Keywords are the backbone of SEO. When used effectively, they have the power to completely transform the amount of organic traffic your site receives. Learning how to find and use keywords is the first and most important step in implementing a content strategy for your website.

What are keywords?

Put simply, keywords are the words and phrases that people type into Google or other search engines (but let’s face it, Google is King). If you use keywords properly, they will link your website’s content with your users’ queries – because you’re writing with your users’ searches in mind.

So what are keywords in SEO?

When we talk about using keywords in SEO, we’re referring to the practice of optimising content on your website to rank higher on the search engine results pages (SERPs). We do this by including relevant keywords strategically throughout the content.

If Google sees your content as high quality writing that properly provides the information searchers are looking for, then your website will be presented higher in the search engine results. The higher the position of your site, the more traffic you can expect.

The difference between short tail keywords and long tail keywords

Before we delve into how to use keywords for SEO, it’s important to understand the different types of keywords.

Short tail keywords aren’t very specific, and will have a higher search volume than long tail keywords. Long tail keywords have a much lower search volume but are more specific in nature. (Search volume simply refers to how many people are searching for a certain keyword in a month.)

A good example of a short tail keyword would be ‘ice-cream’.

You can see that this keyword is very vague, and the intent of the search is totally unclear – the user could be looking for ideas for ice-cream flavours, for example, or maybe ice-cream recipes.

So, let’s take ‘best ice-cream parlours in London’, instead. That’s an example of a long tail keyword.

You see how the user’s intent is clearer, as the keyword becomes much more specific? When you rank highly for a long tail keyword, you will get traffic to your site that is much more relevant, as Google has been given more information to use to direct users to the right place.

If you rank highly for a short tail keyword, you may get more traffic to your website overall, but you’ll likely also see an increase in bounce rate and a decrease in conversions (because Google is less able to infer the intent behind the users’ search).

If you happened to own an ice-cream parlour in London, wouldn’t you much rather someone type in the latter keyword and land on your site? As opposed to someone looking for ice-cream recipes to try at home? This is why we optimise our content for search intent, and always try to direct relevant traffic using keywords and SEO.

That long tail, highly relevant keyword is much more likely to result in someone buying something from you. Which, ultimately, is what you want.

How to identify your keywords with keyword research

Keyword research is the process of finding keywords to optimise your content for. You can carry out keyword research across three areas:

  1. Finding the keywords you already rank for and choosing which ones to improve upon
  2. Seeking out new keywords you want to compete for
  3. Exploring the keywords your competitors are ranking for

The purpose of keyword research is to identify the short and long tail keywords that you want to rank for as a brand. I.e. the ones you want to appear on the first page of the search results for.

Let’s take a look at a few ways to identify keywords for your website.

1. Brainstorming

As a team, think about the kinds of search queries your customers or visitors might be typing into Google. For instance, if you’re a travel publication, you might come up with the following:

2. Using keyword research tools

There are lots of tools out there that generate keyword ideas at the touch of a button. Some keyword research keyword difficulty ahrefs tools are free, but typically give less information than paid sites. Free sites include Google Keyword Planner, and the unpaid versions of ahrefs and Moz – though you can also get more functionality from sites like these if you pay a monthly subscription fee.

When using these tools, you’ll notice any keyword ideas presented to you will come with some accompanying stats, namely Search Volume and Keyword Difficulty. Look at these carefully. Understanding the balance between search volume and keyword difficulty is super important.

SEO tools will measure how easy it is to rank for a particular keyword on page one of Google – this is Keyword Difficulty. Usually, this measure will be on a scale of 1 to 100, with 1 being easy and 100 being extremely difficult.

keyword difficulty ahrefs

Most keyword research tools will also tell you how many people are searching for a keyword each month. That’s the Search Volume.

search volume ahrefs

What you’re after are keywords with the highest possible search volume and lowest possible keyword difficulty. That means there are enough people currently searching for it for it to be worth your time optimising for, and it’s not too competitive that it’s unlikely you’ll be able to rank on page 1 of Google. (Most sites will find it near-impossible to rank for a keyword with a super-hard keyword difficulty.)

What affects keyword difficulty?

  • The quality of the sites already ranking for that keyword
  • The number of websites competing for the same keyword
  • How relevant the competing websites are for that keyword

With the above in mind, you’ll tend to find that short tail keywords have much higher keyword difficulty than long tail ones, and the larger the search volume, the more difficult it’ll be to rank for. The more specific or niche a keyword is, the easier it’ll be to rank for.

Overall, the best keywords have a high search volume but a low difficulty. You’re looking for a sensible balance. If a keyword has a keyword difficulty of 1, but no one is searching for it, it’s kind of pointless going for it. You’ll be top of the leaderboard when it comes to SERP, but, quite frankly, no one will care because it’s not a valid user query.

3. Competitor analysis

Also known as reverse engineering, competitor analysis involves analysing the results on page 1 to find out who else is ranking for your main keywords. You can then check out how and where your competitors are using the keywords in their content, and identify some secondary keywords to use in your own content.

For instance, if you were to type in ‘luxury ski chalet’ into Google, you’d want to explore all the websites that are served on page one. Click on each landing page and look at the length of the copy, see how many times ‘luxury ski chalet’ appears on the page, and look out for other potential keywords, such as ‘luxury ski chalet with swimming pool’, or ‘catered luxury ski chalet.’ Then use this knowledge to improve your content.

How to use keywords for SEO once you’ve identified them

The first thing you’ll want to do when you’ve got a nice long list of keywords to use is to get organised. Go through the list and group them by topic or theme, depending on your business and services. This will help you to find further relevant keywords related to each group, and will aid keyword mapping later on, where you’ll decide which keywords to use on which page.

All the keywords in a topic will be related. They’re simply different ways of saying – or different ways of searching for – the same idea type. The wording may be different, but the intent is the same. Here are some the aforementioned travel publication might group together:

Group 1

Italy luxury hotels

Five-star hotels in Italy

Luxury holidays to Italy

Group 2

Beachfront hotel

Hotels near the beach

Hotels walking distance to the beach

Group 3

Airport transfer included

Private hotel transfer

Transfer to hotel free

Once you’ve got your groups down, you can enter them into your chosen keyword research tool or SEO software and it’ll generate tonnes more related keywords for each group. Add these to your topic groups as you go.

If you’re getting lots of stuff that’s not really relevant, you can usually filter out keywords that aren’t relevant to your brand using filters. For example, on Google Keyword Planner, you can select ‘does not contain’ and enter any particular words that you don’t want suggested in the results. E.g. ‘clubbing’ if it’s throwing up ‘clubbing hotels near the beach’ and your target audience is an older crowd.

Extra tips for finding more keywords

If you’re struggling with your search, you can try adding some extra info into your keyword searches. Such as:

  • Location
  • Services
  • Niche
  • Audience

You’ll find that you can then make multiple keywords from one seed keyword.

For instance, if your seed keyword is ‘ice cream parlour’ you could try typing in the following and see what gets thrown up:

  • Ice cream parlour London
  • Retro ice cream shops
  • Ice cream parties for kids

Putting it all into practice

You know what they say, with great power comes great responsibility. And when all’s said and done, you’ll want to use your new keyword-based SEO knowledge for good, not evil.

Ok, ok, so where are we going with this? As we mentioned earlier, the main thing to always, always have in mind is relevance and quality.

Stuffing your copy with as many juicy new keywords as possible will not help you rank. In fact, it’ll have quite the opposite effect, as your website will appear spam-like and unreliable. You want to serve value to the user, so your content must flow properly with keywords placed strategically – in places where they make sense, and on pages that make sense. Take the correct approach and you’ll shoot up the SERPs at lightning-speed.

Ready to take your SEO strategy even further? Get in touch with the team at Bubbl and let’s strive for world SERP domination together.

Elle Hammond, Senior Copywriter
SEO