Are Keywords Important?

Are Keywords Important?

Towards the end of 2015, Google released an internal document explaining how they decide if keyword searches are returning the right results. (Available here)

The big focus for marketers is that Google is starting to interpret user intent from user searches –  e.g. a user searches Google because they intend to buy shoes. As Google learns more about how users search, they are becoming less interested in the keywords themselves and more interested in fulfilling the intent behind the search.

Summary: How to Market for User Intent

  • Always add location and language information to your site when relevant
  • Before making a landing page, ask what user intent it fulfils. Is it answering a knowledge question, or enabling a user to do something?
  • What would users search for when they’re trying to complete these tasks?  Does it fulfil these tasks?
  • When analysing user searches, group your keywords by what a user was looking for. (We group by Product, then specifics such as “Reviews”, “Related Products”, “VS another Product”, etc.)

And the Background of how Google Changed

Google’s priority is and has always been matching up what a user was trying to do with the results they find.  What do people type (or speak) into Google when they want to find a local restaurant, buy shoes, or find out a Shakespeare quote?

Informing User Intent – Location & Language Information

Google need as much information as possible to understand a search. When a user searches for a query, there is background information that is added to the user’s keywords, such as the user’s location and the user’s language. This information is accepted unless it’s explicitly stated in the search.

A user looking for a Smart TVs might only type in the keywords “Smart TV”, but it would return different results in the following three situations:

  1. User Search: “Smart TV”  –  User Language: “English”
    Displays results for English websites selling Smart TVs
  2. User Search: “Smart TV”  –  User Language: “Chinese”
    Displays results for Chinese websites selling Smart TVs
  3. User Search “Smart TV English” –  User Language: “Chinese”
    Displays results for English Websites selling Smart TVs

A marketer with an website written in Chinese and English should ensure that their Chinese website has a special type of link to their English website, and vice versa, as well as checking that Google knows what language your website is written in.

These special links are called hreflang attributes and inform Google that you have two pages of the same content, but written in separate languages so that it can be served to more relevant audiences. They look like this

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es" href="" />
Which says "There is an alternate version of this page. The language code of the alternate page is ES, which is Spanish. It's located at"

A marketer with a physical location should also be aware that even if users aren’t including a location in their search, they should check that their Google Business Listing lists their correct location. This information is included by Google, and you need it to rank in local search.

Categorising User Intent
This is the first question a marketer should ask before creating landing pages, deciding on title tags, etc. – how do I fit into something a user wants to do?

These are the different forms of intent that Google thinks about:

  • Know Queries 
    A user wants to know something. This can be a Know Simple query, which has a quick answer. e.g “How old is Taylor Swift?”
  •  Do Queries
    A user wants to do something, such as buy a cd, email a friend, etc. Can be Device Do Queries, which are Do Queries  on one’s phone, etc.
  • Website Queries
    A user wants to find a particular website.
  • Visit-In-Person Queries
    A user wants to find a nearby location so they can go there.

In 2009 Search Engines became interested in Intent
WAY back in 2009, Google started using user intent as a part of Search Ranking. If you click on a link, but then decide it’s not what you want, you probably click back and find another link. This is called a Short Click.
If you click, find what you look for, and don’t come back, that is a Long Click.

This was very, very basic understanding of user intent. Google in 2009 didn’t understand what the user intended to do, but it did understand when users got what they wanted and when they didn’t. When a search lived up to the user intent, whatever that was, Google boosted their rank.

For a marketer, if you rank for irrelevant keywords, and users don’t find what they need, your Google PageRank goes down. 

When you optimise your pages, you need to optimise for both user experience and user search. If user intent isn’t being fulfilled because you’re ranking for the wrong keywords, you experience a drop in rank. Similarly, if users are finding your website helpful, you can experience a rank boost.

In 2014, Google started using Semantic Search, or modifying search results according to what other users are likely to be looking for. They began adding content to the search related to the search you were performing.


This added content was the category the search fell into. Google knows that if you’re searching about Smart TVs you might be searching about the product, but you might also be interested in companies that produce them, or just news articles about Smart TVs. Keyword terms that are relevant to this category were included, because Google understands when terms are similar, even if it doesn’t understand why.

Summary: If your content is relevant to the search category/intent, even if it doesn’t include the exact keyword, it can still rank well.

Start With User Intent

Then think about the type of queries users are searching and the keywords that build them up.

Is their search a Do Query, a Know Query, or a Location Query?

  • Identify what type of questions they’re asking – which one of these queries can you answer, and is beneficial for your business to answer?
  • Build content that answers those questions and completes a user’s task.

Keywords are still useful for analysis, and for grouping together user queries after you’ve posted content. But since 2009, they are no longer the most useful part of your content strategy. It’s time to get up to date.

If you’re looking to review your content strategy, develop your search presence, or analyse website performance, get in touch with Lissa at

Chris Adams