Is keyword research really dead in SEO?

There’s been a lot of chatter in recent years about how keyword research is dead. But there was a particular interview that I shared in my recent newsletter, which sparked a lot of discussion!

So, what’s the answer? In my opinion, keyword research isn’t dead. But it is changing!

Search engines are becoming more powerful. They are getting better at understanding natural language and serving you the best results.

Take Google as an example. They have Hummingbird (helping them get better at understanding search intent), RankBrain (their machine-learning, AI-driven ranking factor) and Latent Semantic Indexing (helping them identify similar terms).

How does this evolving AI impact our SEO strategies?

Do we need to move away from keyword research and focus on search intent?

Yes and no.

Keyword research has been recommended by SEO experts for years as a way of ranking highly on search engine results pages.

Keyword research is the task of finding the terms and phrases that people enter into search engines in order to utilise them in your SEO strategy and PPC advertising.

Keyword research is still a very important aspect of SEO and growing your organic traffic. It’s also useful for figuring out what to write about and what phrases to include in your content.

More and more SEO consultants are now focusing on search intent and advising that we need to focus less on keywords and more on the reasons behind searches.

What the experts say about keyword research vs. search intent

During the Search Marketing Expo (SMX) at the beginning of the year the team spoke to Frédéric Dubut, the Senior Program Manager Lead of Bing’s core search team. During the interview, Frédéric said that keyword research is slowly going to become obsolete in 2020 and that instead we should be focusing on search intent.

Neil Patel agrees, saying that we should skip keyword research when it comes to blogging because “almost every keyword is too competitive”. Instead we should be producing high quality content with a dynamic range of terms and context on the topic. And focusing on fulfilling the needs, wants, and desires of the customer… the search intent.

However John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, agrees that there is still some room for keyword research.

Sam Nemzer conducted an experiment for Moz and found both keywords and topics are important. He concludes that keyword research is always going to be essential. Rand Fishkin, Moz’s co-founder, commented that he agrees keyword usage still matters a lot, he doesn’t recommend using topics only and ignoring keywords.

How to use keyword research AND search intent together

First and foremost, I’ve always recommended writing real content for real users. Because I think that’s where you’ll see the biggest impact. But I do think it can be useful to get your head around SEO strategies and understand the role that keywords play in your content.

I mentioned that keywords are evolving and we need to think bigger picture. Search intent should play a large factor in your keyword research process.

The main goal of a search engine like Google is to provide their users with an answer. They are focused on whether or not our content matches the intent of the user.

Use what you learn from keyword research and search intent to plan and structure your content, so it can appear correctly in the search results or Google’s Rich Results.

Over to you, let me know your thoughts on this. Do you think about intent when it comes to SEO?

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