Keyword: There’s a good chance that if you logged online to do anything today, at some point you clicked an empty box. You thought of what you wanted to do, and you rattled off a few characters on your keyboard. With a click and a tap, you were presented with millions of possibilities — but you probably just picked something from the first page.
Within seconds, you’re able to retrieve the exact information you want from over 60 trillion pages of information. How is Google able to find what you want with just a few words? How is any search engine capable of unearthing the specific information we’re looking for when we search?
The most important feature that Google relies on when discovering this information is keywords. When we search, we put our thoughts, concerns, and questions into words or phrases. Those phrases are called keywords, and when we use them, Google offers us web pages that rank well for them.
If you’re running a business and want to make the most of your online presence, it can help to understand how keywords work. Keyword research and optimization can be a vital part of any business’s internet marketing strategy when they rely on search engines to deliver potential clients or customers to their website.
To help you get started, this post will provide you with an overview of the basics of keywords.
What are keywords?
Keywords are the phrases contained on a web page that search engines use to identify what that page is about. When your content is written with keywords in mind, you’re telling Google that your page has what their searchers want. You’re also letting visitors know that your content is what they’re looking for.
Another way to think of keywords is that they are a foundation for your content. In other words, they can often be the topics that your content speaks to, and they’re useful for more than just search engines. Real people visiting your site will look for these words when landing on your page to determine if your content is relevant to their interests.
There are just about an infinite number of keywords, but the term is generally used in reference to important phrases that websites want to rank highly for in order to be more easily found in search engines. “Keyword” is often used interchangeably with “search query”, but the word really represents an ideal query that real-life search queries broadly match. When enough search queries create an identifiable pattern, you have a keyword.
So when someone uses Google to look up “newsjacking tips” and finds our post about newsjacking, that’s because we rank highly for the keyword the searcher used. The presence of relevant keywords on that webpage is one of many factors that Google looks to when ranking it for queries relating to newsjacking.
As you can see, the keywords that businesses rank to reflect the content of their web pages. But equally important is that they also reflect searchers’ interests and intentions.
Why keywords matter
Focusing on keywords when optimizing your on-page SEO is important because it brings qualified traffic, or searchers who are interested in your business, to your website through search engines. Since keywords are valuable for both search engines and people, it’s important to identify the words that people will actually use when searching for your topic, whether that’s the subject of a blog post or your business’s homepage.
Since most small businesses offer a specific service in a specific area, their keywords tend to focus on their products or services and their service location. If I were an electrician from Boise, I would want my business to show up when people type “electricians in Boise, ID” on Google. Including words related to that keyword throughout my site would be a smart move for optimizing the site’s rankings for search queries like that.
While it would seem obvious that businesses should start with their products and services when focusing on keywords, it’s also particularly helpful to consider your target audience’s concerns, questions, and interests — especially when blogging.
Think about it like this: if you’re running a plumbing business and you know that people are searching “how do I fix a leaky faucet” when they have a problem, wouldn’t it be awesome if they found a post on your blog addressing that exact issue? In this way, knowing the keywords that your target audience is using can improve your content strategy (and bring you more customers with leaky faucets!)
Types of keywords
People may use similar terms to search for a topic with widely different intentions, so it’s important to understand the types of keywords people use when searching for your products or services. Grasping the different types of keywords will help you hone in on the audience that you want when identifying the keywords that are most valuable to you.
For example, when someone searches for “bird feeding” on Google, they’re likely more interested in information on bird feeders than buying bird feeders. Blogs about birds would find the ranking for this informational keyword extremely valuable. But if that person were to look up “bird feeders for sale”, they’ll be much more likely to come across sales pages offering bird feeders.
This is what we call a commercial keyword, and every website selling bird feeders are going to be competing for it. For more information on the types of keywords, visit Oleg Schegolev’s post about the topic on SEMrush.
When your business website doesn’t rank well for valuable commercial keywords, it isn’t likely to bring in new customers. Keyword research and an understanding of these types of keywords can help you understand where your business can improve your searchability where it matters, whether through on-page optimization or purchasing ads from Google Adwords.
Broad and long-tail keywords
In addition to being “informational” or “commercial”, keywords can also either be “broad” or “long-tail.”
As HubSpot puts it, broad keywords tend to be more general and have a much larger number of searchers. This also makes them more competitive to rank for. Meanwhile, long-tail keywords are much more specific and receive much lower search volume.
While long-tail keywords receive far less search traffic than broad keywords, they’re also much less competitive, meaning that businesses that target them have a better shot of ranking highly. You’ll be targeting fewer people, but you’ll be more likely to be found by that smaller audience.
And that isn’t the only reason that long-tail keywords are more valuable for businesses hoping to rank.
If someone is searching for “shoes”, would they be more or less likely to be interested in buying a new pair of shoes than someone searching for “Nike red running shoes”? More likely than not, the “shoes” searcher is interested in browsing for different kinds of shoes. Perhaps they’re looking for an informational page about how shoes are made, or what kinds of shoes exist.
It’s hard to tell. And that’s kind of the problem with broad keywords — the intent of searchers can be just as broad. Meanwhile, the “Nike red running shoes” searcher is probably clicking an “Add to Cart” button on some sales website right now. Long-tail keywords are more likely to produce leads from your traffic, making this the way to go when it comes to focusing on keywords.
Sure, you’re reaching fewer people, but what matters is that this audience will be far more likely to be interested in your business.
With these tips in mind, you can see how keywords are one of the best signs of what a website is about in addition to what searchers are interested in. This is what makes keyword research such an integral part of any business’s internet marketing strategy.
Now that you’ve got a brief overview of what keywords are all about, what are your thoughts? Have any questions or comments about keywords and how they work? Did I leave out any resources that you’d like included? Leave a comment on