An Introduction to Keywords and Search Terms
- An Introduction to Keywords and Search Terms
- What Are Keywords & Search Terms?
- Keyword Value
- Keyword Data
- Organic Vs Paid Keywords
- Choosing Keywords
- Targeting Keywords
- Tracking & Measuring Keywords
This is one of our fundamentals guides, we cover off the very basics of what keywords and search terms are and introduce some of the concepts that surround them.
There is very little to distinguish between these two phrases, both refer to the words that people type into Google (or other search engines) to find content, resources, products, services, etc. We would make the distinction that keywords are simply search terms that you are targeting.
Keywords really are the beauty of Search as a channel for marketing… Unlike TV, Print and other offline marketing activities; Search connects users with what they are looking for, when they are looking for it. This is the perfect nexus of supply and demand for online marketers.
Almost all other marketing channels essentially show you their product along with everyone else seeing the ad, in the hopes that it will be relevant to some. This can be optimised to a degree, for example; you might show your ads in the ad break of a TV show that is predominantly watched by your target audience.
However, people are not actually looking to make a purchase while watching Rick & Morty for the most part. Even the most targeted, most relevant, most optimised TV ad pales in comparison to the relevance of a commercial search term like ‘compare home loans’…
A keyword represents a query (which is why sometimes they are also called search queries), a user is by definition looking for something when they search in Google. Whether that is likely to result in a purchase is another matter, but they are looking for something. Therefore, the nature of a keyword really comprises of these components:
- A user
- A need for something
- Commercial intent
Keywords trigger both paid and organic ads, we cover the former in the next section of this guide… organic listings or ads appear when you search for something in Google; given what we know about what these mean, there immediately becomes an obvious consequence of this, that you want to rank for relevant commercially valuable keywords.
Understanding this is important because keywords are not an abstract concept, they are the connection between users, Google and your site.
The SERPs are a subject on its own, which we cover in our complete guide to Google’s SERPs.
Although there are metrics to help us understand this, there are also semantic considerations that can be easily structured. Before we get into this, we need to introduce the concept of a ‘conversion funnel’:
The aim is to get users into the funnel at any point and pass them down through it into the action stage. Keywords will typically fall onto different levels of the conversion funnel and hence can help support different parts of your keyword strategy.
This is the top of the funnel and represents brand or product awareness, someone might come into your blog to read and this would be their first contact with your brand. There is no real commercial intent at this stage.
This stage is where you generate interest in your brand, products or services… Conversely this is the stage for users where they may be speculatively researching in advance of a purchase someway down the line.
In this stage, a user is actively looking for a product or service that you provide, your aim is to convince them it’s you they should buy from in order to move them to the bottom of the funnel.
This represent the user making a purchase, signing up, or whatever your end goal may be.
Keywords support this funnel at different levels; your money keyword like “buy red dresses” or “order computer parts online” are the action keywords. To use an example, if you sell wedding dresses, you might first gain ‘awareness’ through keywords like “the best time of year to get married” … Someone land on a blog post targeted to this keyword and gets some exposure to your brand.
Then the person finds some pictures and a useful video on your site after searching for “wedding planning tips”. After a while the user is closer the point where she needs a dress and starts looking on your site due to the previous positive brand contact.
Finally, the user searches for “buy wedding dress” and comes back to your site to buy one. (I’m pretty sure that’s how women buy wedding dresses eh)
You can see how different keywords can fulfil the different needs of the user and business within the context of the conversion funnel. This is why many businesses refer to a small group of keywords as ‘head terms’ or something similar… Some keywords are intrinsically more valuable than others due to the intent that is behind them. That said, you will want to target a broad range to help populate your conversion funnel.
There are a small number of metrics that we typically have access to when looking at keyword data. We cover some other components in the following section on tracking keywords that could fall under this category, but really need their own separate category.
This is the value of a keyword, it represents the number of people searching for the keyword in Google. Typically, this is shown as an average Search Volume per month within Google’s Keyword Tool.
A word of advice when using this metric (from Google AdWords) … It is shockingly inaccurate! There are many studies and tools that have tried to unpick this metric, but it would appear that for whatever reason, Google don’t want to give you accurate data.
Tools like Adthena provide a better estimate of search volumes than Google in most cases, so use this data in the only way you can; comparatively with other keyword search volume data.
This refers to how much competition there is for a keyword, Google’s Keyword Tool has an actual metric called ‘Competition’, which is an indexed score between 0-1. There are many ways to try and calculate or analyse the competition for a keyword and really this is more than just a metric, but a concept.
For example, you can pull all of the ranking URLs from Google for the first 20 positions for any given keyword; then analyse those sites to build a picture of how much competition there for the term. You can also, using this data, look at how that changes as the position improves… So don’t limit yourself to just one simple metric!
Some SEO Tools have created their own metrics that look at how competitive a keyword is in terms of how hard it is to rank for that keyword. Moz for example have the Keyword Difficulty score, which is much more useful than Google’s own competition metric.
These are useful for quick analysis, but for a more granular and insightful look at keyword competition you really need to perform your own analysis on the data. We cover some of these concepts in our guide to competitor backlink analysis.
This is the number of results that Google returns when you search for a keyword:
You can use search operators like brackets and quotation marks to assess the number of results for pages containing the phrase in the page title for example.
Again, and as with all data from Google, this can be misleading and unreliable! However, like most of their data it is to be used comparatively rather than an objective value.
Although this bears more relevance to paid advertising, there is some usage within SEO… For example, in Google’s Keyword Tool they refer to Exact Match Search Volume. Exact Match is a ‘match type’; it means that a keyword has to be typed exactly as is (more or less). So if you are pulling out search volume data for ‘red widgets online’, the resulting data will include only searches for that exact phrase… search for ‘online red widgets’ would not be included for example.
Read more about this in our guide to match types.
We touched on this earlier but as this is a basic introduction to keywords it might be worth highlighting the difference between paid and organic ads. As the screenshot below shows, the top 4 listings are paid listings:
These listings are marked by the green letters “Ad” next to the URL… Paid listings are exactly that, you need to pay Google to appear in them. Whereas organic listings are not paid for, you need to optimise your site to achieve an organic listing on the front page.
There are many avenues to finding and ultimately choosing keywords to target as part of an SEO Strategy. There are many factors in determining what to target and when to target it, often this is a balance between cost and pay-off, how much effort do you need to put in to get more out?
We cover this in more depth in other guides, but for the purposes of this guide, we will give a brief overview of the main ways of finding keywords to target.
In this process, we typically start out with some seed keywords, these represent what you or your client believe users would search for in order to find your services or products. This list is your starting point, we would typically apply a range of techniques to broadening, expanding and structuring this list.
Once you have a good set of seed keywords, you would then go about putting them into a tool like Google’s Keyword Tool to pull out data and related search terms. Once you have a de-duplicated list of keywords, there are many activities that can be undertaken to either filter or refine the list:
- Pull in additional keyword data and metrics
- Compare to existing target keywords
- Apply categories and labels
- Remove irrelevant terms
- Remove low value terms
- Remove terms that are too competitive
This is by no means exhaustive, but represents the type of activity that you might undertake to boil this list down to a manageable size, in order to find keywords to target.
The rest of the process is a combination of formulaic and manual work that we describe in more depth in our guide to keyword research.
There are two main areas we look at in this regard that could both be considered ‘competitor analysis’, each will have variations within but these two categories are hard to violate with exceptions. You could even use both of these methods sequentially or combine them with other techniques.
Performing a competitor analysis can highlight gaps between your keyword strategy and theirs as well as areas of opportunity. By analysing competitor sites, you can build a list of keywords that they are targeting, in additional to a whole slew of other stuff like how they are targeting it.
You can use this list as a seed keyword list, or perform a more granular analysis of the keywords to find out if you should target them. Often this opens up new avenues of thought that otherwise have never been explored; as such this is useful for deriving actionable insights as well as helping to inspire new strategies.
If you have a list of keywords that you want to understand better than you do, you might pull competitor data in for each keyword. How you choose to represent or analyse this will vary from person to person; but typically, you will use this analysis to find opportunities or understand barriers to entry for specific keywords.
Check out our introduction to competitor analysis for a deeper look at this topic.
There are a range of SEO tools available to help you find keywords that focus around organic visibility. Tools like Search Metrics and SEMRush crawl and collect tonnes of keyword ranking data to help you find what keywords you and your competitors rank for.
Raptor also have a keyword research tool to help you through the keyword research process.
Once you have defined a list of target keywords, it’s time to start targeting those keywords with the different components of your SEO strategy.
This is a huge topic and is discussed in more depth in a huge range of guides within this SEO knowledge base. We touch upon some of this here but if you want to learn more on this subject please review the optimisation section of the knowledge base.
We do not cover many of the rules and guidelines associated with the broad advice provided in this section, it is designed to provide a cursory overview of each phase in the process of targeting keywords.
This is really the first step in the process, you need to compile a list of all the site’s current pages and map keywords to those pages. This needs to be done naturally, don’t try and stuff keywords into pages where they don’t naturally fit. Any keywords that you are unable to map to a page represent pages that need to be created.
On-Page Keyword Usage
There are a number of places throughout a site that you can optimise for a target keyword, such as:
- Page titles
- Meta descriptions
- H1 headers
- Other Hx headers
- Page content
- Anchor text of internal links
- Structured data property fields
- Open graph & other social meta tags
- Alt tag text
- Images (filenames and meta data)
- Videos (filenames and meta data)
These are the optimisational components of your website that can be targeted or tuned to more allow a page to more effectively target its keyword/s. The specific best practices for each of these components is discussed in more detail in other guides.
Given that you have selected a suitable list of keywords, optimising the above components to your mapped keywords for each page, will enable your site to build its on-page relevance to those keywords.
Once the on-page component is in place, you can start to look at the off-page component to targeting keywords. This really comes down to two main areas:
Anchor Text / Alt Tag Text
Optimising the text used in either image or text links to your site can improve your site’s relevance to its target keywords. To learn more about this, read either our introduction to backlinks or link building.
The relevance of both the page linking to your site and / or the domain on which it sits, to your site can also help to improve the relationship between a page and its target keywords. If a site about painting, link to your site selling artists equipment, from a blog post called “setting up a basic art studio” … is going to really help to drive relevance to the overall theme of your keywords.
Once you have targeted your keywords with an SEO strategy, you will want to start tracking them, and measuring your success; which you can do in the following ways. Again, this is not an exhaustive list, but provides some fundamental insight in tracking and measuring success.
There are many places that your organic listing can appear in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages), from knowledge box to local listings. You will want to know where you appear, in what format as well as tracking this data over time.
Keyword ranking data, can also be correlated with organic traffic data, to derive insights about the relationship between the two.
Raptor provides a keyword ranking tool.
Unfortunately, Google have restricted keyword data in Google Analytics (or any analytics tool for that matter) … Consequently, there is rarely enough to make much of an assessment about the specific value of keywords.
That said there are many techniques and tricks to guestimating keyword level organic traffic data… You can use these techniques to make educated assumptions and inform decisions.
Aside from things like organic revenue and conversions, organic traffic is usually a good measure of success from an SEO perspective.
Google Search Console provides some keyword data, which won’t match up to any other source of Google Keyword data… But this can provide some broad insights and highlight search queries sending traffic to your site or triggering your organic listings.