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Should You Abandon Keywords?

November 14, 2017
Posted by Collin Carpio

Changing search habits and algorithms could see a shift away from keyword-centric strategies.

You’ve already spent hours learning about how to design your site and to optimize your content using search engine optimization (SEO) and keyword placement. Well, it might already be time to change that seemingly brand new strategy.

Google isn’t a company that likes to stay in the same place for too long. This means that they are constantly innovating and changing how their search engine works. Over the last couple of years, the world’s most popular search engine has strayed away from keywords and towards more of a context-based formula instead.

This update came to a head when Google announced their Hummingbird Algorithm Update. With Hummingbird, Google made their biggest search engine change in recent memory, and Amit Singhal, Google’s Search Chief, said that he had not seen this big of a change since he joined the company back in 2001.

According to Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land, one of the biggest changes in this update is the focus on “Conversational search”. Sullivan writes:

Hummingbird should better focus on the meaning behind the words. It may understand the actual location of your home…It might understand that ‘place’ means you want a brick-and-mortar store…Knowing all these meanings may help Google go beyond just finding pages with matching words.

What’s the main driver behind this shift in ideology? People are searching differently. In the past, when people were using search engines like Google, they’d usually type something like “Ice cream St. Louis.” Now, these searches are becoming more and more conversational. “Ice cream St. Louis” has turned into, “Where can I get the best ice cream in St. Louis?”

To adjust to this change in search behavior, Google has started to give more weight to the context of what is typed out. For marketers, this means that even if your content pages don’t exactly match what someone searches for, if the context is still relevant, you can still rank on the front page.

Experts partially credit the rise in more conversational searches to the rise in voice queries. The introduction of voice assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa have seen more and more people asking questions to search engines as if they were asking another person. In 2016, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai reported that 20 percent of queries on mobile/Android devices were voice searches.

Even outside of voice queries, the amount of words that people are using in search engines is continuing to grow. A study by Ahrefs in 2017 found that more than 60 percent of all Google searches contain four or more words. Compare that to just one-word keywords that accounted for a slim 2.8 percent of searches.

Despite all of this talk about the supposed death of keywords in the last couple of paragraphs, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t completely abandon using them in your content. Keywords can still play a key role in your business, but you have to know how to use them, and all of the other factors that can come into play.

Beyond including keywords like pizza or ice cream, you also need to develop content that can answer more specific questions that people are asking about those topics. Structuring your content in topic clusters, and utilizing pillar content, and cluster content can help your page rank higher in search results, and can also make it easier for potential customers and web crawlers to figure out how everything links together.

To wrap everything up, the answer to today’s question is: No, don’t completely abandon keywords; just change how you’re using them. With search engines using more conversational, and context-based results, you might need to change how you structure and design your website to rank higher and get people’s attention. While this may seem like a lot of work, the time and effort put into optimizing your content for the changing world of search engines can help lead to increased awareness and an improved bottom line.

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