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Do Keywords Still Matter?

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Do Keywords Still Matter?

Are keywords still important today?

Keywords – ranging from single words to complex phrases – are still instrumental in shaping website content to boost relevant organic search traffic and essential tools for connecting the target audience with your website.

But just how much? Let’s explore.

There is no short answer to this. If you ask whether keywords in queries are essential to provide a list of relevant files to satisfy an informational need, then the answer is no.

But if you ask if keywords matter to Google’s indexing and retrieval system, the answer is absolutely yes.

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Let’s take a closer look.

Why Keywords Matter In SEO

Keywords are the key phrases commonly used by consumers to find what they are looking for online.

They use the search bar in their browser to type in the terms, which are usually made of one or more words that describe what they want.

There are many types of keywords, including:

  • Branded.
  • Non-Branded.
  • Local and Global.
  • Brand + Geography.
  • Brand + Product, etc.

Here are four ways keywords continue to help brands.

1. Keywords Help Indicate User Intent

Keywords are directional. They give very good clues that “point” to the kind of content the searcher is trying to retrieve.

However, there is still a vocabulary problem between the index system and end users, who have many different ways to ask for the same thing or something similar.

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This is why Google and other search engines have extremely advanced query expansion technologies.

For example, an end user typing “solar energy” as a query may well see the first result for solar power, which may be more relevant and useful to satisfy the informational need than another page that only has a direct match to the words “solar” + “energy” to qualify it.

Plus, timestamps appended to keywords in the index for temporal analysis give a clue to freshness to help detect trends, and then there has to be event detection for news results.

And so much more.

So, yes, the closer a user can get the query to match the relevant content, the better.

However, users tend not to know what they’re looking for (if they did, they wouldn’t need a search engine), so search engines must be sophisticated with definition and association discovery.

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2. Keywords Help Find Quick Wins

Finding quick wins or striking distance opportunities, especially for keywords that bring in conversions for other channels, should be your quickest path to improving organic visibility.

For example, if you’re a large-scale retailer like Walmart and you’re ranking in position 13 for Nintendo Switch, which has millions of searches per month, that would be on my priority list to optimize.

I would examine and optimize the landing page, internal and external links, etc., to see what you need to do to get this term on the first page of Google to drive more sales and revenue.

Screenshot from author, December 2023search volumes for Nintendo Switch

3. Keywords Help Identify The Right Target Audience

When we perform competitive analysis and look at keyword visibility for a prospect or current client versus the competitive set, we can uncover a content gap.

We could find they don’t have content related to that topic or that the content they have is not ranking or optimized.

For example, I previously had a financial client who wanted to rank for “Tesla Loans.”

After looking at competitor visibility, we noticed competitors ranked for “Tesla Financing,” and my client did not have “Tesla Financing” in their page title, headings, body content, etc., and therefore did not rank for the term.

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But loans and financing are not synonymous.

Once we developed content for “Tesla Financing” instead and optimized it, marked it up with schema, built content around it, did some internal linking, promoted the content, etc., conversion rates increased by 15% YOY.

The keyword “Tesla Financing” helped us identify the proper target audience that had a much higher search volume than Tesla Loans.

bulk keyword analysisScreenshot from author, December 2023bulk keyword analysis

4. Keywords Help Drive Traffic

Most traffic occurs on page one of Google. In fact, the top result alone takes 28.5% of the clicks.

If you increase visibility into the first page, your site can drive a considerable amount of incremental traffic, which can potentially lift sales on keywords that have high volume.

Having a top position on a low-volume keyword is not meaningful.

Instead, focus your efforts on keywords that drive business value and have some volume and holistic content that answers questions end users will find useful.

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Far too many clients and articles focus on counting keyword success stories instead of measuring the impact of those successes (or not).

Should We Still Track Keywords?

The answer here is an overwhelming yes. Keywords still provide value by delivering traffic, conversions, visibility, and sales in prime positions.

For enterprise-level brands with a lot of products and services, it can be expensive to track keywords because there can be thousands or millions of keywords to monitor across desktop and mobile.

It’s a great idea to keep a golden keyword list of terms that deliver the most business value to your brand, i.e., traffic, revenue, and conversions, and a mixture of non-brand, brand, and product keywords that are vital to your first-page visibility.

A brand wants to know what its highest volume terms are doing and get as much traffic as possible from those keywords.

It makes sense to track a few hundred keywords per core business line and region for enterprise-level brands.

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Tips For Finding The Right Keywords

Before you start using a wide variety of keyword research tools, always think like a customer and ask, “What is the purpose of my website and what problem am I going to help end users solve and satisfy their information need?”

If you can answer that question, you are on the right path to defining your audience and your content and keyword strategy.

One of the keyword research data sources I like to use is paid search data if it is available. If you have historical paid search data, you can see which keywords resulted in conversions and sales, which can help define what content you should create.

Additionally, you can use tools like Google Keyword Planner, KW Finder, Moz Keyword Explorer, Semrush, Ahrefs, and Long Tail Pro, offering diverse functionalities to aid in finding the right keywords.

At the end of the day, SEO is all about delivering qualified traffic that converts into customers. If your site is receiving a lot of traffic and no one converts, what is the point?

(Unless, of course, you have a site that depends on ad revenue, affiliate traffic, or any other advertising model.)

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When Keywords Are Actually Useless

Some SEO pros are still focusing on keyword density. News flash: Keyword density does not matter.

Stop trying to stuff keywords into content – it won’t help you get higher rankings if you have your primary keyword at 10% KD, etc.

Focus on writing content that will satisfy the informational need and give users what they want.

I also still see sites using the keyword meta tags. Google devalued that a long time ago, and it has no ranking value and won’t move the needle.

Lastly, using exact match anchor text for all your links is not a good idea. Anchor text should be a mixture of brand and non-brand with different keyword variations.

Google is sophisticated, and if you have too many keywords with exact match anchor text links, you can send off an alarm, and your site can potentially get penalized.

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Wrapping Up

While the landscape of SEO and the role of keywords have undergone significant changes, especially with the advent of AI and NLP technologies, keywords remain a crucial element of SEO strategies.

Their proper usage and understanding are integral to connecting with the target audience, understanding market needs, and ultimately driving traffic and conversions.

Always focus on the user experience and E-E-A-T as Google’s focus on providing valuable, relevant content to users has led to the emergence of E-E-A-T (Expertise, Experience, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) as a key ranking signal.

Creating content that genuinely addresses user queries and demonstrates first-hand experience is crucial.

The evolution of SEO practices towards a more holistic, user-centric approach underscores the need to stay updated with the latest trends and tools to maintain effective online visibility.

More resources:

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10 Paid Search & PPC Planning Best Practices

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10 Paid Search & PPC Planning Best Practices

Whether you are new to paid media or reevaluating your efforts, it’s critical to review your performance and best practices for your overall PPC marketing program, accounts, and campaigns.

Revisiting your paid media plan is an opportunity to ensure your strategy aligns with your current goals.

Reviewing best practices for pay-per-click is also a great way to keep up with trends and improve performance with newly released ad technologies.

As you review, you’ll find new strategies and features to incorporate into your paid search program, too.

Here are 10 PPC best practices to help you adjust and plan for the months ahead.

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1. Goals

When planning, it is best practice to define goals for the overall marketing program, ad platforms, and at the campaign level.

Defining primary and secondary goals guides the entire PPC program. For example, your primary conversion may be to generate leads from your ads.

You’ll also want to look at secondary goals, such as brand awareness that is higher in the sales funnel and can drive interest to ultimately get the sales lead-in.

2. Budget Review & Optimization

Some advertisers get stuck in a rut and forget to review and reevaluate the distribution of their paid media budgets.

To best utilize budgets, consider the following:

  • Reconcile your planned vs. spend for each account or campaign on a regular basis. Depending on the budget size, monthly, quarterly, or semiannually will work as long as you can hit budget numbers.
  • Determine if there are any campaigns that should be eliminated at this time to free up the budget for other campaigns.
  • Is there additional traffic available to capture and grow results for successful campaigns? The ad platforms often include a tool that will provide an estimated daily budget with clicks and costs. This is just an estimate to show more click potential if you are interested.
  • If other paid media channels perform mediocrely, does it make sense to shift those budgets to another?
  • For the overall paid search and paid social budget, can your company invest more in the positive campaign results?

3. Consider New Ad Platforms

If you can shift or increase your budgets, why not test out a new ad platform? Knowing your audience and where they spend time online will help inform your decision when choosing ad platforms.

Go beyond your comfort zone in Google, Microsoft, and Meta Ads.

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Here are a few other advertising platforms to consider testing:

  • LinkedIn: Most appropriate for professional and business targeting. LinkedIn audiences can also be reached through Microsoft Ads.
  • TikTok: Younger Gen Z audience (16 to 24), video.
  • Pinterest: Products, services, and consumer goods with a female-focused target.
  • Snapchat: Younger demographic (13 to 35), video ads, app installs, filters, lenses.

Need more detailed information and even more ideas? Read more about the 5 Best Google Ads Alternatives.

4. Top Topics in Google Ads & Microsoft Ads

Recently, trends in search and social ad platforms have presented opportunities to connect with prospects more precisely, creatively, and effectively.

Don’t overlook newer targeting and campaign types you may not have tried yet.

  • Video: Incorporating video into your PPC accounts takes some planning for the goals, ad creative, targeting, and ad types. There is a lot of opportunity here as you can simply include video in responsive display ads or get in-depth in YouTube targeting.
  • Performance Max: This automated campaign type serves across all of Google’s ad inventory. Microsoft Ads recently released PMAX so you can plan for consistency in campaign types across platforms. Do you want to allocate budget to PMax campaigns? Learn more about how PMax compares to search.
  • Automation: While AI can’t replace human strategy and creativity, it can help manage your campaigns more easily. During planning, identify which elements you want to automate, such as automatically created assets and/or how to successfully guide the AI in the Performance Max campaigns.

While exploring new features, check out some hidden PPC features you probably don’t know about.

5. Revisit Keywords

The role of keywords has evolved over the past several years with match types being less precise and loosening up to consider searcher intent.

For example, [exact match] keywords previously would literally match with the exact keyword search query. Now, ads can be triggered by search queries with the same meaning or intent.

A great planning exercise is to lay out keyword groups and evaluate if they are still accurately representing your brand and product/service.

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Review search term queries triggering ads to discover trends and behavior you may not have considered. It’s possible this has impacted performance and conversions over time.

Critical to your strategy:

  • Review the current keyword rules and determine if this may impact your account in terms of close variants or shifts in traffic volume.
  • Brush up on how keywords work in each platform because the differences really matter!
  • Review search term reports more frequently for irrelevant keywords that may pop up from match type changes. Incorporate these into match type changes or negative keywords lists as appropriate.

6. Revisit Your Audiences

Review the audiences you selected in the past, especially given so many campaign types that are intent-driven.

Automated features that expand your audience could be helpful, but keep an eye out for performance metrics and behavior on-site post-click.

Remember, an audience is simply a list of users who are grouped together by interests or behavior online.

Therefore, there are unlimited ways to mix and match those audiences and target per the sales funnel.

Here are a few opportunities to explore and test:

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  • LinkedIn user targeting: Besides LinkedIn, this can be found exclusively in Microsoft Ads.
  • Detailed Demographics: Marital status, parental status, home ownership, education, household income.
  • In-market and custom intent: Searches and online behavior signaling buying cues.
  • Remarketing: Advertisers website visitors, interactions with ads, and video/ YouTube.

Note: This varies per the campaign type and seems to be updated frequently, so make this a regular check-point in your campaign management for all platforms.

7. Organize Data Sources

You will likely be running campaigns on different platforms with combinations of search, display, video, etc.

Looking back at your goals, what is the important data, and which platforms will you use to review and report? Can you get the majority of data in one analytics platform to compare and share?

Millions of companies use Google Analytics, which is a good option for centralized viewing of advertising performance, website behavior, and conversions.

8. Reevaluate How You Report

Have you been using the same performance report for years?

It’s time to reevaluate your essential PPC key metrics and replace or add that data to your reports.

There are two great resources to kick off this exercise:

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Your objectives in reevaluating the reporting are:

  • Are we still using this data? Is it still relevant?
  • Is the data we are viewing actionable?
  • What new metrics should we consider adding we haven’t thought about?
  • How often do we need to see this data?
  • Do the stakeholders receiving the report understand what they are looking at (aka data visualization)?

Adding new data should be purposeful, actionable, and helpful in making decisions for the marketing plan. It’s also helpful to decide what type of data is good to see as “deep dives” as needed.

9. Consider Using Scripts

The current ad platforms have plenty of AI recommendations and automated rules, and there is no shortage of third-party tools that can help with optimizations.

Scripts is another method for advertisers with large accounts or some scripting skills to automate report generation and repetitive tasks in their Google Ads accounts.

Navigating the world of scripts can seem overwhelming, but a good place to start is a post here on Search Engine Journal that provides use cases and resources to get started with scripts.

Luckily, you don’t need a Ph.D. in computer science — there are plenty of resources online with free or templated scripts.

10. Seek Collaboration

Another effective planning tactic is to seek out friendly resources and second opinions.

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Much of the skill and science of PPC management is unique to the individual or agency, so there is no shortage of ideas to share between you.

You can visit the Paid Search Association, a resource for paid ad managers worldwide, to make new connections and find industry events.

Preparing For Paid Media Success

Strategies should be based on clear and measurable business goals. Then, you can evaluate the current status of your campaigns based on those new targets.

Your paid media strategy should also be built with an eye for both past performance and future opportunities. Look backward and reevaluate your existing assumptions and systems while investigating new platforms, topics, audiences, and technologies.

Also, stay current with trends and keep learning. Check out ebooks, social media experts, and industry publications for resources and motivational tips.

More resources: 

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Google On Diagnosing A Deindexed WordPress Site

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Google explains how to diagnose why a site dropped from the search index after a site migration

Google’s John Mueller answered a question about a WordPress site that was completely deindexed from Google Search after changing to a different web hosting platform. Mueller’s answer shows where to start investigating the reasons why that happens.

Dropped From Index After A Site Migration

A submitted question to the Google Office Hours podcast related that their site disappeared from the search engine results pages after they had migrated their site from WordPress to “self-publishing” and that the site was subsequently deindexed.

The question may mean that they were hosting the site on the WordPress.com managed WordPress platform and then migrated their site away to another web host, typically referred to as self-hosting.

Migrating a WordPress site to another web host takes a few relatively simple steps but it can go wrong at virtually every step of the process.

More on migrating a WordPress site later because it’s relevant to the question.

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John Mueller Answers The Question

Mueller answered the question from the point of view of analyzing the website itself, which is the best place to start in this specific case. The reason is because the question implies that the site can still be reached online.

This is the question:

“After the site was transferred from WordPress to self-publishing, almost all publications disappeared from the index. The search results are ‘0’.”

John Mueller responded:

“If your website dropped out of the search results and is no longer being indexed at all, right about the time when you did a migration, then my guess is that your new website is somehow blocking search engines, or at least, blocking Google. I’d start by analyzing the data in the Search Console, and working forward from there.”

Search console may show the exact date that pages started dropping out of Google’s index and the reason why they’re dropping out. Typical reasons may be the pages are not found (404) or that Google was blocked from crawling by a robots.txt. Those are the starting points for identifying what’s happening on Google’s side.

Diagnose If WordPress Is Blocking Google

This kind of problem typically happens when a WordPress site is set to be hidden from the search engines, which means there’s a robots.txt entry that’s blocking search engines from indexing the site.

Google Search Console will tell you when this is happening through the Page Indexing Report which will show that the site is blocked by a robots.txt in the column of the report labeled “Why pages aren’t indexed”.

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If that’s the case then you can actually see this to be the case in your robots.txt file typically located in the root of your domain, /robots.txt (example.com/robots.txt).

If the page is blocked by Robots.txt then it may be that a WordPress setting was applied at some point in the migration to block search indexing.

This is a setting that’s native to the WordPress admin panel that can be reached here:

Settings 🡪 Reading.

There you’ll find a setting called “Search Engine Visibility” with a checkbox labeled Discourage search engines from indexing this site.

Screenshot Of WordPress Visibility Setting

WordPress search visibility settings

If that’s the case then untick that box and you’re done.

If there’s a robots.txt entry that’s blocking search engines but the above box isn’t checked then it could be another plugin doing that, like an SEO or migration plugin. If that’s not the case then maybe whoever was helping do the move inserted that entry in which case it’s an easy thing to download the robots.txt, edit the file in a text file editor then uploading it back.

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Other issues could be a failure to update DNS settings to point to the new web hosting service or it could be something on the web host side. Starting the investigation at Google Search Console is good advice.

Listen to Google’s answer here at the 7:24 minute mark:

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Google Answers Whether Having Two Sites Affects Rankings

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Google John Mueller answers if publishing multiple sites could affect rankings

Google’s John Mueller answered whether having two sites could negatively affect search rankings. His answer is surprisingly applicable to different ways of interpreting the question.

Can Having Two Sites Affect Rankings?

A person submitted a question to Google where they wanted to know if having two sites could negatively affect their rankings. The question as reproduced in Google is concise and also a little vague which leads to the outcome that the question can be answered in way that’s different from the way that Mueller answered it.

This is the question:

“My rankings have dropped due to Google finding out I have two websites. Is this correct?”

Google’s John Mueller answered:

“No. That’s not likely. Many people have several websites. Separate websites are not a problem.

The issue is often more indirect: if you work on a lot of websites, you’re not going to have a lot of time to make truly awesome websites everywhere. And, if you’re making websites that aren’t awesome, then that can be something which our algorithms pick up on when it comes to recommending your site to others.”

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A Different Way To Answer The Question

John Mueller answered the question under the assumption that the two sites in the question are on different topics. He prefaced his answer by saying that many “people have several websites” which is true.

But many people don’t have multiple websites on the same topic. The person asking the question was vague about whether the sites were about different topics, too.

It’s very possible that the sites are on the same topic, in which case it makes sense why they may be concerned that Google found out about the two sites because it could be seen as trying to game Google. After all, who worries about having multiple sites on different topics?

If the sites were on the same topic then the answer to the question is somewhat different.

One of the important considerations when one person controls multiple sites on the same topic is that they’re doing it for ranking purposes which is not a good starting point for any website.

I’m not saying there’s something corrupt about the practice but I am saying that it’s not really the best starting point for creating signals of quality. It’s not a matter of someone thinking that they’re going to create multiple high quality sites for users, right?

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Another reason why people create multiple sites for ranking (and not quality) is because people feel if they split up a topic into subsidiary subtopics they can create stronger sites about those related subtopics as opposed to one site with multiple related subtopics.

But what almost inevitably happens is that they wind up running multiple related sites that could be stronger together as one authoritative website.

I asked Bill Hartzer of Hartzer Consulting (Facebook profile) if he thought multiple sites on the same topic could affect rankings.

Bill agreed with me and shared:

“A lot of people, after building a website that ranks well, will think that they can simply create another website on the same topic and “make double the money” or get “double the traffic” and it’s simply not true.

Companies will also have one main website, but they’ll create a separate website on a separate domain name for each of their products or services. Over the past 10 years or so, that hasn’t been a good strategy. While it’s good to register the domain names of your products or services, it’s better to combine all those websites into one main, more authoritative website.

Typically if they’re on the same topic, one website, the original site, will continue to rank well. But the second website doesn’t rank as well. In most cases, it’s always better to combine the websites into one website.”

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Multiple Sites And Rankings

John Mueller is right that publishing multiple sites (on different topics) could compromise a person’s ability to focus on one site to make it outstanding, remarking that there’s an indirect negative effect on rankings. He is also correct in saying that it’s unlikely to have a direct negative effect on rankings.

Changing the question to whether there’s an effect on ranking if the multiple sites are on the same topic, then the answer becomes more nuanced but follow a similar trajectory as Mueller’s original answer that it detracts from being able to create one outstanding site and can lead to a person creating multiple middling sites.

But that’s not necessarily a foregone conclusion when a person is creating  multiple sites on different topics. It’s absolutely possible to create multiple sites on different topics and to be successful at it. It might be hard for one person alone to pull it off but it’s not difficult to do when multiple people are working on the websites creating content and focusing on promotion.

Watch/listen to the Google SEO Office hours at the 33 second mark:

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Asier Romero

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