SEO is a topic that is typically extremely misunderstood. Because things change so rapidly and so drastically in the arena, bad information and outdated information is circulated as truth more often than not, and even some so-called experts aren’t actually sure what’s true and what isn’t. Google and other search engines deliberately keep their algorithms secret, not only from their competition, but from those who might abuse the system if they knew for sure how it worked.
This means what information we do have is largely based on anecdotal evidence and second-hand information from other people who have performed testing and tracking to create an educated guess about what may or may not work.
Thankfully, we do have some information that is relatively certain to be correct. This is mostly based on thorough testing by SEO experts, so it can never be assured to be 100% accurate, however most of this information is generally agreed in the SEO world to be true.
There is one thing that is definitely agreed on by nearly every SEO expert out there, and that is that keywords are still important. They don’t work exactly the same way as they used to, but they are still a very important part of SEO, and that’s what we are going to concentrate on in this guide.
Keywords will probably always be a vital component of SEO, because that’s the primary thing search engines use to rank websites when people search for specific terms, however how those keywords are used has changed significantly over the past few years.
Let’s get started, and you’ll learn more about the importance of keywords, and how to find the right ones and make sure you’re using them correctly.
The first thing I want to stress is that keyword use has changed drastically over the past decade. At one point, all you had to do was stuff a page with a bunch of keyword phrases, and you could rank for a lot of those phrases. Sometimes you didn’t even have to use relevant keywords.
If you just repeated 100 different keywords twenty times each, you’d have a pretty good shot at ranking in the top 10 for at least a few of those keywords, especially with a little bit of extra effort like using heading tags or even hidden text (making the text the same color as the background).
Of course, search engine algorithms have gotten a lot more complex and a lot smarter. If you attempt tactics like that these days, you’ll probably just get your site banned from the search engines entirely.
SEO requires a lot more subtlety these days. You cannot use all those shady tactics and expect to make it to the top, even for less competitive keywords.
Search engines are much smarter than they used to be with regards to keywords. For example, it used to be that if you wanted to rank on the first page for the keyword phrase “underwater basket weaving” you had to have that exact keyword phrase on your page multiple times. Now, it’s possible to rank on the first page without having that exact phrase on your page at all.
Of course, if you do have it on your page, you certainly have a better chance of ranking well. However, other factors can push you to the top even if you don’t have the phrase on your page.
There’s also something called latent semantic indexing, or LSI. LSI is a complex process, but basically it involves the search engine’s system taking a look at a wide range of documents, comparing them to see which words they have in common, and determining relevance based not only on the individual page it is analyzing, but others it believes are similar.
If you have “how to weave baskets under water”, Google would see that as contextually similar to “underwater basket weaving”. The search engine is a bit like artificial intelligence, because it can “learn” by analyzing billions of pages for similarities, and it can figure out context by realizing that many other pages that contain “underwater basket weaving” also contain the words “how to weave baskets under water”, and it realized those two phrases must be contextually similar.
Even though the search engine itself knows absolutely nothing whatsoever about underwater basket weaving, it is able to figure out what those pages are about simply because of how often words appear on other pages with the same groups of words.
You can learn more about LSI here:
Remember to keep in mind that just because you can rank well for a phrase that doesn’t appear on your page doesn’t mean you will rank well for that phrase. Thus, it’s always better to have those exact phrases on your page whenever possible.
The most important thing to take away from this is that you do still need to have keywords on your pages in order for Google (and other search engines) to figure out what your page is about, but you no longer have to worry quite as much about incorporating specific keyword phrases or anything like that. As long as you research your keywords and include a few main keyword phrases on your pages, the rest will fall into place naturally.
The future of keywords is never certain, but one thing we’re pretty sure about is that keyword research will probably always have some sort of significance because there’s not much else search engines could use to index sites. Keywords are always going to be necessary in some way.
Keywords aren’t useful only for search engine rankings. They’re also extremely helpful for coming up with article titles and ideas. They’re also useful for sites like Pinterest, as well as any paid ads you might create.
So you see, keywords are still important for many different reasons, including for SEO. So it’s important to find a keyword tool that is a good fit for you and to use it to find keywords for your business.
Let’s take a look at the different types of keywords, and which ones you should focus on.
There are three main types of keywords. All three types are important, but you should focus more of your efforts on two of them.
The three main types of keywords are:
- Long Tail
Primary keywords are those keywords that everyone thinks of when they research keywords on a particular topic. They get tons of searches per month, and have the potential to make you a lot of money in the very unlikely event that you manage to rank for one of them.
The trouble is, these keywords are hyper-competitive, and it’s nearly impossible to rank for them. While it’s important to know what those keywords are in your niche, the chances of you ranking for them without enormous effort are practically nil.
They also don’t tend to convert very well, because they aren’t very specific. However the volume can make up for the lower conversions if you manage to rank for one of them.
Primary keywords are usually one or two words. Examples of primary keywords would be:
Secondary keywords are those keywords that are generally two to three words and are a bit less competitive than primary keywords. These keywords are still fairly difficult to rank for, however they get a decent number of searches per month (at least a few thousand) so they’re working trying to rank for.
Secondary keywords usually convert better than primary keywords, because they are more specific than primary keywords, and people are closer to the buying process when they search for these keywords.
Examples of this tier of keywords include:
- Makeup tips
- Buy cosmetics
- Beauty videos
Finally, we have long tail keywords. Long tail keywords get much lower search volume than other keywords, but they are much easier to rank for. Plus, they tend to convert better because they are much more specific. If someone searches for “buy Kylie Jenner Lip Kits online”, they are almost certainly ready to buy!
If they search for “makeup”, they might be looking for makeup application tips, information about types of makeup, or, yes, to buy makeup. But it could me a number of things.
Examples of long tail keywords include:
- Buy Cover Girl makeup online
- Where to buy cosmetics in Chicago
- Beauty tips for older women
Long tail keywords actually make up the majority of searches on the internet. You might think more people search for words like “porn” or “golf”, but those longer searches actually make up the bulk of searches.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to focus on long tail as a majority of your keywords, with secondary keywords coming in next. You don’t really need to focus on those primary keywords, because odds are you’ll cover pretty much all of them in your other keywords.
For example, “online beauty tips” contains both “beauty” and “beauty tips”. Plus, you can remember that search engines look at context, and a site that talks about “online beauty tips” could also (to the search engines) be talking about “online beauty tutorials”, “online makeup tips”, or any number of other phrases even without specifically mentioning those phrases.
There are hundreds of keyword tools out there. Some are much more effective than others, and some are pretty close to useless. So which ones are actually useful?
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular.
Term Explorer is a bit more affordable than most keyword tools, starting at just $34 per month. They also have a free trial so you can test out the system with no risk. They have plenty of features that rival some of the more expensive tools, so if you’re looking for an affordable option, this could be a good choice.
SEMrush is definitely one of the most well-known keyword tools. Some of the world’s biggest companies use them, including eBay, Booking.com, Disney, and Amazon. Considering their high-profile clientele, their pricing is actually quite reasonable, starting at just $99 per month, which is not that bad considering how many features they have. They go far beyond just keyword research and allow you to track the keywords you’re using on your sites, your positions in the SERPs and their changes, and so much more.
The Moz Keyword Explorer is one of the most well-known keyword tools. It can provide a tremendous amount of data, including accurate estimates of search volume, SERP analysis, intuitive suggestions, and much more. Prices start at $99 per month, but they let you give the tool a try for free.
Keyword Snatcher is an extremely useful tool for finding keyword phrases you might never have thought of. It finds keywords that most other tools would never find. The main problem is that it offers no information whatsoever on search volume or competition. However, you can export a file that you can import into the Google Keyword Planner to get that information. It’s an extra step, but it’s not that big of a deal.
But at the current price of $47 for lifetime access, it’s invaluable for finding keywords you probably wouldn’t otherwise find.
This keyword tool is fairly expensive, but it provides an incredible amount of information. It will tell you how competitive a keyword is, how hard it would be for you to rank, approximately how many clicks you could expect, and a lot more. This is one of the more robust tools out there. Prices start at $99 per month.
If you’re looking for detailed information directly from the Google Keyword Planner, but you aren’t actually advertising through AdWords, Long Tail Pro is a great tool. They provide all the important metrics, including potential keyword profitability, competition, difficulty, and more. And they have a 7-day trial that bills as low as $37 per month for their starter plan (or even cheaper if you pay annually). That’s a lot more affordable than many other tools.
Keywords are an important component of your SEO strategy, and although their use has certainly changed considerably, they are still the overall bread and butter of any SEO campaign.
It’s important to target the right keywords, as always, concentrating on the long tail and those mid-range keywords that you have a fair chance at ranking for.
Using the right keyword tool is essential, as it will give you the information you need to make an informed decision with regards to competition and potential difficulty ranking for specific keywords, so be sure to test out a few to find the one that fits best with your marketing plan. Fortunately, many tools have free trials that let you experiment a bit with no risk.
Now get out there and find some great keywords and start pulling in the rankings. Good luck!