If you’re a HubSpot user who regularly plays (or I should say “played”) around with the keywords tool, you might have noticed something—namely, that the tool is now gone. Long-time HubSpot users have probably seen the update emails warning them that this change was coming. In fact, in the weeks leading up to the removal of the tool, HubSpot stopped tracking keywords in their blog post editor.
This may lead many to ask: Are keywords dead?
Why Did HubSpot Remove the Keywords Tool?
For me, personally, the keywords tool has been a core part of how I’ve interacted with HubSpot since I first started using the platform back in mid-2013. The tool would help me track how well my clients were ranking for certain key terms, whether they were rising in the ranks or falling, how much competition there was for each term, and how many monthly searches there were for each term.
Using this information, I would tweak the content of the posts and web pages I’d write for clients to try and improve their rankings for specific industry terms that were strongly related to their core business. It was highly useful for helping produce results for clients. So, why would HubSpot remove this tool?
Because things change.
As HubSpot says in an article regarding their decision to sunset the keywords tool: “today, search is about much more than just keywords. As marketing continues to evolve the rise of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and conversational search mean that the same keyword-centric formula we used years ago no longer works.”
Specifically, HubSpot is referring to Google’s algorithm updates, saying that “Because of the improvements of Hummingbird and RankBrain, Google has a good understanding of the intent of your search.”
In a way, this is a natural evolution of Google’s search engine service. In the early days, the engine relied almost purely on backlinks and frequency of keywords to find appropriate websites for users. However, people started abusing these algorithms, and Google had to make changes to ensure that their users were brought to the content they wanted and needed, not to useless content that somebody had stuffed with keywords to bait the unsuspecting.
Years of algorithm updates have slowly but steadily changed the nature of Google’s search engine, and even the way that people interact with it. Many of these updates sought to punish those who would abuse previous versions of the engine, while others were designed to make Google search more useful to users by highlighting in-depth, useful web content.
So, Are Keywords Dead, Then?
Yes and no. While individual keywords might lose their emphasis in content moving forward, you may still want to keep a few key terms in mind when you create your content—just not to milk those KWs for everything they’re worth, mind you. Instead, the purpose of a keyword is to help you align your content with the intentions of someone who comes to your website using a search query containing that keyword.
I’m going to borrow a line from Jacob Baadsgaard’s article on Searchengineland.com:
“Good keyword research, however, isn’t just about search volume, competition level, suggested bids or any of the other metrics you see in a keyword research tool like Google’s keyword planner.
While all of these metrics are helpful, the most important trait of any keyword is the intent behind it.”
The thing with keywords has always been that it’s incredibly easy to think too much about things like monthly search volume, competition, difficulty, and other keyword metrics and forget why someone would use a particular key term in the first place.
Forgetting the intent behind a keyword’s use is kind of like putting the cart before the horse. Yes, you would have gotten a person to visit your website by using the right keywords in your content, but if their intent doesn’t line up with your content, they aren’t going to be interested in your content.
So, when you create content, it may prove useful to focus on what it is that your company does to help its customers and the challenges your customers routinely face, then create content that addresses these challenges or how you can help. In fact, HubSpot has added a new topic cluster tool that can help you do just that!
As time goes on, Google and the other search engines will only continue to refine their algorithms to try to make themselves more helpful—and more attractive—to users. Rather than relying on a particular keyword strategy or other short-term ideas for leveraging the latest algorithm update, it might be a better idea to think about how you can make your content better and more valuable to users with a specific search intent first, then worry about the specific terms you use later.
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