One of the first things you’ll need to do for any search engine optimization campaign is keyword research — at least, that’s what you’ll hear from most SEO experts. For the most part, I’m inclined to agree. Having the proper selection of target keywords can make a massive difference in the long-term success of your campaign.
However, the importance of keywords has been distorted in the SEO community over the years. As a result, some practitioners put keywords as their highest priority or focus almost exclusively on optimizing for keywords, at the expense of other elements of their campaign.
Is it possible to focus too much on keywords in your search engine strategy?
The short answer is yes. And if you have tunnel vision for keywords, it could actually do more harm than good.
Before we can dig into the problem with excessive focus on SEO keywords, we need to explain the purpose of keywords in the first place. What are keywords exactly, and why are they important?
If you’re like most people, you rely on Google for many searches a day. You type a word or phrase into the search bar and hit enter to see results. Essentially, you’re typing in a keyword or a keyword phrase.
This is important because it allows search optimizers a chance to deliberately target a specific audience. For example, do you own a hotdog stand? If so, it would be nice if your website ranked highly for terms like “hotdog” or “hotdog vendor near me.” Optimizing your website and your content for specific keywords can increase your likelihood of ranking highly for those terms – but the keyword landscape has changed over the years.
Early in Google’s history, it was possible for a website to practically guarantee rank one just by spamming the same keyword over and over on their website. Today, Google’s algorithms are much more sophisticated. They’re capable of detecting unnatural language use, keyword spam, and other black hat tactics. In addition, Google explicitly recommends against keyword stuffing, instead urging webmasters to write natural, high-quality content for their visitors.
Nevertheless, most optimizers at least do keyword research to help direct the campaign. It’s essential to figure out search volume to evaluate the popularity of various search phrases – and it’s crucial to analyze the competition, so you know which keywords will be most valuable to target.
The State of Modern Keywords
The value of researching and focusing on target keywords has eroded somewhat, for several reasons.
The Effects of Exclusively Focusing on SEO Keywords
If you focus too heavily on keywords in your strategy or if you don’t use keywords responsibly, you’ll be at risk of the following:
Should You Abandon the Keyword Approach?
So does that mean you should abandon keyword research and keyword optimization entirely?
Not at all. Keywords still serve several important functions, helping you understand the search behavior of your primary demographics, allowing you to analyze the search presence of your competition, and providing overall direction for your campaign. Also, long-tail keyword phrases aren’t nearly as competitive as their head keyword counterparts, allowing small businesses and those with small budgets to be more competitive.
Keywords also serve a vital role in the following areas:
And keywords are still relevant to your content (though your article shouldn’t shift entirely just to squeeze in specific terms).
Additionally, SEO is just one element of your overall digital marketing strategy. Your PPC ads, email marketing, social media marketing, and other investments will all play a role in determining your overall success.
SEO keywords aren’t what they used to be. You can’t rely on them to be the sole determining factor in whether your campaign is a success, and you certainly can’t stuff them into your website content and hope for the best. If you want to be successful with keywords and your SEO campaign overall, it’s essential to understand the modern context for keywords and temper your expectations.
Image Credit: George Morina; Pexels; Thank you!
Timothy Carter is the Chief Revenue Officer of the Seattle digital marketing agency SEO.co, DEV.co & PPC.co. He has spent more than 20 years in the world of SEO and digital marketing leading, building and scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and drive growth from websites and sales teams. When he's not working, Tim enjoys playing a few rounds of disc golf, running, and spending time with his wife and family on the beach — preferably in Hawaii with a cup of Kona coffee. Follow him on Twitter @TimothyCarter