Educate yourself
September 30, 2021

Keywords Are King, Right?


Over the course of the last decade, Tier Level has trudged through the trends and changes of SEO and online marketing. At times the phrase, “it’s more art than science” has resonated intensely with our team as we’ve learned to massage our own strategies to match Google’s constant moving target of “best practices.”

One important area of conversation has centered around keywords. If you only know a smidgen about SEO and google search, you understand and know keywords. But as Google becomes more and more sophisticated, the use and tracking of keywords changes.

On our own internal reporting tool we’re able to track keywords. We can see how our customers are ranking for very specific keyword searches. But this keyword report is always a wild report. It’s unpredictable, at times confounding and has proven to be more unhelpful than helpful for many of our purposes.

Allow me to outline and frame how I believe we should be thinking about keywords.

Keyword Priority Is Now Replaced By Value Priority

In the early days of the internet searches were rudimentary and simple. Searched words were matched to websites that best carried that same term. And by best we mean abundance.

Take the simple search for pizza in Miami. In the early days of the internet the websites which carried the words “pizza” and “Miami” in the greatest amount won the day.

It was that simple.

But this practice led to horrendous experiences. Websites that had little value and still lesser esteem were ranking right beside (or in some cases, right above) websites that were in fact the places people were searching for. In this instance, national pizza chain and random blog are valuing the same on a google search for pizza, why? Keyword stuffing. What use to be a black hat SEO trick that worked, has become something that will now get your website blacklisted by the big G.

This of course is a mess and not an internet anyone wants to venture into.

Over the years Google made some course corrections and these course corrections affected how keywords were evaluated and used.

In The Last Decade Google Has Flipped The Script On Keywords

The early days of Google search are over. Yes, over.

Notice the sentiment of this Twitter user talking about keywords and comparing them to how hashtags are being used on TikTok.

Do you hear the implications in his ire, keywords are dead. Is that too strong?

Keywords, rather than being the “king” of search, are now simply, one of a multitude of aspects of search. Google began finding other ways to judge and value websites. They asked questions like, “do other websites value this website?” The answer to the question was prioritizing backlinks — other websites linking to this website. They developed tools that recognized and punished keyword stuffing and other tools that recognized valuable and thoughtful content. It then prioritized these.

And then more happened.

As Google began updating and perfecting its algorithms it began understanding meaning. This is an amazing technology that doesn’t connect you to the keywords you're searching for, but rather divines the meaning of your words and gives you that result instead.

Notice the graphic below and the progression and development of google search in relation to keywords.

What’s happening now on google is this: meaning is being prioritized over keywords. Keywords are not king, meaning is. To illustrate this, the google search “Barack's wife's birthday” leads to a result about Michelle Obama and her birthday, not her more famous husband, even though it’s his keywords that are being searched.

This is incredible.

Google search is learning what your intention is, not the correlation between search-keyword and website-keyword. It’s getting better at finding what you're looking for, not necessarily what you searched for. Interesting.

To live in this new world of Google the goal is now quality. Quality content, quality website, quality friends (backlinks) willing to link back to you. This is SEO at it’s best.

A Sinister Use Of Keyword Reports

Regardless of how dramatic Google’s advances have been, the strategies of SEO talking heads   have been slow to the uptake. Google "SEO keyword strategies” and you will find video after video and blog after blog encouraging some form of keyword stuffing as the end-all of SEO technique.

This is wrong.

This is partly due to the fact that we as a people are simply just slow to change our ways of thinking. The old adage rings true, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Let’s update the saying, “you can’t teach a 2000-era SEOer new techniques.”

But with all this said, a keyword report is a scary report to behold. “Look at the data” someone might say, “look where you’re ranking” another will opine.

Don’t be fooled.

Narrow Views Into A Massive Chasm

We work a lot in the emergency restoration world, and so our customers are looking to rank for keywords like “water damage” and “mold damage.” And they do. A simple test search will tell that story real quick.

But the reports at times suggest they may not be; confusion persists.

Limited Reliability

Our team had a brainstorming conversation over this exact topic recently. We were trying to make sense of the data we were sorting through, at times our customers seem to rank well for a particular keyword, at other times they drop with no seeming rhythm or reason.

The question was thrown out, “are people actually searching for these keywords?” We looked at the report, it says that a given keyword has 14k searches each month. We got on the phone: “it isn’t local data, it's national averages” they told us.

What Are People Searching For Any Way

It makes me go back to my original question, are people actually searching these one and two word keywords.

If they are, the search intent is low. The intent behind the search is to learn more about water damage, not to find a water damage restoration company.

What people search is, “my home, water, damaged my walls, help!” Or some other equally unpredictable search phrase that no one is tracking. The longer tailed search shows a higher search intent, meaning that the consumer is looking to make a decision quickly.

And so, tracking these searches are difficult. But the proof is ultimately in the pudding, are people finding the website, what is your traffic like? Are people viewing your Google Business page, what is your traffic like?

A Sinister Approach

An SEO business tactic is built around a keyword report. An unsuspecting business owner receives a keyword report and is told, your SEO company is doing nothing for you, look at the report, you don’t even rank for these 50 keywords.

The owner’s convinced. However, the report shows keywords that consumers are not even searching for, leaving the owner confused and frustrated.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day this is what we know. Keywords are important because words are important. They are the building block to sentences which are the building blocks to paragraphs which are then the building blocks to blogs and content that google evaluates.

The aim in SEO is building good and healthy content that answers the questions of your customers. That’s the way forward.

Posted on:

Thursday, September 30, 2021


Jesse Crowley