Understanding SEO: The Importance of Keywords

Chapter 1: Content + Links = SEO Chapter 3: Keyword Research Basics

The Importance of Keywords

When it comes to understanding language, computers are much more literal than we humans. We can see a title like “How to Rock Your Resume,” and immediately understand that “rock” is slang for “improve,” and “resume” (even without accents) means “CV” rather than “start again.” Computers would have a harder time parsing that string of words and grouping an article with such a title with other résumé writing articles in its index.

Since most humans write for other humans, it doesn’t naturally occur to us to make parts of our writing more literal to help search engines do their job. Even small changes can make a big difference. “How to Rock Your Resume Writing” still contains a figurative use of “rock,” but it also contains the term “resume writing,” which is a frequently searched term. “Resume writing” is searched in Google over 600 times a day. Even if Google’s computers don’t understand resume writing semantically, they’ve grouped similar pages in their index.


To classify different pages under their respective topics, search engines need to be able to pick out  requently searched terms, which we call keywords. A keyword may consist of a single word or several. “Debt” and “how to get out of debt” are two different keywords. Keywords comprised of fewer words tend to be searched more frequently than those comprised of more words.

Shorter keywords are called “head” or “primary” keywords, while longer keywords are known as “long tail” keywords. A frequently used hypothetical example of a primary keyword is “blue widgets”; a few long tails would be “cheap blue widgets,” “used blue widgets,” and “blue widgets for sale.”

Most primary keywords have many, many long tails. The Google AdWords Keyword Tool, which we’ll explore in the next chapter, will generate up to 800 long tail variations of a primary keyword in a single query.

The Long Tail

Long tail keywords get fewer searches, but their intent is more specific, so they tend to have higher conversion rates. Someone who types “iPod” into a search engine can be looking for any type of  information related to the iPod: pictures, descriptions of different models, or reviews. Someone who types “32GB white iPod Touch” into a search engine is more likely looking to actually buy the product.

Whether it’s in your better interest to pursue a primary keyword or long tail is a judgment call, but in most cases, you’ll at least want to start your SEO campaigns with long tail keywords, then work your way toward the head terms. Long tails are not only more specific, but usually have less competition in search engines. Once Google starts ranking pages on your website for a certain set of related keywords, the site begins to build keyword authority, making it easier for newer pages to rank for keywords in the same niche. With increased keyword authority over time, you’ll begin to rank for some keywords without any proactive link building.

No matter how competitive or saturated a particular market seems, you can always find a side door into it with diligent keyword research. If you have an affiliate site for iPod and iPhone accessories, it’s unrealistic to spend the bulk of your time targeting the main keywords “iPod accessories” and “iPhone accessories”—
they’re too competitive.

A better strategy is to go after keywords on the frontier of the niche: brand new iPod and iPhone accessories that haven’t yet received much coverage on other sites. If “StealthAudio Earbuds” are a new product on the scene, you can publish a news announcement or review of it before your competitors, then start building links. Do this with enough similar accessories, and you’ll eventually have an authority site in the niche. Virtually all successful St. Louis SEO comes down to an ongoing cycle of publishing content and building links.

Keys to Leveraging Keywords

Keywords are – to Google – what your site is about, what an article is about, or what a product listing is about. For keywords to be useful, you need a heuristic (a set of rules and criteria) for determining which keywords to incorporate. Whether you’re planning a new site or revising your existing site to be more
discoverable by search engines, make note of the following:

  • Before using a keyword tool, brainstorm a list of what you believe to be the primary keywords for your site or page. The keywords you start with carry assumptions that a tool may not help you reexamine. You might discover, for instance, a list of keyword suggestions using “burning fat” as your primary keyword that you wouldn’t have found with a more obvious keyword like “losing weight.”
  • Long tail keywords, despite typically having lower search volumes, are often more commercially significant, since they express search intent more clearly. A keyword like “get out of debt calculator” is more informative than “get out of debt,” because the searcher has indicated that he or she is looking
  • for a tool, not just general advice. There are fewer pages in Google to compete with for the former than the latter. Always look for opportunities to provide unique information
  • When writing titles and copy, it’s better to risk sounding bland than appearing irrelevant for your keyword. A title like, “The Polyglot’s Guide to Language Mastery” has no highvolume keywords (“language mastery” has 12 searches a month) compared to “Learn a New Language in 3 Months” (“learn a new language” gets 1000 searches a month).
  • Pick half a dozen sites in your niche and take notes on what appear to be the main keywords being used. It’s likely that you’ll find at least a few keywords that had not occurred to you.

Up until now, we’ve only looked at keywords on a conceptual level, where there isn’t much to be said that’s actionable. Doing actual keyword research will clarify what to look for in the keywords you want to work into your websites.

Chapter 1: Content + Links = SEO Chapter 3: Keyword Research Basics