Keywords still matter—especially long-tail keywords, or keyword phrases that contain three or more words.
“But, like—why?” Internet copywriters lament. Because, when deciding which search results to serve you based on your query, Google’s algorithms still use keywords to help determine a page’s relevance, meaning and usefulness.
And, because Google’s search algorithms are good at what they do, the nightmarish keywords from the year 2000 are extinct. So there’s no need to utter lamentations. Forget about exact-match for tragic keywords like laundry services poughkeepsie, white-on-white keywords or other outdated ways of tricking Google. As long as you’re providing useful and relevant content, your keywords should fit naturally.
Here are three reasons why strategic research and keywords still matter:
- Relevance and Meaning: Google still relies on page- and domain-level keyword usage to inform ranking factors in search algorithms.
- Algorithm Changes: Google’s never-ending algorithm updates continue to trend toward serving relevant content.
- Long-Tail Keywords and User Intent: Using long-tail keywords in your writing and keyword research is a great way to think like your audience and guarantee that your content matches their intent.
Relevance and Meaning
Above all, Google is looking for relevance and meaning when it writes search algorithms and ranks pages. This has always been the case; Google is just getting better at detecting it.
According to Moz’s 2015 report on search engine ranking factors, here’s what its search algorithm is looking for as far as keywords are concerned:
- Page-Level Keyword & Content Based Metrics: Is the keyword used in critical parts of the page’s HTML code like the title element, H1s, and alt attributes? Are keywords used in the body content, URL, and anchor text? Does the page contain variations of the keyword?
- Domain-Level Keyword Usage: Is the keyword either present in or closely related to the root domain name? What about in a subdomain?
That’s not asking for much, right? As long as your keyword research is accurate and the content you’re providing is relevant to your audience, then your keywords, content, and page elements should fit together pretty easily. If you find you’re having trouble getting your keywords, content, and traffic to align, you might rethink your keywords through a more strategic, user intent-focused lens. More on that below.
Google has no chill when it comes to its algorithm updates. But rest assured, these updates are good. And they’re likely a glimpse of future updates.
Panda, a game-changing content update, first rolled out in February of 2011 and affected nearly 12% of search results (ouch) by targeting worthless content and sites with high ad-to-content ratios. Panda is updated often, and these changes are all aimed at delivering more worthwhile content.
Penguin rolled out in April of 2012 and targeted black-hat SEO tactics like keyword stuffing and link schemes. It’s now refreshed continuously, according to Google.
Hummingbird, implemented in August of 2013, was a major search algorithm update that affected semantic search by taking into account entire conversational-style search queries like, “I dropped my phone in the toilet what do I do now” instead of just individual words.
These three updates clearly favor useful, long-tail keywords and highly relevant content that’s written for people, not search engines.
Long-tail Keywords and User Intent
Your content should be written to reach users wherever they are. For example, you may insist that you sell galoshes, but your potential customers call them rain boots when they’re searching online. They intend to find something like your product, but they aren’t likely to search for galoshes. If your site is all about galoshes, you’ll have some trouble getting found.
Keyword research is crucial for unearthing these types of insights. As much as you want to call your galoshes by their proper name, you have to think, talk, and write like potential customers.
Long-tail keywords can help you further tap into user intent. How do customers describe your rain boots? Be specific about what you provide. Maybe you just sell polka dot rain boots, or ankle rain boots. If you want to connect with customers who are ready to convert, it’s wise to use those types of long-tail keywords in your content.
Keep in mind that keywords aren’t the only factors Google uses to rank domains and pages. Domain- and page-level link features, PageRank, load speed, and social metrics are considered—along with much more.
But the bottom line is, keywords matter. If you’re struggling to fit them into your copy, it may be worth revisiting your keyword research. Or, try searching for what you want to rank for and check out the results Google serves up. There’s a good chance it likes those pages.
So, copywriters, if you’re still dealing with unfortunate keywords like laundry services Poughkeepsie, you can (and should) stop. As long as your keyword research is on point, you’re using relevant long-tail keywords throughout your site, and the web copy you’re providing is genuinely helpful for your audience, you’re doing enough in the eyes of Google—that is, as far as content is concerned.