1. What are SEO Keywords?
  2. But aren't keywords "dead" in SEO?
  3. Why are keywords so important to SEO?
  4. What are the most common SEO keyword types? (with examples)
  5. How do you choose the right keywords?
  6. How do you use keywords to optimize your website?
  7. When are keywords not important?

Are Keywords Still Important for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

Are keywords still important to Google?

The short answer: definitely.

The longer answer: read on.

What are SEO Keywords?

SEO keywords range from single words to complex phrases and are used to inform the website's content and increase relevant organic search traffic.

Your audience will use them when they are looking for something related to your brand.

When keywords are researched and optimized effectively, they act as a channel to connect your target audience to your website.

Why keywords are still so important to SEO

But aren't keywords "dead" in SEO?

Whether you've heard this a few times or pending your first, "keywords are dead" is a phrase that continues to catch on in SEO circles.


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Instead of tiptoeing around this recurring, binary, often click-baited claim, let's tackle it head on.

Several developments in the SEO world have resulted in this claim being whipped out of hibernation, but there are four important ones that come to mind.

1. "Keywords are (not specified)."

If you're new to search engine optimization, you might be surprised to find that organic keywords were once easily accessible in Google Analytics, Adobe Omniture, or any other analytics platform.

However, things changed in 2010 when Google took quiet steps to remove keyword data. A significant amount of organic keyword visibility would be removed in late 2011 through the following year.

It wouldn't take long for the top keyword driver to read "(not deployed)" for every website.

Why keywords are still so important to SEO

After losing our SEO keyword visibility and seemingly blind, many were quick to write the obituary on keywords.


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But what was really different?

After all, people were still searching the same way, and Google hadn't changed its interpretation of our content.

We have all heard, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

That is the same.

Nothing was different; We just weren't there.

Bottom line: Keywords aren't dead. The old way of tracking them is.

2. "AI and NLP have made keywords obsolete."

Another time, the validity of keywords was called into question when Google rebuilt its algorithm in 2013.

Hummingbird got its name for its speed and accuracy, and it helped Google better understand search intent, especially on complex and chatty searches.

In 2015, Google added the AI-controlled ranking factor RankBrain to the mix in order to further improve its query interpretation skills.

Before doing a search for "Which pizzerias deliver near me?" would send Google to search for content that meets these conditions.

According to RankBrain, Google used these keywords as context signals to learn what we really want and often rewrote our query behind the scenes (e.g., "Pizza Delivery 66062").

If you know that Google may be revising our searches, it may seem as good as out of date.

But really, Google just got smarter with what we provided.

Since Google understands a greater nuance and is better able to tie the language we use to our true search intent, it could be argued that keywords are becoming even more important.

This certainly applies to BERT.

BERT was integrated into the Google algorithm at the end of 2019.

Within the year leading up to its launch, BERT became the NLP industry standard due to its ability to effectively perform a wide variety of language calculations.

Gone are the days when Google ignored "stop words".

Now every single word in your search (and the exact order in which you use each word) matters.

And since it's important to Google, shouldn't it be important to us?

Bottom line: Keywords aren't dead. The previous way Google interprets them is:

3. "Voice search has made keywords unusable."

As voice search went from being an occasional novelty to being an integral part of our search behavior, many wondered what this meant for keywords.


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We all knew voice search affected keywords, but did it kill them?

We have become lengthy

Between us (unconsciously) learning Google's improved interpretive skills and our communication tendencies when speaking versus typing, we have become very talkative and detailed searchers.

Before, when we wanted to know who Brad Pitt's first wife was, we translated our thoughts into a search-friendly query like "Brad Pitt's wives".

Now let's just tell Google what we want: "Who was Brad Pitt's first wife?"

This is one of the main reasons why 15% of Google searches every day have never been heard before.

While it was a huge asset to searchers, it posed challenges for SEO professionals.

For example, knowing which keywords to watch out for is difficult when a significant portion of your traffic is controlled by those who have rarely or never been crawled before.

However, this goes back to the argument "(not specified)".


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Just because our tracking isn't perfect doesn't mean that keywords are becoming less important in any way.

We leave out important keywords

Did you know that by voice search you can find out when Scarlett Johansson's first album was released from a query that didn't include her name or the name of her album? (Side note: did you know Scarlett Johansson has an album?)

Google understands contextual questions not only within a search, but also between strings.

So do keywords really matter when you can leave out important elements and still get what you want?

Of course!

This just forces us to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, rather than examine each individual search in a vacuum.

Bottom line: Keywords aren't dead. Our only way to find them is to type.

4. "The Keyword Planner has proven that keywords aren't all that different."

As of 2014 and two years later, Google's keyword planner tool started grouping volumes by similar terms.


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Instead of searching for the keyword A 100 times per month and the keyword A1 50 times per month, both are displayed 150 times.

Google gave the reason for this to make sure "you don't miss out on potential customers" and "to maximize the potential for your ads to show on relevant searches".

This explanation certainly implies that the search intent is not very different between closely related terms.

The move seemed to reinforce the notion that topics, not keywords, are all SEO professionals need to worry about.

However, this does not explain why Google search often messes up results significantly for keywords that Google Keyword Planner considers synonymous enough to summarize.

Ultimately, Keyword Planner is a PPC tool.

You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to understand what a financially motivated decision can be when PPC bidders are forced to expand their keyword targeting.

Bottom line: Keywords aren't dead. But Google's Keyword Metrics could be too.

Why are keywords so important to SEO?

Keywords are important to Google and SEO pros for several reasons, but here are two big ones.


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  • Keywords give us clues about who people are and what they want so that we can better meet their needs.
  • Keywords can be a "porthole" that marketers can target their content to.

Keywords are clues

The importance of keywords in search engine optimization is due in part to their importance outside of search engine optimization.

Forget about keywords, rankings, traffic, or even your website for a minute.

If you knew the real feelings of your customers, how would you run your business differently? How influential would these insights be for your marketing strategy?

In his book Everyone Lies, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz shares his findings on what search behavior says about human psychology.

When we're in a focus group, taking a survey, or responding to something on Twitter, we all tend to let our responses be influenced by how others perceive them.

What if we look

The combination of anonymity and instant access to a wealth of information paves the way for an unbiased view of what we really want.


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It's a data-driven truth serum

At its core, keyword research is a powerful market research tool that can be used in many different ways, and not just informs about the content of the website.

To get the most out of keywords, you need to look beyond the explicit literal translation and also pick up on the implicit clues to determine the true intent of each keyword.

As an example, let's look at the query (safest baby beds 2020).

Explicit or implicit search intent

Explicit information Implicit information
Concerns about security Probably first-time parents
Would like to have more than one crib to choose from Would like to know what makes cribs safe / unsafe
Looking for an article published in 2020 Understand that security standards change over time
In the research phase with future purchase intent
Possibly when purchasing other items for kindergarten
Safety can be more important than cost or aesthetics
You are likely looking for a list of cribs organized by safety precautions

Keywords are like personas

Personas act as bullseyes.

They are not all we are looking for, but by striving for them, we prepare for success.

It's not like I just want to market to 54 year old women named Betty who have a 401 (k) and will be empty nests soon.


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However, this granularity and focus help me attract the right group of people.

Conversely, if you have no focus and are trying to appeal to everyone, you will likely get away with empty-handed.

It's really a nice paradox – the exclusivity of your target audience is often directly related to the size of your actual audience, and vice versa.

Why keywords are still so important to SEO

This also applies to keywords.


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A quick look at the search query data in the Google Search Console shows you that it is never just a keyword.

However, having a primary keyword target for each page will give you the right direction and perspective to get the right audience from a wide variety of related searches.

What are the most common SEO keyword types? (with examples)

Keywords can be categorized and tagged in different ways for a variety of reasons.

Here are the most common types and examples of SEO keywords.

Branded vs. Unbranded Keywords

Trademark search terms contain the trademark in the query.

These could be the official brand names, misspellings, brand acronyms, brand campaign names or slogans, parent companies, or anything else with obvious brand search intent.

Unbranded or unbranded terms are any other keywords that you may be considering.

Unbranded terms often describe the customer problem or your business proposition.

Some companies have ambiguous names that can make this differentiation difficult.

For example, if the name of the zoo is … Kansas City Zoo, will a search for "Kansas City Zoo" be branded or unbranded?


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Brand terms generally lead to the highest conversion traffic because the searcher already has a certain level of brand awareness and (often) affinity.


  • Brand: Houston Rockets
  • Unbranded: by far the largest basketball organization of all time

Seed vs. Page Specific Keywords

Starting words are the obvious first list of words to begin the keyword research process with.

They act as seeds that you "plant" to add to your list.

Starting words are often relevant to most, if not all, of your website.

Page-specific keywords are generally found later in the keyword research process and only apply to a single page or set of pages.

Examples for Home Depot:

  • Seeds: hardware store
  • Side-specific: deck building accessories


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Head vs. long-tail keywords

Those with the highest search demand are known as headers.

Conversely, those with relatively low demand are considered long-tail.


When you graph them, the head terms quickly drop in relation to the total number of keywords, while less searched terms like a tail go on forever.

The center of the chart is often aptly referred to as the "center" or the "chunky center" (or torso).

With 15% of searches new to Google every day, it should come as no surprise that most searches are considered long-tailed, even if every single long-tailed search query is crawled very few times.

Why keywords are still so important to SEO

Head and long-tail keywords typically have the following contrasting characteristics.


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However, aside from the volume, none of them are absolute.

Correlative differences between head and long-tailed keywords

head Long tail
High search volume Low search volume
High level competition Low competition
Low conversion traffic High conversion traffic
A few words Many words
Best for top-level pages Best for child pages
Multiple search intentions Singular search intent


  • Head: Bob Dylan
  • Long-Tail: Who is Jakob Dylan's father?

Primary and secondary keywords

Primary keywords, also known as "targeted" or "focused", are used to describe your most important keywords.

These terms can be used in the context of your entire website or a single page.

Secondary keywords (also known as "tertiary" or "supporting") include any other keywords that you target and / or include.


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In some contexts, secondary terms are the ones you loosely optimize for, but they just aren't considered high priority.

In other scenarios, secondary keywords serve as semantic or long-tail support so that you can get the most out of your primary keyword targeting.

Examples of a product page for a subscription shaving kit:

  • Primary: shaving kit subscription
  • Secondary: monthly, razor, free trial, custom

Step, level, or phase-based keywords

SEOs often recommend categorizing your keywords based on a marketing funnel or customer journey.

This can help you address customers at every critical point.

In some category groups, the focus is on the brand (e.g. awareness, consideration, transformation, loyalty), while others are more customer-oriented (e.g. unconscious, problem-conscious, solution-conscious, brand-conscious).

Similarly, some simply dictate the consumer's action-oriented mindset (e.g., navigation, information, transaction).



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  • Notoriety: Ideas for the 30th birthday party
  • Consideration: Las Vegas travelogues
  • Changeover: flight and hotel packages to Las Vegas
  • Retention: Mandalay Bay Loyalty Program

Global and local keywords

Depending on how it is used, a local keyword can mean one of two things:

  1. The searcher is geographically looking for something nearby: this can be very simple, e.g. B. "Library near me" or "2 bedroom rental in Phoenix", or more subtle, e.g. B. "Restaurants" or "When does Whataburger close?".
  2. The searcher has a high probability of being in a certain area: For example: "Why did Oklahoma Joe change his name?" could be considered a local term as there is a good chance the seeker is from Kansas or Missouri. Why? These are the only two states that this extraordinary grill house is at home. By the way, it's now called Joe's Kansas City BBQ, in case you ever get around town.


  • Local: 2 bedroom rental in Phoenix
  • Global: Is it worth taking out tenant insurance?

Audience Type Keywords

It is rare for someone to identify themselves in a search.

When was the last time you did a "I'm a XX year old college graduate digital marketer (rest of your search)" search?

I'll get to my feet and guess this has never happened before.


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However, the “who” behind the searcher is often in the implicit information of the query.

While almost no queries are crawled solely by a group, many tend towards a single audience.

One of the best ways to find out who is looking for a term is to ask Google for it and see the results. Then ask yourself who the top results seem to be talking to.

If it is Google's job to give a searcher what they want, for the best results from a query, the target audience should be the same audience that completed the query.


  • Patient: is diabetes hereditary?
  • Doctor: T2DM treatment algorithm

Evergreen vs. Current Keywords

Evergreen keywords have a constant search volume with little variation over time.

On the other hand, current keywords are either seasonal (e.g. gift ideas for Valentine's Day), flash in the pan (e.g. covfefe) or consistently relevant (e.g. Taylor Swift).


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Some evergreen keywords can become topical when an event makes them culturally relevant, e.g. E.g. the search for a celebrity immediately after their unexpected death or for a city in which the World Cup will take place.

Google often prefers new content for current keywords because the "query deserves freshness".

People like to create evergreen content because it can be a small investment relative to the long-term value it produces.

However, competition and acquisition costs are often high.

Conversely, current content is attractive because it has a lower cost of entry, weaker competition, and immediate value – but that value has a short shelf life.


  • Periwinkle: How Do You Know If You're Pregnant?
  • Current: Film screenings this weekend

Why keywords are still so important to SEO

Keywords vs. Carewords

When my wife and I were in the market for a one-time house cleaning, our criteria were probably what you would expect:


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  • What does it cost how much work?
  • Do you use natural products?
  • Did you get good reviews?
  • Are you flexible in terms of time?

However, it certainly played a key role in how we felt through the companies, even if it was largely unconscious.

In this case, content played that got us thinking about the time we were trying to save, about how this would be one less thing to worry about, even the smell of a fresh house as we went through that Door went – likely a role in our final decision.

We search with our neocortex, but our reptilian and paleopallium brains often make the decisions.

Sara Howard describes Carewords using an example of buying a car.

Would you include a "reliable guarantee" when looking for a new vehicle? Probably not.

Do you want to know that the guarantee is reliable once you're on the side? Absolutely.

In short, carewords are terms that generate little to no traffic and that increase local engagement and conversions for existing traffic.


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  • Keywords: wet bar ideas for basement
  • Carewords: wine lover, lots of storage space, simple, hosting, durable, conversation piece, vintage, cozy

How do you choose the right keywords?

This topic could live in a post of its own that has it many, many times.

Here's a great resource to get you started.

This process is highly scalable depending on your requirements and constraints. It can be four or forty hours, and you can spend over $ 250 on tools or nothing at all.

I strongly recommend that you research this topic in depth and experiment if you are serious about improving your craft. Here's a quick introduction to finding the best keywords for SEO.

1. Don't start with keywords. Just be human before putting on your SEO hat or even your marketing hat. Learn more about your customers from your customers. Before getting into any tools and spreadsheets, try to gain real empathy and understanding of the customers you serve and the perspectives they represent.

Why keywords are still so important to SEO

2. Create a seed keyword list. Using the results you obtained in Step 1 and the information about where your customers' needs and your company's solutions intersect, create an initial list of words and phrases that effectively describe your core offerings.


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3. Gather current keyword data (if your website already exists). Generate a list of the current (and almost) driving traffic to your website. Here are some keyword ranking tools that can help at this stage:

4th Expand the list of various keyword tools. Expand the list you created from steps 1 through 3 by looking for new keyword groups, synonyms, general modifiers, and long-tail permutations. In addition to the ones listed above, these SEO keyword tools are perfect for suggestions on how to add to your list:


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5. Group terms according to search intent. Categorize your keywords so that they are easy and useful for you and anyone else who might look through them. This can be done by audience type, topic, stage of the funnel, or any other way that makes sense to you.

Why keywords are still so important to SEO

6. Assign keywords to the content. Pick 1-4 primary keywords to target on each page based on a careful balance between keyword difficulty, relevance, and search volume (taking organic click sharing into account). Once these are established, find semantically related and long-tail modifying terms to aid your primary keywords.

Why keywords are still so important to SEO

7. Repeat the process. After implementing your keyword strategy, Google had time to act and you could collect, flush, and iterate enough data. They don't call it search engine optimization for nothing.


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How do you use keywords to optimize your website?

Similar to choosing keywords, effectively optimizing your website for keywords can be done in a blog post of your own.

However, here are some tips to get you started.

Where to add keywords on a web page

Why keywords are still so important to SEO

  • URLs: URLs rarely change, are clearly visible and describe the entire page. For these reasons, Google values ​​what they say.
  • Static content: Search engines are getting better at crawling dynamic content. Static content is almost a guarantee of indexing.
  • Title tags: Title tags influence ranking and click-through rate (CTR). When written effectively, keywords can help with both.
  • Meta description tags: In contrast to title tags, meta descriptions have no influence on the ranking in Google. However, including them can increase your click-through rate.
  • Most visible: Google's job is to understand content the way we do it. An H1 tag at the top of the page receives far more eyeballs than the contents of the boilerplate at the bottom. Whether it's a heading tag, early copy of text, or a bold phrase, the most visible content is generally the most influential to SEO.
  • Internal links and surrounding content: By including keywords in the anchor text of links that point to your page, it will let Google know what your page is about. Similarly, the nearby anchor text pointing to your page is also important to Google and is used to a lesser extent to describe the landing page.
  • Picture and video file names: Instead of letting your phone give your picture or video a default name, which usually contains something random and nonsensical, give it a descriptive name with a relevant keyword.
  • Image Alt Attributes: Alt tags not only make your website more inclusive for your visually impaired audience, but also give Google a better idea of ​​your image. Include keywords if necessary.
  • Image title attributes: Image titles do not work the same way in all browsers, which is why Google may not give this content much weight. However, if there is a way to properly include keywords, select it.
  • ARIA tags: ARIA tags are similar to Alt attributes in that they help make website content more accessible to people with disabilities. You can use ARIA tags for certain types of dynamic content, interactive content, background images, and more.
  • Video subtitles and / or transcripts: Some videos have extremely relevant keywords, but Google has no idea. Make sure what is heard and seen is included in your indexable subtitles or transcripts.
  • Schema markup: The schema allows you to add context to the content. If necessary, tag your keywords with the most appropriate schema properties to remove some guesswork for Google.

Keyword integration tips

  • Don't overdo it: over-optimization (or "keyword stuffing") is a real thing. It can turn your customers away and send you to Google's dog house (or panda). Each of the above areas has been automated, exploited and started up. Ask yourself if this helps or harms the user experience. Make your decision based on this answer.
  • Ignore the meta keyword tag: the meta keyword tag is hardly or not at all noticed by the main search engines. Don't waste your time here.
  • Don't optimize every page in a vacuum: Unless you have a one-page website, you'll need to double-check your keyword targeting by putting all pages in context. This protects against gaps or keyword cannibalization that can occur when working on either side of a silo.
  • Test Everything: If you have the opportunity to work on websites with a large number of pages, this is the perfect opportunity to set up some worthwhile tests to improve your techniques.

When are keywords not important?

How do we know that keywords are always important?

In reality there is no way to know, but many of the main arguments mentioned in this guide have been the same for over a decade and show no sign of panning.


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Still, I think I can tell you that the next time "Keywords are dead," you'll be jumping around wildly in the SEO echo chambers. Larry Page didn't just want Google to be human, he wanted it to be superhuman.

The introduction of Google Discover (formerly Google Now and Google Feed) gave us a glimpse into the future: Google searches for what we want without us having to ask for it.

If google searches for us, do keywords still matter?

Yes, and here is why.

Do me a favor and take a look at your search history.

First, look at the searches you made a month ago.

Now look at the last year.

What about 5 years ago?

My mother always said that "nobody moves in" and while our ability to change over time may be controversial, what we're interested in undoubtedly continues to evolve.

Google Discover only works because of the real-time inputs we give it, especially search.


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Otherwise, the predictive relevance would wither.

When do keywords not play a role?

I'm not sure, but it's not today.

Photo credit

Featured image: Paolo Bobita
Dinosaur image: Clker-Free-Vector-Images / Pixabay


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