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How Do Keywords Work? A Beginner's Guide to SEO.
Most of what happens on search engines is centred around words. This is why keywords have always played an essential role in how websites are ranked and why you need to understand their role in SEO if you want your website to get as much visibility as possible.
Keywords are not only what allows search engines to know what a website is about, but also what will pull people toward your website and generate activity. They can also help you keep more of your visitors and increase the chances that they'll opt for whatever you're trying to sell. Let's take a look at what keywords are, why they're so important for SEO, and how to use them properly to improve your results on search engines.
What are Keywords Exactly?
In SEO terms, keywords are words or strings of words that people enter when performing searches looking for specific content, products, or services. Your goal as a website owner is to use keywords that are relevant to your audience and congruent with what you're doing and use them throughout your website. This is what will allow users to know what your site is about, and users to know that you're the website they're looking for when scrolling through search results.
How Important are Keywords for SEO?
Keywords are extremely important for SEO and are one of the first things that should be covered in any good beginner's guide to SEO. One thing you should know, however, is that the way they’re being used by search engines today is much more sophisticated than it used to be.
Back in their infancy, sites like Google did not have the advanced algorithms they have today. There was also much less competition for search engines, and they didn't have the budgets they have today. This means that there was much less control over the quality of search engine results, and their attitudes were a bit more lax back then.
There was a time when you could easily manipulate search engines by using deceptive keyword techniques. One of the most common ones was to repeat as many iterations of a word as possible in their site’s copy, including typos, to get traffic from more searches.
Things have changed a lot since then, but keywords are still what Google uses to categorise websites, and if you don’t have the proper keywords used in the right context from the beginning, then your results will suffer even if you do everything else right.
The Right and Wrong Way to Use Keywords
If you want to know how to use keywords properly, you have to know where you should include them and how. Two of the most important areas for keywords are meta descriptions and meta tags. Meta descriptions are the listings people see when they look up results in search engines but are also very important for search engines to understand the goal of your website. Meta tags are inserted in your site's header code, and you can use the 'keywords' meta tag to insert top keywords for any given page. These will only be visible to search engine bots and will further help them understand what your site is about.
Being natural when adding keywords to your website is very important as Google and other search engines will penalise your website if you use certain keywords too much or if you’re obviously trying to add different versions of a keyword to trick them.
It's advised that you use your keywords as inspiration for what the content will be about and let them fall into the text. You can try to inject some of them if you feel like they will fit, but do not overdo it.
You should also avoid anyone who tells you that there’s a magical word density that will get you on the first page of Google. These techniques are obsolete and will get you in trouble, so beware. Techniques like cloaking, where you stuff your meta keyword tags with all sorts of irrelevant keywords or try to present your website as one thing through the meta description and show something completely different to your visitors should be avoided too.
Keywords should also be present in things like titles and navigation elements. These are areas search engine bots will pay very special attention to when categorising websites. But do not make the mistake, again, to use these areas to stuff keywords. Make sure that the keywords have a reason to be there and don’t use different versions of a keyword in the same title or header.
How to Perform Keyword Research
Now that you know where and how to use keywords correctly, it’s time to learn how to find the right keywords for your website. There are many techniques and tools that you can use to conduct keyword research. If you have a Google Ads account, Google has a very easy-to-use free keyword planner you can try. If you don't have an account and don't want to open one, then a free tool like keywordtool.io can do the trick. Just start with a few keywords that define your website and enter them into the research tools. You should then get a long list of keywords along with search volumes.
You can now choose which keywords are the most appropriate for your website and privilege keywords that have high search numbers but be careful with the competition. Sometimes, focusing on lower search terms with less competition is a better strategy if you can include those keywords naturally.
Another thing that you can do if you're looking for good keywords for your website is to spy on your
competition. This is much easier than many people think, too. Google's tool will allow you to input any URL and see the main keywords used on the website. Doing this could help you tell which keywords the people on the first page are using and start emulating what they're doing.
You also have tools like SemRush and Open Site Explorer that will tell you exactly what phrases and keywords people entered to find your competitors' websites. These will cost you, however, but they have a lot of features that will help you not only find great keywords but analyse your website to make sure that they're being used correctly too.
Mistakes to Avoid When Using Keywords
One of the most common mistakes people make when picking keywords is being too broad. If you’re selling vinyl tiles for the kitchen, for instance, and you start targeting people looking for ceramic tiles, or tiles for other parts of the house, you will end up attracting the wrong kind of people to your website and Google may judge that the content is not in line with what your audience really wants.
Another very common mistake that you should avoid is overlooking the reasons why someone searches. If you're selling roller skates, for instance, then a keyword phrase like [where can I buy roller skates] or [affordable roller skates] will have a much stronger intent behind it than [how to clean roller skates] or [how to change roller skate wheels]. The only exception is if you're selling related products, or if this is for a blog article on any of these subjects. This is why you need to think about the kind of people you want on your site and the type of keywords that would reflect their readiness to make a purchase.
A Few Words About Semantic SEO
One of the principles you should start learning as soon as possible if you want to create content that will allow you to both attract and keep people on your website and please search engines is semantic SEO. Semantic SEO is all about building topical depth and cohesiveness and is a new concept that exploits the natural language and deep learning algorithms that search engines like Google use to determine which sites have the most topical authority.
The main goal of semantic SEO is to go beyond a visitor’s first query and try to answer as many subsequent queries as possible that they might have on the same piece of content.
If you want to know how to use semantic SEO, let's use our roller skates example from earlier. Let's say that you have a page on how to change roller skate wheels. People who look for this may also be asking for things like, 'how do I pick roller skate wheels?', ' or 'what are the best wheels for indoor skating?' for instance. By adding these questions to the text and answering them, Google's machine learning algorithm will judge your site as being more relevant and you might gain more visibility as a result.
So, try to learn about how to make your content more topically relevant and try to go beyond the surface when creating content. Also, try to look for query keywords specifically when running keyword searches, and see which ones could fit logically into the same piece of content.
Keywords play a very important role in SEO, and you need to learn as much as you can about keywords and how search engines assess them if you want to be successful in the long term. Always remember that keywords are meant to be read by humans first and foremost and focus on creating valuable content instead of trying to manipulate search engines.