AI and Why Keywords Still Matter

Businessman shows a brain in shield glass as concept

16 / August 2016,

AI and Why Keywords Still Matter

Nothing sends certain SEO webmasters into hysterics as quickly as discussions of artificial intelligence in search engines. Bing has used it since at least 2007, and Google RankBrain started working officially in 2015.

A common lament is that all the SEO strategies once employed are now for naught, as the machines are going to take away all that is good and holy for SEO Providers.

When you take a step back and look at what AI really means for internet content marketing, though, we must reach an inescapable conclusion: words still matter.Keyword Optimization, while not sufficient to ensure website success, remains a necessary component to any SEO strategy.

RankBrain Is a Signal

Google has identified RankBrain as its third most important signal in the Hummingbird algorithm. Calls of hogwash, poppycock, and other 19 th -century terms of derision have risen out, calling RankBrain a processing tool for the algorithm, and in itself the future of search engine decision making. This is to be expected; every major change to how search engines work creates an initial panic, followed by a more measured response. For purveyors of SEO Services,this feels different because it is not merely a new formula, but a new technology that Google has deployed.

Still, we have good reason to take Google at its word in defining RankBrain not only as a signal,but in fact not even the most important one. (It has not officially divulged the first two, so one can only speculate.) What RankBrain does is analyze user search behavior, across hundreds of millions of searches per day, to arrive at an understanding of what certain search strings are intended to find. Long tailed keyword phrases have long been a source of confusion for search engines, which may grab part of the phrase that leads to different results than the searcher meant to find. This tool runs through search results and selections on a scale no person, and no large team of people, could hope to review in a day. And in the end, it arrives at a meaning that generates more accurately than ever the set of results one would hope it to provide.

Seo target

All of this represents powerful technological processes that do impact the results we achieve in Google searches. The analytics work to define searches not based on exact wording, but on the concepts that underlie the learning. But after RankBrain defines this, Google still must sort out which websites should rank the highest responding to that meaning. Other signals from a website, measures of the quality of the content and relevance to the newly-parsed search, still impact the ultimate set of results.

Artificial Intelligence Needs Data

Analytics do not happen in a vacuum. Before RankBrain can arrive at the meaning behind a search string, it analyzes millions upon millions of different searches created and run. The words used in those searches, then, form the basis of every “decision” that RankBrain makes.Even when the process seeks out conceptual information, the results rely on the words employed in the first place. These serve as critical data points that the system then analyzes.

For SEO marketing purposes, this means that keyword phrases, the oft-maligned focus of decades of optimization efforts, still matter. Their context will matter more than ever as well, but research into the terms people use to search should continue to bear fruit in the form of higher search rankings and greater customer reach. You should focus on long tail keyword phrases, create variations on those phrases, and make sure they are relevant to your content and your business, but they should continue to represent valuable investments for your marketing efforts.

And all those caveats? Those are not new. Google has been striving for years to make everything that goes around the keywords more important, and the keywords themselves less so. While RankBrain represents another step forward, the seed from which page rankings grow will continue to be the keywords you apply and employ in your search optimization strategy. If you abandon that research now, you will find out the hard way that, RankBrain or no, Google still takes them into account.

Content, Content, Content

But if keywords only represent the seed, what helps it grow? As is the answer to almost every variation of any question of how to make internet marketing succeed, the answer is a focus on content. The context in which keywords operate to generate the highest search rankings will always be well-written, relevant, original content. Writing that does not emphasize what matters to you, or that drops keywords in ways that are not particularly important to the overall piece, will falter more than ever. On the other hand, bright, exciting prose that delivers on the promise your keywords imply will be rewarded.

SEO providers who have long relied on secret formulae rather than excellent content may find themselves in trouble. Google has worked for years at cutting through the clutter, closing loopholes in its algorithms, and connecting the right people to the right information. This latest step in the process, and the tweaks and developments it will doubtless continue to apply to both RankBrain and Hummingbird, should all push it further in that direction. Content Marketing will thus need to rely more than ever on the content itself. AI, for all its groundbreaking technology and analytic capability, serves essentially as one more tool employed to help the best content rise to the top.

If your SEO company has relied on formulaic content and keyword and backlinking games to generate results for you, it may no longer be the right SEO provider for your needs. Exciting,relevant content has always helped drive conversions better than gamesmanship has done. In today’s search world, it has become the best driver of traffic as well. Higher traffic and better conversions should serve as the unified goal of every SEO marketing campaign. To get both, you need to focus on the quality of what you provide. Your customers will appreciate it, and your bottom line will be better for it.