Keyword research is one of the first things you’ll need to do for any search engine optimization campaign, according to most SEO experts. I agree with you for the most part. Choosing the right target keywords can make a huge difference in the long-term success of your campaign.
However, the SEO community has distorted the importance of keywords over the years. As a result, some practitioners prioritize keywords or focus almost entirely on optimizing for keywords, at the expense of other aspects of their campaign.
Is it possible to over-emphasize keywords in your search engine strategy?
The quick answer is yes. And if you have keyword tunnel vision, you may end up doing more harm than good.
What Exactly Are SEO Keywords?
Before we can get into the issue of over-emphasis on SEO keywords, we must first define what keywords are and why they are important. What exactly are keywords, and why are they important?
If you’re like most people, you use Google for a lot of searches every day. To see results, type a word or phrase into the search bar and press enter. You’re essentially typing in a keyword or a keyword phrase.
This is significant because it allows search optimizers to intentionally target a specific audience. Do you, for example, own a hotdog stand? If that’s the case, it’d be great if your website ranked high for terms like “hotdog” or “hotdog vendor near me.” Optimizing your website and content for specific keywords can increase your chances of ranking high for those terms – but the keyword landscape has shifted over time.
Earlier in Google’s history, it was possible for a website to virtually guarantee rank one simply by spamming the same keyword on their website over and over. Google’s algorithms are much more sophisticated today. They can detect unnatural language use, keyword spam, and other black hat techniques. Furthermore, Google expressly advises against keyword stuffing, instead of encouraging webmasters to create natural, high-quality content for their visitors.
Nonetheless, most optimizers conduct keyword research to help guide the campaign. It is critical to determine search volume in order to assess the popularity of various search phrases – and it is also critical to analyze the competition in order to determine which keywords will be most valuable to target.
The State of Modern Keywords
For a variety of reasons, the importance of researching and focusing on target keywords has dwindled.
- Search using semantics. The most serious offender has been the advancement of Google’s semantic search capabilities. Semantic search, first introduced with the Hummingbird update in 2013, is Google’s way of analyzing the intent behind your search query rather than just the specific words you used. With these capabilities in place, Google is no longer solely reliant on the keywords entered by search users; instead, it examines the phrasing, analyzes synonyms and alternative phrases, and attempts to determine what the user is looking for. As a result, focusing on a keyword isn’t as effective as it once was.
- Penalties and algorithm modifications Google is also becoming more stringent in its content evaluation and penalization systems. If your website is found to flagrantly violate Google’s terms and conditions, or if it clearly provides a poor user experience, it may face a ranking penalty or, in extreme cases, be delisted. As a result, stuffing keywords into your site at a specific frequency or volume is a bad idea.
- Keywords for the head and competition Head keywords, which are the short and common keywords that are most likely to be used in searches, are extremely competitive. Large corporations that have been in business for decades have spent millions of dollars optimizing their websites in order to dominate those terms. Because your chances of directly competing with these organizations are slim, intensely focused keyword optimization (at least for head keywords) is less desirable.
The Effects of Exclusively Focusing on SEO Keywords
If you place too much emphasis on keywords in your strategy or if you don’t use keywords responsibly, you risk the following:
- Excessive effort and time. It takes a long time to conduct keyword research. You could easily spend dozens of hours searching for the perfect keywords to target – and still, come up with very few worth targeting. If you put in a lot of time and effort to find the “perfect” keyword balance for your website, you’ll end up putting in even more time and effort. Remember that putting in time and effort isn’t just an inconvenience; it’s also an expense. This can significantly increase the overall cost of your campaign, jeopardizing your return on investment (ROI).
- Content of poor quality. Keyword stuffing and similar tactics almost always result in poor content. Too often, SEO experts are blinded by their keyword targets, cramming them into the headline, forcing them into the body where they don’t belong, and employing unnatural phrasing to hit the exact target. This not only fails to provide you with better results, but it is also disruptive to your readers.
- Risks associated with poor choices. Assume that keywords are your primary focus in SEO. You invest a significant amount of time and money in selecting the best keywords. But what happens if a competitor passes you? What happens if the volume of searches drops? Yes, you can adapt – but you may also end up wasting a lot of time and money as a result of your poor choices.
- Direct opposition. Being extremely competitive in your keyword selection and optimization strategy will introduce you to similarly aggressive competitors. Low-hanging fruit is more accessible and affordable, whereas high-profile keyword purists are exhausted.
- Inadequate visitor experiences. Most SEO enthusiasts aren’t just interested in search traffic. They’re also looking to monetize that search traffic by selling more products to visitors (or making them watch ads). If you want to convert your visitors, a strict and unyielding keyword optimization strategy will not help; in fact, it may turn people off.
- Measurements are difficult. Remember, Google does not explicitly publish keyword ranking data. You can run searches to see how you’re ranking or use a third-party tool to better understand your overall rankings, but there are still limitations to what you can accomplish this way.
- Worse outcomes. It’s difficult to make sweeping statements, but many keyword-obsessed purists end up with poorer results. They rank lower overall, receive less traffic, and, to top it all off, have reputation issues as a result of their low-quality content.
Should You Abandon the Keyword Approach?
So, should you abandon keyword research and keyword optimization entirely?
No, not at all. Keywords continue to serve several important functions, including assisting you in understanding the search behavior of your primary demographics, allowing you to analyze your competition’s search presence, and providing overall direction for your campaign. Long-tail keyword phrases are also less competitive than their head keyword counterparts, allowing small businesses and those with limited budgets to compete more effectively.
Keywords are also important in the following areas:
- Meta descriptions and page titles
And keywords are still relevant to your content (though your article should not change entirely to include specific terms).
Furthermore, SEO is only one component of your overall digital marketing strategy. Your PPC ads, email marketing, social media marketing, and other investments will all contribute to your overall success.
SEO keywords are no longer what they once were. You can’t rely on them to determine whether your campaign is a success, and you certainly can’t stuff them into your website content and hope for the best. If you want to be successful with keywords and your overall SEO campaign, you must first understand the modern context for keywords and then temper your expectations.