Context, Semantics and Search Intent – It’s All Keywords.

A month or so ago, I came across a post about keyword research, written by well-known digital marketing guru, Neil Patel. In short, the post talks about how you shouldn’t do keyword research anymore for your blog posts. Keyword research, the post posits, is useless at this point.

After all, keywords are all oversaturated, he says, using “content marketing” as an example. You’re never going to find a keyword that’s any good. If it’s long tail, it’s unintelligible and impossible to fit into a sentence naturally. If it’s short, there’s entirely too much competition – and powerful competition at that – to bother.

Now, I don’t mean to downplay the post. It has some great information in it. ­–And, he carefully says “for blogging.” However, as some of the comments mentioned, it makes the situation a little too simplistic.

Context, Semantics and Search Intent – It’s All Keywords.

The article, Why You Shouldn’t Do Keyword Research for Your Blog Posts (And What to Do Instead), talks about great content, and how quality content beats keywords every time. This is overstated and frankly, I have to strenuously disagree. I’ve read some fantastic articles that never made it to the front page – on some top blogs, I might add.

The article talks about context. It talks about semantics. It talks about search intent. I agree with all of that. BUT!

All of this is led by keywords. Summarily dismissing any kind of keyword research for blogging is, in my opinion, rather hasty. Not to mention that the other options are STILL – again, in my opinion – keyword research.

What is a Keyword?

If there’s one overall mistake I think we marketers make when writing information-based articles for people to learn from, it’s making things too simplistic. In the effort of giving you, the reader, bite-sized, helpful information, we tend to skip over some of the details. Not that those details are unimportant; there’s just a lot of them.

And that’s the problem. The details are important.

For example, the understanding of what a keyword, or key WORD, really is. In short, a key word is simply a word that matches what the user is looking for. In other words, yes, it all starts with user intent. However, when you’re looking for user intent, what are you looking for? Specific terms, or key words:

  • How to SEO my site
  • How can I SEO my site
  • How does SEO work
  • Where can I find an SEO professional
  • What does SEO mean
  • How much does SEO cost

In the examples above, we have the topic of SEO, but our key words – our keyword research for user intent – are the words bolded. This IS keyword research.

It also uses semantics, context and user intent.

Semantics and context is basically the same thing: words related to the topic that help the user (or search engine) figure out what the page is about. Looking at user intent helps us answer the need for the user, and let the user know we’re answering it.

Keywords Matter – Even in Blogging.

Several years ago, I wrote a post about meta descriptions, 10 Building Blocks of Great Meta Tags. The article was a response to someone who had posted that meta descriptions were useless pieces of flotsam, basically – no longer needed. Oddly enough, Neil’s article struck the same vibe.

After showing how pointless it is to try and target any keyword (using “content marketing,” a heavily saturated term, as an example), he says, “Stuffing keywords in your HTML tags and within your content isn’t what ranks you.”

Two – no, three – things about sentence.

  1. It implies that putting any keywords into title, meta description or content is “stuffing.”
  2. It implies that these terms have nothing to do with ranking.
  3. It leaves out the use of key terms to help potential visitors decide whether your page is worth visiting.

{Keyword}, {Keywording Keyword} is stuffing.

How to {Keyword} for Dummies, isn’t.

Both use a keyword in the title. You can call it the topic of your page. And if “how to SEO my site” puts a page further up or down the ranks than “how to do website optimization for my site,” (both cover user intent, context and semantics), then how do keywords have nothing to do with ranking?

Finally, and my biggest issue with all of it, is that keywords help the user – who is supposedly the most important part of this whole marketing gig – to understand the meaning of a page. We recently worked with a law group and found that, in certain areas, using the word “attorney” instead of “lawyer” actually increased the search volume and lowered the competition. Why? Because people were searching for one more than the other–and when you’re searching for a specific word, you tend to have tunnel vision. You search for “attorney” and, even when “lawyer” shows up, you’re more likely to click the page that says “attorney.”

Food for Thought

I could beat this into the ground, I’m sure. It’s a pet peeve of mine. I’ve seen people over and over again, in our industry, deny the use of keywords, as if they’re only useful if Google uses them. If that were so, they wouldn’t have been used in marketing before Google came around.

After reading this post, take a moment to peruse Google Image Search for old newspaper ads from the 19th century. You’ll see an ad proclaiming, “Don’t be bald!” Another says, “Dry goods! Dry goods sold here!” Yet another, and I kid you not, advertises “Cocaine toothache drops.” The first thing people see is the title – the big words in black.

The first thing people see before they hit your site is the search snippet – your title and description that Mr. Patel implies you shouldn’t use keywords in for your blog posts. My question is, if you don’t, how will potential visitors know what your great, contextually semantic content is about?

If your quality content isn’t getting the traffic it deserves, if you need help with your content marketing campaign, contact Level343. We’ve been bringing traffic to websites (and blogs) for over 10 years.

Today's Author

International SEO consultant is my title…but who cares about those? What I love is creating strategies that include marketing, social, SEO, relevance, ruffling feathers and starting revolutions. What you read on this blog will hopefully inspire you to continue the conversation. When I’m not multitasking around Level343 I sneak away and go sailing. I’m crazy about pistachios, and of course Nutella.


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