Google’s shift to semantic search seemingly devalues the importance of keywords for organic rankings. Nowadays the meaning of the query matters, not the precise verbiage. Still, keywords remain critical.
I’ll address in this post the state of keywords in organic search.
Google employees routinely reiterate that keyword density is not a ranking factor. Google’s John Mueller addressed the issue in 2021 on Reddit when a user asked, “In your opinion, is keyword density still an SEO factor in 2021?”
Mueller’s response: “No.”
Yet keywords are important, especially exact matches. Keywords inform us of what consumers search for and help Google align web pages to searchers’ needs.
To be sure, the priority for any article or description is to engage humans, not search engines. But using exact-match keywords will help the page rank more predictably. So if organic traffic is important to your business, research relevant keywords and incorporate them in body copy, titles, and headings.
Years ago search optimizers believed the more keywords, the better. Thus seemingly every web page was full of unnatural words, phrases, and sentences.
Google in 2012 responded with an over-optimization penalty. We then knew too many keywords were bad, but we didn’t know how much was too much. Webmaster guidelines for Google and Bing now state that excessive, unnatural keywords — keyword stuffing — violate their policies.
In 2022, Google announced a “helpful content” algorithm update, shifting the focus from algorithm-driven content to human-friendly. John Mueller said last month that keyword density was not a signal in evaluating content and has been largely ignored for years. In 2017, he said there was no penalty for keyword stuffing, stating that Google ignores the part of the page stuffed with keywords.
Plus, in 2019 Search Engine Roundtable quoted Google’s Gary Illyes confirming there’s such thing as internal anchor text stuffing.
In short, poorly written and researched copy could cause lower rankings, not excessive keywords. Google seeks expertise-driven content from trusted sources.