Keyword research, which is an important part of any SEO campaign, has been in existence for many years. However, during the last few years, keyword research has been undergoing a number of changes. Sometimes these changes are crucial, sometimes are less important. In either case, the volatile nature of this process calls into question the relevance of the keyword research for SEO.
Keywords remain important in SEO because they play a significant role in helping your site to get ranked by various search queries. Keyword research allows you to find the keywords that provide you with:
High Traffic. You will get new visitors because your site is listed in search results.
Relevance. All incoming searches will relate to what you offer and whether it is satisfying your inbound users.
Low Competition. If you have the right keywords, it means you don't have to work overtime to rank for your chosen queries.
In the early days of keyword research, optimization was assuming stuffing them throughout your content in every meta tag as much as you could. Through Google Analytics, Google was also disclosing a lot of information on how people were searching for the information on the web and how they found your website through keywords. Once you had this list of high traffic and low competition keywords, you could directly optimize your site for those queries. Most of Google's queries had a one-to-one search relationship meaning that they would take your phrase or word and look for close or exact matches to other phrases and words on the web.
In 2013 Google released an update known as Hummingbird, which introduced the concept of "semantic search". This update has changed how the way the search engine was handling incoming queries. Instead of conducting a plain search of what user wants, this update allowed Google to understand the intentions behind a user's query. On face value, this appears to be a minor change, but it made a huge impact on how search optimizers look at keywords.
This update has changed SEO not only in the matter of phrases and keywords. Today it is possible to rank higher for semantically linked phrases and words, that you did not directly optimize, you can also get ranking for words and phrases that are not even available on your page. These phrases are known as Long-tail Keyword Phrases. They have been popularized by Hummingbird and made marketers look for rare and less competitive expressions. It means that instead of just placing keywords, companies should better build content around one keyword or phrase while focusing on the general topic.
Google's restrictions on keywords started with Google Analytics and this has continued to AdWords. This meant to encourage people to make use of their paid advertising and crack down it after quick gains. In fact, it sometimes becomes even more relevant for marketers than building consistent keyword optimization plans.
Along with all the factors mentioned above, we should understand that new technology comes into the game, for example, as it happened with digital assistants like Cortana and Siri. It encourages people to conduct conversational searches, which changes the game entirely. Augmented reality, wearables and virtual reality will also change how people search and how the ranking system works. With many changes expected to come into effect, keyword research will not stay the same, but it will never become obsolete as well. This is going to be a gradual transition into a new search system.