Rethinking our Relationship with Keyword Research

Search engines define the internet and as an online marketer, content creator or SEO expert, you know better than anyone how vital our relationship with keywords and proper optimization truly is.

Search engines actually predate the Internet, but in the mid 90s their prevalence and relevance to marketing campaigns turned these purveyors of digital treasure hunting into tools of great importance and the value placed upon them has only grown over the past two decades.

If you’re reading this article you’re probably already aware of the role played by keywords in the discovery and promotion of content, their application to sales, and the explosive capabilities of a properly SEO optimized site.

Keywords help Google to identify the nature of a given piece of content and to analyze it for its relevance to a given search term. The idea being that your own optimized copy will fit Google’s search criteria and appear high on their rankings – directing the searcher to your site instead of someone else’s.

But Google is always learning new and impressive tricks. It evolves with the times; innovating and adapting to trends in technology, convenience and demographics. Keywords have always been relevant, and I’m not saying that they no longer are, but perhaps it’s time to start thinking more about other things as well.


Let’s re-examine our relationship with keywords


Above and beyond the competition, the Internet’s resident overlord – Google – rests comfortably atop its golden throne as the most powerful search engine ever. Playing the Google game for some companies is a bit like playing blackjack. For most, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but if you’re really good at math you can know the cards and win time and time again.

As with casinos, Google’s digital bouncers aren’t always kind to those who play the system with such an advantage. The search engine heavyweight is constantly updating its search algorithms, offering new features to its users, all the while quashing attempts by the likes of us to bend it to our will.

Unlike a casino, Google won’t take you out back behind the kitchen, but it could punish your site in other ways if it is found to be using what it considers to be an unfair advantage. This can occur in the form of lower rankings or even removal from search results entirely in the event of serious “black hat” practices.

The best of us can still prevail if we play it safe and don’t go overboard, but for how long?


Focusing on high quality content


You’ve no doubt heard it a thousand times, you may even be sick to death of i: content is king.

It goes without saying that you need to keep your content at a level of the utmost quality, relevance and usefulness. Nobody doubts this and you don’t need me to tell you this. But relevant content today requires the widest possible spread of semantically relevant keyword terms in order to garner the proper returns.

Keywords have long reigned as chief among tools implemented by online agencies, but selecting the proper keywords is becoming more and more difficult. According to, the total number of websites world wide is over 1.12 billion.

Nearly 20,000 new websites will have been created in the time it will take you to read this article.

What does this mean for us? It means competition. Lots of competition. Even among longer tail keywords. If someone has a question or a problem, you can rest assured that someone is attempting to fill that need with a new, search engine optimized article.

Thus, yours needs to be better, and thankfully Google is capable of determining when articles are clearly written for SERPs and which are written for readers.

I’m sure you can tell which one it prefers.

Targeting long tail keywords – the ages old bread and butter of content SEO – is still an effective practice. But the competition increases even here every single day.

These long tail keywords are taken by relevant businesses and turned into content with the sole purpose of ranking well, promoting products or building affiliate or other links. They become stuffed with a 3-8% keyword density, Google picks up on this, and penalizes the content for being too sales-oriented and not as user friendly.

Google likes pretty things.

SEO optimized content isn’t always as pretty as Google – or creative content writers – would prefer. But until now, that’s just how the proverbial cookie has crumbled.

For many content writers, the ability to write quality, informative and creative content over dry, boring, over-optimized content – literally written for robots – comes as a breath of fresh air.


Google can interpret complex search queries better than ever


With every major algorithm update – always in the form of a virtual Rubiks cube for SEO experts – Google better understands and targets incomplete and complex queries and delivers targeted search results to users accordingly.

In fact, the algorithm of the search engine has now been fed with so much information about entities, linguistics and grammar that the entered term “red wine from France” automatically composes to a complete question about: “Where can I buy red wine produced in France”

This would mean that text optimization no longer offers any significant difference between “French wine” and “wine from France” and more needs to be done to ensure that not only is this potentially devastating alteration recognized, but actually capitalized upon.

It’s also important to remember that each search engine language – in this case – is going to utilize different keywords, and making your content suitable across search engines is as important as ever.


You can read more about that here.


Freedom and comprehension of newer search queries


Google’s updates – that now recognize and differentiate between identical keywords and variations and related terms – are smarter and more acute than ever before. And by smarter, one could actually say that they’re rather creepy at times.

We’ve all been beset by the ads that follow us across sites, sneaking up on us on Facebook and somehow managing to skirt the detection of our adblocker plugins.

Google is scary smart, and it’s getting smarter every day. Early in 2016 Google’s Go-playing AI “GoAlpha” defeated Korean grandmaster Lee Sedol in 4 out of 5 games, ushering in an era of unprecedented AI advancement that foreshadows enormous changes in the future of technology and its impact on society.

I, for one, welcome our robot overlords.

With the latest search engine updates, such as mobile first indexing that focuses extremely heavily on mobile compatibility and preparation for future and bleeding edge tech, the pressure to create content that is primarily user friendly, rather than AI friendly, has never been greater.

Google’s AI now relates to people, knows what people want, and tries to deliver content for people more effectively than ever before.

For us, this development means that we have to rethink the tools we use as well as our approach when it comes to online content optimization. Keyword analysis is the systematic production of related semantic fields and will increasingly form the basis for text optimization in the future.

In this respect, the development of the search engines offers enormous potential: the less we have to stick to a pre-defined keyword density and exact keyword formulations, the more space we have to write well researched, creatively written online texts; texts that are not only discoverable by users, but also likely to be read and ultimately convert.

Not to mention, as a writer you’ll enjoy having more flexibility creating content that isn’t stuffed into an uncomfortable, ugly form.

This quality is more likely to push lead generation, establish writers as thought leaders in their industries and possibly even improve a content creator’s productivity.

When creativity is allowed to flow without as many restrictions and time consuming keyword research processes, our artistic sides are allowed to take over and create the articles and other content that our clients and their readers  really want.



Just to be clear – I am not advocating that you up and abandon your keyword research immediately or entirely. Keyword research is still essential and will likely remain so for a while longer.

A skilled SEO writer needs to stay ahead of Google’s game, though. And in order to do this you need to play Google like a blackjack card counter. That’s not to say that you should cheat – counting cards isn’t cheating, after all, it’s simply playing smart – but Google wants content that pleases its users. It wants content that provides answers, solves problems, enlightens, enlivens and improves the user experience.

If you’re going to stay on top of this ever-evolving system you need to rethink just how much emphasis you place on your keywords and how improving the quality and style of your writing could matter far, far more as time passes and AI improves.

Hopefully for the betterment of us all.

Apex Editor of Languages Around the Globe, English language mercenary, teller of tall tales, accidental expat, serial dork, social media monkey and solutions fabricator at All typos are my own.

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Brian Powers

Apex Editor of Languages Around the Globe, English language mercenary, teller of tall tales, accidental expat, serial dork, social media monkey and solutions fabricator at All typos are my own.