Back in the early years, Google prioritized keyword frequency above placement.
Site owners would maneuver the algorithm and make a fortune overnight by ranking their pages on SERPs through keyword stuffing. It was a single process: the higher the keyword density, the higher the page’s ranking on search engine result pages. But now, search engine algorithms are intelligent.
There is more priority on intent and relevance beyond compiling text walls. In the post-Panda generation, creating shallow content focused on keywords and search engine bots rather than humans won’t just leave you with content with a high bounce rate but foster a decline in ranking.
This evolution has triggered questions like:
- How many keywords should I use in my content?
- How do I research keywords relevant to my content?
- How do I optimize the keywords in my content to match search intent?
Even though there is a shift from keyword stuffing to primarily satisfying searchers’ intent, proper keyword optimization is still crucial to rank on search engine result pages. It helps you notify search engine algorithms what your content is about and what relevant search term it should rank for.
Let’s examine a few Google algorithm updates that show the importance of using the right keywords:
1. Panda Algorithm Change
Google Panda, first released in February 2011, focused on content quality and penalized low-quality or thin content. It reinforced the need for well-written, relevant content that incorporates appropriate keywords naturally. Here is what Google has got to say concerning the update:
“Many of our changes are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so, we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s happening. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites that are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites, or sites that are not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis, and so on.”
2. Hummingbird Update
Google announced this update in September 2013, although it was implemented a month earlier.
Hummingbird aimed to provide more relevant search results by focusing on the user’s intent behind the search query rather than just the individual keywords. In other words, it evolved from matching keywords in a query to keywords on a page. Google was precise in showing result pages that match the inherent topic in users’ queries. It emphasized semantic search and context.
3. Google RankBrain
Announced in October 2015, RankBrain is a machine learning-based algorithm that helps Google better understand the meaning behind search queries. It considers user intent and context to provide more accurate and relevant search results.
BERT update was announced in October 2019. It is designed to understand natural language more effectively and improve the interpretation of longer, more conversational search queries.
BERT helps Google better understand the nuances and context of the search queries, including the importance of specific keywords within the query.
Here’s what Google said about the update:
“These improvements are oriented around improving language understanding, particularly for more natural language/conversational queries, as BERT can help Search better understand the nuance and context of words in Searches and better match those queries with helpful results. Particularly for longer, more conversational queries or searches where prepositions like “for” and “to” matter a lot to the meaning, Search will understand the context of the words in your query. You can search in a way that feels natural for you.”
These updates show that Google is in the business of understanding searchers’ queries and matching them with relevant result pages optimized for their keywords.
When properly optimized, SEO keywords signal your webpage to search engines’ algorithms as a match to users’ queries. If they were human, they would say, “Hey man, check this page out; it’s a good fit for what you are looking for.”
Types of Keywords for SEO
1. Seed Keywords
Seed keywords are the building blocks of keyword research. They are words or phrases SEO experts use as the starting point in discovering other relevant keywords.
For instance, the seed keywords for our software keyword.com include “rank tracker,” “rank tracking,” “SERP tracker,” “keyword tracking,” and more.
When you enter any of your seed keywords into a keyword research tool like Keyword.com, Google Keyword Planner, Seobility, and more, you can generate thousands of related keywords relevant to your site. Also, Google autosuggestion automatically provides a list of related keywords by entering your seed keyword into the search bar.
You can also generate hundreds of potential keywords by adding modifiers to your seed keywords.
2. Keywords by Search Intent
Search intent is the “purpose” of why a search engine user searches.
For every search made on search engines, there are desired answers or solutions in the minds of the users propelling a keyword/search query.
Keywords by search intent can be sub-divided into four categories:
Keywords with Informational Intent
The searcher is looking for general information. These keywords include words like “what.” “why,” “who,” “how,” and more. For example, “Who invented the airplane” or “How to bake a cake.”
Keywords with Navigational Intent
The purpose is to find a specific page of a website. These keywords feature the name of brands, products, or services. Examples include “Keyword.com login” or Keyword.com pricing.”
Keywords with Commercial Intent
The intent is to do more research before buying a product. Searchers use these keywords to conduct further research on a product before purchasing.
These keywords feature words like best, review, top, and more. For example, an SEO expert looking for a rank-tracking tool and finding one of our content online will use a search query such as “keyword.com review” to know more about the software.
Keywords with Transactional Intent
The intent is to make a purchase. Example “buy iwatch 7 near me.”
Read our blog post on search intent for more understanding.
3. Long Tail and Short Tail Keywords
Short-tail keywords, otherwise known as “head terms,” make up almost 20% of all searches and are search terms that cover a broad topic. They have a high search volume and generate the most traffic. However, they feature a high keyword density, making them highly competitive to rank on search engine result pages.
Long-tail keywords are specific and longer phrases typically used in search engine optimization (SEO) strategies. They are more specific and less commonly searched compared to short-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords usually contain three or more words and are often more targeted to a particular topic or niche.
Here’s an example to illustrate the difference between a short-tail keyword and a long-tail keyword:
Short-tail keyword: “shoes” and a long-tail keyword: “women’s running shoes with arch support.”
In this example, “shoes” is a short-tail keyword that could cover a wide range of shoe types and categories. On the other hand, “women’s running shoes with arch support” is a long-tail keyword that narrows the search intent to a specific type of shoe for a particular target audience.
But note, ranking on the first page for a short-tail keyword is like winning a jackpot. Why?
Short-tail keywords attract more traffic and conversions, but you need to know to play your SEO game well to see this happen. Short-tail keywords are difficult to rank for and need more than the tiki-taka SEO technique.
Long-tail keywords are more valuable because they tend to have lower competition and higher conversion rates. Since they are more specific, they attract users looking for something specific and are further along in their buying journey. In addition, they often indicate higher purchase intent, making them beneficial for businesses targeting a niche audience or optimizing their content for more targeted search traffic.
4. Low Difficulty Keywords
These keywords are easy to rank for on search engine result pages. Sites with little or no strong link profile can optimize these keywords and improve their visibility quickly. They have low search volume but are less competitive with low keyword difficulty (less than 30% KD).
You are curious to understand the difference between long-tail keywords and low-difficulty keywords.
They both have similar features, but there is a unique difference.
Most low-difficulty keywords are long-tail keywords but not all long-tail keywords are low-difficulty keywords.
Further reading: Why You Should Target Low-Difficulty Keywords
5. Niche Keywords
Niche keywords are search terms targeted to a specific audience. They often have a clear intent and relatively appeal to a small market share.
For example, “organic face cleansers for homeowners” and “organic face cleansers for office use” are two keywords with a primary purpose but for different groups of the face cleansing market share.
Niche keywords can have low search volumes and send little traffic to your site, but they have the potential to generate more leads and conversions.
Niche keywords are also similar to long-tail keywords, but they have a market aspect. They are less competitive and easy to rank for on SERPs.
6. Branded and Unbranded Keywords
Branded keywords are search queries that feature your brand name. Examples are “keyword.com rank tracker,” “keyword.com SERP tracker,” “keyword.com SEO tool,” etc. Ranking for these keywords makes it easy to attract searchers explicitly looking for information about our company. Conversely, unbranded keywords are search terms related to your business but not featuring your brand name. Ranking for these keywords helps you attract people looking for products or services related to your business even without a pre-knowledge of your brand.
For example, someone can sign up for keyword.com without necessarily knowing the company because we rank high for relevant unbranded keywords like “serp tracker,” “rank tracker”
7. Primary and Secondary Keywords
The primary keyword of a page is the single keyword to optimize content for. It is mainly the main topic of a page. Secondary keywords are search terms related to the primary keyword. They are primarily used as subheadings on a page.
Even though keywords are necessary for SEO, using the wrong ones can break your entire SEO campaign.
Let’s find out how to choose the right keywords for your content.
How to Choose Keywords for Better Search Ranking
1. Create a Giant Keyword List
The first step is to generate a bunch of keywords. You don’t need to worry about CPC, keyword difficulty, or search volume at this stage. The focus is to collate a list of keywords relevant to your target topic. With that, let’s examine a few ways to find keywords for your keyword list:
Enter your seed keyword into Google’s search bar, and it automatically generates a list of related keywords.
Google Related Searches
The Related Searches of the search engine result pages show a list of relevant keywords related to the search term.
Google’s People Also Ask Segment
The PAA segment of the search engine result page provides a list of questions people ask about the search term. These questions are long-tail keywords.
Keyword Research Tools
Keyword research tools make the work easy. They help you generate hundreds of keywords in one click.
For example, Keyword.com has a keyword suggestion feature that automatically generates a list of keywords related to your primary keyword.
Also, you can use free keyword research tools like Google Keyword Planner. This software spits out a bunch of related terms to your primary keyword.
Analyze Your Competitors’ Keywords
Your competitors are a goldmine. You can analyze their pages or use a competitor analysis tool to get a list of keywords they optimize on their pages.
What next? Turn all the keywords generated through the above steps into a giant list.
You can use Google Sheets to collate your keywords or other tools like Word or Google Docs.
2. Find Low-Competition Keywords
It’s time to shuffle your list to extract the relevant keywords and eliminate insignificant ones.
The first group of keywords to remove from your list are highly competitive search terms. Super competitive keywords have high potentials but are difficult to rank for on search engine result pages.
You can use a keyword research tool to find these search terms. Most keyword research tools provide the keyword difficulties of keywords.
For example, we used Google Keyword Planner to analyze the competition level for some of our target keywords.
3. Focus on Keywords That Match the Search Intent
Creating content that satisfies searchers’ intent should be the primary focus of every site owner because Google prioritizes search intent as a primary ranking factor.
Considering keywords that match search intent should be your priority before shuffling keywords based on search volume or other factors.
Search engines are obsessed with this factor and rank pages based on how searchers’ intents are met.
Further reading: Search Intent; What is it, And How Do People Search?
4. Choose Keyword That Has Business Potential
Ahrefs describes keywords with business potential as “how lucrative ranking a keyword will be for your business.”
For example, at Keyword.com, a keyword like “how to track keywords” has high business potential because we have keyword tracking software. It’s easy to create an article on this topic and mention our tool without appearing too sales-y.
5. Long-Tail Keywords Are Goldmines
Every business KPI should focus on conversion above traffic. John Ozuysal mentioned a statement in one of his LinkedIn posts.
“You might not get the volume to brag about in a cocktail party, but the dividends with long-tail keywords will fill your pocket with dollars.
It’s easier to nail the search intent for long-tail keywords and create a perfect article to serve your readers.”
Long-tail keywords are less competitive and help you better target your content. Most importantly, they have a high organic click-through rate and are easy to rank for.
Is That All?
You might be curious “Search volume and traffic potential” were not included in the list.
Logically, a keyword search volume doesn’t matter, but it can be considered in choosing your keywords.
A keyword with a high search volume has the potential to generate more traffic to your site, but most of them are competitive.
A lady asked a question in one of the Ask an SEO sessions.
She asked, “Should we use a keyword even when we don’t have volume data?” A Search Engine Journal official replied, “Yes! You should focus on zero search volume keywords when it makes sense for your company.”
Often low-competitive keywords relevant to your business have low search volumes. Some are as low as zero. Due to their low search volumes, most site owners neglect them and tag them as insignificant to their sites.
John Ozuysal, Founder of House of Growth, shares a case study on how he got 2.4k traffic from a zero search volume keyword: “Even though I don’t go after every zero search volume keyword always, I use them to build topical authority and when they relate to the problem my product is solving.
You miss big opportunities by not going after low or zero-search volume keywords. I got over 2k organic traffic by targeting a zero search volume keyword.”
On the other hand, creating content for a specific audience with less traffic but high conversion is better than creating content for the masses with low or zero conversion.
That’s why it’s necessary to focus on keywords that match search intent and are relevant to your business.
Where to Use SEO Keywords for Search Rankings
1. Page URLs
SEO keywords in your page URLs help search engines understand the content of your page and its relevance to the search query. A keyword in the URL gives users an idea of what to expect in the article and may increase the likelihood of clicking on the URL.
2. Title Tags
Title tags are displayed as clickable headlines in search engine results.
Adding your primary keyword to the title tag helps with three purposes: it improves search engine ranking, increases click-through rate, and helps user understanding and expectations.
The best practice when writing your page’s title is to include your crucial keyword at the beginning of the page title. It makes your page appear more relevant and prevents your keyword from being cut off in mobile SERPs when your title is long.
3. Meta Description
Even though meta descriptions are not a direct ranking factor, relevant and compelling ones improve pages’ click-through rates. When they concisely explain what the pages are about and are optimized with the primary keyword, they increase organic traffic and boost page relevance.
Read Google’s documentation on how to create quality meta descriptions.
Subheadings form the table of content of your page. So adding your keywords to them help your readers quickly decide the relevancy of your content to their needs.
Also. search engines use subheadings to form featured snippets or rich results displayed prominently at the top of search engine results pages. Including relevant keywords in your subheadings increases the chances of your content being selected for these enhanced search results, providing more visibility and driving additional traffic to your page.
5. Anchor Texts
Adding keywords to anchor text help search engines associate your keywords with the linked page’s content which outrightly increases your page’s ranking for those keywords.
Also, keywords in anchor texts increase contextual relevance. When users see a hyperlink with descriptive anchor text containing relevant keywords, they understand what to expect when clicking the link. If external websites use anchor text that includes relevant keywords when linking to your pages, it can help reinforce the relevance and authority of your content for those keywords.
6. Surrounding Content
How many times should you use a keyword in a sentence?
We did a quick survey across several platforms to get the best answer to this question.
Among other answers on Reddit, RafikGk21 said: “Your keyword should be in the first 100 words of your post.”
Mickmeaney also said, “It depends on the keywords and what works for your competitors.
How effective keyword frequency is, is debatable, but generally, you want to stay within the parameters of what’s working in the SERPs. I examine what other pages are doing and stay within that region.
Some say you shouldn’t exceed 2%; others say it’s 0.5%. The fact is, it’s variable.”
We tilted our gear to Quora, and here are some of the answers we got:
“There are no fixed limits on keyword density, but obviously, the keyword should appear at least once, but not too often, as this would make the text hard to read and make search engine crawlers suspect that your text is spammy due to keyword stuffing.” Jacek Ruzyczka
“Exactly as many times as it takes to understand the content of your article clearly. No more but no less.” Nikolaj Antonov
In a blog post by Wordstream, they said, “Generally speaking, many SEO professionals agree that a keyword should not appear more than once per 200 words of copy. This means that a given keyword should not appear more than once for every 200 words of copy on a webpage.”
Use your keywords naturally in your content. Most importantly, use the primary keyword sparingly in your article to avoid keyword stuffing—Optimise semantically related terms to your primary keyword across your content rather than focusing on one search term. You won’t want to fall into the trap of search engines. They frown against keyword stuffing and derank pages creating content for search engines through keyword stuffing rather than satisfying search intent through relevant information.
7. Image Alt Attribute
When users perform image searches, search engines often consider the alt attribute to understand the content of images and display relevant results. Including keywords in the alt attribute can increase the visibility of your images in image search results, potentially driving more traffic to your website.
Also, when images fail to load, search engines display the alt attribute as a fallback. Using descriptive keywords in the image alt attribute provides information about the image and enhances the readers’ knowledge of the content even with the image not visible.
Other Platforms to Use SEO Keywords
1. Social Media
Is there a connection between social media and SEO? Simple answer; yes!
In a blog post by Madison Taylor Marketing, they said, “Google and other search engines are now starting to pay attention to whether your site gets shared on social media. If it does, you get better search rankings.” That’s why Moz recommends using keywords early in any social media update so that they’re immediately visible.
It’s worth knowing that Google indexes Twitter updates, so using keywords on your tweets can lead people to your Twitter profile and then to the content on your website. More so, keywords can be used as hashtags in social media posts, making it easier for people looking for topics covered on your site to find your content.
According to Webolution, using SEO keywords in social media appeals to the algorithm to broaden your reach, solidifies your brand identity online, and maximize opportunities with current customers.
2. Community Forums
Community forums often rank well in search engine results for specific queries. By strategically including relevant SEO keywords in your forum posts, you increase the likelihood of your posts appearing in search engine results for those keywords. This can enhance the visibility of your posts, attract more users to the forum thread, and drive traffic to your website.
In H-educate’s video tutorial on ranking #1 on YouTube, he mentioned keyword research as the primary factor in improving your video’s visibility on YouTube.
Adding your keyword to the YouTube video, and naturally in the description, tells the algorithm what your video is about and increase its ranking.
In addition, YouTube views don’t just come from viewers who are signed in. Google plays a crucial role in the success of YouTube videos. However, for Google to rank YouTuve videos in search results, one of the things the algorithm does is extract the audio to identify its keywords. That’s why your videos must be well-optimized for their primary keywords.
What’s next after optimizing your pages for their keywords? Track keyword rankings!
Keyword tracking helps you monitor your page ranking on SERP for their keywords. But you won’t want to spend all day analyzing your keyword rankings.
That’s why Keyword.com is a go-to center for many SEO experts. This software helps you discover your actual SERP competitors and strategies to outsmart them.
In addition, you can access your report daily, weekly, or based on your preference and share live keyword performance reports with your clients in one click.