3 Reasons Marketers Shouldn’t Mourn the Death of the Keyword

They should embrace a focus on intent instead

Marketers should learn to embrace the idea of keyword-agnostic content. Getty Images

Admittedly, the declaration that keywords are “dead” is meant to be melodramatic. Keywords, of course, are neither mortal, nor are they going anywhere. And to state that keywords are dead—no longer important for search marketing—isn’t the whole truth. Nevertheless, sweeping statements like “the death of the keyword is imminent” are important to consider as search marketing and advertising adjusts to changing consumer search behavior.

Over the last several years, Google’s focus on users has been the driving force behind a shift in content strategy, with search advertising following suit. The search engine has acknowledged its intent to “kill” keywords, primarily within the realm of its paid advertising platform.

The removal of exact-match keyword targeting and the rebrand of Google AdWords to Google Ads in 2018—literally stripping “Words” from the name—are evidence of this. Instead, Google is pushing advertisers and SEO practitioners to think more about the people and behaviors behind searches to deliver better results.

Because of this, marketers shouldn’t mourn the foretold death of the keyword. Instead, they should embrace a focus on intent, which will benefit the industry. Here are the three reasons taking the focus off keywords is actually something to be excited about and how to embrace the change:

1. Delivering a clearer understanding of intent

In many ways, relying on keywords to serve content and experiences is out of touch with modern technology and digital innovation. In the age of algorithms that can deliver personalized offers with only a few external inputs, working within the confines of a keyword list is limiting. Less reliance on individual keywords and more reliance on the context of a query means search engines and search advertisers will be able to look beyond a keyword’s implied intent to deliver content and experiences that more closely align with a searcher’s true need or goal.

Looking beyond a list of keywords will enable marketers to develop content that is both more flexible and more valuable to searchers. The now-defunct formula of “one keyword = one page” previously railroaded content creators into answering static questions without really considering the needs behind a search. Now, marketers can and should develop content that will solve for the intent behind many different keywords and phrases within a broader topic.

2. Enabling marketers to focus on the quality and depth of content

Focusing on the quality and depth of content will help marketers worry less about the terms and phrases they stitch into their website copy and enable them to think more about the questions that are answered and the needs that should be met along a searcher’s journey. Adding keywords for the sake of keywords is no longer necessary. Instead, the content that will triumph in 2019 and beyond will be able to answer the questions that marketers didn’t even know consumers had.

Unfortunately, there will be no magic formula for success when it comes to content development. Rather, content creators will need to make the best content they can, regardless of keywords used. Some best practices may remain, such as prioritizing the terms and phrases most used by consumers, but these optimizations will merely enable brands to speak the same language as the consumers they are trying to reach, rather than pander to the algorithm of a search engine. Searchers now expect that content will answer all their questions in one place and within a seamless, personalized experience.

3. Providing high-quality content to consumers, no matter how or where they search

In tandem with the death of the keyword, growing familiarity with voice and visual search will affect online behavior and the way digital experiences are built more than ever before. Marketers will need to prepare their search strategy for voice queries, which can have wildly different inputs than traditional keywords, and visual queries, where “keywords” are rendered as pixels that compose an image. In both cases, consumers will benefit from content that meets their needs, even if that content doesn’t feature keywords as they have been traditionally used.

Ultimately, marketers and advertisers shouldn’t fret the impending death of keywords. Rather, they should learn to embrace the idea of keyword-agnostic content. A clearer understanding of consumer intent can be yielded from keyword-less campaigns and content that is high quality and doesn’t rely on a limited set of words or phrases will inevitably be more valuable for searchers. In the content marketing revolution that is to come, it can be expected that depth and quality will triumph over jargon.

Heather Rist Murphy is vice president of performance content & social media at Nina Hal.