Marketing & SEO 7 min read

The Death of Informational Keywords (2020 SEO)

Written on 26 Nov 2020


What’s new in SEO? The era of no-click is upon us and it’s time to re-think your strategy.
The nature of SEO      
The nature of SEO has changed a lot in the last few years. In 2019 we put together an SEO guide, and in the six months since we wrote that article, a lot has changed. In particular, we’ve seen the explosive rise of no-click searches, which threaten to upend the entire game. Based on our most recent data, 49% of Google searches end without a single click, and it’s spelling disaster for traditional SEO techniques. This is mostly thanks to knowledge cards and rich snippets: since users can immediately get the answers they’re looking for, they rarely follow any links.  
Google search result page       
Getting yourself on the knowledge card is difficult—I’ve done some analysis of the Google knowledge card selection algorithm in the past but it’s mostly speculation based on testing on my end. Even then, you’re not guaranteed to get the click.
The more things change, the more they stay the same—the key to staying on top of SEO in 2020 is choosing the right keywords. 
So how do you do that? 

Search Intent and the Death of Informational Queries

The core idea I want you to leave this article understanding is search intent. People search for specific reasons, and some of those reasons are becoming less commercially viable for SEOs. To get our search intents, we’re going to go all the way back to the birth of SEO: a 2002 white paper written by Andrei Broder for IBM. Broder wasn’t writing about SEO, he was just trying to create a taxonomy of searches, but he divided them into three categories we can use.  
  1. Navigational Intent
A user wants to go to a specific site; if somebody searches “ebay”, they’re probably going to exactly one place, and it’s very hard to do anything with that as an SEO professional. It’s important to be cognizant of navigational queries though, because they constitute a huge number of searches and can often explain black holes in data. Depending on your industry you can leverage these by utilising big navigational targets (say, by selling your products on eBay) but they’ve been widely regarded as a no-go for a long time and that’s not changing. 
  1. Transactional Intent
A user is looking for a website where they can do something. This includes things like “cheap car rental” but also includes less-commercial searches like “play free games online now”. This is the most common type of search leveraged for SEO and they’re still a fairly safe bet.
  1. Informational Intent
This is where things get interesting. Informational searches are when a user wants to know something. They’ve traditionally been viable SEO targets, but the no-click revolution has been devastating. SEOs who still try to leverage informational intent are the ones who are currently in the biggest trouble, and I worry a lot of them don’t actually know they’re doing it. Informational queries aren’t totally impossible to leverage, but it has become, significantly harder with the widespread adoption of rich snippets and knowledge cards. 
Very few keyword tools distinguish between search intent, and that means that you might be selecting keywords that you can’t actually leverage. It’s fairly common knowledge that you don’t try to squat navigational searches, but a lot of SEOs are shooting themselves in the foot by trying to work informational searches, without realising that the ground has changed out from beneath them. 

Keyword Research in 2020

So let’s get the already-stated out of the way: you’re looking for transactional keywords. I’m not going to say it again, but it underpins everything else I’m going to say in this section. There’s a few more key points we need to hit: 
  1. Voice search is here in a big way.
Voice searches now comprise a significant number of all transactional queries, and humans naturally speak in a different way than they write. The syntax of your long-tail queries is allowed to be closer to standard human speech than it has previously been, and that opens up opportunities for SEOs to find new, unexplored (but viable!) keywords. 
  1. LSI is back.
Latent semantic indexing has always had a bit of a shaky position in SEO. Its degree of effectiveness has been hotly debated, and it tends to not be taken very seriously. I understand why (the technology hasn’t always been good enough) but the advances of the last few five or six years have taken it up a notch. 
Google’s renewed focus on search intent means they’ve been pushing a lot of advances in LSI. If you’re new to the party, LSI is the way words interact with each other in a way that helps search engines figure out context. A site containing the word ‘house’ could be about real estate or Waffle House or the TV show House, M.D., and Google uses the rest of the words around it to figure out which. 
This also occurs in searches; if somebody searches “house prices”, Google uses the relationship between the two words to figure out meaning. While Waffle House sells things (and thus has prices), a searcher is unlikely to Google ‘house prices’ to figure out the cost of hash browns. You can use tools like Ahrefs to figure out high LSI search terms and start including them in your keywords. 
  1. Certain keywords are no-go zones.
If you’re trying to sell gloves and masks right now, you’re going to be having a lot of keyword trouble—last year the highest LSI for ‘gloves’ was ‘winter’ and in March 2020, at time of writing, it’s ‘medical’, with ‘hospital’ close behind. A friend trying to sell costume masks has been in real trouble because the first ten pages of Google are all n95 respirators. You need to be cognizant of the Covid-19 crisis and how it has changed the keyword landscape, and if you’re in an area that uses certain similar terms then you’re going to need to work your LSI terms a lot harder.

Putting It All Together

It’s an understatement to say SEO has changed, and the rate of change seems to increase with each passing year. It’s important to remember, amongst all that, that people are still people, and understanding how they think and search is the key to creating good keywords. It’s time to move away from informational keywords and onto more transactional longtail strings. 
In order to get to grips with modern SEO, you need to look back at where we started. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Remember that, and happy optimizing. 
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