Keyword Research  |  Keyword Analysis  |  Search Engine Optimization

The End of Google's Content Keywords (& What it Says About SEO in 2017)

Iris Hearn

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The End of Google's Content Keywords (& What it Says About SEO in 2017) Blog Feature

Published on December 12th, 2016

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Every digital marketer knows the importance of keywords in the success of their website.

So, it was a big surprise when John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, announced on the Webmaster Central blog that they’re pulling the plug on the Content Keywords feature in Search Console.

This news left Content Marketers with a lot of questions about what this decision means for their content strategy, SEO, and the value Google places on keywords when ranking websites, and who could blame them?

In order to properly adapt your keyword and SEO strategy moving forward, it’s important to understand what factors lead to this decision, and why implementing these changes will actually help you strengthen your website and make your content more relevant and engaging to your personas.

How Did Marketers Use Google’s Content Keywords?

Essentially, Content Keywords showed a list of the main keywords and phrases Google found when it crawled your website. This information allowed marketers to gauge the overall theme of their website and determine if it accurately highlighted keywords their persona would search for or find interesting.

In other words, an ideal report from the Content Keywords would provide a fairly accurate picture of what your website and brand is generally about.

A report like this would indicate that the site is detailed, descriptive, and is optimized for search engines. If the results are not representative of what your website is intended to be about, it’s a sign that it may lack the keyword-rich content that it needs to perform well in search engine results.

For example, let’s say your results came up with general, non-industry specific keywords (i.e. home, services, contact, etc). If this was not on-par with what you want your user to take away from your website (and I’m sure it isn’t), it indicates that you may need to drastically adapt your content marketing strategy or approach to search engine optimization (SEO).

Another key insight this tool also provided marketers with, was an easy way to determine if their website had been hacked. If your report had keywords that don’t belong, it was a good way to tell if the site had been compromised by a potential hacker.

Why Did Google Get Rid of Content Keywords?

So, if the tool allowed marketers to do all of these things, why is Google retiring it?

In short, it’s due to the fact that as digital marketing strategies and tools have become more advanced, Content Keywords has become outdated, both in terms of functionality and overall relevance to your digital marketing efforts.

User Confusion

Google’s John Mueller has stated that Content Keywords leads to confusion about what these keywords actually mean, and how they relate to how Google ranks pages in search results.

In a Google+ hangout this past May, Mueller stated that he “would like to turn [Content Keywords] off because it does confused people,” and cited that the main source of this confusion was that the feature “almost suggests that the more often you include the same keywords on your page, the more likely it will be relevant in the search results, and that’s definitely not the case.”

In other words, Content Keywords was making many marketers think keyword stuffing was the answer -- which is most definitely, is not.

Alternative Search Console Reports Exist

Another main reason Content Keywords was discontinued is that Google has released more advanced features over the years that take its place. These features provide a more in-depth and detailed view of site performance than Content Keywords alone, and give marketers a better idea of steps they can take to improve their site and search rank.

Search Analytics

Search Analytics, for example, provides marketers with a comprehensive view of a website's position on Google search results, and also includes data on how users find, view, and click your website page in the search engine.

This report also allows users to customize their results to determine specific information about site performance including:

  • Metrics: Users can choose to see specific metrics from how their website is performing on Google, including:
    • Clicks: Number of times a user clicked on webpage from Google
    • Impressions: Number of times a user was on a page where your website was listed in the search results.
    • Click Through Rate: Number of clicks divided by number of impressions. This is a good indicator of how strong or compelling your page title and meta description is to your persona.
    • Postion: The average position of the highest-ranking result from your website
  • Group Data:This allows users to see their data by different categories to further break-down factors affecting site performance, including:
    • Search Query: Shows a list of keywords visitors have searched that landed them on your website. This is helpful to adapt your keyword strategy, and identify keywords that get a lot of impressions, but not a lot of clicks.
    • Device: Shows what device visitors used when they made a search that lead them to your site. This can help marketers determine if their website needs more attention to the mobile and tablet user experience.
    • Page: Groups results by what individual page returned the most click throughs from the search engine.

Fetch and Render

This feature is similar to Content Keywords as it commands Google to crawl your site. However, unlike Content Keywords, it goes a step further by providing a report of how Googlebot views your site, including images, scripts, etc.

Fetch and Render also allows marketers to quickly identify any network or security issues within their website, and provides detailed insight into how Google sees your page compared to how a user would.

So, What Does this Mean for Content Marketers and SEO?

Just because Google is retiring the Content Keywords feature does not mean keywords are no longer important to Content Marketing.

They are still an essential element of a successful digital marketing strategy, but more needs to be considered for SEO and the user experience on your website.

In his announcement on the webmaster blog, Mueller stated: “The words on your pages, the keywords if you will, are still important for Google’s (and your users’) understanding of your pages. While our systems have gotten better, they can’t read your mind: be clear about what your site is about, and what you’d like to be found for.”

Google’s decision to retire Content Keywords and point users in the direction of more targeted, detailed tools is a sign that content marketing and SEO are evolving, with an emphasis on the user experience rather than search volume metrics alone.

Using other tools such as Search Analytics and Fetch and Render enables marketers to not only better understand their website, but their personas as well.

Moving forward, content marketers should focus on creating engaging, thought-provoking content that will appeal to their persona’s interests and concerns, and using Google’s more advanced tools to adapt and improve overtime.

This strategy will help them be where their audience is, even if it’s not the most searched.

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