Over the past couple weeks several clients have asked me if keywords are still relevant for search engine marketing (SEM).  Keyword research is a hot topic because of the recent Hummingbird update, along with Google’s decision to remove keyword data from Google Analytics.  So let’s address this question head on.  Are keywords going to be phased out of SEM?

The short answer is absolutely not…

The reality is that SEM, which includes search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine advertising (aka pay per click or PPC), was never just about keywords.  In fact, oftentimes poor performance and Google slaps can be traced back to marketers overly focusing on keywords, rather than the prospect typing those keywords into the search engine.

Read that last sentence again because it should clear up a lot of confusion.  Can you see the difference in focus?


Google Updates Are Like Performance Reviews

It would be ridiculous of me to say keywords are no longer important.  SEM starts with the keyword typed (or spoken) into the search engine.  No Google update is going to change that.  What has changed, is that Google is forcing marketers to step up their game.  I’ll explain what I mean by that in a minute.

You can think of every new update like a monthly marketing performance review.  If you’ve been following best practices, then you have nothing to worry about.  If you’ve been taking shortcuts (i.e. focusing on keywords rather than the intent behind those keywords), then you might be in trouble.


Keywords Without Context Are Worthless

The days of focusing on keywords in isolation, or out of context, should really be over.  To succeed in the SEM game, you have to dig deeper in your research to find the intent behind the search. What is your prospect really looking for when she types a particular keyword into Google?

Is your prospect looking for a product, a service, or information? What type of webpage would truly satisfy her and answer her questions?  What do you need on your webpage to convert her from a visitor into a lead or customer?  How can you differentiate yourself from the other businesses listed in the search results?


Keyword Research Is Market Research

Uh oh, keyword research isn’t just “keyword” research.  It’s actually market research. And it doesn’t make sense to say keyword research is going to be phased out of SEM.  It’s still, and always will be, the first step in any successful SEM campaign.

And to get started, I always recommend Google’s free Keyword Planner tool.  Use the tool like a thesaurus to find all the relevant keywords your prospects are typing into Google to find your products and services.  But don’t stop there!  Go one step further and determine the intent behind those keywords.  That will ensure that you’re focused on the most relevant keywords, and that your website has the best pages to satisfy your prospects.