Regular readers and long time Kayak clients will know we are fans of HubSpot. We like the tools they create for marketers. We are an official partner even, and so it’s no surprise that a lot of the companies we work with end up utilizing their platform.
It was probably inevitable, then, that HubSpot’s decision to discontinue their keyword tool would invite a lot of SEO questions from the online community. To some of them, the sky could seem to be falling.
From our point of view, HubSpot’s decision to sunset the keyword tool isn’t just a good one for the company and its users alike, but just the latest sign that the circle of search engine visibility continues to loop. Let me explain…
Searchers and search engines are still getting smarter.
The reason Google became the world’s largest company in just under two decades, and such a big part of our day-to-day lives – is that it’s algorithm for sorting search results was revolutionary. From the moment it launched, it came much closer than its contemporaries at delivering search listings that closely matched what people were actually looking for.
Over time, that algorithm has gotten stronger and much more complex. And tougher to assess. Keep in mind that, amidst all the discussions about keyword density, link quality, content relevance, and so on, we must always remember that Google’s real aim is to decipher what a searcher wants. That has always been the key to their success.
What real-world buyers and searchers are looking for on the web is quality information from reliable sources. Or, if they are searching for a local business, product, or service, those are really just extensions of the original aim. They want the best answer to their problem or challenge, and they want it quick.
What they don’t want is a website that has the most SEO grooming done to it. When you see that a restaurant has won an award, you get excited about the delicious foods they serve, not the prospect of eating the plaque.
So, while a certain amount of search engine optimization has always been acceptable if it helps good content rise to the top, focussing on SEO tricks has always been somewhat counterproductive.
Search visibility is reversing course.
With the growth of semantic search and artificial intelligence, Google no longer needs exact keyword matches to determine quality within comparable websites. It can simply look at the bigger topical picture and study user engagement, to see what resonates with living, breathing people.
Because of this, Google is able to focus on its real goal, delivering high-quality search results. The vast majority of "SEOs" are novices claiming to be experts, who are finding that many of the tools and formulas they have relied upon no longer hold water. They sacrificed content quality for gimmicks, peddling useless keyword research activities, and sign questionable retainers because clients are willing to pay for them, not because they work.
This is where the circle comes into play. Google wants its search algorithm to behave more like a person. Marketers, wanting those referrals without putting in the effort to establish a thought leadership position, tried to get around the problem by gaming the algorithms. Black hat, white hat, it doesn't matter. It's all manipulation, just to differing degrees.
That brings us back to HubSpot.
To their credit, the keyword tool they offered to subscribers is/was one of the best. Still, we were always leery of having clients use it – and the Wordpress equivalents as well – because they put the focus squarely on exact match terms rather than content and communication quality. The tools helped marketers focus on the search engines rather than the factors that would ultimately make them successful, building trust and relationships.
So far, we aren’t aware of too many other companies that have followed suit, but we suspect most SEO tools and marketing platforms will be forced to adapt before long. The tools they are offering to customers just aren’t viable for lead generation anymore. It’s much harder to game Google now, so investing in keywording just means wasting money and effort.
What comes next for SEO?
I will be the first to tell you I don’t always get things right. However, I pointed to the evolution of search engines and the decline of gimmicky keyword matching years ago in my short book titled Findability.
Since then, I’ve gotten to know industry leaders like David Amerland and Teodora Petkova who have gone far, far beyond my understanding and into the true science of search engine optimization based on semantic writing.
Whether you’re interested in the broad concepts or the nitty-gritty SEO details, though, the point remains the same: you shouldn’t be relying on any tool, program, or philosophy that emphasizes SEO through exact keyword matching. It just doesn’t have the impact it used to, so there’s no use messing up the flow of your content for no good reason.
If you’re interested in learning about the contextual quality of the articles you post, I recommend cise.info by Peter Hatherly [Peter's currently porting the tool to new servers, so stay tuned for a live link]. He’s done the hard work of putting together a killer fun piece of software that can help you to sort through the meaning and value of your site in a more organic way. His algorithm goes way beyond simple keyword matching and draws you closer to what Google is actually looking for in 2018 and beyond.
The future of search engine optimization is what it always was – a contest to give readers, viewers, and customers more of what they want, wrapped in a quality user experience.
When you have high-quality content, buyers are going to find you.