Marketers have believed for over a decade that if they want a website to rank high in the SERPs, they need to find the right keywords. That’s simply not true anymore. Today, Google’s algorithms are advanced enough to understand what you’re writing about, who it’s for, and deliver it to the right users, all without needing to keyword stuff or spending hours finding the perfect exact match search term.
Believe it or not, keyword research doesn’t need to be rocket science. There are far more complex concepts to consider when writing content and performing on-page SEO. That doesn’t mean that keyword research is dead by any means, but marketers need a new approach in 2021 – one that still allows you to drive traffic, improve organic rankings, and help users while using your time more effectively.
How has keyword research changed?
Marketers used to be highly rigid with keyword research. Frankly, most SEOs still are. They can spend hours researching and placing the perfect keyword. This uses precious time that could be better spent producing great content and optimizing it in other ways that make a bigger impact on organic performance.
As Google has evolved, so has the use of keywords for SEO. It’s still important to optimize elements like title tags, URLs, meta descriptions, and alt text for relevant search terms – don’t get me wrong. However, gone are the days of scouring permutations of related phrases to find the perfect longtail opportunity, keyword stuffing and over-optimization.
Today, you need to publish content that relates to your brand’s expertise and keep’s your audience’s attention, and simply let Google do its job.
Increasingly, Google uses “semantics” to understand what’s on a web page. It analyzes the users’ search intent, how they ask questions, and the contextual meaning of queries. With these methods, the engine can match people with the most relevant content and information with far greater effectiveness than simply indexing pages that have matching sequences of letters.
With this in mind, here’s how you can improve your content’s SEO without over-obsessing over keyword research.
Focus on producing valuable long-form content
People don’t generally read content for entertainment. Most of the time it’s to learn a new skill, strategy, or idea. That means content needs to be actionable, practical, and helpful. It shouldn’t be full of fluff and only written to be picked up by the algorithm for a specific keyword.
That’s why long-form content is so powerful. In fact, the average #1 result on Google is approximately 1,890 words long, and that number is rising. Does that mean Google likes longer word counts? Not necessarily. It just means that longer articles are more likely to provide thorough and therefore more valuable information – and that’s what Google favors.
By writing more words, you’re also giving search engine algorithms more opportunities to understand what the page is about, who it’s for, and pick up on keyword clusters.
Use more long-tail keywords
A long-tail keyword is a search term with three to five words, or even more. For example, “affiliate marketing” would be a head term while “How to do affiliate marketing with Amazon” is considered long-tail.
The longer the keyword is, the more specific it is, and the less competition you’ll have to rank for it. When you use these types of search terms in your content, people will be able to find you more easily. Since they are very contextual and targeted, the algorithm can also understand what your brand specializes in.
It is often easier to rank in Google for long-tail keywords because so few websites compete for those rankings. In fact, 70.87% of keywords with more than 10,000 monthly searches consist of only one or two words. Focusing on long-tail keywords can help drive more traffic in less time for these reasons.
Another benefit to consider is that long-tail keywords can bring highly qualified users to your website who are more likely to convert. This is especially the case when targeting long-tail keywords related to products, services, reviews, and comparisons.
Establish authority around a particular topic
Google favors websites that are authorities in well-defined niches. Producing valuable content without overly worrying about keyword research can help establish a brand identity around a particular topic.
As the algorithm learns your expertise and value proposition, you will have an easier time ranking for similar searches in the future.
For example, a company may have the head term “SaaS marketing” that defines their blog at a high level. They could then research keyword clusters around SaaS social media marketing, email marketing, search engine marketing, etc.
One step deeper would involve taking those sub-topics and breaking them down further. Over time, the algorithm would have a clear understanding of what they do and who they serve.
Final thoughts on how keyword research has evolved
Google has changed. While many marketers plan excessively around keyword research, it isn’t a necessity to rank and climb up the SERPs. The algorithm has advanced through the use of tools like semantic search and understanding keyword clusters. Spending too much time optimizing for keywords can have a negative effect.
Instead, search marketers need to spend time producing awesome content that improves the reader’s life. Answer their questions, extend useful resources, and suggest tools that they can use. Make content practical and think about how you can match people’s search intent.
When you do optimize for search terms – and yes, you still should – make sure to consider long-tail keywords. These are specific questions and queries that have less competition and monthly volume. Targeting these allows you to rank more easily, drive traffic, and build authority faster.
By honing in on a particular niche and industry, you also begin building an authority brand. Google will be able to recognize your business for having expertise in a specific space, ranking your future content more easily around similar topics.
Moving forward, don’t let keyword research be a bottleneck. Publish content that your audience will love, use their language, and you’ll still see keyword rankings improve.