How to Use Keywords and Why They Still Matter to SEO

If you’re updating or creating a new website or you want to make it more visible on search engine results pages (SERPs), you may be confused about keywords. Do they still matter? What should they be and how should you use them to get the best results?
 
You’ve probably read a lot of conflicting advice about using keywords post-Google Hummingbird. Some people say they are still the lifeblood of SEO, while others say they don’t matter a jot. The reality falls somewhere in the middle.
 
Thankfully, we SEO experts have moved on from the keyword stuffing of the noughties when securing the Google top spot was just a matter of cramming as many uses of your chosen keywords into the copy as possible. It worked for search engines but made lousy reading for potential customers.
 
These days, the search engines are much more focused on providing a high quality experience to end users. They want to know that searchers are being directed to the most relevant and well thought out sites for their needs.
 
But how do they do this?
 

Using your keywords strategically provides important clues about content

Keywords are one way of deciphering the on-page content. Although Google and the other major search engines no longer use keyword tags as a ranking factor, they do still look to over 200 different on- and off-page signals to work out what a web page is about and decide whether it’s relevant to an individual search.
 
If you use your focus keywords or phrase in important places, such as your SEO title, main H1 heading, sub headings, opening paragraph and others, then the search engines will make an educated guess that these words reflect the main topic covered by the page and will be most relevant to your customers.
 
Google Hummingbird was big news because this algorithm update improved Google’s understanding of semantic searches – in other words, the search engine was better able to identify words that mean the same thing as your keywords, returning those in SERPs too. It enabled content writers to write more freely and to leave keyword densities behind in favour of natural, engaging copy.

focus keywords

Understanding how people read on-screen

That being said, visitors to your website will thank you for putting your keywords in certain prominent positions. This is because of how we read online. Eye tracking studies and heat maps show that people tend to read from the top left to right of a web page, then skim down the left hand side, reading from left to right midway down the page and sometimes at the bottom of the page too. In other words, following the pattern of a capital F or E. They will look within these ‘hot’ zones on the page for the words they used to search. If they can’t find the keywords they’re looking for, they may not read deeper into the page.
 
But what keywords should you use?
 

The best keywords reflect the language your customers use to find your products or services

In deciding what keywords to use on your website, it’s essential to understand the language that your potential and existing customers will use to search for your services online. They may not use the same words you would use. A good example of this is teeth straightening. Dentists often talk about ‘orthodontics’ whereas potential patients are more than seven times more likely to search for ‘braces’ if they’re looking for a tooth straightening treatment. The dentists who understand this and who use this language on their websites are far more likely to be found in searches than those just promoting orthodontics.
 

Write with a single search focus for each page

Instead of trying to incorporate lots of different keywords, it’s best to create each page of your website with a single search purpose in mind. In other words, what is the main topic of the page? What will people be looking for when your page shows up in SERPs? As we’ve mentioned, keywords show the purpose of a web page to visitors and to search engines.
 
Once you understand your customers, what they need and how each page of your website meets that need, you’ll find that your keywords and related phrases will appear naturally in your copy. Once the first draft is written, you just need to go back and check whether you’ve used your keywords in strategic places such as your SEO title, meta description, H1 heading, sub headings, alt tags, URL and opening paragraph.

Broad keyword vs. long-tail keywords

One decision you will need to make about keywords is whether to use broad, fairly generic keywords or long-tail keywords.
 
What’s the difference?
 
Broad keywords are a single word or phrase that broadly describes your products, services, business or industry. For example, broad keywords might be ‘search engine optimisation’, ‘copywriting’, ‘property’ or ‘beauty’. Yes, these words probably attract a lot of searches but they are so generic that SERPs are likely to turn up a lot of irrelevant websites before the searcher finds what they’re looking for.
 
Long-tail keywords, on the other hand, are much more descriptive and relevant to your website and the needs of your potential customers. They may not attract the high volume of searches associated with broad keywords but the chances are that the traffic they do attract will be people actively looking for what you offer.

Here’s an example:

A person wants to rent a three-bedroom house in Brighton. They want a garden and have a pet cat, so it’s important to rent through a landlord who allows pets.
 
A broad search for ‘house to rent’ in Google brings up over 996 million search results. Scouring through the first few pages shows that none of these listings are for houses in Brighton. Property management companies or pet-friendly landlords in Brighton would have a real challenge to be found in the SERPs.
 
But what happens if we add a bit more detail to our search by looking for ‘houses to rent in Brighton’? The results are narrowed down to nearer 20 million listings and the first few pages of SERPs are much more relevant.
 
When we make our search even more specific – ‘3 bedroom house to rent in Brighton’ –, Google returns approximately 13 million results, removing nearly seven million web pages from the competition. Add more detail yet – ‘pet friendly 3 bedroom house to rent in brighton’ – and the results come down to just under five million. We could even add in the need for a garden to our search – ‘pet friendly 3 bedroom house with garden to rent in brighton’ – and suddenly the returned results are down to just over one million.
 
The great news for the searcher is that all the results on the first few SERPs are highly relevant and even include a company called ‘Pet friendly rentals’. The great news for the websites that show up in this search is that the people who click through to read the property listing are going to be very interested in renting.
 

While the volume of traffic might be lower, the quality is likely to lead to more conversions and sales. It’s also likely that you will be up against far less competition from other websites for long-tail keywords, meaning that it is easier to secure a higher ranking and better visibility.
Are you using long-tail keywords on your website? Has it made a difference to your traffic?  I’d love to know what you think so, please leave your comments and questions below. And if you’ve found this blog useful, please share on your social circles – thank you.

 
In the next of our keyword focused blogs, we’ll be bringing you a beginner’s guide to keyword research.

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