Keywords Are Dead – Research for Entities & Audiences #SMX #13C

This session at SMX West 2015 “looks at the shift away from the keyword-based world, with tips and strategies for both SEOs and SEMs for thriving in a concept-driven world.”

Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Land’s editor in chief, is this afternoon’s moderator. That says something about this topic’s significance to current trends in the search marketing industry.

Sullivan says that in the old days, we used to fire up the Overture keyword tool or the GoTo keyword tool and see all the words people were searching for. What’s the joke about the SEOs that walk into a bar? a pub? a watering hole?

As we know, the data given by a straightforward keyword tool isn’t enough today. You have to combine many approaches, getting to the audience and intent with different kinds of tools and data available to marketers today.

Keywords and SEO: The Changes

Kate Morris, Director of Client Strategies, Outspoken Media

Note: Her slide deck is available here, but is currently (8/19) marked private.

Kate Morris started in this world in PPC. It was keyword heaven. You knew exactly what everyone was doing all the time. Now, 100 percent on the organic side, the past three years have been so different, and the biggest thing has been the change to keywords and how to approach them. Here’s how to deal with them.

First, definitions. Keywords (query) and concepts (topic, info that you’re looking for).

For any one keyword there could be multiple concepts, and vice versa. The one keyword vs. lots of concepts is typically what we run into as an issue. For example, “au pair in Georgia” could be:

Keyword example

Search engines are moving from relying on just the query to using a number of data points to determine the best results. The query doesn’t tell the search engine everything. Geolocation, personalized search, this has been going on a long time. Now there are device types, schema — a lot more being fed into the big machine to get the best results.

SEO process then and now

The old process was very specific to keyword-specific things, and the problem with that today is that you can’t report on keywords. Keywords don’t translate to the bottom line. And the process has changed in a way that starts with site structure and optimization. The technical details are so important; SEO will never die because sites ban crawling or set up redirects wrong, have duplicate content, etc.

Has anyone in here been an in-house SEO for the same company for more than five years? One person in this room of 100 raises their hand. It’s very rare. Lots of people touch a project.

Change 1: Searcher Behavior

Mobile Internet Usage! So much higher than everything else. Facebook the app has a lot to do with that. Think of all the apps that connect to the Internet. That’s part of the volume of time spent on the Internet.

The question for SEOs is how many people are searching on mobile. Morris went looking for these numbers and couldn’t find them. She even asked a Google employee. So! She took a sample of data from her clients (14 sites) to get some kind of data.

Here’s the breakdown of her sources. Note that the B2B data is only two sites. The announcement a few days ago about Google using mobile friendliness as a ranking signal for mobile search shows that.

Google says that about 25% of queries have a Knowledge Graph result.

Change 2: SERPs

Longer results pages. She’s seeing search results pages with 100 organic results on the first page.

Mobile searching slide

Search engines are identifying if a searcher needs information or a service. Google will try to present both types of results.

For the query “buy a house” — it has a transactional word in it, but people aren’t buying houses online. 89 percent of first page results are info; 70 percent of top 10 results were serving purchase behavior.

Change 3: On-page Targeting

Who counts how many times a word shows up on a page?

Check out this list of multiple keyword versions:

Keyword slide

Morris took the top 10 terms in the slide above. Tweet at @katemorris if you want to see the full Excel sheet of data.

Result: Capital One. 10/10 Page 1 rankings. One keyword variation in title, three keyword variations on page.

Result: Bank of America Calculator: 10/10 Page 1 rankings. One keyword variation in title. Eight keyword variations on page.

Result: BofA product page: 3/10 rankings. Three keyword variations in title. Six keyword variations on page.

Result: Bank Rate article: 6/10. One kwd variation in title. Three variations on page.

There’s not a common trend. Conclusion: You still need to know keywords as a pro, but on-page keyword optimization isn’t as necessary.

Schema Markup

Search engines need data for this to work. You have to supply that to be included. Help them help you. The way people make money on the Internet is getting in before the market is saturated.

Google says that it does not use markup for ranking purposes but it can affect how much traffic you get. A Searchmetrics study of sites show that with schema, on average, they got better positioning in SERPs.

Change 4: Analytics

We all cried after [not provided]. Search engines went, “meh.” 85% of traffic is not provided. What irritated her was that when you went into Google Analytics, the Keywords had gone missing under Campaigns.

Google Keyword Versions

Focus on the demographics, interests and cohort analysis data. That’s the stuff you need to start knowing. Google is trying to give that to us. Marty Weintraub, up next, will get into this.

Know that what Google is going for in all these changes is to answer people’s questions and give the best results possible. They want more search share. Fighting spam is another strong reason behind the changes. Oh yeah, and money, of course.

How Do I Deal With This?

Our world changes all the time. Take a breath. It hasn’t changed that much.

  1. Work on goals. Company specific goals, not based on keywords but centered on traffic and conversions.
  2. Seen this? Dana DiTomaso’s video from MozCon2014.
  3. Don’t stop doing keyword research. It’s still one of the best pieces of info you can get regarding what people are looking for.
  4. Think about user intent. If a keyword doesn’t match what you offer, don’t worry about it!
  5. Add audience research to your audits. You can’t know what content to build if you don’t know who you’re talking to. You don’t know the concepts that you’re part of if you don’t do this. We suck at talking to people as search marketers. The best content ideas will come from your
  6. Mark up all the things.
  7. Test your funnel.
  8. Know Your Funnel

  9. Get to know and love content audits.
  10. Content Audits slide

Get help here:

Rest in Peace Precious PPC Keywords?

Marty Weintraub, Founder & Evangelist, aimClear

Marty Weintraub is up. He says Google has been trying to take away keywords for years and years. The good news is that everyone who has been learning to sell with psychographic data, you’re in heaven because you can sell with this stuff.

Google has been on a pogrom to depreciate granular keyword data, what we see and what we can use to target for years. Now we have to use the Force — put on the blinders and feel it.

Here’s a tour of targeting in display networks and the data you can get from it. Punchline: THINK LIKE A SOCIAL MARKETER.

Affinity audiences in Google AdWords is the tool that the first half of his presentation uses.


Weintraub slide

Look at topics. There’s a list of topics called “topics codes.”

In the age of disappearing organic keywords, use paid keyword data. Click into the topics code list from Google Display Network. Facebook has the equivalent. — an outline of the taxonomy of topics. Google gives this to us, whereas Facebook doesn’t.

Keyword List Targeting by Interest

Look at in-market audience in AdWords. This is about people actively looking to purchase things. Keep in mind that Google is a search engine. They tap deeply into what people are searching for.

Affinity Audiences

Google made affinity audiences to support TV advertisers. If you advertise on TV, look at affinity audiences (ex: bargain shoppers, winter sport enthusiasts). Clearly the application is beyond TV advertisers.

Facebook has the equivalent as “Interests.”

There’s an exciting new button “Create custom affinity” at the bottom of affinity audiences. Google says they’re factoring in consumers’ most recent passions and ongoing interests — they use all the data and line up the audiences to categorize users in various ways.

Keywords in Facebook

Google wants you to put in at least five URLs and interests (combined!) to create a custom affinity audience. The more you add, the more discriminating the data. Even if you never run an ad on Google’s network ever, you use this AdWords tool to discover your audience. This is your new content keyword research tool because it clusters the themes of your searchers.

Psychographics + Search

The takeaway is that the psychographic marketer is in the Google role now. Let go of the keywords and think like a social marketer. Make audiences just like you do in Facebook.

When you market your content based on and amplified by data like this, you introduce people close to the sale. Then you remarket to them to capture the rebounds. You can use this data for Google+ post engagement ads.

In Facebook you’re limited by what’s there — the interest or behavior is there or it’s not. In Google, you can type anything in the box and Google will tell you about the demographics (age, gender, parental status) and the top websites on the topic.

This is an exciting time for us, marketing brothers and sisters! Weintraub asks the audience for an “AMEN” and the audience obliges enthusiastically! (Yes, you want to know Marty Weintraub, a dynamo mind and presenter in the industry.)

Note: This is highly vertical dependent and it won’t work for everyone in the same way.

Dynamic Search Ads (DSA): He suggests looking into this in AdWords. Google makes up the headline and chooses the keyword. Google crawls your site, makes up categories.

Note: Here’s a presentation Weintraub recommends viewing on the topic of DSAs, though it is currently (8/19) marked private:


Weintraub has concerns with Google PLAs. Google PLAs are eating brand SERPs. PLAs = Thievery. “PLAs steal intent-driven clicks from other PPC ads.” –Larry Kim, Wordstream

PLAs graph

Suffocating Rules:

  • You can’t market services with PLAs.
  • Inventory has to be verifiable by Google real-time.
  • Buy Online & Pick Up in Store (BOPIS) is the only ecommerce option.
  • Inventory can be verified at the regional or warehouse level if you deliver it to the buyer’s home.

The workaround:

PLA workaround

Put up a Magento site. Test it in store.

Conclusion: Bye-bye PPC staff?

The level of employee required to run Google’s machine is going down. Creative is going to be the driver and difference maker. Your job is about maintaining the machine. Know the evolution of search ads, contextual targeting, PLAs, custom affinities.


  • Less transparency
  • If you’re someone who wants to dress up like a furry, then you can target your people!


Future of social marketing

Audience question: How do you silo based on concepts and not keywords?

Weintraub: For years in social media we’ve been crafting content based on the audience. Look at the proportional interest for combinations of psychographic audiences. Look at how many cookies are available on Google to market to the proportional audiences. Advise organic content strategy based on audience available on paid.

Morris: Marketing is applied psychology. We have to understand what people are looking for by taking certain inputs. If you take a lot of input on the form of phrases into the paid keyword tool, it will categorize it. How will the content you’ve made, your competitor’s content, investigate what people are searching for — not easy to answer and why we’ll continue to have jobs.

Virginia Nussey is the director of content marketing at MobileMonkey. Prior to joining this startup in 2018, Virginia was the operations and content manager at Bruce Clay Inc., having joined the company in 2008 as a writer and blogger.

See Virginia's author page for links to connect on social media.

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