TLDR; Keyword research is important, the “keywords” meta tag is not, and most importantly you need to write valuable content that real people will want to read.
Someone asked me today how important keywords are in modern-day search rankings. I thought it was a relevant question worth a quick post here.
First and foremost, yes, SEO keywords are still important. Keywords are still required to show the intent of the content, and intelligent keyword research still helps you find relevant meta titles and descriptions for your post; phrases that people are actually searching for. You want to try to understand the motivations behind search queries. Why are people searching for a given keyword/phrase? If you can match a prospect's intent while searching on Google to your offer on your website, you've hit the jackpot.
Meta keywords are useless and have been since at least 2009. There is near-zero value using the “keywords” meta tag.
Latent semantic keywords (LSKs) are especially important in articles and blog posts. They're an indication that content is legitimate because you're hitting on related topics. For example, in an article about the amazing sport of hockey, Google expects to see LSKs like puck, helmet, ice, stick, skates, fans, goals, pads, goalie, forward, defense, check, hit, and so on. These are, of course, keywords and phrases that you would not likely find while doing traditional keyword research, but they are terms that would come up quite naturally in any legitimate article about hockey.
Keyword stuffing, on the other hand, will get your hand slapped by Lord Google. Don't do that. For like the past decade, don't do that.
Ultimately, I would caution everyone to focus more on writing good content that delivers value and keeps the readers' attention rather than trying to engineer a piece of content with keyword research. Google looks at things like time on page and can see users' scrolling habits with modern web browsers, the algorithm is being developed every day to focus more and more on whether or not a page brings value to a customer, so if you want to win the long game you need to write your content for the people. Full stop.