Semalt Expert Tells Why Keywords Are Still Important To SEO

Yes, keywords are still essential to SEO. Read about why keywords are so important and why they form the foundation of your content. Keywords were one of the first ranking factors used by Search engines to match a search query to contents, and keywords are still vital for ranking for the right search queries. 

What are SEO keywords? 

SEO keywords are single words or complex phrases websites use to increase the inbound organic traffic from SERP.  The audience uses these keywords while searching for something your brand can help with. If properly researched and optimized in a content, keywords become a conduit with which a website connects to its target audience. 

Are keywords in SEO dead?

The phrase "Keywords are dead" is something that has been going around in the SEO circle lately. So we feel it's important that we confront this issue head-on. There have been several developments in search engine optimization that has fueled this claim, but when making an argument, three major claims are used to support this point. 

Keywords are not provided

If you're new to SEO, you missed the point in the history of SEO where organic SEO ould be accessed in Adobe Omniture, Google Analytics, and other analytics platforms. In 2010, things began to change when Google quietly began taking steps to remove keyword data. Towards the end of 2011, and all through 2012, a significant amount of organic keywords were stripped. Not long after, the top keyword driver for every site was no longer provided. 

Upon losing our primary source of keyword data, we were basically flying blind, which made many write their obituary tribute for keywords. But what changed? Everyone was still using search engines the same way, and google didn't change how it interpreted the contents on webpages. It was now the case of "when a tree falls in the forest with no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?" like, with Google, nothing changed. Which means keywords are still alive and kicking. What died was the old way of tracking them. 

AI and NLP destroyed the need for keywords

The existence or rather importance of keywords was once again challenged when Google rebuilt its algorithm in 2013. What Hummingbird really did was to help Google understand users' search intent better, particularly when in situations where the search query was complex and in a conversational tone. 

By 2015, Google incorporated RankBrain, which is a new ranking factor driven by AI, to improve its ability to correctly interpret search queries. Before its introduction, a query like "Hamburger places around me" would send Google off looking for any content that has those keywords. With RankBrain, Google learns to use these keywords as signals which indicate the context of their search helping it learn what the user really wants. 

AI and NLP mean Google can now rewrite a user's search query to match their actual intent, which may seem like keywords are no longer useful. What really happens is that Google has only gotten smarter. In fact, google understands better and is more equipped to connect the language we use to our true search intent, which means that keywords have become more important. 

Voice search made keywords useless

As voice search became more prominent, many became concerned about the fate of keywords. It became clear that voice search had an impact on keywords but did it kill them? Today, search has become more conversational, which means the keywords we optimize for have equally become more conversational. In the old days, if we wanted to know the richest man alive, we would simply search for "richest man alive." Today our search query will be "who is the richest man alive?"

Did you know that 15% of daily searches have never been heard of before by Google? So while searchers have the luxury to search whatever they think of, SEO professionals have to work double-time to be able to meet up. As a professional, it is difficult to know which keywords to optimize for if a significant percentage of traffic is driven by other keywords which are rarely get searched. 

But just because our ability to track keywords is imperfect doesn't mean that keywords mean less. Google still understands context even over voice search. So keywords matter even when you omit crucial bits of information in your search query. 

Why are keywords important to SEO? 

There are several reasons why keywords matter to search engines and SEO professionals, but here are two of the most important reasons why we can't do away with keywords just yet. 

Keywords as clues

One of the most important features of keywords is their importance outside of SEO. Choose not to factor in traffic, rankings, or even a website. Consider this, if you knew the intentions of your customers, what will change about how you operate your business? How will you use that insight to modify your marketing strategy?

When taking a survey or stating our feelings on a subject, we often factor in the impact of our opinions on others which has a way of influencing what we say or do. Likewise, in search, the combination of anonymity and access to valuable information creates an opportunity for us to study the unadulterated version of what we really want. 

At its core, Keywords is a data-driven truth serum. Keyword research is a powerful market research tool that can be harnessed in many different ways which go beyond a website's content. In order to maximize the potential in keywords, we have learned to look beyond its explicit, literal translation and picked up on its hidden clues to understanding the true intent behind every keyword.

Keywords reflect a persona

As marketers, we try to connect with a persona, and keywords help us paint a bullseye. By aiming for a persona, we are setting up the website for success. Target audience is one of the most important aspects of SEO and marketing as a whole. By focusing on specific keywords, we are certain that the right people will come to us. If we lack focus and try to impress everyone, were likely to leave empty-handed. 

Common keyword types

Keywords can be categorized and tagged in a number of ways for various reasons. Here are some common examples:

Branded vs. unbranded

A branded search term contains the brand in the query. A brand could be indicated by its official name, misspellings, branded acronyms, branded taglines, parent companies, or any other thing that clearly depicts a specific brand. 

Unbranded keywords are all other keywords you may consider. They often describe a business offering or a customer's problem. Some businesses do not have a distinct name which makes its delineation more difficult. 

Branded terms are most likely to bring in more traffic because the searcher is already aware of the existence of the brand.

Speed vs. page-specific keywords

Seed words are the list of target keyword we make before we begin the keyword research process. as the name implies, they are the seeds which we plant to grow the words on the keyword list. Seed words are relevant for a large portion of the entire website. 

Page-specific keywords are developed later in the keyword research process and are used to optimize only specific pages. 

Head vs. long-tail keywords

Keywords with the highest search demands are called head terms, while those with low demand are called long-tail keywords. 

When you graph out keywords that fall into either category, you will realize that the head terms fall quickly in terms of the total number of keywords while the long tail terms seem to go on forever like a tail.  The middle of the graph is called chunky middle, or torso.  

Optimizing for both Head and long-tail keywords is important to SEO. Besides volume, none is absolute, so we treat them equally. 

Primary and secondary keywords 

Another name for primary keywords will be targeted or focused keywords. They are used to describe the most important keywords. These keywords can be used all through your site or can be restricted to a single page.

Secondary keywords also called supporting and tertiary keywords, include all other keywords on your list. In some contexts, supporting keywords are keywords that you loosely optimize, but they aren't considered a top priority. These keywords can also act as the long-tail support or semantic to help a website get the most from its primary keywords. 


Keyword research remains one of the first things any SEO professional must do before they begin developing content. This is something that is a must if you hop on getting anywhere near SERP. The need for keyword research is more important to new sites or websites that hope to improve or expand their search ranking.

In order to survive on the internet, we constantly conduct keyword research to discover new keywords we should be optimizing. That way, our clients do not experience temporary bursts in traffic but a constant cruise at the top of SERP. 

Nevertheless, if you need to learn more about the subject of SEO and website promotion, we invite you to visit our Semalt blog.