Search engine optimization (SEO) has changed dramatically since it first came onto the scene in the mid-1990s, and nowhere is this more evident than in how Google and the other search engines factor keyword usage into their rankings.
When SEO first came out, it was much easier to "game the system," so to speak, by using black-hat tactics—and one of these popular tactics was keyword stuffing. In those days, a greater keyword density on each page of a website translated to a higher ranking, even if the content wasn't that relevant.
Starting around 2005, Google began to shift its focus from rewarding usage of the keyword itself to looking at the intent of the keyword, or how it was being used. At this point, SEO practitioners began using keywords less frequently on any given page. However, a website could still benefit simply by using keywords less frequently, so the quality of the content still wasn't as significant.
The big update that really changed keyword usage and the entire SEO industry for good was the Google Panda update in 2013. The first Panda update was aimed squarely at SEOs that used cheap, low-quality content with keywords plugged in to generate higher rankings. On the flipside, later Panda updates rewarded content that was in-depth, well-researched, and provided value to the reader with higher rankings. Along with these changes, Panda also began to penalize more harshly for duplicate content and Web pages with thin content and very few words.
Google Panda wasn't the end of how the search engines looked at keyword usage, however. Google's Penguin update came out shortly after that and cracked down further on keyword stuffing. This update penalized not only the frequent use of keywords, but also pages with keywords that didn't flow smoothly with the content.
2013 was a busy year for Google, as they came out with another update to their search engine algorithm later in the year. This update improved keyword delivery results by looking at the intent of the keyword in addition to the keyword itself. The focus was now not so much on the keyword but on the actual user. The Hummingbird update also began to favor longtail keywords, which are keywords that are 3 words or longer that are specific to your product or service.
Is Keyword Research Still Important?
With all the ways Google now penalizes unnatural and too frequent keyword usage, you may be wondering if you should even perform keyword research and implementation. Well, the answer to that question is yes, despite these changes. Keyword research is still important because it helps you understand your target market so you can engage with potential customers more effectively. Keyword usage is important as well; but instead of focusing solely on keyword matching, you should be focusing on topic association and letting your keywords come about naturally as a result of the topics that are relevant to your audience.
The Future of Keywords
Since keywords have become less and less important over the years, it's likely that their role in SEO will continue to diminish, but it's hard to say whether keyword implementation will go completely extinct. Clearly, the focus is on the user now and engaging them with relevant, high-quality content, and that trend will continue into the future.
If you feel like you need some help engaging your customers with relevant, well-researched content to get over the hurdles presented by frequent Google updates, give us a call today at 419.629.0080. Our Digital Strategists can help you get more traffic and leads with our proven strategies.