What are keywords in SEO?

What are keywords?

In terms of search engines, a keyword is any search term entered on Google (or another search engine) that has a results page where websites are listed. 

Keywords are search terms that a website owner or SEO professional will use to optimize a website in the hopes of ranking at the top of Google’s results for specific keywords.

What are SEO keywords?

SEO keywords (also known as “keywords” or “keyphrases”) are terms added to online content in order to improve search engine rankings for those terms. Most keywords are discovered during the keyword research process and are chosen based on a combination of search volume, competition and commercial intent.

Keywords types

It would not be wrong to say that keywords play a vital role in how your content or website is ranked in the search engine results.

There are different types of keywords, but the most common ones have been discussed below.

Short-tail keywords

The short-tail keywords are those keywords that comprise short words, phrases, and variants. They are more generic and better than the long-tail keywords and can be used in all types of articles. For example, when someone is writing about a shoe brand, he can write the word “shoes” or “footwear” multiple times throughout the text. If you want to get the top spot on Google, then you must use short-tail keywords in all of your articles. The majority of these keywords ensure to bring high-quality traffic because their conversion rate is lower than the focused keywords.

Long-tail keywords

Unlike short tail keywords, the long-tail keywords consist of two to three words and are more specific and traffic-oriented. For example, the “pink shoes for women” is a long-tail keyword and can be used by shoe brands or footwear stores online. If someone types into search engines, he will surely see your pages if you have accurately ranked this keyword. As compared to the short-tail keywords, the long-tail keywords are easy to use, and they can be divided into different phrases for better results. The conversion rates of the long-tail keywords substantially increase if you use them in the form of fragments, phrases, and variants. Make sure you don’t use the same keyword in more than two content pieces as it can lower your site’s number of views.

How to choose SEO keywords that drive traffic

To be successful, you need to start by picking the right keywords. Over time, you’ll gather data that helps you determine which of your keywords are most successful, and which ones need more work — but how do you pick the right initial set of keywords?

Set and understand your overall goals.

Before you decide which keywords are right for your brand, spend some time thinking about what your SEO goals are. Most companies use SEO to increase website traffic, which in turn, increases revenue, but you’ll need to be more specific than that.

For example:

  • How fast do you want to see results? SEO is a long-term strategy, so it sometimes takes months before you start seeing results. If you want results faster than that, you’ll need to choose lower-competition and higher-volume keywords.
  • How relevant does your audience need to be? Are you laser-focused on one specific audience, or  flexible with the types of people you have coming to the site?
  • What types of traffic are you seeking? Do you want people to buy your products, or are you focusing for now on brand awareness?

Decide on a blend of head and long-tail keywords.

Once you know your goals, you should be able at least to decide on a balance between “head” keywords and “long-tail” keywords. Head keywords are short phrases, usually one-to-three words, associated with higher traffic but also higher competition.

Long-tail keywords are longer, usually conversational phrases that have lower traffic but lower competition. Head keywords are better for long-term, traffic-centric strategies, while long-tail keywords are better for short-term, fast results-centric strategies. You’ll need both, in some combination, for the best overall results.

Conduct your preliminary research.

Once you have those goals and that initial vision in mind, you can work on your preliminary research:

  • Come up with root ideas. Start by sketching out some ideas for what people might search for related to your business. You don’t need to be exhaustive here, but try to come up with at least a few broad categories of searches, and both head and long-tail keywords they might use to find you.
  • Use topic and keyword generators. Next, use an online tool to help you come up with more keyword and topic ideas, based on some of your preliminary ideas. I like to use Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool for this, since it helps you come up with ideas and gives you stats on the keywords themselves (which you’ll need later).
  • Create a master list. Export all the keywords you can into a master spreadsheet, so you can quickly compare them and sort by various fields.

Narrow down the list.

Once you’ve got a “master list” created, you can start weeding out the weakest candidates. Take a look at the following variables with special focus:

  • Search volume” refers to how many times a particular phrase is searched for. It’s a handy way to gauge how much traffic you’ll receive from a specific query, though you should know that volume tends to fluctuate over time.
  • Next, look at the level of competition for each keyword. It’s no coincidence that the highest-volume keywords also tend to have the highest amount of competition, and of course, the higher the competition, the harder it’s going to be to rank for that keyword. You’ll need to strike a balance between the two.
  • You should also consider the relevance of each keyword to your core brand. Sure, it might have high traffic and low competition, but will it really be forwarding the type of traffic your website needs?
  • Current rankings. It’s worth checking to see if you currently rank for any of these terms — if you do, that might help you build early momentum.

Pick your top candidates.

At this point, your top candidates should be a matter of personal taste. You’ve narrowed your list down to keywords with the highest likelihood of earning you the results you want, so for now, pick a handful that you’ll have an easy time optimizing for (or the ones that seem the most attractive).

Your first blend of keywords isn’t going to be perfect, but it will give you a solid baseline you can use to improve your level of traffic even further. Pay close attention to how your results develop over time, and don’t be afraid to make changes when you need to.

How to use SEO keywords on your website

Here are the key places where it makes sense to use keywords for SEO. To make the process of adding keywords easier, we suggest you use one of these top SEO software plugins or apps.

1. Page Titles

Page title in SEO

Optimizing page titles is part of technical SEO, and is a good starting point when using keywords for SEO.

A page title describes the main subject of your page and shows up as the first line of a search results entry to let both Google and searchers know exactly what the page is about.

In many cases, the page title may be the same as the headline for a blog post or the name of the page (like “about” or “services”), but it doesn’t have to be. You can use SEO software like All in One SEO to tweak the SEO title to improve search ranking potential.

The best practice when writing page titles is to use your target SEO keywords or keyword phrase at the start of the page title. That’ll make sure that it’s seen as more relevant. Also, more practically, your page title won’t get cut off in mobile SERPs, which can happen on small screens.

2. Meta Description

The next important area for the use of keywords for SEO is the meta description. This shows up as the second part of a search results entry.Though the meta description is no longer a direct ranking factor, it can help Google determine how relevant your content is to what people are searching for.

The meta description also helps searchers decide whether to click through from a search result to see the full content on your website.

That’s why it’s so important to use the right keywords here. By right, we mean relevant to the content that searchers will find when they click through.

3. Subheadings

Before we get into how to use keywords for SEO within the main content, let’s talk about subheadings. Subheadings help make your content scannable, giving readers’ eyes somewhere to pause.

Subheadings may help visitors decide about the relevance of content to their needs. They may also appear as part of a featured snippet or answer box. Learn more about this type of structured data in our SEO audit guide.The best practice is to use keywords in at least a couple of subheadings.

4. Content

One of the most important places to optimize the use of SEO keywords is in your content. That’s because content is one of the top SEO ranking factors.

But it’s essential to get it right; poor keyword usage can actually hurt your search ranking.

For example, it’s crucial to avoid keyword stuffing. If you’ve got keywords in every other sentence the chances are your content will incur Google penalties. Google has an excellent example of the kind of thing to avoid.

Your readers won’t like it much, either, as keyword-stuffed content can be pretty hard to read.

So, here’s how you use keywords effectively in content:

First, use your main keyword in the first couple of sentences of your content, or at least within the first paragraph.

Next, use that keyword and variations of it, throughout the content, as shown below.

The best practice is to include latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords rather than the exact keyword every time. These might include some of the phrases that showed up in the SEMrush SEO content template we talked about earlier.

The bottom line: write for humans first, and make content readable and understandable.

5. Images

When you’re considering how to use keywords in a website, images probably aren’t the first items you think of, but you can’t afford to ignore them.

Here are a couple of reasons why. First of all, images are indexed too, creating another way that people find your content.

Second, images can help you handle content accessibility, which is useful for the millions of searchers worldwide who experience a disability.

So, how and where should you use keywords for SEO in images?

  1. First, make sure any images you use are relevant to your content.
  2. Next, give them a file name that reflects that relevance. You can include keywords or LSI keywords here if it makes sense.
  3. Use SEO keywords in image titles, which are little pieces of text that pop up when you hover your mouse over an image.
  4. Finally, use SEO keywords in alt text. This is the part that helps with accessibility. The best practice for using alt text with images is to make it descriptive; don’t just use the keyword.

6. URLs

Ever seen those URLs that are just strings of numbers and weird characters? Those can be a big turnoff for visitors.

The best URLs give visitors – and Google – a clue about what’s on the page, so you want to make them descriptive. And that means using SEO keywords in the URL, as in the example below where the “growth hacking” keyword is in the URL:The best practice is to keep URLs short, and include no more than one or two keywords in a way that makes the URL make sense to people who are visiting.

7. Link Anchor Text

Links are one of the top three SEO ranking factors, so you absolutely have to optimize these for SEO.

The golden rule is: vary your anchor text. That’s the clickable text that’s highlighted as a link.

If you use the same anchor text for every inbound link you create, that’s an SEO ranking red flag for Google, and it might get you penalized. Instead, use LSI keywords to vary inbound anchor text.

In the example below, the link points to content on the OptinMonster site with text describing our MonsterLinks™ key feature, rather than the actual feature name.The same rule applies to internal linking, which helps both Google and searchers find other site content. And it applies to external links, too.

If too many links on your site use the same anchor text to link to another site, Google might think it’s a black hat SEO link scheme, and penalize your site, reducing its search ranking.

8. Directories and External Links

Finally, external business listings can also be a great place to include keywords. For example, if you’re setting up a Google My Business listing, it makes sense to include SEO keywords in the business description.

That’ll improve the chances that your business will show up when searchers type relevant keywords into the search box. And that’ll improve your online authority and click-through rate. Want more stats you can use to boost traffic to your site? Check out these SEO statistics.

That’s it! Now that you know how to use keywords for SEO, check out our articles on using SEO for lead generation and the best keyword research tools to boost your content strategy.

5 simple steps how to use SEO keywords for content marketing

Here are five simple ways beginners can create more SEO-friendly content without compromising quality:

  1.  Identify Target Keywords: A keyword is a word or phrase people use in a search to find content. When Google indexes your website or a piece of content, it looks at several different factors to determine your ranking. This includes the keywords you use and how you use them. Since your ranking dictates where you appear in search results, it’s important to be selective when choosing keywords.

You can use Google’s free Adwords Keyword Tool to select keywords. The tool will tell you the number of monthly searches and competition associated with a keyword based on advertising spend for sponsored links. In general, it’s best to choose keywords with low to medium competition rates as well as volume of searches. You will have a better chance of ranking well for these terms than keywords with more competition and higher monthly searches.

Include your target keyword in your title, subheads, URL, meta description, alternative text field of images and a few times throughout the body of your content.

2. Focus on Themes: With its latest Hummingbird update and push towards semantic search, Google is shifting away from emphasizing exact match keywords and instead focusing on the theme of the article or page.

In the past, optimizing content for SEO was all about repeating your keyword at intervals throughout the article. Now, Google searches are much more intuitive, making a consistent theme and high quality content a top priority. This enhances the quality of search results and further discounts high volumes of low-quality content and keyword stuffing.

At Walker Sands, we have always lived by the rule of writing for human readers first and search engines second. While SEO is important, articles should be valuable to readers above all. If you follow this simple rule, you can mitigate the impact of future Google algorithm changes by producing high-quality, informative content for your readers.

  1.     Appropriate Article Length: Since Google is prioritizing quality, it’s important to have an adequate word count. In general, 500 words or more for an article or blog post will suffice. And be sure your article flows well with clear, concise sentences.
  2.      Share Your Work: Content that’s shared, linked back to and posted on other credible websites will improve your SEO rankings and drive more traffic back to your website. Reach out to relevant editors and reporters with timely article ideas that tie in recent news or important industry trends. Get to know the outlet and tailor your topic to their audience. With time- and resource-strapped news outlets, it’s easier than ever to become a contributor.
  1. Find Your Niche: With growing amounts of content, it’s important to differentiate your work and focus on a niche. When you create several pieces of content around a specific topic or area of expertise, Google will eventually learn that you are an authority on that topic. Craft a compelling theme that’s relevant to your target audience and continue to develop content around it to grow shares, backlinks and reader engagement.

Although SEO can be intricate and complicated, following these basic steps will provide a strong foundation for developing search-friendly content. By incorporating SEO best practices into your content development process, you can drive more traffic to your website, raise the visibility of your brand and position your company as a leading expert in your field.


At Optimum DMA, we have years of experience creating successful SEO strategies for our clients. Researching and selecting appropriate SEO keywords for each of them is an essential part of the process.

When you partner with us, we’ll get to know your business and industry inside and out, and we’ll do all of the in-depth research it takes to understand what your potential customers want. Our expert team will optimize your site for the best possible keywords and create original content to move your strategy forward.

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