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Are Keywords Still Relevant for SEO?

Semantic search has called keywords into question, but they’re still valuable tools in SEO.

For many years, the most important element in search engine optimization (SEO) was, arguably, keyword selection. Businesses would choose a selection of keywords and keyword phrases that customers might search when looking for a business like theirs, then integrate those keywords into their onsite content and inbound links. With enough repetition, it was possible for any website to gain rankings for a low-competition keyword term.

Things changed a bit with the introduction of the Hummingbird update in 2013, which introduced semantic search to the world. Since then, Google’s semantic search capabilities have only become more sophisticated.

Introducing Semantic Search

What is semantic search? A decade ago, Google would take search queries literally, scouting for online content that matched those exact keywords. But with semantic search, it now tries to understand the intent behind the query; in other words, it looks for content that meets the searcher’s needs, rather than matching their exact phrasing.

That means a search like “T-shirt store” might return results for websites that don’t feature the phrase “T-shirt store” at all; instead, phrases like “clothing retailer” or “shirt vendor” might be sufficient to tell Google what type of website it is.

In this sense, we can argue that exact match keywords are no longer a practical requirement for a successful SEO campaign.

Of course, things are more complicated than that. For Google to “understand” what your website is about, you’ll need to include strong keywords and phrases that relate to your core offerings and core content.

Additionally, you can use long-tail keyword phrases to write and optimize content geared specifically to audiences asking common questions in their online searches.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line here is that keywords still retain some important functionality in an SEO campaign, but their original niche is practically defunct. Spend time researching and targeting keyword phrases, but don’t get too bogged down in the pursuit of exact matches.

If you need help researching keywords or getting started with your SEO campaign, contact us today for a free consultation!

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