Find out how to use keywords and how to rank for them in our SEO basics tutorial on the Smarter Searches blog

What Are Keywords?

Keywords are a key element of standard SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and PPC (Pay-Per-Click) practices. Today we’ll only focus on the SEO side of things, including the foundation of your site’s content. Used on your website — written into your main navigational pages, on blogs,  and in other descriptive locations —  these relevant-to-your-business words help increase the likelihood that searchers entering specific search queries find what they’re looking for in your content — and in your business. Because the use of these relevant, targeted keywords help your business rank in search engines like Google — for what you do and what you offer (and ideally higher than your competition) — keywords are a highly important aspect of your SEO and organic (non-paid) search strategy. When used efficiently, keywords help your business attract the right kind of visitors, but when they’re used meaningfully, they also have the power to generate relevance in the search engines and reinforce brand loyalty. Want more? Check out “A Primer for Keywords on SEO.” Otherwise, here’s a quick breakdown of the primary types of SEO keywords: short and long-tail keywords.

Types of SEO Keywords

Short-Tail Keywords (or Broad Keywords)

These short, often-single word or two-word keywords identify a broader sense of a business, company, or brand — like marketing, design, shoes, home loans, glasses. While short tail keywords do describe an important basal element of a business or website, they’re often too broad on their own. Lacking distinction from competitors, these short-tail or broad keywords are much harder to rank for, and because they’re less targeted, they’re less likely to attract the kind of visitors that turn into leads. Furthermore, big brands and huge corporations often dominate on these types of keywords (think ebay, Amazon, Wayfair, and Wikipedia).

Long-Tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords, on the other hand, use more words, usually a 4-6 word phrase, to better explain a business, company, or industry — like Knoxville TN digital marketing, interior design ideas for beginners, custom running shoes, student loan refinancing tips, and discount eyeglasses for women. Because these focused keywords are better targeted at each industry, they’re easier to rank for (because of reduced competition), but they also help drive the most relevant traffic to each site — a perk that’s more likely to create genuine leads.

How to Rank for Keywords

1. Keyword Research

First, you must find out what you want to — and need to — rank for. This is where keyword research comes into play. Start by listing search terms, long-tail keywords, and queries you believe you should be ranking (or ranking higher) for. Next, check out the competition to see what kind of terms and keywords they’re ranking for, as well as what kind of content is ranking (blogs, videos, infographics, product pages, etc.). Remember that long-tail keywords offer the greatest chance to be found online by the people who are actually seeking a product or service like yours.

2. Content Planning & Execution

Next, you’ll need to devise a plan to create relevant, engaging, and useful content that uses your chosen keyword(s) and its variations. Find out what kind of content matters most to your audience base (articles, blogs, product pages, guides, tips, videos, infographics, etc.), and create a schedule to execute it on a regular basis. While you’re doing this, make sure your images and the site as a whole are optimized for your keywords. Want more on this? Check out Moz’s “Visual Guide to Keyword Targeting and On-Page SEO.”

3. Publish & Promotion

Figure out when, where, and how you want the world to see your content. Will it simply stay on your website, waiting for visitors to stumble by, or will you opt for greater online visibility by sharing it on social media? Social media — we thought so. Next, decide if certain content will be more powerful it it’s published at a certain time — something called real-time marketing. In addition, the more you share, the more likely you’ll receive backlinks from other relevant and respected sources (another very important element of SEO). You can read more about backlinks on our blogs: “Link Building for SEO: The Basics” and “Backlinks: Best Practices and Blunders.”

You can improve your site’s online visibility and search engine rankings simply by using SEO tools like keywords. It will take some time and results may fluctuate, but it’s often one of the most underutilized elements of online marketing. All in all, one of the best ways to rank for keywords — and improve your website’s ranking — is to use them! On content pages, in blogs, on image descriptions, you name it! However, you must be careful not to overuse them. This frowned on approach, called overstuffing, not only makes a site look spammy (i.e. “Call our Knoxville, Tennessee digital marketing specialists today. We’re in Knoxville. TN. Did you hear about how we are in Knoxville and do digital marketing?”), but it can also have some negative effects on your site. For more on SEO, be sure to check out our other SEO-focused blogs.

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