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By Emily Kassmeier

SEO: What are Keywords Anyway?

While SEO isn’t Zaengle’s main jam, as a team that builds for the web, there are things we need to know about SEO to set our clients up for success online.

When we build a website, we make sure the infrastructure plays nicely with search engines so the pages can be crawled and indexed.

Those technical aspects are important, but a strong SEO strategy extends beyond that.

Another fundamental part of SEO involves the website content itself — how it’s written and how frequently it’s updated. This means if you work with a website and create content in some capacity, there are things you too should know about SEO.

But this part of SEO can feel a little murky. How do you create content that satisfies both search engines and your audience?

Over the last year, I’ve found resources that have helped me better understand this. SEO no longer seems like a mythical, magical thing. I gained some practical knowledge to back it up.

That’s what I want to cover in this 2-part series, while focusing on how to find keywords for a website.

In part one of this series, we’ll get into the following:

  • What is SEO?
  • The basics of keywords
  • What to look for when researching keywords
  • How keyword relate to the sales funnel

Now let’s dive in.

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) consists of all the things done to improve the visibility of a website in organic search engine results.

When one thinks of search engines, what comes to mind most often is Google. But SEO can also encompass other search engines like Bing, YouTube, Amazon, Pinterest, and more. Depending on your brand’s goals and where your audience lives, you may want to optimize for multiple search engines.

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll focus on optimizing for Google in this article (though many of the same principles can apply for other platforms).

Why does SEO matter?

If you spend time and effort on something, you want people to know about it, right? You built a website, you’re growing a brand — so you naturally want to get that brand in front of people’s eyes.

If you don’t optimize your content for the almighty Google, there’s a chance you could still end up showing up in organic search results without trying. But that chance is probably really, really small.

You’ve got to put a little more effort into making your website search engine-friendly. So people will actually see it. And some of those people will (hopefully) click on it.

Past research showed the first page of Google captures 71% (even up to 92%) of all clicks. The first organic result on Google had an average click-through rate (CTR) of 28.5%, while the 10th organic result had a measly 2.5% CTR.

Now, it can be harder to predict organic CTR because Google’s search result pages have become more diverse and interactive. But the general principle remains the same: the higher you rank in organic search results, the more visibility your site will have.

Think back to the last few times you googled something. How far down the list of results did you scroll? Did you bother clicking through to the results on page 2? Most people don’t.

It’s pretty clear: if you want your website to be visible online, SEO is your friend.

The building blocks of SEO

All of search engine optimization can essentially be boiled down into four main parts:

  1. Keyword research: finding relevant keywords for your brand.
  2. Content optimization (AKA on-page optimization / document relevancy): helping search engines better understand your content by refining the content on your website pages.
  3. Technical optimization: the technical stuff that happens behind the scenes to help search engines more easily find your website.
  4. Link building (AKA off-page optimization): proving to search engines that your content is popular by taking actions outside of your website to improve the site’s authority.

As Tommy Griffith, former head of SEO at Airbnb and PayPal, said:

It’s the search engine’s job to understand what the user wants and to help them find it. It’s our job to create awesome, relevant content that answers their questions.

We can accomplish exactly that by using the four building blocks listed above.

In the remainder of this article, we’ll zero in on the first building block: keyword research.

A dive into the basics of keywords

Ah, keywords. This is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot when it comes to SEO.

It may seem obvious what a keyword is, but we need to take a moment to define what they are and why we use them because keywords are a super important piece of the SEO puzzle. So bear with me.

What are keywords?

A keyword is a term or phrase used in your content that tells search engines what the content is about. They’re also the search queries people type into search engines.

A keyword can be a single word or a phrase (AKA a keyphrase or long-tail keyword).

Why are keywords important?

This is the starting point for doing anything SEO-related.

You want to find keywords that represent what your ideal audience is searching for online, so there’s a better chance they’ll find your content. The keywords you use in your content have a direct impact on your search rankings.

Researching keywords also helps you have a better understanding of what people are actually searching for online so you can create content around those topics. Informed decisions = less wasted time on content that doesn’t really matter for your target audience.

Types of keywords

There are four types of keywords, as outlined by ClickMinded:

1. Core keyword: the main keyword a page is optimized for.

Each important page on your website should have one core keyword.

Example: red velvet cupcakes

How to find a core keyword: Use an SEO tool (like Ahrefs or similar).

Core keyword ahrefs 2

2. Secondary keywords: search terms that are closely related to the core keyword.

These terms are slightly different from the core keyword, but still very closely tied to it. They often bring in more traffic. When you optimize for a core keyword, you’ll often rank for secondary keywords even if they’re not used on the page.

Examples: red velvet cupcakes recipe easy, red velvet cupcakes no buttermilk, best red velvet cupcakes, filling for red velvet cupcakes

How to find secondary keywords: Use related searches or auto-complete on Google. Or use an SEO tool.

Secondary keywords google search

3. Accessory keywords: terms that are partially related to the core keyword.

If you were having a conversation in real life about the core keyword, accessory keywords are the phrases that naturally occur in the same conversation. These keywords are often less competitive so they can be easier to rank for. They can also be great idea generators for blog post topics.

Examples: what are red velvet cupcakes made of, what gives red velvet cake its taste, is red velvet just food coloring, is red velvet chocolate cake

How to find accessory keywords: Use the “people also ask” feature on Google or browse a forum like Reddit. Or use an SEO tool.

Accessory keyword google search

4. Keyword variations: slight modifications of the core keyword.

These variations can include singular and plural versions, abbreviations, synonyms, stemming (e.g. roof and roofing), reordering (e.g. womens pants and pants womens), and misspellings. Keyword variations can help you extend the reach of your core keyword.

Examples: red velvet cupcake, red velvet, cupcake, cupcakes, cupcake recipe, cupcake recipes, red velvet recipe, red velvet recipes

How to find keyword variations: Google your core keyword and look for bolded keywords in the results.

Keyword variations google search

Researching keywords

An SEO tool is extremely helpful when conducting keyword research. This type of software will equip you with additional info so you know you’re making solid keyword selections. Ahrefs is one example of an SEO tool that will give you this info.

When looking for keywords, you’ll want to pay special attention to the keyword difficulty level and the volume.

Keyword research ahrefs

Keyword difficulty (KD): an estimation of how hard it would be to rank for a particular search term. (Ahrefs has a free version of their Keyword Difficulty Checker!)

Volume: an estimation of the average number of monthly searches for the term. (This metric is not available through Ahrefs’ free keyword checker. You’d need an account to see this.)

You know you’ve struck gold when you find a keyword with a high volume and low keyword difficulty. This means there are people searching for the term and it wouldn’t be impossible to rank for it.

What numbers indicate a high volume and low keyword difficulty? It depends.

A keyword difficulty of 0-30 is considered an easy - medium difficulty level by Ahrefs. A lower number like this means there’s not as much competition, so you’d have an easier time trying to rank for it.

A keyword difficulty of 31-70 is considered a hard level, and 71-100 is super hard. It would be tough to rank for a term that has a high difficulty level. Impossible? No, but unless you have an established site with plenty of domain authority (think Yelp or Walmart), it’s probably not worth trying to rank for it.

Generally, aiming for keywords with a difficulty of 0-30 is a safe place to start. A low difficulty level doesn’t guarantee you’ll rank for that term. Remember, these metrics are estimations and they don’t take into account all of the variables at play. But it’s a reasonable prediction to base your keyword decisions on.

Keywords + the sales funnel

As you use keywords, consider how they relate to your sales funnel.

The big idea here is that you want to use keywords that relate to each stage of the funnel. Otherwise you might miss out on reaching key segments of your audience. For example, if all of your keywords are associated with the top of your funnel, your content may not reach people who are in a further stage.

Your keywords should be a mix of all funnel stages, so no matter where someone falls in your sales funnel, you’re ready to meet them where they’re at.

Top of funnel: the awareness stage

People at the top of the sales funnel are just becoming aware they have a problem in your area of expertise. When searching online, they’re using very general terms and are trying to gather top-level information.

Terms people commonly use when searching online at this stage:

  • how
  • why
  • improve
  • troubleshoot

Top of funnel keyword examples:

  • improve immune system
  • why use a travel agent
  • how to build a website

Middle of funnel: the consideration stage

People at the middle of the funnel are beginning to consider solutions to the problem. They’re searching for more specific terms and are comparing solutions.

Terms people commonly use when searching online at this stage:

  • services / training
  • tools
  • versus / comparison
  • benefits

Middle of funnel keyword examples:

  • craft cms vs wordpress
  • benefits of yoga
  • crm training

Bottom of funnel: the decision stage

People at this stage of the funnel are ready to make a final purchase decision. They’re searching to compare specific brands and prices.

Terms people commonly use when searching online at this stage:

  • reviews / ratings
  • brand names
  • pricing / cost
  • buy / purchase
  • discount / promotion
  • near me

Bottom of funnel keyword examples:

  • where to buy wool socks
  • gluten free cupcakes near me
  • nike running shoes reviews

In the next part of this series, we’ll get into the actionable side of this topic. Part two will cover how to do keyword research, what to do with keywords once you’ve found them, and common mistakes to avoid.

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By Emily Kassmeier

Project & Marketing Manager

Emily can often be found reading, enjoying the outdoors with her dog, and trying to keep her houseplants alive.