Is Keyword Research dead?

Performing SEO on Google is getting more and more complicated, especially lately with the 100% ‘not provided’ keyword stats in Google Analytics. You’d probably wonder how on earth you’re going to figure out which keywords are the right ones to optimise the website for. Well, I think the answer is both fairly simple and complicated at the same time.

Keyword research is still a very valid way to determine what words you should use in your website, but how we should think about them has changed. It’s no longer true to say that Google is looking for keyword matches – and then decides based on how many matches there are as to where to rank your website. We already know that this is just one of the many criteria that Google examines when deciding on ranking placement, but with recent changes to Google’s algorithm, we no longer just need to look at phrases and search stats, we need to start thinking about what the phrases mean, what the underlying intent is, and what other ways we can phrase the same meaning with different words. What I am talking about here is the study of semantics. Simple.

Where it gets complicated is when we start looking at semantics in greater detail. It often takes a lot of highly intuitive knowledge of a language to understand the subtle shifts in semantics from one phrase to another, even between seemingly simple things like the use of a plural instead of a singular form of a noun, and how that changes the meaning or intent of the phrase. It takes more than just native-speaker knowledge of language, it needs high level understanding of how and why sentences are constructed the way they are.

Searches now contain larger strings of words, or even complete sentences. People searching are either placing their entire query into the search box or using the ‘speak-to-search’ capability in Google that no longer limits users by the need to type every word. So searches that used to be one or two words have become complete phrases with subjects and predicates. Keywords need to be regarded in a sort of fuzzy ‘conceptual cloud’ sort of way, rather than strict word-form way. Still very relevant, but now with added dimensions.

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