The Ironic War: Keywords and Semantics

A number of people for a number of years have been discussing the emergence or necessity of every part of SEO aside from keywords. Our latest posts have discussed developments in content and link strategies – most recently as a result of Mobilegeddon – but there was a telling lack of concern around the impact of this algorithm update on the keyword factor. Below we’ll take a look at why this is.

The funny thing about the semantic web is that its supposed foundation, that of words, is being gradually dismantled as the former powers forwards in importance. The fact is that with the rise of the synonym, singular words have lost their stranglehold on SERPs.

Now this is putting it simply. There is obviously far more at play than just synonyms – the emergency of the spoken word in search is one good example – but the above holds true in that time spent on keyword research is diminishing in line with the rising awareness of relevancy and quality.


Mobilegeddon and Keywords

The increase of import on mobile usability in websites has added to the stress on the Keyword in SEO.

The semantic web meant a keyword lost its integrity; if a searcher wanted to find information on things to do in a given city, websites in that city (like a tourism agency or a local council) who had invested in specific keywords might have felt hard done by when Bob’s Bar on the main street showed up top in the SERPs.

However, along with the history of the user’s searches, Google could now interpret specific parts of the phrase entered to pick out if the user was searching for a drinking spot moreso than a local botanic garden. The relevancy of ‘refreshing things to do’ in the phrase might have lent itself more to drinking than walking.

This is a hypothetical example – although interestingly a café did indeed show up when I later entered the above in for my suburb, followed by a tourism board! But the fact holds: keywords began to get pushed down the list.

Place on top of this the increasing time spent by Google on local search, then local search with user history, and now all algorithm pieces with mobile-usability, and we see the Keyword struggling to keep up. This is not simply about being pushed down a list though – this is about the existence of it as a ranking factor.

It should be highlighted at this point that not all SEO professionals agree. Many still see the Keyword as not only a founding block of the industry but as an ongoing piece of the puzzle.

I for one, however, feel the time has come to move away from a fear of choosing the wrong word and focus your worry instead on how we are engaging our leads. Fit your site to the right circles; engage your audience; enhance your content; make your site mobile-friendly. These are now the pillars of online success, not keywords.