SEO Basics: What Are Keywords, and Why Are They Important?

When you create a business website or blog, the biggest challenge is getting customers to see it. A website doesn’t have real visibility unless search engines scan and index the pages. Fortunately, you can use SEO keywords to help your site get noticed.

What is search engine optimization?

So, what are keywords, and why do you need them? Keywords are the phrases and questions people use to search for something online. Of course, just using any random keywords won’t make your site popular. The pages on your site must be “optimized” to attract the right type of customers.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a set of best practices that make it easier for search engines to analyze your site. A site is more likely to rank well on search engine results pages (SERPs) if common search terms are in the text.

Most of the time people don’t type in an exact URL when they conduct searches online. They enter questions, complete phrases, or strings of related words. Search engines produce a list of websites, based on how closely they match the search query. This process is known as an “organic search,” and it’s your ticket to a bigger online presence.

The evolution of search engines

Now you’re probably wondering if SEO keywords are really worth the hype. Maybe, you’ve heard that keywords are no longer a big factor in search engine algorithms. The truth is search engines get more and more sophisticated every year. Keywords aren’t going anywhere soon, but the context and structure of a site determine how effective they are.

In the early days of the Internet, any site stuffed with the right keywords could top the search results. Search engine companies knew diluted results would make it hard to find good content. Google led the way in refining search engines to judge the overall relevance of the site content. Today, search engines use bots to scan pages of your site and decide if the meaning relates to a keyword.

Consider this example. Someone might enter the question, “What are some low-cost small businesses I can start?” Now imagine your site has a page entitled “10 Easy Small Business Ideas.” Your site may or may not contain the exact search phrase. Yet, based on groupings of relevant words, search bots can tell the page is likely to answer the question.

To make search results even better, engines reward sites for being popular. When people frequently read your pages or link to them, search engines assume they have valuable content. The credibility of sites that link to your pages is also important. That way, spammers don’t benefit by creating a lot of low-quality sites and loading them with links. For this reason, putting quality content on every page is the best way to boost your search rankings.

How to choose basic keywords for SEO

Although search engines are pretty powerful, keyword research is still useful for narrowing your focus. After all, if you fix smartphones, you don’t want to attract people who need laptop repairs. To choose keywords, come up with a list of phrases your target audience is most likely to search for. The basic traits of your business are a good place to start. Think about:

  • What your business does
  • Popular products you sell
  • Core problems you solve for customers
  • Where your business is located
  • Common characteristics of your customer base
  • Questions customers frequently ask you

Use a keyword research tool, such as Google Adwords Keyword Planner, for a list of common searches related to your phrases. To rank well, you want to target keywords with a high search volume and lower competition. Short, popular keywords might seem like a safe bet. But don’t forget, everyone in your niche is using them. So, how do you stand out and climb to the top of the search results?

Long-tail keywords produce high-quality leads

Using long-tail keywords for SEO can even the playing field for small businesses. Long-tail keywords are highly descriptive phrases with three or more words. They allow you to pinpoint the specific problem your audience is trying to solve.

Let’s say you have a personal chef business. You could start with basic phrases like “personal chef,” “private chef,” or “at-home chef.” Every personal chef will use these keywords on their sites, so they don’t do much to boost your ranking.

Yet, not every personal chef is your competitor, since your business is local. Adding a location, such as “Denver personal chef,” filters out customers who aren’t in your area. Keyword research tools can give you suggestions for long-tail keywords. The more unique your niche, the easier it is to refine long-tail keywords to reach the right people.

Let’s consider that personal chef example again. The long-tail phrase “hire chef for a dinner party” tells people you do home events, not just everyday meals. The phrase “Florida diabetic personal chef” caters to local people with dietary restrictions.

Keyword placement increases website visibility

Where you place SEO keywords makes a difference in your site ranking. Since search engines constantly scan sites, they need efficient ways to process content. Search engines often check for keywords in standard places, such as titles and images. Aim to include keywords in these important areas:

  • Website title and meta description
  • Website URL
  • Page titles
  • Meta tags
  • Anchor text links
  • Image descriptions and file names

When you optimize your site structure, you don’t need to create awkward copy packed with keywords. Instead, you can focus on writing helpful content and naturally weave in key phrases.

The importance of updating your site

Once you learn how to use keywords, it’s crucial to keep updating your site. The popularity of search terms can change, or your business services may expand. Search engines also favor sites that are regularly updated, which is one reason blogs are great for small businesses. Blogs help you target keyword groups in niche topics and stay up to date with keyword research. More importantly, you gain steady readership and give your site lasting credibility.

Now, take everything you learned about SEO keywords and start getting more leads. Remember, be aware of what your customers want. Be relevant with your content. And be specific to bring in compatible customers.

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