What Are Keywords and Why Are They so Important?

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What are keywords beyond their definition?

Yes, they’re words and phrases used by people seeking information online. But, keywords imply intent — signifying the wrong intent denies their value.

The problem site owners have is two-fold:

Many site owners fail at implementing keywords during development. They then wonder why their site receives little traffic and conversions. This frustration leads to more development or a reliance on costly advertising.

Another item, site owners select the wrong keywords. They use resources targeting ill-fitting keywords with no chance of competition. Worse, they use valuable time targeting keywords better spent on other activities.

This article intends to clarify the proper use of keywords. It will give an overview of keywords for SEO. Then, detail how savvy site owners use keywords to improve traffic and conversions.

What are Keywords and Their Importance?

Chances are you came to this post through a keyword found in Google (or another search engine). Else, you discovered it through a link on the site, in an email, or on social media. If you noticed, the title and URL included a signal of what to expect by including the keyword(s).

Why do we include keywords in our content? Let’s go through a quick history of their use. Then, see their purpose in today’s search landscape.

Keyword Use: A Quick History

Before search, Web directories and word-of-mouth were popular ways to navigate the Internet. By 1995, Google made its debut and revolutionized the Web by giving it an easy-to-use search index. The primary way of organizing the information was through the use of keywords.


  • Defined the page/topic
  • Gave structure to links

Savvy webmasters caught on to Google’s use of keywords resulting in SEO tactics. The term “keyword stuffing” was synonymous with early SEO efforts. A site used keywords to rank — often including non-relevant keywords for the sake of site traffic.

The abuse of keywords made search results a mess. Google’s algorithm changes (there have been many) refined search results. Today, keywords are one of many search signals we know of for Google SEO — yet they remain one of the biggest.

The Purpose of Keywords

A keyword:

  • Identifies data
  • Signals the content’s topic
  • Matches user intent

Generic, “top-level” keywords are broad by definition. These keywords (e.g. Bike) begin an information query — the user has yet to define what they need beyond the basic topic. As the search continues, the person includes modifiers to discover what they’re seeking.

Modifiers refine the keyword search (e.g. top 10, best, lowest price). This is what’s called a “long-tail” keyword. Long-tail keywords use a few keywords or a phrase to show better results.

Compare the two:

  • “Bike”
  • “10-Speed Bikes under $200 on eBay”

The latter providing a better match while incorporating the user’s intent.

Google has evolved beyond simple keyword use for content discovery. Their implementation of Rankbrain lets people search using natural language. You’re given relevant results regardless if you’ve matched the keyword 100%.

Google’s Rankbrain and AI/machine learning algorithm is in its infancy, though. And, until Google displays search based on our thoughts — we’ll still see keywords in use in our searches.

Keyword and User Intent

There are three “levels” of keyword use:

  1. Discovery
  2. Research
  3. Action

Discovery keywords are your general inquiries. This is when people learn of an item or brand and take to Google to see what it’s about. The person is skimming the surface-level of the topic but has yet to make a judgment.

Discovery keywords include:

  • [Brand/Name]
  • [Item]
  • [Serivce]

Research keywords are for those knowing what they want but need extra information. This is when people do their comparison shopping between brands and offers. The research phase begins targeting the long-tail keywords.

Research keywords include:

  • X vs Y
  • [Item] review
  • How, what, why

Action (intent) keywords are when people are ready to invest. The person did their research and is now finding the best provider. This search includes a long-tail keyword plus modifiers showing their intent.

  • Where to buy…
  • [Item] coupon
  • [Item] near me

Your job is selecting, using, and fine-tuning the use of these keywords. You will use all three to convince search users you’re the best brand for their inquiries and intent.

Finding Your Primary and Long-tail Keywords

Ranking for top-level (primary) keywords is an exhausting and difficult task. The keywords are likely dominated by brands with huge SEO and marketing budgets.


Don’t forgo the primary keyword as it creates a “seed” reference. You’ll use the seed keyword when discovering secondary and long-tail keywords. Plus, there’s a chance your site can gain traffic from these generic, discovery terms.


  • Primary: Bike
  • Secondary: Kid bikes
  • Long-Tail: Best bikes for kids

Your goal should be a primary and several secondary/long-tail keywords on every page. This clarifies the content’s topic while satisfying terms sought with a user’s intent. Discovering your SEO keywords begins with cross-referenced research.

Keyword Research via Tools

Keyword assumptions are the death knell of your research. The keywords you brainstorm aren’t likely what people use. Targeting wrong keywords waste time and resources detract from smart campaigns.

How do you find keywords with verifiable data? Keyword tools.

Keyword tools pool data from internal or third-party sources. The resulting data shares items like keyword volume and competition. Your task is to understand their search intent and if it’s applicable to your project.

Popular keyword tools include:

  • Ahrefs
  • SEMRush
  • KWFinder

Google AdWords should be your go-to resource, though. Many keyword tools derive data from its platform — so why not go to the source?

Here’s how it works:

  1. Brainstorm 5 – 10 primary keywords for the topic
  2. Plug the primary keyword into the tool
  3. Sort results by keyword volume and competition
  4. Copy 5 – 10 related (secondary) keywords from the list
  5. Repeat using secondary keywords to find the long-tail

…and like that you have a keyword list for the page.

Keyword Research via Analytics

Analytics provides real-world data for targeted keyword campaigns. Google Analytics has several important data sets used when revealing your keyword opportunities.

Data from analytics could include:

  • Search engine inquiries
  • Page navigation
  • Time on site

The keywords people use when finding your site become your new goal. The way people navigate the site can reveal flaws in the user experience. And, their time on site can tip about if they’re processing the information and/or message.

Heat mapping tools provide helpful analytical data, too. Hot and cold areas of your site — revealed with the tool — show where your visitors show interest. You can use this data to identify impactful keywords.

Keyword Research via Competitors

Competitive research directs efforts better than personal efforts in a lot of ways. A business wouldn’t spend money on on-going campaigns if it wasn’t making money. You can lift keywords from a competitor’s site or campaign for your use — without spending a dime.

Great tools to discover competitor keywords include:

  • SpyFU
  • BuzzSumo
  • WordStream

Each includes a free and paid version. Test them, seeing which one fits your bill and learning curve. Else, use the before mentioned tools since they have competitive research features, too.

What you’d do:

  • Analyze a competitor’s webpage or ad campaign
  • Pull the primary and secondary keywords from their efforts
  • Check the competitor’s backlink profile for opportunities

The research reveals what’s working for the competition. But, the research also uncovers keyword and content gaps. These gaps are opportunities in your niche because of the low competition.

Applying Keywords for On-Page Optimization

Every webpage should have unique keywords and supporting content. Following this practice delivers the true value of the keyword. It satisfies a user’s hunt for information while signaling Google your page has merit.

Here are the areas where you’ll apply the SEO keywords:

Meta Information

Meta information includes:

  • Title
  • Description
  • URL

This information goes into the section of each page. Google looks for this information and assigns/compares keywords to the body’s content. A well-crafted meta section also appears attractive in search helping increase clickthroughs.

There are a few ways to present your information in the meta title:

  • [Keyword] + (The rest of the title)
  • (An engaging front-half) + [Keyword]

Try headline formulas while including the primary and secondary keywords.

The meta description should include an interesting take on the information. A hook or strong statement will entice users. Include the keywords in this section, too.

Last, keep your URLs short and keyword-friendly. Make the URL’s legible but easy-to-remember, like “/keyword-thing/”. This satisfies Google, delivering the full value of your meta optimization.

content and Body Content

Keywords should appear in the headings (H tags) and body content. But, not overloaded to the point content becomes a mess. Overloading keywords are over-optimization which is a common penalty in SEO.

The WordPress plugin — Yoast — can track your on-page keyword use. Else, try crafting content with a natural tone while injecting keywords when appropriate.

Try the following:

  • H1 and H2: Primary and secondary keywords
  • H3 and H4: Long-tail and modifier keywords
  • Body: 2 – 3x primary, 3 – 5x secondary/long-tail

Your keyword research should have provided ample selection for each page. A shortcut is comparing the top 5 – 10 posts for the keyword and mashing them into something bigger and unique. This remixing will include keywords through subsections and the scope of the work.

Internal Links

Use keywords for internal links while building and growing the site. This doesn’t mean overloading your pages with links — forcing them in there for the sake of linking. The internal link structure should flow with the content like a book.

Here are a few tips for internal linking:

  • Use variations vs the same keyword each time
  • Link new pages from already popular pages
  • Visualize a hierarchy of the information “flow”

A smart link structure is “saving” keyword URLs for evergreen pages. This means using primary keywords as a directory — like blog categories. Except, you’re filling the top-level pages versus using the keyword for URL structure.

Ways to Use Keywords with Positive Growth

Keywords have more value than SEO, alone. They reveal and create opportunities to improve your brand and product catalog.

Product/Service Research

Your internal site search will show a few things like:

  • Frequently asked questions
  • The popularity of products or services

Use FAQ queries when crafting a content schedule. Begin answering these questions on a single FAQ page or individual posts. This saves time answering questions but gives a new page for SEO purposes, too.

The queries may also reveal product ideas and features. Regular searches for features or alternatives may show a need within your base. Try incorporating the wanted features into your current product line.

The keyword data you collect:

  • Generates more keywords for campaigns and content
  • Reveals barriers you could remove to increase conversions
  • Presents ideas for ad and marketing campaigns

Your actions become driven by data decisions.

Outreach and Link Building

Deep in those analytical tools are two items worth considering:

  • Entry source
  • Exit page

The entry source shares where traffic originates — it’s not always from search engines. You may notice visitors from blogs and site in your niche. This gives you an opportunity to reach out and work on building a business relationship.

The relationship could offer:

  • Cross-promotional campaigns
  • Social sharing and influencer outreach
  • Guest blogging opportunities

There is a strong chance you can pitch guest posts to sites already linking. This gives your site more backlinks while exposing your brand to their community.

Exit pages reveal under-performing pages. You can plug “holes” in pages through better call-to-actions or offering better incentives. This may reveal improper keyword use, too, giving you the chance to update the site.

Keywords are Everything (Need Help?)

What are keywords good for if your business lacks a foundation? Far too many businesses think SEO is the end-all, be-all of online success. Yet, keywords are but one aspect of everything needed for a great online presence.

Don’t overlook the power of great website design and user experience. Nor should you forgo efforts in building a remarkable brand.

Keywords do their best when your site (and business) offers value. They become an accelerant in your effort’s growth. Applying them in tandem to whole campaigns is how you’ll enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Need help creating the “big picture” of your business’s online presence?

We provide valuable online growth services from design to campaign management. We’d love to talk and see how we can help your business grow. Call us (+1-586-840-8052) or send us a message to discuss your untapped potential.

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