The Death of the Keyword and the Future of SEO

For years search engine optimization professionals have made bold predictions about the role keywords will play in the future evolution of seo, but until recently no one quite knew what to make of those claims and predictions.

Over the last three years (since the introduction of Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird), everyone involved in seo has seen tangible evidence that suggests Google wants seo’s to move away from the traditional “seo techniques”, focusing less on keyword-driven campaigns and more on information that benefits the user.

It all began when Google removed valuable keyword data from Google Analytics a la their “not provided” stunt. Since that charade, other signs have shown Google’s motivation to stop rewarding seo’s for simply stuffing exact match keywords in the title tag, h1 tag, image tags and content of a particular website.  So how can seo’s deal with all the new changes and move away from old seo techniques?

Will Keywords Eventually Become Irrelevant?

SEO Keyword Techniques

The real question is: If not keywords, then what?

Most seo’s are accustomed to the fact that Google rarely offers advice on new seo techniques when they shake up their ranking factors and consequently, the search engine results.  This often leaves professionals in a difficult situation: They don’t know exactly how to adjust their campaigns to align with Google’s new wants and desires, so they revert back to what they’ve always done—link building on article and directory sites and building one page for each keyword so they rank higher for more keywords.

Though Google is rarely transparent about their work, the leaders of Google’s Web Spam Team (specifically the infamous Matt Cutts), have been downplaying the importance of exact match keywords for some time now. Though they give extremely vague answers when asked how much keywords need to be focused on and how they will be weighted in future algorithm updates, they have informed everyone that semantically related content and grouped topics is currently a more effective way to do on-page seo than the old seo techniques: overusing the keyword in the title tag, the url and using it just above 1% in the content.

A Change in the Tides

It’s pretty apparent that keywords will be an important part of the Google ranking algorithm for years to come—that’s how people search the internet after all. However, creating great content has never been about stuffing a bunch of high volume keywords into various areas of website copy and blog content. It’s about much much more than that, and those who continue using historic seo techniques will likely be penalized in the future for creating what Google deems, spammy content.

Here’s a brief overview of a few changes Google has implemented over the last few years and how they can affect your website’s search engine rankings and the seo techniques your business uses.

Google Hummingbird

Google Hummingbird Update

To put it simply, the Hummingbird update was an effort to make Google’s search engine respond to search queries like a human being does. Instead of placing all of the emphasis on individual keywords like search engines have done in the past, Hummingbird allows Google to focus on the context of the content and rank websites according to how well they answer a searcher’s query. Hummingbird focuses more on related topics, questions and phrases, which Google believes will provide a greater benefit to users by returning more sophisticated and accurate results.

The update hit the entire internet with one broad stroke when it was released in August of 2013, impacting over 90% of all Google searches. Above all, this update should serve as a warning to webmasters that instead of trying to overload their website with keyword terms, they need to instead try to answer the questions and problems their target audience is experiencing.  This update signals one big move away from the traditional use of keywords.

In-Depth Articles

Google released in-depth articles in the same month they released the Hummingbird update. Essentially in-depth articles are long form content (usually 2,500 words+) on a broad, evergreen topic. For example: advertising, fishing, cooking, etc.

The decision to include in-depth articles in the search engine rankings is further evidence of their dedication to quality, useful content as opposed to keyword-rich content.

Greater Focus on Search Intent

We’ve already covered this a little bit in previous sections, but we figure it won’t hurt to reinforce it again.

Instead of trying to match the keywords users type into the search engine with the exact match keywords on your website, Google will attempt to match, to the best of their ability, the website that fits the intent of the searcher.

So instead of creating a website with 50 pages that features one keyword per page, try grouping similar topics together. Look at the keywords provided in the Google Keyword Planner Tool and form a number of groups, and then create one page of content per group. Rather than using short keyword terms, try using longer questions that are frequently searched by your audience. Try to get inside the head of your audience and think about what they would search for when thinking about your business and industry.

Time to Mourn the Death of the Keyword?

It is very unlikely that keywords will ever die completely. Though the Google algorithm becomes more sophisticated each year, keywords are still a crucial part of determining a searcher’s intent, which is what the search engine giant cares most about anyway.

If you want to be successful with seo you need to focus all your efforts on the user. If you create content that will help your customer’s solve their problems, your website will rank well. Don’t neglect keywords completely, just don’t use them the old way and expect better rankings.

How have you found ways to implement more effective seo techniques in the new age of seo? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.


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