Is the death of keywords a rumor? Or is it real? In my opinion, the answer isn’t black and white, but more shades of gray. There a number of facets to keywords and even if we consider them all, the answer may not be all that cut and dry. Let’s have a look at some of these facets.

Ranking factor

Whether someone admits it or not, keywords are still the most crucial ranking factor. When we think of ranking, we think of ranking against keywords. If there are no keywords, there’s no ranking.

Those, who espouse the death of keywords should put this in perspective. One can only wonder how they pitch SEO services to their clients, because in the absence of keywords, ranking itself becomes impossible.

PPC campaigns

Can you think of running a PPC campaign without using keywords? You can’t. PPC is all about clicks and impressions, and none is possible unless keywords are used. In fact, brands literally fight with each other to get the top rank against competitive keywords and they are ready to shell out millions for this.

Those in favor of the “keywords are dead” speculation may argue that keywords are no longer important for organic results, but not for paid results. Would they be right in their view? Before we decide that, let’s look at the conclusion that follows:

Why the search box?

Users type queries in a search box, which means the search box has no functionality in the absence of keywords. Right? It appears so if by keyword, we mean anything used in a search query.

But some proponents of the “keywords are dead” theory clarified that by keywords they meant campaign keywords, not random search queries. Marketers charge their clients for selecting competitive queries and then do their best to bring client’s sites in top search engine ranking.

These marketers are of the opinion that search queries will continue to exist. The search box will continue to be relevant. Only, picking selective key-phrases and marketing around them may stop.

Are they right in holding this view?

Change in search pattern

The search pattern is changing. The need to broaden the space for natural language queries as opposed to the campaign keywords is the cause behind this change. Back in 2014, Google announced that it is improving its mobile apps by integrating them with a cutting edge version of conversational search.

In case you don’t know what conversational search is, it allows users to interact with the search engine. The feature has the icon of a microphone and it was first unveiled in 2013 Google I/O. The smart search feature pulls more information and it tries to understand the intent of a searcher by basing itself on semantic model of searching.

This is by far one of the most interesting developments of 2015. But the question remains how conversational search affects keywords. Conversational search puts voice search to use.

Voice search is interactive

The voice search feature reveals how smart Google has become. If you ask Google a specific question like “What is Barack Obama’s age, Google reveals how old the US president Mr. Barack Obama is. Then if you ask “How tall is he?” Google shows his height.

What’s interesting here is Google can relate “he” to Obama in the second search query. This indicates the search interface has become quite advanced and there’s plenty of scope for future innovations. Keyword-driven search is old-fashioned compared to this new and smart way of searching.

In my opinion, desktop computers are the bastion of keyword-based search. But if the report from Smart Insights is to be given any thought, then handheld devices are on their way to replace desktop devices. When that happens, suggesting campaign keywords to prospective clients may stop once and for all.

Traffic and conversion

Another angle to look at the whole thing is considering the new age SEO practices, which prioritize getting traffic and conversion, instead of ranking. B2B clients have wised up to understand a first page ranking alone does absolutely no good to their sites.

What they need is traffic and a decent conversion rate. Ranking is not necessary for any of these, especially in the handheld domain because app marketing, and visual marketing using social media, something that’s leveraged on the mobile platform can offset the need for a high Google ranking. If ranking is unnecessary, so are keywords.

The future of keywords

Maybe “Keywords are dead” is hyperbole, but as we’ve seen here, there’s some truth in it. In the future, developments in the handheld and associated technological segments will lower the importance of keywords further, if not kill them off.

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