEO landscape, particularly as it applies to keywords, is voice search. Having voice assistants available to respond to searches conducted by voice, instead of typed into a search engine, means that people are beginning to phrase their searches differently. Instead of looking for specific keywords, they are speaking in a more conversational tone, with complete sentences, to conduct their searches.

Voice Search

Voice search is affecting search results and how we view keywords.

Search engines are responding to these changes by presenting results that fit with this conversational tone. Search engines look for content that flows naturally and answers the questions searchers are asking. Keywords are less important than a natural tone that answers questions. Businesses now need to branch out past simple search terms. They need to present content that matches the conversational way in which the search is being conducted. Do keywords still fit into this new way of writing for the web?

SEE ALSO: Voice Assistants are Changing How People Search

Keywords are changing, not disappearing.

In light of these factors, it might feel as if keywords are disappearing. The reality, however, is that keywords still have a place in the website content. The changing SEO landscape just means that they need to be used a little bit differently. Here are some suggestions.

Use keywords naturally, not frequently.

The days of making sure you include keywords in the content enough times are over. Repetition makes the writing feel more awkward and forced. Too many keyword repetitions can result in penalties from search engines.

However, you should still use keywords. Do your keyword research. Find search terms that are relevant to your target audience. Make sure that they are not too scarce and not too popular. But then, incorporate them naturally into your content.

Embrace synonyms.

Exact match keywords in your content are also no longer necessary. Google’s algorithm is more than capable of picking up on synonyms in your content. It can, as discussed above, identify the topic of your material even without using the same exact keyword over and over.

As a result, embrace synonyms in your content. Using different variations of your target keywords will make your content sound more natural. It will create better writing. It will still help search engines to understand and rank your material.

Expand keyword usage beyond content.

Using keywords in places such as the URL, page title, and metadata has long been important. However, now that keywords are less important in content, it is even more important to use keywords in these locations. Well-placed keywords can still inform search engines about the relevance and quality of your content.


Keyword usage may be changing, but it is far from dead. Today, keywords can still serve an important purpose. You simply need to know how to use them. With naturally-placed search terms, carefully crafted synonyms, and keywords placed beyond just content, you can use keywords effectively for your SEO campaign. If you need help, reach out to SEO services like WEBii. We stay on top of the latest SEO trends, and we can deliver an effective campaign for your website.

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