I get asked, a lot, about keywords, SEO, ranking, and all that fun stuff.
There's a lot of confusion about SEO and how to rank for specific keywords, and which keywords to target, or even why bothering with keywords. Understanding long tail keywords and why those matter is another topic that commonly causes confusion.
This is a guide to help you, the average business person, understand the basics behind keywords and what it is you're doing when you optimize a blog post or webpage for specific words or phrases.
To start, what exactly is a keyword?
The dictionary definition of a keyword is "a word or concept of great significance."
In the context of a website, it's a particular word or phrase that describes the content of a single webpage. Search engines use keywords as a shortcut of sorts to determine what a web page is about. When you search for a phrase, search engines use the keywords to match your search to the results they can find.
How do you rank for keywords?
There are over 200 factors that go into what determines your web pages' rankings for various keywords - including the longer format keywords I'll discuss in more detail later in this post. While setting a keyword for a website, web page, or blog can help you tailor your content for that keyword, that single keyword is not the only one that page could rank for.
Remember, a keyword works like a summary of a single page, and your content probably could be summed up as being about multiple terms. This blog post, for example, could be said to be about SEO, keywords, web pages, websites, blogs, website ranking, how to rank for keywords, how to improve SEO...you get the picture.
What specifically ranks your web page/blog/etc for a keyword is influenced by the factors I linked earlier. For the rest of this post, I'll simply use web page to refer to a single page in your site, meaning your blog, landing page, or other individual web page.
Where words are placed within the web page, the density/frequency the keyword or words are used, what links you use within the web page, as well as numerous other factors play a role in how your page ranks for a key word. In addition, the links that other sites have to your content influences how you rank, as well as how recently the page was updated, or whether or not you have suitable contact information easily accessible in the page or site.
There's a lot of things you can do to improve how well you rank for a keyword, which is what most tools or plugins are based upon. They cherry pick what's often the most influential and easy to optimize factors of a single webpage, and guide you on how to ensure your keyword is in the best spots to help you rank for that particular keyword.
Wait...tell me more about the keyword I'm trying to rank for. What determines that?
So going back a step, a keyword is one way to summarize a specific web page. As the person writing the content for that page, you can optimize the page for a specific keyword.
You can tick off all the check boxes (or follow along with the Yoast prompts) to ensure your page is showing up for the keyword you've chosen to try and rank for. This is a commonly accepted best practice; each page on your site should have a specific keyword you've chosen to optimize it for. Over time, if your content is relevant, timely, and really does provide something of value to the people searching for that keyword, you'll rank higher for it.
However, that doesn't stop the rest of the internet from deciding that your content is relevant to other keywords.
For example, searching for "Tyrannosaurus Marketing MeetEdgar" brings up my blog post on that tool. I didn't set that keyword for the blog post - but that's what Google's search engine rankings have identified as a keyword for that post. Any particular webpage can have multiple keywords that apply to it.
It's kind of like a german shepherd dog is a mammal, an animal, a dog, a carnivorous mammal, a carnivorous animal, or a german shepherd, a guard dog, a guard german shepherd, a pet german shepherd, a pet german shepherd dog - you get the idea. All of those things apply to a german shepherd, but if you want to have your page rank highly for a specific term, you'd pick just one of those. You'd make sure the main points that determine rankings have your keyword, like the header, page title, URL, etc.
It's not a bad thing for your content to rank highly for multiple keywords - it's a good thing, although you shouldn't try to have each piece of content have a big chunk of keywords you're targeting. It works best if your content has one keyword you've tried to target, and the other keywords it ends up ranking for will often be complimentary and help bolster your ranking for the main keyword.
Hold on, I'm confused. Does setting a keyword for my blog or web page matter?
Nope. As far as search engines are concerned, choosing your keywords in whatever plugin or tool you use to track them is entirely irrelevant. You might say your blog post is about german shepherds, but if everything in the post is about doberman pinschers, you're going to show up in search results for doberman pinschers.
Most keyword optimization tools or plugins are more like little assistants helping you check that you've actually done all the major things that will help your web page rank for the key word you've selected. They don't actually impact how a search engine views your page - they just help you edit and refine your page to better rank for the term you've decided on.
Let me say it again - you'll rank for the keywords that apply to your content, regardless of what you "set" as your keywords.
Your tools and plugins have zero impact on how Google actually views your page; what matters is your headlines, image alt tags, what phrases and words are in your copy, the links in and to your page, and 190 other factors that are not included in your plugin. What the plugin does do is help you ensure you've made it easy for Google (and other search engines) to figure out what your web page is about, and rank it for the keyword you're trying to target.
What does this mean? It means if you go into your tools or plugins and set all of your website keywords to be "german shepherd", but your content is entirely about doberman pinschers, you will never rank for german shepherd. You will, however, rank for doberman pinscher.
So if your business is about telecom expense management, but you're trying to get in on all the Internet of Things popularity, it's not going to matter one whit how much you input "internet of things" as a keyword for your content.
What will matter is if you write blog posts or have informational pages about Internet of Things content, and how your company helps other businesses integrate the best parts of IoT with TEM.
Alright, so what makes for good keywords?
For most companies, you'll want to target what's known as long tail keywords. These are keywords that are really phrases, and should get fairly specific.
Further, to help you with understanding long tail keywords, a long tail keyword is usually at least 3 or more words, and makes the term fairly specific. "Social media marketing", for example, isn't a long tail keyword. "Social media marketing for San Diego small businesses", however, is a long tail keyword.
Another example: "Telecom expense management" is not a long tail keyword. "Telecom expense management for brick and mortar stores" however, is.
A good way to know if you've got a long tail keyword is whether or not you can swap out parts of the phrase for other, similar terms.
"Telecom expense management for retail stores", "TEM for retail stores", "TEM for brick and mortar stores", to extend my last example. Those are all long tail keywords that describe a page about telecom expense management for physical store locations.
Keep in mind that part of the reason you can and should target long tail key words is because they often have lower search volumes, and the people searching for those keywords are often looking for something very specific. Why would someone be looking, specifically, for a company that does telecom expense management for a physical store location?
Because they have physical store and need TEM, of course! And those are precisely the folks you want to find you - the ones looking for a solution that you happen to provide.
Targeting long tail keywords, especially many of them, usually requires numerous pages dedicated each term - about pages, service description pages, etc. Alternatively, and ideally, blogging works extremely well at snuggling your pages into the top results for specific long tail keywords.
What works well is to let your static pages, like the home page, about section, and similar pages be targeted towards your "big" keywords - the generic ones that aren't super specific. Telecom, business, B2B, or similar types of keywords that have high search volumes and are difficult to rank for.
Use your blog to target the long tail versions of the keywords that your main pages are focused on, and by virtue of having multiple high ranking, long tail keywords on your blog pages, your main pages will increase in ranking as well.
Alright, so breaking keywords down one more time:
Keywords are the adjectives search engines use to describe and sort your web pages. What you choose to be ranked for doesn't have any impact on what you actually are ranked for.
However, by following best practices or guidelines from plugins and keyword tools, you can improve your chances of ranking well for the keyword you're targeting in a specific web page.
The best way to improve your ranking for specific keywords is to follow the best practices that are outlined in most plugins and keyword ranking tools, and create content that is valuable and relevant to those keywords.
In addition, the better you rank for long tail keywords, the better you're likely to rank for more difficult, generic keywords. If you rank well for 30 long tail keywords that start with "telecom expense management", you're probably going to rank well for "telecom expense management" on its own, too.
For an easy time determining long tail keywords based on your "big", generic keywords, I've created a free cheat sheet to help you turn a single keyword into at least 30. Click below to download: