Is Keyword-Based SEO Dead?

It's safe to say that the old way of targeting keywords to include in your content is less effective than it used to be. The rigid structure of keyword research is rooted partly within the confines of pay per click search. People got so used to thinking in terms of pay per click and competing with paid search results that many did not and do not look beyond that.

On top of that is the problem that many people undertaking keyword research used the free Google keyword planner, and other similar tools. This has helped to create and reinforce a narrow view of keyword research.  If the keyword search results are non-existent or not “juicy” enough in terms of the monthly searches and lack of competition, then they were ignored.

But that does not mean that keyword-based search is dead.  It has simply evolved because Google has.  If you don't evolve with it then unfortunately you are going to be left behind.

Google has moved towards natural language search

You may have heard of the term Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI), or semantic search. This is a more intelligent way of interpreting and delivering the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) that Google has developed.  It seeks to better understand user intent and deliver highly relevant search results.

Search is changing and Google is changing with it because the way we use search is changing.

We often search in a more informal manner now.  On top of that, how we search is more device based and more based around speech.

More and more people are using their mobile phones to search and find information. They are often doing it on the move, and are seeking things to help them with the life they have around them at that moment.

We are also using speech search to find the results we need in greater numbers. This means that search is now moving away from rigid keywords and more towards casual search terms that help to define user intent at that moment.

ok google
ok google

Understanding user intent is key to your new keyword strategy

Consider this example. Somebody picks up their mobile phone, and says "OK Google, pizza".

What is the user intent behind that search? Is it:

  1. They want to learn about pizzas?
  2. They want to find a pizza recipe?
  3. They want to find a shop that sells fresh or frozen pizza?
  4. They want to find a fast food outlet that sells pizza?
  5. They want to order a pizza online over the phone?
  6. They want to visit a pizza restaurant?

In the old days, Google would have delivered a combination of results and would probably have delivered general information about pizzas at the top of the search results.

But because Google now more intelligently builds up information around the most likely intent behind that single word search, it's far more likely now that it will be relevant to the search intent.

As the person doing the search is on the move on a mobile phone, the intent of that person on a mobile device is most likely to be "I'm hungry; I want pizza".  And as long as they have their location logging/tracking turned on, then highly-targeted results can be achieved.

Think about the questions your potential customers are asking

Now, the pizza example was extreme. It's a single word search term and you can't optimise for that in the same way as you can for more longtail search terms.

But I used that example to explain a key point.  You have to understand how people are most likely to find your business through search, by thinking about their mindset, where they are and how they want to access your product or service.

So you need to think about the questions people will ask in relation to your company, product or service, so that you can structure content on your site to address this and benefit from the evolving natural language search.

Let's say that you run a digital marketing agency.  Somebody might ask the question "what can I expect from hiring a digital marketing company?"

Now that's not the sort of result that is going to leap out at you in Google keyword planner, if it's there at all, but it's going to be the sort of question a lot of people will be asking. It's an obvious buyer search term and it's a natural question to ask.

It's a great opportunity for you to engage with that person, by answering the exact question they have asked, rather than them being presented with the yet another general content page stuffed with related keywords.

Keyword-based search is not dead, it has evolved

So the way forward if you want to survive and thrive in the SERPs for the long term is to think even more in terms of the actual questions your customers are asking, understand the intent behind those questions, and to then answer them in a natural fashion.

A great way to do this is to listen out for those questions. If you are running seminars, conducting customer surveys, speaking to customers face-to-face, using niche forums, whatever it is, look and listen out for those questions people are asking.

You can then build up a great list of natural questions, link them to traditional keywords and related terms, and very quickly create amazing content that directly speaks to the people who want to buy from you.

It's incredibly powerful and it's potentially going to set you apart from your competitors you may very well still be generating generic sales content to try and answer a multitude of questions.