How Much Do Keywords Really Matter?

I’ve been doing SEO (search engine optimization) for a little over ten years as my much-loved career of choice!! I spent the first seven-ish years on the agency side and the last 3+ at SheKnows Media where a portion of my time is spent working one-on-one with bloggers from within our network.

There are two things I remember from my first week at my first SEO job:

  1. My boss repeatedly said, “content is king”
  2. Having the right “SEO keywords” on the page = Success in Google

That first one seems to have stood the test of time. Although I don’t hear people actually say that phrase much anymore, most people I work with – both bloggers & our in-house Editorial teams – are aware that Google presses for high-quality content that is beneficial to the reader. If you want to be on the first page in Google, your content needs to stand out above the rest.

The emphasis on “SEO keywords” however, has evolved tons throughout the years and continues to be one of the least understood concepts about SEO. When I work with bloggers, more often than not one of their first questions involves the topic of keywords – “Where do the keywords need to be?”, “How much search volume is considered good?”, “How many times does the keyword have to be on the page to do well?”. At that point, I briefly walk them through a more modern-day SEO keyword methodology, which is what I want to share with you here today.

This is how I use keywords:

  • If you’re doing any sort of keyword research when deciding what to write about, use the search volume only as directional – terms with the highest search volume may indicate what people are most interested in, but in no way correlates to the traffic you would receive if you write the post.
  • The idea of keywords should be viewed more like topics instead of an exact term that needs to be inserted exactly in that way multiple times on the page – use variations of the keyword in the most natural way possible. 
  • Understanding your unique audience and what they are most interested in is key – you can gain this insight from looking at your site traffic. When looking at your organic traffic specifically, pages with high traffic are likely ranking in the search results. From that, you can get a good idea on what topics Google considers your blog an authority in. Understanding this will help guide you on what similar topics to write about.
  • Google does still rely on keywords within the post copy in order to tell what the page is about and rank accordingly. Referencing the keyword or topic throughout the post (come to my session to find out WHERE on the page is most important) is still essential in order for Google to classify your post most relevant to a user’s search query.
  • A lot of my strategy for organic search traffic growth at SheKnows comes from creating evergreen content around seasonal events and trending news. Using tools like Google Trends and Think with Google gives insights on what topics people are searching for in real time.

This is how I don’t use keywords:

  • I do not tell people that the exact match version (example: ‘best fitness blogs for moms’) of the highest volume term must appear one time for every hundred words – the idea of “keyword density” is a thing of the past. Google will even go so far as to penalize sites for over-optimization of content (aka keyword stuffing).
  • I don’t recommend writing posts on topics just because they have high search volume – content should also be relevant to the verticals or topics that you regularly cover on your blog.

So to answer the question, “do keywords still matter to SEO” – the answer is YES!! Just not in the way they mattered five or ten years ago. Google’s algorithm has come a long way in the last few years and is much more advanced than it once way.

Bonus: Using tools like Soovle & Answer the Public can give awesome insight into what topics people are searching for without incorporating the misleading search volume.

I’m beyond excited for BlogFest this July, hope to meet you all there!!! I will be covering the 5 most important on-page SEO elements for your blog posts as well as give you actionable insights on SEO tools & several content strategies I use to increase organic traffic. See you soon!! 

Lindsay Valdez is the Director of SEO & Syndication at SheKnows Media. She works with editorial teams as well as bloggers to ensure their content is best optimized for organic search. Lindsay lives in Phoenix, AZ with her husband and two small children. Favorite things include reading memoirs, traveling to places she’s never been & binge-watching the latest Netflix hit. She graduated from Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO.

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  1. Jamie King
    Jamie King

    Wow. This is awesome, I am SO excited for this talk at BlogFest, thank you so much for sharing!

  2. alysemb

    I am super excited for this, thanks Lindsay! SEO always feels like a big black box to me… I love actionable advice on it!

  3. Carleeh Mulholland

    I can not wait for this course at Blogfest, Lindsay! I have never really understood SEO keywords. I know you are gonna teach me so much, I learned a lot just from this post! Thanks sooo much, see you soon.
    Carleeh @healthysocialite

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