The practice of relying solely on search volume as the defining metric for keyword research is becoming a relic of the past.
While it can provide a glimpse into the popularity of a keyword, search volume doesn’t necessarily equate to relevance, nor does it ensure a successful content strategy.
Future-proofing keyword research requires a more holistic approach that considers not just the quantity of searches but the quality, context, and evolving expectations of users.
In this article, we’ll look at why modern SEOs must look beyond mere search volume.
We’ll also unpack the new signals that should inform strategic planning, the importance of understanding user intent, and how to build a robust, resilient keyword strategy fit for the future of search.
Why search volume doesn’t cut it anymore
The evolution of the digital search landscape means we need a more comprehensive and discerning approach.
Let’s dive into why search volume is no longer the definitive metric for contemporary SEO.
A shift in user intent understanding and complex search queries
As search engines have evolved, so have users. Today’s online searchers are more adept at framing detailed and specific queries, expecting precise answers.
For example, rather than searching “best shoes,” a user might query “best running shoes for marathons under $100.”
While these long-tail queries might have lower search volumes, they offer high intent, making them invaluable for content strategies.
Therefore, SEO strategists must consider their content approach and how their brand is positioned to meet the needs of the keywords they identify during keyword research.
Understanding user intent and the search journey is vital when creating a content strategy.
Brands that truly understand their audience are better positioned to create engaging content.
They are able to move a user through the journey toward conversion in a way that a simple “monthly search volume” metric wouldn’t provide insight upon.
By understanding user intent, you can map your content strategies more effectively against the needs of your audience, as opposed to a method of “this has the highest volume; therefore, it is most important.”
Rise of voice search and conversational queries
With the increasing adoption of voice-activated devices, users often pose questions in a conversational manner.
This has led to increased natural language queries that don’t always align with traditional keyword research based solely on search volume.
Voice search can be a beneficial SEO strategy consideration for brands. However, if a brand were to rely solely on search volume as the driving force behind strategy consideration, such opportunities would be missed.
And then there is AI search, probably the fastest evolving consideration within this conversation and something that content strategists are exploring as we prepare for SGE integration at a large scale on Google SERPs.
Search Generative Experience has the potential to dramatically alter how SEOs approach content creation.
The more conversational style of search we have seen emerge on voice search platforms is likely to be replicated as Google places its conversational chat functionality at the top of Google’s SERPs.
We are yet to fully understand the impact this developing technology will have on our content approaches.
But if voice search is anything to go off, expect searches to become more conversational, visual, and personable – ultimately human!
The rise of alternative search platforms
As the go-to search engine, Google is being challenged, particularly by Gen-Z audiences, seeking specific types of content to meet their needs, pains, wants, and desires.
Platforms like Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube have emerged as powerful search engines in their own right.
A keyword might not boast a high search volume on Google, but it could be trending on TikTok or extensively searched for on YouTube.
It’s essential to recognize these platform-specific nuances and adapt keyword strategies accordingly.
The search landscape is dynamic, and the metrics that mattered yesterday may not hold the same weight today.
Proactive reactivity is the name of the game here. An annual look at the search volume of queries in designing a content strategy will no longer set strategies up for success.
Instead, strategists should look to Google Trends, GLIMPSE, other search platforms and even forum sites like Reddit and Discord to understand what topics matter most to users.
Historically, it was assumed high search volume signified high importance.
Now we can combine a multitude of data points as content signals, ensuring that trends are actively optimized and catered for within our content strategies as a result of being proactively reactive.
Future-proof keyword research signals and why they matter
As we transition into a more intricate search ecosystem, it’s clear that keyword research requires a more multifaceted approach. While search volume remains a valuable metric, several other important signals have risen.
Understanding and leveraging these signals is essential for any SEO strategist wishing to stay ahead of the curve.
Here’s a closer look at these future-proof metrics and their significance.
Today’s search engines are honed to prioritize user intent.
A keyword with high search volume but low relevance can increase bounce rates and diminish user satisfaction.
Ensuring your content aligns directly with user intent provides value and enhances the likelihood of higher rankings.
This metric gives insights into how challenging it would be to rank for a particular keyword.
Assessing factors like backlink profiles, domain authority, and content quality of top-ranking page helps you gauge the feasibility of achieving top rankings and strategize accordingly.
Click-through rate (CTR) potential
A keyword might have a high search volume, but the organic CTR might be low if the SERP is cluttered with ads, featured snippets, and other SERP features.
By assessing the potential organic click opportunities, you can make informed decisions about which keywords are likely to drive actual traffic to your site.
User engagement metrics
Metrics such as bounce rate, dwell time, and pages per session offer a glimpse into how users interact with your content.
High engagement indicates that your content is resonating with users, which search engines regard as a sign of quality and relevance.
What’s trending today might be obsolete tomorrow.
By keeping an eye on seasonal fluctuations and emerging trends, you can position your content to ride the wave of popularity while also avoiding dated or fading topics.
Search features, SGE and Perspectives opportunities
Modern SERPs are more than just a list of blue links.
There are potential opportunities for SGE strategy planning and the emerging “Perspectives” rollouts which could also impact how users conduct searches, engage with content and therefore inform the strategies we create.
Targeting these features can amplify visibility and drive more organic traffic.
‘Search everywhere’ potential
A SERP is not a Google-only phenomenon. SEOs must consider other search platform opportunities.
If users conduct searches away from Google, strategies can adapt and pivot toward content creation on those platforms delivering audiences content where they want and expect to see it.
In this emerging change in search, SEO professionals need to broaden their horizons and adopt a more holistic approach to keyword research.
By integrating these signals into strategies, we can ensure more robust, relevant, and future-proof strategic outcomes.
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The role of topic clusters and pillar content
To stand out in the vast sea of online content, you must first have a well-structured approach to content creation.
Enter topic clusters and pillar content.
These two methods have significantly redefined how content is organized and delivered.
How broader topics drive a cohesive content strategy
Topic clusters revolve around a central theme or “pillar.”
This pillar content covers the primary topic in depth, while supplementary articles or “cluster content” delve into sub-topics or related facets.
Together, they form a cohesive interlinked structure or web of knowledge on a topic.
This method ensures that users have a comprehensive resource to refer to.
If someone lands on a sub-topic, they can easily navigate to the main pillar content to gain broader insights or explore related areas.
They will also likely move forward or back through the journey via internal linking.
For search engines, this interlinked approach enhances the crawlability and context of your content, potentially boosting your domain’s topical authority.
The advantage of owning a topic area and becoming an authority
By consistently creating valuable content around a specific topic and interlinking pillar and cluster content, you establish your domain as a go-to resource for that subject.
Search engines prioritize websites that offer in-depth and authoritative content. Owning a topic area isn’t just about quantity but quality and structure.
When your site becomes a recognized authority on a subject, you’re more likely to earn backlinks, get cited, and, most importantly, gain the trust of your audience.
Over time, this trust can translate into higher organic rankings, SERP feature appearances, and potential SGE appearances as the “single source of truth,” ultimately leading to increased traffic.
By embracing topic clusters and pillar content, brands can provide a richer user experience, simplify site navigation, and position themselves as industry leaders in their niche.
Semantic search and the importance of context
The introduction of semantic search has shifted the focus from simple words to the deeper meaning and context behind them, essentially the “why” behind the “what.”
Even if a user’s query isn’t an exact match, search engines can discern and deliver results that fit the context and intent of the query. This leap has ushered in a significant shift in SEO strategies.
Gone are the days of “keyword stuffing,” where repetition was the norm. Today, the emphasis is on topic depth, relevance, and the semantic relationships between terms.
As search engines strive to provide the most pertinent content in response to user queries, content creators must produce materials that are comprehensive, rich in context, and true to user intent.
Evolve your keyword strategy for modern SEO
The days of linear keyword targeting and isolated tactics have given way to a more comprehensive and user-centric approach.
Successful SEO today is an amalgamation of content relevance, technical prowess, and a deep understanding of user intent and behavior.
The challenge and opportunity lie in embracing these multifaceted changes. Ensuring your strategies resonate with search algorithms and, most importantly, with the audiences you aim to serve.
As we look ahead, the fusion of quality content, robust technology, and an unwavering focus on the user promises to be the beacon that guides the future of SEO.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.