A Keyword Primer: Finding and Using Keywords Effectively
Keywords are important for every business online today.. They help drive traffic to your website and, when chosen and used well, draw visitors who become customers. Keywords define a business, and represent the essence of the products and services that are offered. In the context of search engines, keywords help users find your website when their search intent and your keywords match well, and your site ranks well for that keyword.
What Are Keywords?
Keywords are single words or phrases, used to indicate the content of a document, or a web page, or (as used in alt text) the meaning of an image. In the digital marketing space, keywords are often referred to as the word or words used to retrieve information through search engines. These words are used by search engine optimizations professionals (SEOs) to help communicate the most important information: what the page is about. Keywords are also used in paid search advertising
The word “keyword” has a long and varied history in social and cultural contexts; in this post, we’re specifically addressing the word as it’s used in digital marketing. A few definitions:
- Wikipedia – Keyword (Index Term): “An index term, subject term, subject heading, or descriptor, in information retrieval, is a term that captures the essence of the topic of a document.”
- Reference.com – Keyword Definition; This offers four definitions; the fourth is the term’s use in digital technology: “(A) word used to classify or organize digital content, or to facilitate an online search for information.”
- Webopedia.com – Keyword Definition: Three different definitions; the first refers to editing, the second to programming, and the third to search: “A word used by a search engine in its search for relevant Web pages.”
The best way to communicate with a search engine which keywords are important for your page is to integrate them naturally in meta information (such as the meta description) and within the body of the content. They should be integral to the meaning of the page and appear in the text in a way the reader would expect. In no way should keywords be used unnaturally; a visitor to a page should be able to read your content without being assaulted by unnatural phrases on the page, or overt repetition. In paid search, campaign construction begins with choosing keywords and specifying match type.
- Broad match: Your ad may display if a search term contains your keyword terms in any order (or words similar to your keyword). Women’s hats, women’s summer hats, ladies’ hats
- Phrase match: Your ad may display when the searcher looks for your keyword or your keyword with additional words either in front of the query or behind it. Women’s hats on sale, summer women’s hats
- Exact match: Your ad will display only if the searcher entered your exact keyword, and only your exact keyword.
If a searcher uses women’s hats as a search term, all three match types apply. If the searcher uses women’s hats on sale, both broad match and phrase match apply. If the searcher uses ladies’ hats only broad match will apply.
What are “right” and “wrong” keywords?
- Be natural for your site
- Be relevant and on topic
- Be based on research
- Shape content strategy
- Have search volume – be actively, currently, being searched for
- Be less competitive (so you stand a chance to rank for the term)
The “wrong” keyword phrases:
- Trick or mislead (search engines or users!)
- Are overused/abused in your text
- Are irrelevant and spammy
How do you find keywords?
Many experts in the field recommend examining tools, your own analytics, and even conducting your own polls to discover the best phrases possible. You could, for example, survey your own best customers to ask what keywords they would use to find your website, or products like yours, and cross those results on your other research.
On the surface the process of choosing the best keywords may seem elementary. On the contrary, keyword research should be taken seriously and performed with organic or paid search in mind. You are looking for three key things: What words do people actually use when they search for products or services in your niche? How many searches are performed using those words? And, how much competition is there for those words?
When you research a prospective keyword, do a search for it in the major search engines. Note search volume and which websites rank for the keyword. Are your competitors ranking? This may give you an idea of how hard (or easy) it will be to rank for this keyword. Look also for paid search ads running at the top and sides of the search engine results page (SERP); lots of ads usually means this is a high-value keyword. According to Moz.com, “multiple search ads above the organic results often means a highly lucrative and directly conversion-prone keyword.”
There are a number of tools on the market to help you find and evaluate keywords. As an experiment in how different, but similar, keywords produce different results, try searching for “keyword tool” and “find keywords” to see how similar vendors rank for these terms.
Using keywords effectively
In SEO 101 Part 3: Keyword Savvy Act-On’s Director of Online Marketing Martin Laetsch describes a number of ways keywords can be used best in your online marketing:
- Choose a keyword that represents your content well and that searchers are likely to use when they want information about that “one main thing” your page is about.
- It’s generally not a good idea to have two keywords for a single page; choose a single keyword or keyword phrase for your page.
- Understand who your ideal reader is and use the same natural language and terms they do.
Martin recommends using the Google AdWords Keyword Planner for conducting research.
Expanding on Martin’s great advice, there are additional best practices to consider. Keywords change over time. Conduct refresher research on a regular basis to stay on top of trends within your industry. Our search patterns change with increased use, language evolution, and niche maturity; this means that keywords will also change. Keywords are not “set it and forget it”!
Using long tail keywords
It’s not just about search volume or low competition. Sure, the “best” keywords will have the highest volume and little competition – but sometimes those just don’t exist. In many industries competition has only increased online in recent years, with the most effective keywords correspondingly ratcheting up in competitiveness.
If you determine that the highest-volume keyword for your niche is also extremely competitive, that means that you may not rank well for that keyword, and paid search could be very expensive. A good alternate or companion strategy could be to consider long tail keyword phrases – longer strings of keyword phrases, often three to six words, that searchers use specifically to narrow down results.
Marketers often pass up on long tail opportunities because the phrases are searched less often. But as noted, it’s the more sophisticated searcher who uses long tail queries. The traffic a long tail keyword brings may be more highly qualified, have a better idea of what they want, and be closer to making a buying decision. Additionally, long tail keywords are less competitive, which can make it easier for your site to stand a chance and rank. And consider this: over time, long tail phrases have been known to generate more traffic than a well-ranked one- or two-word phrase. Consider long tail when conducting your research.
Keyword Best Practices
- Conduct keyword research and test out different tools during keyword discovery. Even Urban Dictionary may prove worthwhile for keyword discovery! Moz suggests using relative search volume from three sources: Google Adwords Keyword Planner, Bing Keyword Tool and Wordtracker Keyword Tool. We like SEMRush as well. Consider these sources when you conduct keyword research.
- Understand the three types of queries: informational queries – searching for general or specific information; navigational queries– searching for a specific site or page; transactional queries – searching with intent to purchase. Integrate these three types into your research and discovery phase.
- Don’t forget about cyclical trends and seasonality with your keyword phrases. As you do research keep this in mind as it will no doubt affect your research. When are your keywords in highest demand? Tools like Google Trends for Keywords may help predict these changes.
- Once you’ve conducted keyword research take action. Update the meta data throughout your site, optimize your content, and map your keywords to the right pages.
- Test the effectiveness of your efforts by monitoring traffic, impressions and clickthrough rates in your website analytics of the keyword phrases you discovered and implemented. High rankings but no traffic? You may look at refreshing your research or discovery process.
Looking for additional information about keywords? Check out the following resources for more information from industry leaders, or ask us a question in the comment section below.
Additional Keyword Resources
Choosing the Best Keywords – VerticalMeasures.com
Keyword Research After the Keyword Tool – SearchEngineLand.com
Keyword Research for Web Writers and Content Producers – Copyblogger.com
And for a quick overview of SEO, check out Act-On’s SEO Toolkit, which will get you up to speed on the basics (and beyond) in short order: