Understanding SEO Keywords

An Overview of SEO Keywords: What They Are and Why We Need Them

In the digital age we live in, much of our communication, our research, and our lives happen online.  As writers, bloggers, and digital entrepreneurs this is an opportunity for us to make sure the value we offer – writing, information, and products – is available where people spend much of their lives these days: on the internet.

Despite the changing times, writers and entrepreneurs are still struggling with the same problem. How can we find readers and customers? Better yet – how can readers and customers find us, our writing, and our products? 

Lucky for us, in the 21st century whenever anyone needs anything, quite often the first thing they do is reach for a laptop or smartphone and search for the information in Google.  This leads to a question…and an opportunity…

If our readers and customers search Google why don’t we just tell Google what questions we have the answers to? If this were possible, whenever a reader would have a question we have the answer to, maybe Google would point them to us and our content.  Why can’t we just tell Google which search results to put our content in? 

The answer is…we can, and that’s exactly what “SEO” or “Search Engine Optimization” is. That is exactly why SEO keywords are so valuable to us.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) keyword research is the act of finding our readers’ questions and information needs and understanding how these questions are phrased in Google.  These questions, and how they’re phrased, ultimately become our SEO keywords.  By putting the appropriate “SEO keywords” strategically on on our website and in our content, we’re signaling to Google what questions we have the answers to.

The process of telling Google what questions we have the answers to, and what topics we have information on, is quite simple and easy.

  1. Find the right “SEO Keyword” that represents the question we have an answer to or the topic we have information on (aka Keyword Research)
  2. Strategically place our chosen SEO keyword throughout our content (aka On Page SEO)
  3. Improve the user’s experience as much as possible.  The more the user enjoys the experience on your website, the longer the user stays on your site (which Google tracks), and as result, the more users Google sends to your website.
  4. Cultivate signals outside of our website that let Google know our website is trusted by others and our information is high quality.  This usually comes via other sites endorsing our site and content through “backlinks” and mentions

You can see in the process above that the first step is identifying the right “SEO keywords”, and the associated questions that people are searching in Google, that match up with our content, are easy to rank for, and will bring in enough clicks to be worth the effort.  These keywords, and their proper placement in our content, are ultimately what signals to Google exactly what our content is about and what searches our posts, information, and website match up best with.

But, before we can find the right keywords for our content (through SEO keyword research) we first need to understand what an SEO keyword is, and what makes a specific SEO keyword good for our content.


Understanding SEO Keywords and how they lead traffic to our websites

Let’s dig into the nuts and bolts of SEO to understand what is an SEO keyword, why we need SEO keywords, and how can we use SEO keywords to get traffic to our websites.

What are “SEO Keywords”

“SEO Keywords” can be thought of as the words and phrases that we (when we are the searchers in Google) type into the Google search, in hopes that Google will return a website with the information we need to answer our question.  This isn’t completely true…but its close.

At the same time, the SEO keyword is a phrase that we (as bloggers and content writers) place strategically in our writing to signal to Google and other search engines the topic of our content and the question it answers. 

So, if a user is searching for “how to get to the pyramids of Giza” and we want to show up in the results for her search, then we need to use the phrase (aka keyword) “how to get to the pyramids of Giza” in our writing and a few other places as the first step in SEO.

This phrase, which was used in the search we would like our page to be in the results for, becomes our SEO keyword.

– In summary, we use keywords, or “SEO keywords” in our writing To signal to search engines the topic of our writing and the question it answers –

When we’ve narrowed down the best keywords – that represent our content, get enough monthly searches to be worth the effort, and are easy enough to rank – for we will place the keyword strategically within our titles, URLs, paragraphs, headings, and several other places that search engines will “crawl” to learn what our site is about and the value we deliver.

This process of signaling to the search engines what our content is about, by placing our chosen keyword strategically, is called “On Page SEO” and will be the topic of our next article.


Three things to understand about Google searches

  1. Most people click on the first page…roughly only 5% click on anything past the first page
  2. The real opportunities lie in the “long tail” of searches, the keyword searches that happen less frequently and thus attract less competition
  3. Every searcher is intending to find something specific in response to their search, usually an answer.  Google’s goal is to match the searcher with the information the searcher intends to find through their search

What makes a good SEO Keyword?

The best keyword will be different for every piece of content, but all good SEO keywords (and the associated searches) revolve around 3 traits:

  1. The keyword is easy to rank on Page 1 of Google for – with consistent SEO practices and well written, informative content
  2. The keyword has a high volume of monthly searches, or enough searches to make it worth the effort
  3. The searcher’s intent behind the keyword (“keyword intent”) and the information they hope to find will be satisfied fully by our content

By evaluating keywords against these three traits we can understand whether or not a keyword is suitable for our content by assessing.  In summary, we are assessing keywords for:

  1. Competitiveness: How easy is it to reach page 1 of a keyword’s Google search?
  2. Search Volume: How many times do readers search this particular keyword each day or month?
  3. Keyword intent: What is the searcher hoping or intending to find when they search for this keyword?

Now let’s review exactly what we’re looking for regarding competitiveness, search volume, and keyword intent.


Trait #1 of a Good SEO Keyword: Low Competitiveness

When we assess a keyword (and the associated search results), we analyze the current results on page 1 of our keyword’s search for how competitive the results are for this keyword, and how much authority, Page Authority (PA), and Domain Authority (DA) do the results have that we’ll be competing with? 

Ultimately our question regarding our potential SEO keyword’s competitiveness is,  “Will we be able to take a spot on page 1 of the Google search results?”  If the answer is no, forget the keyword. 

Why do we only want to be on page 1?  Because nearly 95% of all searches click a result on the first page of results – leaving roughly 5% to be split between the remaining results on pages 2 and back.  This means as long as the search volume is above our threshold, it is more worthwhile to be on page 1 of a low volume search than page 2 of a high volume search.

This leads to our next keyword screening factor…search volume.


Trait #2 of a Good SEO Keyword: High (Enough) Search Volume Relative to Effort Required to Rank on Page 1 of Google

Writing good content takes time and energy, and in return we want results, which usually come as clicks and readers.  When we’re considering creating content around specific SEO keywords we need to ensure that there are a sufficient number of searches for that keyword each month to make our effort worthwhile.  But how much is “sufficient”?

Because we only want to aim for low competition keywords that are easy to rank for we’ll need to look for “longtail keywords”, or words that are in the “long tail” of the search. 

But what is this “long tail” you’re hearing about?

If you were to graph out all of the searches that happen in Google and line them up from most frequently searched keywords on the left to least frequently searched keywords on the right you would see something that looks like this.

The keywords on the left are searched very frequently.  The problem with those highly searched keywords is that everyone is competing for them…but there is a world of opportunity hidden within all of the keywords that aren’t searched as frequently and aren’t competed for nearly as much. 

Did you notice how these search keywords create a nearly infinite, very long tail on the graph?  Those are all long tail keywords, and those are what we’re aiming for.

The “Long Tail” is where you’ll find keywords with the perfect balance of low competitiveness (easy to rank on page 1 for) and high (enough) traffic via the number of times people search for that keyword each month

The big searches (on the left in the graph) are the ones that everyone knows, everyone thinks of, and everyone tries for. Because of this, these searches are far too competitive.  You could barely rank on page 2…and even if you did, you’re sharing that meager 5% of the searches with hundreds or thousands of other results.

In the longtail, there are a nearly infinite number of searches that you can easily rank for…because there are so many options it is impossible for everyone to compete for all of them.  Yes, the monthly search volume is smaller, but you can easily and more quickly take over several of these smaller searches than you could get to page 2, or even page 1, on the larger searches.  Like filling a bucket with water via a small cup, you can fill your needs by consistently and efficiently ranking for these “longtail keywords”.

Read more about Long Tail Keywords on:


Trait #3 of a Good SEO Keyword: Searcher (and Keyword) Intent Matches Our Content

This one is a slight misnomer because we’re not trying to match the keyword’s intent, we’re trying to match the searcher’s intention behind the search.  In other words, we only want to choose keywords wherein the searcher is clearly looking for information that we provide on our website, in the specific piece of content we’re optimizing.

Whenever we’re considering the intent, and searchers’ desire, behind a keyword, we want to choose keywords with a single, very clear intention, need, or purpose behind them.

For example, consider these searches (aka search keywords)

  1. Motorcycle
  2. Italian motorcycle
  3. How much does a Ducati motorcycle cost?
  4. Should I buy a Ducati motorcycle?

In the first example, “motorcycle”, we may have an idea (or several) about what the intent behind the search is, but there are too many options to be sure of the intent behind the keyword.  The searcher could be trying to answer

  • What is a motorcycle anyways?
  • What does a motorcycle look like?
  • Is a motorcycle the same as a motor scooter?

The second example, “Italian Motorcycle” is slightly more specific, but we’re still unsure what exactly the searcher is hoping to find

  • What do Italian motorcycles look like?
  • What brands of motorcycles are Italian?
  • Do Italians make motorcycles?

Despite the search being more specific, we still can’t pin down exactly what the searcher intends to learn.  Because of this, we can’t know for certain that our content suits the user’s query or the SEO keyword.

…but then, we proceed down a little further and find a bit of success…

The third and forth examples make it much clearer what the searcher intends to learn.

The fourth and fifth examples make it much clearer what the searcher intends to learn.

In the third example

“How much does a Ducati Motorcycle cost?”

With this search keyword it is very clear that the searcher intends to learn the cost of a Ducati motorcycle.  The keyword intent is clear and we can make a good judgment call as to whether our content will satisfy the searcher (and Google).

In the fourth example:

“Should I buy a Ducati motorcycle”

The answer is clearly yes…but the searcher needs validation.  Lucky for us (and her), the intent behind the search, and what the searcher intends to learn, is clear enough that we can tell whether or not our content answers the searcher’s query.  The user intends to find information that will inform them as to whether or not buying a Ducati motorcycle is appropriate for them.

(A side not: Ladies and gentleman, if you are considering buying a Ducati, just go ahead.  It may be a poor choice…but it will be a very enjoyable poor choice.)

For reference, this is a Ducati motorcyce. A Ducati monster, an Italian motorcycle, and a very beautiful machine…if I do say so myself…

Why does keyword intent matter? Why can’t I just aim for all searches?

Do you remember at the beginning, when we defined Google’s goal – to match searchers with the website/information that answer’s the question driving their search?  Google tracks how satisfied users are with the pages that show up in Google’s results – by tracking how much time a reader spends on a specific page and a specific site. 

If a searcher is unsatisfied with a webpage and leaves the suggested website quickly, a website that popped up in Google’s results, Google remembers.  If enough users leave your website too quickly, Google removes your webpage from that specific keyword search and suggests a better option instead.

So, if your content doesn’t match the intent behind a keyword, you get removed from searches.  Its much better to ensure your content matches the keyword intent upfront.  This way, you show up on page 1 of Google and stay on page 1. Everyone wins.

On the other hand, if you deliver the information the searcher is hoping for and as a result the searcher stays on your page longer, Google recognizes this satisfaction.  As a result, your page will stay in or move up the rankings because it is clearly the best result.

In summary: We want to ensure we are targeting keywords wherein our content, and the information and value we provide, match the intent behind the search.  When we do, the user finds what they’re looking for on our site, and stays on our site longer.  Google tracks such metrics, recognizes this as a good sign, and pushes our page further up in the ranks…onto page 1.

This is also one more reason that we want to target long tail keywords.  Long tail keywords tend to be longer, more descriptive phrases that better communicate what the searcher hopes to find, making it easier to respond to the “keyword intent”.

Now that we understand SEO keywords, let’s pin down exactly how to find the SEO keywords for our content

Continue to “6 Straightforward Steps to Doing SEO Keyword Research


Also in this Series