What are SEO Keywords? An Overview of Keyword Research

SEO keywords or key phrases are search terms added to content with the hope of that page displaying for the given phrase. 

You discover these keywords by researching them using tools like Ahrefs. SEO professionals will choose keywords based on their competition, volume, and search intent. 

The goal of this guide is to help you better understand SEO keywords, what they are, why you need to include them in your content, and how it will benefit you. 

Why Do SEO Keywords Matter?

SEO keywords matter significantly because they are the cornerstone of successful search engine optimization (SEO) strategies. These carefully selected words and phrases are the bridge that connects your content to search engine users actively seeking information, products, or services. Here’s why SEO keywords are so crucial:

Visibility: The target keywords you use will play a major role in where you rank in the search engines. By optimizing for keywords related to your niche and that have volume, you’ll increase your chances of ranking higher which results in more people seeing you and ultimately visiting your website. 

Topical Relevance: SEO keywords do more than simply tie traffic to your content, they provide context and relevance to Google. When you include keywords in your content, it helps Google better understand what you’re all about which is part of the reason why you end up ranking in the first place.

Advantage Over Competitors: A big part of researching for keywords is figuring out what your competitors are doing and finding a way to reverse engineer it. Long tail keywords help you rank for a series of low competition keywords that are super-niche focused and high value. 

Optimization: We don’t only add keywords to our content for SEO purposes. Sometimes keyword research helps us find phrases that people are looking for answers to. By adding that keyword to your content, you’re actually providing the answer and a great user experience which has plenty of long-term benefits.  

Types of SEO Keywords

As you research and learn more about SEO keywords, you’ll find that there are a number of types you can include in your content. Each of them is equally as important to understand. 

1. Short Tail

A short tail, target, or primary keyword is a main keyword that a lot of people design their content around. For example, digital marketing, keyword research, or social media marketing would be examples of short tail keywords.

short tail keyword

As you can see, while these keywords have a ton of volume, they’re super competitive as well and have keyword difficulty scores in the 90s. 

These keywords are important for understanding the overall topic or industry of your content, but they may not deliver the most targeted traffic. They are often used for branding and building general awareness.

2. Long Tail

Long tail keywords are longer and more specific phrases, usually consisting of three or more words. 

Examples include “digital marketing for real estate” or “best keyword research tool.” These are less competitive and easier to rank for. 

long tail keyword

When it comes to SEO keywords, you want to find balance between competition and volume. You also don’t want keywords that have such low volume that it’s not worth creating content around it because you’ll never benefit from it in the long run. 

The advantage of long tail keywords is that they attract highly relevant traffic. Users searching with long tail queries typically have a clear intent, which can lead to higher conversion rates. Content optimized for long tail keywords often answers specific questions or provides solutions to particular problems, making it valuable to users.

3. LSI (latent semantic indexing)

LSI keywords are semantically related terms that provide more context into the content on a page. They are not exact matches to your target keyword but share a connection in meaning. 

It’s important to understand what these are because it helps us write better content as SEO professionals. You don’t necessarily need to include every type of fruit in an article to help Google understand that the article is about fruit. 

For example, if you’re writing an article about the nutritional value of fruit, you may end up ranking for a topic about sugar content in fruit even if you never talked about it. This is due to latent semantic indexing. 

Because you may have included the words sugar, fruit, and nutrients, Google bots were able to make the connection. 

Tools like Surfer SEO specialize in helping you add more LSI keywords to your content to improve its quality and relevance which have a positive impact on your rankings.  

4. Branded Keywords

Branded keywords contain the name of your brand, company, or product. Link Whisper is a branded keyword. People actually search for that in Google. 

branded keywords

800 times per month and climbing may I add… 😎

Anyway, this is a relatively simple concept. These are brand presence keywords and unless you have a brand that is known worldwide, you’re not likely to get a whole lot of these. 

Branded keywords often have high click-through rates and conversion rates because users searching for them typically have a strong intent to interact with your brand. If someone searches your exact company or brand name, it’s obvious that they’re looking for you. 

It’s crucial to optimize your website and content for branded keywords to maintain brand visibility and control the narrative around your brand online.

5. Transactional Keywords

Transactional keywords are another “high-intent” type of keyword. Someone searches these when they’re deliberately looking to purchase something. 

This type of keyword will often include words like buy, download, subscribe, enroll, order, and so on. 

For example, if someone wants to subscribe to a lawn care service, they may search “lawn service subscriptions.” In this case, subscription is the transactional keyword and altogether it’s a long-tail transactional keyword. 

Optimizing for transactional keywords is crucial for e-commerce sites and businesses aiming to drive conversions. These keywords attract users at the bottom of the sales funnel, where they are more likely to convert into customers or leads.

The Best Ways to Find Great Keywords

Now that we understand the types of keywords for SEO and why we need to include them in our content, let’s take a look at how to figure out what they are. 

Competitor Research

In my opinion, there’s no better way to find SEO keywords than doing competitor research using Ahrefs. This process involves figuring out who your competitors are, analyzing their pages, and assessing what keywords they are using that you can use in your content. 

Best of all, it’s much simpler than it sounds:

Start by identifying your main competitors in your industry or niche. These are the websites or businesses that are vying for the same target audience.

Let’s say you’ve determined that you want to write about growing eggplant indoors. 

competitor research

You Google it and find these two websites at the top. Take one of these sites and punch the URL into the Ahrefs site explorer. 

finding competitor keywords

Go to the organic keywords section, filter the results at the top to only show keywords in the top 15 positions of Google, then take a look at what’s left. 

Now you have four great keywords that this website ranks for on page one and two. Use these keywords in your content to compete. 

Rinse and repeat this process with other competitors on page one and do this for every piece of content you create. 

Gap Analysis

To find keyword opportunities, compare your website’s keyword list with your competitors’. Ahrefs provides a “Content Gap” tool that helps identify keywords your competitors are ranking for, but you aren’t. Enter your domain and your competitors’ domains to discover these gaps. 

These are keywords you should consider targeting in your content.

gap analysis

We used the content gap tool to compare Linkwhisper.com to Yoast.com. These are all keywords that Yoast ranks for that Link Whisper does not. This gives us an idea of content we can create in the future and keywords to use if we want to try and outrank them. 

Google Autocomplete

Google Autocomplete is a useful tool for finding keyword ideas and understanding what users are searching for in real-time. When I’ve really exhausted a lot of other options I find that this is a great way to spark inspiration. 

Start by punching your main keyword into Google and the search bar will start suggesting related searches based on popular queries. You can use Ahrefs to piggyback on this research as you go to make sure there is search volume around these topics. 

The good thing about this strategy is that it’s like Google is whispering in your ear and telling you what you should do.

using google autocomplete to find keywords

If the search engine completes these searches for me, it’s obviously saying that these are popular topics and ones that Google is looking for more content on. 

Keep in mind that this isn’t typically an end to end solution so you’ll want to expand using Ahrefs to find long tail keywords and other options to go along with it. 

I like using Google Autocomplete as an inspiration tool if I hit a keyword research roadblock. 

Google Trends

If you capitalize on time sensitive topics, Google Trends is a great way to pick up on trending topics so you can jump in and capitalize on it while it’s hot. 

using google trends to find keywords

At the time of writing this, Dianne Feinstein’s death just hit the news so there is a lot of buzz on this topic. 

You can also look up your own topics to see if there is popularity around that keyword. 

cold plunge on google trends

For example, if we look at the word “cold plunge” we all know that this has become an incredibly popular wellness topic over the past few years. Spread out across five years, you can see how interest has grown over time. 

Again, consider Google Trends to be a catalyst for your research. Once you find topics that are trending, use tools like Ahrefs to find a series of low hanging fruit keywords and content ideas to expand on the main trend. 

Google Search Console

Something interesting that I’ve discovered over the years is that Google is very good at identifying semantics and related topics. As a result, you may rank on page one for a keyword you never even included in your content. 

For this reason, I like to go back to my content after it’s been published for a few months. If I’m ranking middle to bottom of page one for certain articles, I’ll open them up in GSC and see what keywords are ranking there. 

What I end up finding is a bunch of keywords I’ve never used because Ahrefs didn’t tell me to or Ahrefs said it didn’t have any volume. 

Keep in mind that SEO tools are super valuable but the data isn’t always accurate. Google is the only ultimate source of data.

So, give this a try. Take a look at a page that’s performing pretty well but could do better. See if there are any keywords you’re ranking for but have never actually included in your content. 

Add those keywords and see if it improves your rankings.  

Final Thoughts

That’s it. You’re equipped with all the knowledge needed on SEO keywords. You know how to find them, where to find them, what types of keywords to find, and even how to go back later on and find more keywords. 

At this point, it comes down to consistent content publishing, writing great content, and optimizing your on page SEO using internal linking. 

Make sure you’re connecting all your content with internal links using a tool like Link Whisper. Link Whisper makes the process so much easier by automatically suggesting internal links and anchor text as you write and when you go back to review. 

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