My short and sweet definition is that keywords are the building blocks of the internet. They make up everything you search for or engage with on the web.
“Keywords are ideas and topics that define what your content is about. In terms of (search engine optimization or) SEO, they’re the words and phrases that searchers enter into search engines, also called “search queries.” If you boil everything on your page — all the images, video, copy, etc. — down to simple words and phrases, those are your primary keywords.
As a website owner and content creator, you want the keywords on your page to be relevant to what people are searching for so they have a better chance of finding your content among the results.” Moz
Do you need to be an expert?
In short, no. You just need to understand your own organization and the services you offer.
Let’s say we own a business that makes organic skincare products. Think about all the words that make up our products and services, not in sentences, just simple words. Like a stream of consciousness, just write them down. (Cheat – go to your website, pick out the most important words.) Here’s my attempt: skincare, organic, botanical, dry skin, all natural, sensitive skin, lotion, soap, moisturizer, wholesale, retail, private label, aromatherapy, ingredients, essential oils, spa, treatments. I could keep going but I think you understand.
Popular vs. Niche
There’s a very important concept to understand and that’s the difference between long tail and short tail keywords. You may not recognize that phrase, I’d be surprised if you did. It explains the visual on a graph of keyword popularity and competition.
The y axis is showing the number of searches, search volume, competition (all of these words apply.) The x axis is showing the number of keywords. Singular keywords are broad, generic and vague. Most of the keywords I thought of easily for my organic skincare company are singular. Now because the search volume on these words are very high, the competition to rank in search for those words is extraordinary. If you sell books, you know that Amazon ranks much higher than you do in search. They dominate all competition.
The x axis is all about complexity and conversion. The amount of keywords matter because it’s about clearly defined intent meaning the people using those phrases are more likely to convert to customers. The more keywords you add (also called a keyword phrase), the fewer people will be using it. But those people know exactly what they want. My skincare company may struggle to compete in search with just the word “skincare” but by using “organic skincare for babies”, my company is much more likely to come up in search and be found by the person ready to buy.
The high competition at the top of the graph is very close to the y axis, it’s short. The complexity of low competition keywords looks like a long tail out at the right side on the x axis. Short tail = high competition. Long tail = low competition.
So I should just be using Short Tail?
You’ll want to use a combination of both types. Get yourself out there with the big boys. If you don’t try, you definitely won’t succeed. But you need to be found in both. Our skincare company is using a combination of short & long with: skincare, organic, botanical, as well as “organic skincare for babies” “botanical skincare treatments”. Search engines will reward you for both.
How do I find out which keywords to use?
I recommend making that easy short tail list and bringing it over to a keyword search tool to learn about traffic and get suggestions for further use. The easiest one is the predictive search you’ll find in Google.
More keyword search tools
- Google Keyword Planning Tool (you’ll need to have a Google Ads account)
- Ubersuggest by Neil Patel
- Keyword Tool Dominator
- SEMRush (paid)
- KWFinder (paid)
- SpyFu (paid)
- Answer the Public (visual tool, less about competition)
Where do I use keywords?
The short answer is anywhere you write. If you want search engines to find your website or other digital assets, you have to describe who you are using those keywords. Using them on your website, in social media bios, social media posts, advertising, and metadata.
I’ve described this concept before but it’s important so I’ll repeat. Metadata is information that describes a piece of content. It’s important because most search engines use metadata to help determine the value of content when adding pages to their search index. In simpler terms, this information is what Google uses to decide where (and how high up) to show your stuff in search.
In the case of an image, the metadata can include: file name, size, when the image was created, what kind of camera was used, etc. In the case of a document it could be file name, author, origination date, how long the document is, a summary of the information, and more.
You’ll have a list of short tail keywords and you’ve performed research on long tail keywords. Keep a list on hand and make sure you are using keywords in all the necessary locations. Don’t go crazy (that’s called keyword stuffing) be natural, consistent, but strategic.