More and more we're hearing people saying that keywords don't matter anymore. We decided to investigate this claim and see how the importance of keyword research has shifted in 2016. 

I’ve heard the statement more and more often in recent times - “Keywords don’t matter anymore.” In fact, start typing into Google and it’s clear many of us are asking that very same question.

However, I would argue that statement is simply not true. Sure, the landscape has changed with the advent of things like Google Hummingbird and semantic search, but Google still needs keywords to understand the context of what a page is all about.

Keywords do still matter, it’s just that Google has changed how it understands and uses them. In turn, we must continue to adapt our research and strategies accordingly.

The Changing Landscape

How Google uses keywords has changed, but so too has the engine itself. Gone are the days of a simple listing of 10 results for every query. On any given search we can now be presented with an array of additional information including maps, answer boxes, images and business listings. Any of these present among your listing in Google greatly decreases the chances of a user clicking through to your site.

How we use search engines has also changed dramatically. SEOs have been talking about long-tail queries for years and this is still pertinent. Other changes include the use of Google suggest, the rise of question-based queries and voice search all require some thought when creating our SEO strategies.

A Change of Approach

With a change in landscape, comes the necessity to change approach. Knowing what I’ve stated above, how should we now approach keyword research to help prioritise our content? The 4 are outlined below.

Keyword Flowchart

Keyword Research

This phase of the process has barely changed over the years and still requires the endless hours plugging away at various terms from a seed list and almost certainly a meaty Excel spreadsheet. There are various tools out there to help, both free and paid. Google Keyword Planner still works well and a personal favourite is Moz Explorer. Others to think about include Uber Suggest, SEMRush and SpyFu.


TOP TIP: Don’t rely on just one or two sources. The available tools are not 100% accurate so use as many as you have available to make sure you get as much information as possible.



Match Keywords to Searcher Intent

Just like Google is doing, we also need to decide what a searcher wants to find out when they enter a certain keyword. In general there are three types of user searches and almost every query fits into these:

  • Navigational – the user is looking for a particular website, but doesn’t know the URL
  • Informational – the user is looking for information on a topic, e.g. best times of the year to go to Australia
  • Transactional – the user is trying to purchase, e.g. buy men’s jeans online or subscribe to Amazon Prime

We need to think about this when conducting keyword research. What information are users looking for when carrying out this query? This will help us determine the perceived value of a keyword based on our marketing goals. It also helps us to decide on suitable page content for this target keyword. With the advent of Hummingbird and topic modelling, failure to do this will hurt your chances of ranking – not to mention your ability to convert if the user does land on the page.

Sort Based On Marketing Goals

When conducting any marketing activity, it’s critical to align it with your overall marketing goals and what your brand is trying to achieve – is it to drive sales, increase brand awareness or increase engagement?
Once we’ve established the intent of a keyword and we know what we’re trying to achieve, we can rank these keywords based on importance to us, ensuring we’re targeting the ones that have the greatest potential value.

It’s not as simple as it sounds, however. As previously noted, Google now lists a whole array of additional information in its listings, and it’s different for each query. Therefore, while a keyword may be really important in terms of commercial value to you, and it may have thousands of searches/month, it might not be the best one to target. Why? Because your chances of actually achieving click-through are so slim due to the range of additional content that Google displays for the query.

Therefore when deciding on the best keywords to target you need to consider the following factors:

  • Search volume
  • Difficulty - based on the competition
  • Click-through opportunity – based on what other rich information Google displays for that query
  • Importance – based on your marketing goals

You then need to calculate the importance of each keyword to you based on these factors. You could create an algorithm yourself in Excel to do this, but my preference is Moz Explorer, which does this quickly and easily for you.

From your list of highest potential keywords, you can then easily decide on your content priorities, ensuring that your content matches the intent of the query

A Note on Topic Modelling

There has been a lot of talk in recent years in the industry about topic modelling and how using related topics and semantically connected keywords in your copy can boost your ranking potential. As Google crawls and indexes the web, it makes associations between words and phrases.

For example, Google will see “John Lennon” on pretty much every page that mentions “The Beatles”, and will have made a strong semantic connection between these phrases. Therefore, when trying to rank for a page about The Beatles, Google would expect John Lennon to also be mentioned probably more than once (depending on how comprehensive your page is).

There are a range of software solutions out there that help you to find phrases and topics you should be mentioning when targeting a particular keyword, including AlechemyAPI and Moz. As well as helping you boost your chances of ranking, these tools can also extend your keyword research.

It’s something that I’ve been experimenting with for clients and have been seeing some good results in our keyword rankings.


Keywords are still very important but the way in which we evaluate and implement them is changing all the time to keep pace with innovations in search. To make the most of your keyword research you will need to work smarter, and conduct more thorough research to determine which keywords hold real value.