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It’s nigh impossible to discuss SEO without mentioning keywords. Keywords and SEO. SEO and keywords. These two things go together like a horse and carriage.

However, despite this close relationship – that’s existed since time immemorial – the continued relevance of keywords is a serious debate in the SEO world. Thanks to the rise of natural language processing and machine learning, as applied through Hummingbird and RankBrain, it really does seem like semantic search is doing away with the concept of “keywords”.

In fact, even here at WooRank we’ve advocated focusing less on keywords and more on topic, goal completion and answering questions.

But are keywords really still relevant to SEO in today’s age of AI query processing, NLP and semantic search?

Yes.

But the type of keywords you should be using, and the way you track them, needs to evolve.

Keyword Tool CTA

Using the Right Keywords

Choosing relevant keywords has always been important for SEO. A landscaping company optimizing for keywords about pet supplies doesn’t really make any sense. But that’s always been true. So what do we mean when we say “the right keywords” today?

Search Intent

The concept of the conversion funnel is basic marketing 101. People look for, consume and process information differently depending on how far along the purchase process they are. However, thanks to advances in NLP (in the form on Hummingbird and RankBrain), Google is now delivering content that is more tailored to where the user is in the funnel.

Search intent is actually great for search marketers: It allows us to find sources of much more relevant traffic. By turning to search engines to answer questions, these users are self-selecting themselves as interested in your product, service and/or niche.

Even better, search intent allows us to come up with a keyword strategy to better target content to users based on their stage in the funnel. There’s no point in putting a hard sell on someone searching for “what is landscaping”.

There are three basic forms of search intent that you can use to your advantage:

  • Navigational: These people want to get somewhere specific, but don’t know how. They’re most likely branded search terms.
  • Informational: These people are deciding if they want or need a product, and evaluating their options. They represent the upper areas of the conversion funnel.
  • Transactional: People who want to actually take an action like make a purchase or download something. These people are your moneymakers – they have their wallets in hand.

Search intent as funnel stages

Creating content that matches intent will show Google that your website is more relevant to each type of user, and make your website more effective at converting visitors.

Do Keyword Rankings Still Matter?

Ok, so keywords still matter. But do keyword rankings? I mean, after all, it seems like every user gets their own first page on Google. So what’s the point in tracking keyword rankings?

As it turns out, there are a couple of points in tracking keyword rankings.

Learn what works and what doesn’t

That “O” in SEO stands for “optimization.” It’s hard to optimize your site if you don’t know what effect your changes are making on your performance in search results. Track the changes in your rankings when you make changes so you can figure out what has a positive effect on your pages so you can roll these out to other parts of your website.

See what topics you’re relevant on

If the key to good SERP performance and content optimization is targeting search intent, topics and goals, well, you need a way to track how well you’re meeting these expectations. You also need a way to evaluate how relevant Google sees you on a certain topic.

Tagging and tracking keywords by topic in WooRank’s Keyword Tool will give you great insight into how relevant and authoritative Google sees you on a certain topic.

Tag and track keywords to evaluate topical relevance in Google

This is also a great way to spot low hanging fruit.

If you have pages or a page that ranks well in a certain topic, but not for certain high volume keywords, just a few tweaks could boost you up the SERP to bring in even more relevant traffic. Note that this won’t be easy if you’re in a really competitive niche, or looking at a highly competitive keyword, but for less competitive keywords you could jump several places by building a few links or optimizing internal linking.

Diagnose drops in visitors

When your website sees a sudden, serious drop in traffic, checking your keyword rankings can be one of the best ways to diagnose the problem.

If Analytics is showing the number of organic visitors falling off a cliff, open up Keyword Tool to check your rankings. Are all your keywords losing rankings? Just certain keywords or topics?

Tracking your keyword rankings can help you spot, diagnose and deal with sudden algorithm changes and/or penalties.

Competitor research

No man is an island, and no website is without competition.

Unless you sell Halloween costumes for yaks or something.

If you do something other than sell apparel for bovines, keyword rank tracking is a great way to keep tabs on where you stand compared to your competitors. If they’re outranking you, do a technical and content audit of their websites. You can use the results of this analysis to back-engineer their SEO strategies.

If you’ve already added competitor websites to your WooRank Advanced audit, these sites will automatically show up in your Keyword Tool rankings.

Keyword Tool competitor rankings

If you haven’t added competitors to your Advanced Review, you’re missing out. Go do it now.

Keywords & Rankings Still Matter

When it comes to SEO the days of the semantic web and semantic SEO, keywords, keyword research and keyword tracking all still matter. Keywords still form the basis of connecting your website and content to your audience, so it’s important to know where you stand when it comes to relevance and authority.

Plus, keyword tracking is important for detecting algorithm updates and penalties early, as well as keeping an eye on those pesky competitors.