Keywords are the subject of discussion for all times. In the early days of SEO, it was almost impossible to imagine the process of website optimization without stuffing the content with a range of keywords connected to the topic. It made search engines develop algorithms preventing such pages from ranking high. So, from that moment SEO experts should have become extremely careful when using keywords. Of course, people can’t live without drama: you can find various articles saying keyword stuffing will ruin your strategy, and so on. Perhaps, you’ll get surprised if I tell you that repetitive use of similar keywords doesn’t mean Google will penalize you. If you want to know why I think so and discover how proper keyword research can help you improve your rankings and understand your audience, this post is for you. Why you should NOT rely on keywords only Well, it would be dishonest to say you should build your SEO strategy around keywords. You should remember that although keywords are useful, they aren’t a panacea. I’ve circled out several reasons you should rely on keywords only. There are much more ranking factors which matter Although some experts claim we can’t know exactly how many ranking factors there are, Google’s John Mueller in his twitter reply mentioned there are over 200 factors. I consider this data trustworthy enough. So, if keywords are only one of more than 200 ranking signals, then even the perfectly selected keyword pool won’t result in high positions without other factors being optimized. Not to be speculative, let me list the most important factors confirmed by webmasters: HTTPS Site speed Mobile version of your site Title tags Trustworthiness Links Domain authority User experience Geolocation It’s easy to overdo When it comes to keywords, it’s easy to overuse them. It’s a common mistake for newbies who want to hit the market and rank for all the possible queries. They would include these phrases into the content not relevant to the topic, repeat keywords as densely as possible, etc. Here’s Google’s example of keyword stuffing: Such things usually cause search robots to define your content as a spammy one, and you’ll simply get penalized. If you aren’t sure you can find the right balance, better don’t implement keywords at all. It may result in a poor user experience What do you think when you read an abstract such as I’ve mentioned above? I guess, nothing good. When I read about some companies, I want to find out what profit they’ll bring me. Here’s an abstract from the ‘About’ section of one software development company: Well, the only thing I remembered from this abstract is that they provide software development services. And they repeated it several times. What’s the most important is that the site is on the second page of search results for ‘software development query.’ So, why spending the time of your customers if such a method doesn’t bring any positive result? When overused, keywords may make users consider your content useless and leave your website. If they do, your bounce rate will increase (which is more than I can say about your rankings). Still, don’t take it so seriously On the other hand, repetitive keyword use doesn’t always result in poor rankings. Here’s an article I’ve found on the first page for ‘content marketing guide’ query: Although ‘content’ and ‘marketing’ words are used here way too often, the content isn’t penalized and obviously doesn’t cause poor user experience. Why? Because it’s much more important to provide useful information (which is actually presented in the text) than to worry about keywords usage. So, if you create engaging content, don’t struggle to reword repetitive phrases. The value of your content may make search engines ignore keyword stuffing. Why you SHOULD consider keyword research We’ve discovered keywords aren’t so bad as they’re told to be. Moreover, you’ll benefit a lot if you conduct proper keyword research. You can select queries with a reasonable competition Being a newbie and trying to rank for such high-volume keywords as ‘Christmas presents,’ ‘flower delivery,’ or ‘weather’ isn’t the right tactics at all. First of all, such general queries don’t result in a higher conversion rate. Moreover, there are already tones of results for these keywords, so why creating just one more page without any chance to hit the top? As general keywords are so widely used that the level of competition is just too high for a new website, what should be your action plan? Use SEO tools which provide you with keyword difficulty data. Platforms, such as Ahrefs and Moz will help you select the right query. Once you’ve come up with a keyword you’d like to rank for, check it with Moz. Enter it into the search field, and you’ll see its overview: If the difficulty level is higher than 50, keep on with your research. It lets you understand your competition Before selecting the queries you want your page to rank for, it’s essential to investigate the existing competition. Not knowing who already takes the first page of search results, there are little chances you’ll hit this page. When you’ve come up with the main keyword for your content, check which websites will be your main competitors. Serpstat can help you cope with this task. Enter a word or a phrase you’ve chosen into the search field, and go to SEO Research > Top Pages. You’ll see the list of pages already ranking for this query. If you select ‘seo mistakes’ keyword, then you’ll see such a result: Firstly, you can click on the arrow on the left of the link you want to check, and you’ll come to the page itself. Knowing what kind of content already ranks high for your query, you’ll come up with ideas on how you could develop this content to overtake it. Secondly, click on one of the pages’ URL, and you’ll see the dashboard with the list of keywords this page ranks for. If you haven’t collected the keyword pool for your page, you can select those which are relevant to your content. But don’t hurry up. You don’t need all the words you see. As the practice of selecting long-tail keywords is known as the most effective one, apply filter ‘Number of words in a keyword’ and set the range between 3 and 10. It helps you find out what your audience is interested in When looking for the keywords which are right for you, you’ll better understand what kind of information your target audience usually searches for. Knowing it, you’ll discover new ideas for your content and come up with the questions you should answer on your page. Go to Answer The Public for more ideas. Enter your target keyword, and wait until the result is ready. The service will provide you with all the popular questions people may have on your subject: You help search engines understand your content is relevant to the query When investigating the topic, you can find related words you should use in your text to help search engines better understand what your content is about. How does it work? The thing is that Google considers not only your main keywords when deciding on how to rank your page but also the whole context. If you talk about basketball, the words related to the topic will be ‘NBA,’ ‘hoop,’ etc. That’s why if you search for ‘car price,’ the search results will also include ‘used cars for sale,’ ‘buy cars online,’ and so on. The first step to discover these words is brainstorm. Write down the associations you come up with when thinking about your topic. Next, search for your main keywords, and scroll the page with the search results to the bottom. You’ll see the queries related to your one. Select the words in bold to add them to your text: To enlarge your list, use Ahrefs or Serpstat. Enter your keyword and go to ‘Also rank for’ section. Select the words which make sense for you. Summary So, should we bother keywords? Yes. Should we rely on them only? No. Although keywords importance for your rankings decreased significantly in the last years, proper keyword research still matters a lot. Investigating search questions, competitors keywords, and related words, you increase the chances for your website to rank for relevant queries and engage your target audience.