Ranking well on search engines has definitely changed over the years. Algorithms have become more and more sophisticated where fair use is rewarded and those bending the rules are penalized accordingly. Rankings are now determined using different factors such as user experience, social signals, and quality parameters on content, images, and website architecture, and not just on keywords – used and long abused by black hat marketers not so long ago.
The shift from keywords as a factor in ranking may be drastic, but it does not render keyword research irrelevant. In fact, it still holds supreme value given how different it is treated these days.
Keyword Placement vs. Keyword Frequency
Gone are the days when keyword stuffing is enough to make websites rank on page one. Now, it is how and where you place keywords that matter most.
As there is no hard rule on keyword density, today’s best practice dictates that a keyword should be placed at least once in the header, metadata, body copy, side bar/s, and footer. Using keywords naturally all throughout the copy and using its co-varieties are also good practices to prevent from being charged with keyword stuffing.
Aim to convert vs. Aim to simply rank on top
Yes, ranking favorably on a search result page is a common goal, but it is not enough to be your only objective. To make people subscribe to a newsletter, share a blog on Facebook, or buy a product are objectives that are worth aiming for with keyword research.
Today, there is incredible value in long-tail keywords as it reveals user intent more clearly than short-tail keywords. When a person uses highly-specific search phrases, we have an idea that the person knows exactly what he/she is looking for. After knowing the possible long-tail keywords your target market is likely to use, your task now is to develop useful and specific content around it.
Optimize for meaning vs. Optimize just for words
The beauty of having sophisticated algorithms today is results are becoming more ‘humanized’ than ever before. Case in point is semantic search wherein you can appear on a results page as long as your content shares the same meaning as the keywords or phrases entered by a user. An illustration of semantic search is a blog entry on ’10 best budget attractions in Bali, Indonesia‘ appearing as a search result when ‘cheap activities in Bali’ are used as the search terms.
To take advantage of semantic search, it is important, once again, to invest in co-varieties of a keyword and provide context so Google can ascribe more meaning to your content and make it easier for your users to find it. With the rise of geo-location searches using mobile devices, optimizing the content on the basis of intent and meaning is now important more than ever.
To answer the question earlier – yes, keyword research is still very much important in 2021. By using keywords naturally in your content, aiming for conversion and not just for ranking on top, and by optimizing on the basis of meaning and not simply on your word choices, ranking favorably on search results through keyword research should be a worthwhile task for any marketer.
What other reasons can you think of that makes keyword research a relevant endeavor?