A keyword is a term or phrase associated with a piece of content on a website. Search engine optimization (SEO) keywords include your primary keyword as well as the set of keywords that are logically and semantically associated with it. The semantic association is about related meanings between words.
Essentially, the SEO keywords for your website and its content are the terms and phrases people are most likely to use when they’re entering a query into a search engine. SEO keyword research is about determining which words people use most often when they’re conducting searches.
If you think about your website and its content like they’re objects in the everyday world, the concept of keywords becomes almost overwhelmingly simple.
For example, the word for a table you keep on the side of your bed is “nightstand.” Sometimes people call it a “bedside table,” but the most common keyword for this type of table is “nightstand.” If you want to direct people to your site when they search for a nightstand, then “nightstand” is your head term keyword.
The set of SEO keywords for this type of table will include the head term of your choice, other adjectives and more specific terms people use when they’re searching for it (such as “white nightstand”), as well as the long-tail keywords that hang out in this part of the room.
As their name entails, long-tail keywords are longer than your head terms and represent the extended phrases people are using when they’re searching for something. They can be more descriptive — in the nightstand example, 260 people searched for “small bedside table with drawers” (according to keyword research). Or, long-tails can be phrased in the form of a question, such as, “what does keyword mean” — 210 people asked that question.
Although people don’t use them as much as head terms, long-tail keyword use has continued to increase in prominence, in part because of the trend toward voice search. By 2020, internet users will perform up to 50 percent of searches via assistants such as Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana. When people “talk” to search, they tend to speak in a way that mirrors natural communication patterns, using longer, descriptive phrases instead of a single word or two — they tend to search the way they normally talk.
Long-tail keywords are an important part of any comprehensive SEO strategy. Your goal might be to rank for a head term or a set of head terms, but failing to account for and include longer queries will sell your site short; it’s like leaving certain vegetables out of your diet.
For example, imagine you’re a personal injury lawyer in Boise, Idaho. One clear approach is to optimize for the term “personal injury lawyer” with a location included, such as “personal injury lawyer Boise.”
Now, imagine car accidents are one of the most common causes of injury for which people need a lawyer in your area. You would do well to address the long-tail query: “what is considered reckless driving in Idaho.” Although only 50 people search for it per month, a good percentage of them probably need a lawyer because they got injured in an accident and want to prove the other person was driving recklessly. That’s 50 potential new conversions sniffing around at the bottom of the marketing funnel.
While not concentrating on keywords is a mistake, so is focusing on them too extensively.
The reason for this balancing act comes down to one word: intent. Search engines are all about recognizing how well your content satisfies a user’s intent, or, what the user is looking to do with your information. If you hone in on keywords and try to include as many as you can without thinking about the user, search engines will note the fact that you’re keyword stuffing, and you will likely won’t show up on page one.
However, if you create content willy-nilly without analyzing keywords, you won’t necessarily be addressing user intent either. You may be addressing your company’s interests, but the list of keywords associated with your product or service will tell you what types of topics people are searching for. Then, you can start at the top of the content marketing funnel and create useful content to answer keyword-related questions. In turn, other sites can link to your content as a source of information, which increases your authority and visibility in search engines.
To use keywords properly in your content, perform comprehensive keyword research. You’ll begin by identifying head terms, body keywords, and long-tails. Next, you’ll identify searcher intent: they could be seeking information, trying to find a specific page, or trying to buy something. Your knowledge of that intent will inform how you use your keywords.
Next, you’ll identify how many times people have searched for terms and how difficult it is to rank for them. Furthermore, you’ll look at the search engine results page (SERP) features, which will help you understand page setup factors based on the types of keywords in your arsenal.
After that, you’ll determine how well your site is performing in regards to searcher intent. Are you missing opportunities? From there you’ll build a list of seed keywords to guide your continuing efforts, and you’ll group them by opportunity — high, medium, or low. This grouping will help determine the first steps.
As you continue to hone your knowledge of your audience’s evolving intent and needs through ongoing keyword research, you’ll develop content on your site to satisfy their needs. Because your audience comes first, your site improves, and search engines take note.