Do Keywords Still Matter For SEO?

SEO writing involves creating content optimized for search engines.

This means integrating relevant keywords naturally into your content, using proper headings and subheadings, and ensuring the content is well-structured and easy to read.

Content optimization is crucial for improving your position in the search based on content’s relevance.

Your content will be show up in organic search results if you provide relevant information, unique insights, and topically related keywords.

If you’re curious about how much keywords matter in SEO, this article delves into 5 essential reasons to use them.

What you will learn

  • Is keyword optimization still effective in SEO
  • How search engines understand the meaning behind queries 
  • Why you should match content with search intent
  • When are keywords less important

Are keywords still important for SEO?

Yes, keywords still matter in SEO.

Search engines analyze keywords to understand the query and its meaning. However, Google continuously evolves to understand human language considering its context instead of individual words.

When Google introduced the BERT model, its algorithms made a huge leap in the contextual understanding of queries.

BERT allows search engines to understand the full context of a word by looking at the words surrounding it, improving the interpretation of complex queries.

The introduction of BERT represented a significant advancement in Natural Language Processing (NLP), allowing search engines to better understand the context, nuances, and relationships between words.

These improvements allow Google to understand more than just keywords.

However, keywords still indicate the meaning of your content and its topical relevance. It helps search engines understand and contextualize your content, resulting in higher rankings in search. 

5 reasons why keywords remain relevant for SEO

Keywords help users and search engines communicate which is crucial for displaying relevant search results.

Here are other significant reasons why keywords are important for SEO:

1. Aid search engine understanding

Keywords are essential for search engines to understand the meaning of search queries. Semantic search allows Google to understand the context, intent, and relationships between words to provide the most accurate search results.

This is possible because NLP technologies help Google determine the context and nuances of keywords.

For example, it can distinguish between "Apple" the company, and "apple" the fruit based on the surrounding words.

Keywords help search engines determine the relevance of content to specific search queries by acting as signals that match the phrase with available information. 

When a user enters a search query, search engines look for web pages containing the same or similar keywords. Then they analyze the context, related terms, and user intent to provide content most relevant to a user query. 

What does incorporating keywords to enhance relevance look like?

First, you need to conduct keyword research. It will allow you to find the right keywords for the page you want to optimize.

A good way to start is to analyze the search engine results page (SERP) for the main keyword and investigate your competition's pages to uncover what your target audience might be interested in.

You can also use keyword research tools like Surfer and Google Keyword Planner to launch a keyword strategy.  

Let's use an example to help illustrate how to add relevant keywords to your page. If you have a page about the "best hiking trails in California," you need to add keywords related to this topic.

These keywords can include synonymous terms such as “California hiking spots”, "top trails in California" or other short-tail keywords like "hiking trails" or "scenic hikes."

You may also add long-tail keywords such as “family-friendly hikes in California” or “best time to hike in California.”

These keywords usually have low search volume, meaning they are less competitive and easier to rank for.

A tool like Surfer's Content Editor can help ensure that your content includes these keywords by suggesting which keywords to use and how often.

Here's an example of keywords for "best hiking trails in California."

2. Keywords help improve page rankings

Strategically placing keywords on your page ensures that search engines can quickly identify the page's subject matter.

This allows search engines to evaluate your content's relevance so it can be displayed for related queries.

Add keywords into 4 strategic places on your page to show your content is related to the query.

These places include the page title, headings, URL, and body content, which signal the relevance of your page and help it rank higher in search engines. 

For example, if the topic of your article is “What are soft skills?”, you should include your target keyword “soft skills” in the most strategic places.

This best describes the topic of your blog post.

Another place to incorporate keywords is the anchor text for outbound links.

Keyword-rich anchor text provides context, making it clear to users and search engines how the linked content relates to the current page.

As a result, added keywords boost the credibility and authority of the linked page in the eyes of search engines.

Remember not to stuff keywords and choose natural keyword placement to avoid too much keyword density.

This will prevent keyword stuffing penalties, and your content will be deemed more user-friendly.

3. Meta keywords increase CTR

Meta descriptions provide a snippet of your content to users who browse the SERPs.

Including keywords in meta descriptions makes search snippets more appealing to users and increases CTR (click-through rate). 

Optimizing meta tags with relevant keywords gives a competitive edge in the SERPs.

Competitors who do not optimize their meta descriptions may appear less relevant or appealing, even if their content is similar or of equal quality.

Effective meta-tag optimization can help a webpage stand out among search results, potentially increasing traffic.

Adding target keywords to your meta descriptions can also help you stand out in another way.

Search engines often bold the relevant keywords in meta descriptions, making them more visible and attracting more clicks.

Here is an example of a meta description for a page about what bonds are.

As you can see, the definition of a bond is highlighted, as it contains terms related to the article's topic.

Such a meta description lets users quickly see if the page answers their question so they can click and learn more. 

4. Keywords help match search intent

Keyword optimization allows relevant content to be displayed for queries even if users don't type the exact keyword phrases into the search bar.

This is because Google analyzes search intent, which indicates why users type in a certain query.

For example, if someone searches for "affordable designer bags", the SERP will display product roundups of affordable bag options.

The search results also show users where to purchase a product in an outlet or for a discounted price.

As well as Youtube videos and forums like Reddit.

This shows that Google knows that users searching for affordable bags are women who may be in different stages of their buying journey.

Matching keyword search intent with your pages is crucial because it ensures your content can reach the target audience.

This allows you to make informed decisions about content format and topic.

For example, you wouldn't create an informational article about "white basketball shoes" because it has commercial intent.

Analyzing keywords helps identify what users are searching for, allowing you to create relevant content that directly addresses their needs and questions.

When your content provides answers and solutions users seek, it aligns with keyword intent, making it easier to rank in search.

5. Keywords track search performance

Keywords allow you to track your rankings by monitoring which phrases your content ranks for.

With regular tracking, you can assess the effectiveness of your SEO strategies and identify the areas for improvement.

For example, you can use SEO tools to track keyword ranking over time. They monitor the position of your page in SERPs for target locations.

Monitoring your pages’ position for specific keywords helps determine which keywords drive the most organic traffic to your website, providing insights into user behavior and preferences.

You can use Surfer to track your keywords to understand which topics resonate with your target audience, and tailor your content to meet their needs.

Monitoring keyword performance also enables you to compare your rankings with competitors.

Identifying areas where competitors are outranking you can highlight opportunities to optimize your content and SEO strategies to improve rankings.

Tracking the performance of keywords can help measure the conversion rates associated with those keywords, allowing you to focus on high-converting search terms to maximize ROI. 

For example, you can set up conversion tracking to monitor the number of visitors who purchase from a specific keyword.

Lastly, tracking keywords can also help uncover emerging trends and new keyword opportunities that can enhance your content strategy.

Staying ahead of trends allows you to capture more search traffic by addressing topics before they become saturated with competition.

2 examples of when keywords are less important

While keywords are undoubtedly important to show the relevance of your pages, there are instances where you should focus on other aspects when publishing content.

Here are two instances when keywords may not be as important for SEO.

News and trending content

News and trending content may not benefit a lot from adding specific keywords, because they rely more on time relevance and immediacy.

Algorithms responsible for displaying content in Google News or Google Discover focus on freshness and accuracy.

If you publish relevant, timely content you can drive significant traffic through these sources.

This involves creating compelling, visually appealing content with catchy headlines. Viral content should also facilitate sharing, so add social buttons and a call to action.

Social media plays a critical role in improving the popularity of your trending content. This means you should share the content across all your social media channels as soon as you publish it.

This is an example of a social media post by BBC News. On X, it got over 100k views in just a couple of hours, which could drive considerable traffic to the article on the BBC website.

Updates and releases

Information about updates and new releases is short-lived, and attempting to rank such content in search engines isn’t the best use of your efforts.

The goal of sharing this information is to communicate progress or changes. 

The best channels to achieve it include email newsletters, push notifications, or social media announcements.

This way you can direct substantial traffic to updates and releases, without relying heavily on keywords.

For example, Userpilot leveraged social media and email newsletters to announce the product launch of Userpilot Analytics.

They emailed about the launch date and invited subscribers to a webinar. The webinar snippets were also published on YouTube and LinkedIn.

Key takeaways

  • Keywords are essential for SEO, helping search engines understand and rank content accurately.
  • Search engines use keywords to interpret the meaning behind user queries through advanced NLP technologies.
  • Incorporating keywords in the page title, headings, URLs and body content signals to search engines the content is relevant to the topic.
  • Using keywords in meta descriptions makes search snippets more noticeable, increasing click-through rates.
  • Keywords help align content with user search intent, ensuring it meets user needs effectively.
  • Monitoring keywords allows for evaluating SEO strategy, offering insights for continuous improvement. 


Keywords still matter in SEO, helping search engines understand and rank content accurately.

Even with advanced technologies like Google's BERT improving query interpretation, keywords remain important for indicating relevance and aligning with search intent.

By effectively using keywords, optimizing meta descriptions, and monitoring performance you can make your way to the first page of Google. As a result, you will enhance search visibility, drive traffic, and achieve better engagement and conversion rates.

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Screenshot of Surfer SEO Content Editor interface, displaying the 'Essential Content Marketing Metrics' article with a content score of 82/100. The editor highlights sections like 'Key Takeaways' and offers SEO suggestions for terms such as 'content marketing metrics