When it comes to an SEO strategy, are keywords still important? A long time ago, exact keywords really mattered when it came to search engine optimization. Google would collect data on the most popular keywords typed in by users and companies would use that information to rank higher using those targeted keywords. The one-to-one relationship worked well, but the system allowed for almost anybody to start keyword stuffing to rank higher. These black hat practices are what ultimately caused the demise of exact keyword search. Still, many marketers, including our agency, still consider keywords as an important part of an SEO strategy.

The answer is: keywords are still important and still provide a benchmark for the health of a marketing campaign. The practice has just become a little bit more complex. According to Search Engine Watch, not only are long-tail keywords important for the success of an SEO strategy, there are several other onsite-optimization options to consider, starting with:

1. Keyword Placement

The bottom line is, Google still needs to find some kind of text to know if a site is relevant enough to show to inquiring user. The search engine still uses keywords as tidbits for its analysis. The more keywords you have stuffed on the page doesn’t matter as much as the quality of the keywords themselves. Most importantly, the right keyword placement will make all the difference. For example, placing “swimming pool builder” in the title tag of a page is more effective than stuffing the same word 5 or 6 times within the body copy. Google breaks down a page by sections and ranks headers as top priority, body copy as secondary, and footers as last priority.

2. Google Looks for Meaning

When Google scans a website, it’s no longer looking for exact match of keywords and keyword phrases. It goes beyond that to really analyze what your site is all about and forms conclusions for itself. It doesn’t matter if you use the same keyword phrase over and over, Google will consider synonyms for up to 70% of searches. You could use “swimming pool builder,” “pool construction,” “pool design” and Google would take it all in, and conclude that you’re a pool builder. So, it’s important to optimize your website for meaning rather than a specific phrase. Naturally post relevant content, rather than focusing your efforts on incorporating an exact phrase.

3. Semantic Search

Semantic search is something Google started as part of the Hummingbird release back in 2013. It takes a user’s search, for example, “cheap breakfast in Chicago” and instead of breaking down the query to “cheap,” “breakfast,” “Chicago,” and finding content with those keywords, Google will actually analyze the phrase itself and conclude that the user is looking for affordable breakfast places around Chicago. Google will then go out and find places that might fit that description based on customer reviews, website, etc. Again, as long as website content collectively communicates that you are a certain type of business, you could show up in results, even if you don’t have that exact keyword phrase anywhere.

4. Website Structure

Google is focused mainly on providing quality search results for users. So if you have a website that functions properly on mobile and desktop, has an navigation that allows users to find information they want, Google will reward you with better rankings. It’s important for businesses to appropriately title pages, make site navigation easy, and include a site map to make it easy for Google to crawl your site. The easier you make Google’s job of scanning your website, the more authority it will provide you. Link internal pages together, have a clean layout with a title, body, and footer structure, and relevant content.

5. Site Speed & Security

Regardless of your website content, there are some techy factors that will affect your website rankings. This is site speed and security. When that same idea of “make it easier for users” mindset, Google will actually rank sites that load quicker higher than sites that are slow. SSL encryption for ecommerce sites, for example, will give a site a ranking boost. Make users happy and Google will reward you.

6. Schema Markup

Many sites don’t even bother with tediously incorporating schema microdata into their sites. But it actually could work in a website’s favor. Schema is basically data that makes it easier for Google to parse and interpret the information on your site. These little bits of info can be added directly to any HTML code on a page to define the page and let search engines know what it’s about and how it can be treated. What’s great is that Google takes these little bits of information to display information in their Knowledge Graph. Again, make Google’s job easier, Google will reward you.

So are keywords still relevant to your SEO strategy. The answer is yes, but it’s not just keywords that will make your strategy successful. There are many other factors that should be considered in search engine optimization that Google will certainly take into account to rank your website: Provide your users with a great experience, publish relevant content, set up a website structure that makes Google happy, and you’ll have a winning strategy.