Posted on 7 February, 2020  |  4 mins

The meaning and importance of keywords in search engine optimisation (aka SEO) and how small businesses can improve their keyword search game

In Search Engine Optimisation for small business, we looked at SEO and how small businesses can use it to improve organic search engine results and, in turn, increase the quantity and quality of website traffic. We covered some SEO basics – including keywords.

With so much power vested in keywords, and so much mystery surrounding their origins, we decided to delve a little deeper. Here we define keywords and their importance, discover the long-tail keyword and engage in the art of the keyword search.

What are SEO keywords?

Keywords define what your content is about and help people to find it. They are the keywords in your content and your website that make it possible for people to find your site via search engines.

Why are keywords relevant in SEO? Simple, effective keywords optimise your website and connect you with your target audience by helping them to find what they’re looking for on your website. They ensure that you rank high on search engines and help to drive organic traffic to your site via Search engine result pages (more fondly known as SERPs).

Just remember, keywords are more about your audience and less about your content. You need to understand your target audience and think like a customer to identify the words and phrases they might search to find your product or service.

Once you have a list of the right keywords, you can get started on essential elements of your SEO campaign. For example:

  • establishing your site architecture – i.e. how web pages are structured and how they link
  • creating a blueprint of your product and category pages
  • developing your content plan and drafting content (from blogs to videos)
  • optimising landing pages.

The long-tail keyword

Keywords have evolved over time, one step in that evolution is the introduction of the long-tail keyword. While the name denotes a longer and more descriptive keyword – and it usually is anything from three words up – it’s a little more complicated than that.

What is a long-tail keyword? Long-tail keywords are phrases that are very specific to what you are selling. They work on the pretence that when a customer uses a specific search phrase, they are searching for something in particular, and that they are going to buy it.

A long-tail search might be ‘buy black high-waisted sports leggings for running’, while ‘sports leggings’ is an example of a short tail keyword.

The reason marketers are increasingly focusing on the long-tail keyword is that, while they generate less search traffic, they have a higher conversion rate because they are more specific.

Here are a few more reasons to chew on:

More personal searches

As we become increasingly reliant on ‘Google’ for the answers, search engines are considered more like advisors. We want answers that meet our individual needs. We’ve changed how we search – we’ve made it personal.

Better click-through rate

Using more specific and precise keywords in your content and metadata – i.e. long-tail keywords – means that you can target more precisely, attract the right searchers and get them to click through to your site.

Low competition

While most keyword research looks to secure quantity of searches – to boost impressions from search results – long-tail keywords go for quality. This is especially effective for small business as the more niche the search, the lower the competition.

Voice search queries

Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant – voice-activated devices have changed how people search. And when it comes to verbally asking the internet, ‘When did movie Cool Runnings come out?’, we ask a proper question – rather than typing ‘Cool Runnings’ and letting the internet do the rest. (The answer is 1993). This makes long-tail keywords an effective alternative.

Finding the right keywords

To get the ball rolling, an icebreaker. Keyword research is finding and analysing search terms that people use. What you learn through this process should inform your content strategy – and even your broader marketing strategy. To help you on your merry way, here are some useful tips:

Kick-off with a brainstorm

This is an opportunity to get introspective; look at your business and your target audience and create a list of topics that you want to rank for on search engine results pages (better known as SERPs). These topics will be relevant to your business and should resonate with your audience.

Reinforce your starting point

Do an audit – which keywords do you already rank highly for? Google Search Console can help you to do this. Check out the performance section to see which keywords you rank for in organic search results.

Use a keyword research tool

Consider using a keyword research tool such as Moz Keyword Explorer, SEMrush Keyword Magic Tool, or Ahrefs Keyword Explorer. These tools help you find keyword ideas, analyse their ranking and calculate their potential traffic. When on the hunt for the right keyword tool for your business, keep an eye out for the following functions:

  • keyword suggestions
  • SERP analysis
  • data filtering
  • search volume trend
  • keyword difficulty.

Google’s Keyword Planner

An essential resource for any keyword research, Google Keyword Planner draws data from Google itself – the keeper of all the knowledge. The tool requires you to have a Google Ads account – but you don’t need to run ads if your preference is organic. Use Google Keyword Planner to provide you with a search volume rage and to see how many impressions a keyword might get – and much more.

Tier your keyword strategy

Start with seed keywords. These are primary keywords that are usually one or two words and have not been qualified by a modifier. For example, sports leggings.

With your seed keywords in the bag, you can graduate to long-tail keywords to catch those searchers that are later in the conversion-cycle – i.e. they know what they want and are closer to conversion. These are your ‘buy black high-waisted sports leggings for running’ searchers.

Don’t forget head terms – a popular keyword that drives high search volume. These are competitive when it comes to ranking but can help you to boost your SERPs status.

Harness the power of suggestion

With your topics and your keywords sorted, it’s time to get creative and source some related search terms. Google search is one way to do this; simply open your browser, type in your keyword and see what related searches it suggests. If you’re an eCommerce store, consider jumping on Amazon and using the platform’s search function. It’s easy and effective.

Google knows best

Google does know best, so follow Google Trends. This is a site filled with wonderful data applicable to so many areas of your business. For keyword searches, it goes beyond providing a keyword ranking – it shows you how that keyword has ranked over time.

Some healthy competition

Keywords aren’t beyond some healthy competitor analysis. SEO tools such as Moz Pro allow you to reverse engineer your competitor’s keywords, so you know what works for them.

Alternatively, there’s a tool called BuzzSumo, and while it’s not a keyword research tool, it can help you to find effective keywords. It’s intended to evaluate a competitor’s site and find the content that performs best – within this, you’ll spot some active keywords.