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Keywords Are Not Dead

monty python parrot keywords not deadMany online marketers have been claiming for the past few months that keywords are no longer something that you need to pay attention to on the search engine optimization (SEO) front. According to them, keyword density – the word percentage of an article or blog post taken up by your targeted keywords – is no longer a factor.

The main support for this claim is that search engines are now penalizing websites for the SEO tactic of keyword stuffing. However, just because keyword stuffing is against the rules does not mean that the concept of keywords suddenly ceases to be.

Some History: Keyword Density

In the primitive days of search engines that reigned 5 – 10 years ago, it was known that the content of a webpage – the words in an article – should be used to determine what the article was about. From there, it could be figured out which search queries would see that article as relevant and important. But having an algorithm look at words on a page and understand what they were talking about was far from simple.

One of the first solutions was for the algorithm to simply count the relative density of certain words and phrases in a post. For example, if you write a 500-word blog post and use the phrase “San Diego personal injury attorney” 50 times, the algorithm would rank your post higher than your competitor’s, which only used the same phrase 45 times in 500 words (if all the other SEO factors were equal, of course).

Naturally, this led to the practice of keyword stuffing, which sacrificed readability and even the normal rules of English to increase a page’s keyword density and, therefore, its ranking. Search engines, however, caught on.

Google Panda Penalizes Keyword Stuffing

Google led the way by penalizing websites and posts that have a suspiciously high keyword density. The algorithm tweak that led to this change was codenamed Panda, and rolled out in February, 2011.

The result was significant. All of the sites that were stuffing keywords plummeted in the rankings and were replaced at the top with those that wrote content in plain English for non-algorithm readers.

Response: Keywords are Dead!

The response to Google Panda from online marketers was utterly without nuance: Keywords are dead. There’s no reason to even think about keywords, anymore. Don’t bother researching them.

Unfortunately, this response is completely overblown. The reality is far more nuanced. Just because you shouldn’t be stuffing keywords into legal blogs or your landing pages at every possible opportunity doesn’t mean that you should never think about them. Instead, keywords are still effective tools to mark your status in the rankings and to keep in mind as you plan and write the content that will appear on your law firm’s site.

Additionally, paying attention to keyword density is still important. In fact, it might be even more important, now that having a suspiciously high keyword density could get your site slapped with a penalty.

Conclusion: Keywords are Just Different

In conclusion, keywords aren’t dead. They’re still alive and well, but in a different role in online marketing. Just because they’ve changed does not mean that keywords passed on, to meet the choir invisible. They’re just resting. The claim that they’re dead is, frankly, stunning.