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What Are Keywords and How Do You Use Them?



What Are Keywords and How Do You Use Them?

What Are Keywords?

A keyword is any word or phrase entered into Google (or another search engine) that helps describe what website content is about. 

Website owners and SEO professionals use keywords to optimize a website’s content in hopes of ranking at the top of Google’s results and generating traffic.

Anything searched on a search engine, whether a single word or a phrase, is considered a keyword. For example, here’s the results page for the keyword “ what plants grow in the desert.” 


Why Are Keywords Important?

Keywords are essential because they tell Google about the content on your website. As a user performs a search query, relevant content can be served for those keywords, thus giving you traffic.

If a page on your website shows up at the top of the results, the keyword it’s ranking for acts as a free source of website traffic for you. 

On the other hand, if you have an advertising budget, you can utilize pay-per-click (PPC) ads using specific keywords and get positioned above organic results. This is how Google Ads operates—advertisers bid for the space at the top of a results page for specific keywords. 

Generally speaking, if a keyword implies monetary action, it can be a good choice for your paid search campaign.

Say you’re marketing for a car dealership—the keyword “toyota for sale in San Jose” is likely made by a user in the area ready to make a purchase.

However, not all keywords are created equally. The keyword “ loans” has four advertisements at the top of the results, while “what plants grow in the desert” has no ads. 


As you develop a marketing strategy for your website, you will need to choose specific keywords to target for your website. This requires doing a bit of keyword research before you can start building your marketing strategy. 

You can acquire high rankings organically through search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing and use the remaining keywords to cover advertising through Google Ads.

How to Use Keywords

The way to use keywords is by planning a campaign that targets them. That is where SEO, content marketing, and PPC advertising come into play. 

One of the simplest ways to use keywords is to make sure your website content—page titles, text, categories, and subsections of webpages—are all worded in the same way your audience writes their search engine queries. 

This way, when your web pages appear in the search results, they will reach online customers who searched using the same keywords or phrases.

But before you get any of this started, you’ll need to conduct keyword research to make sure you are writing the right content for your industry that will appeal to customers. 

Keyword research is the process of finding the right keywords for your website to target. 

After you’ve completed your keyword research, keep the following in mind to ensure you’re following best practices:

  • Avoid keyword stuffing
  • Use keywords naturally
  • Find long tail keywords with reasonable competition
  • Learn how to place keywords
  • Use keyword research tools

How to Implement Keywords

When writing and optimizing content for your website, you’ll want to provide answers to keywords that ask questions. Providing general information that educates people on the topics circling those target keywords can also improve a site’s SEO and ranking.

Avoid Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is when you use your target keyword too frequently in your content. Some tools can assist you in preventing keyword stuffing so that Google doesn’t ping you for this bad habit.

To prevent stuffing, avoid adding your keyword more than once every 200 words or so. If you add the keyword 2-3 times every 200 words, you’re probably keyword stuffing.

Think about how far Google has come—you don’t need to spoonfeed it. If your content answers a user’s query and provides solid information on that topic, Google is probably more likely to recommend your page than a page that doesn’t answer the question but repeats select keywords.

Another way to prevent this poor habit of SEO is to use related keywords or phrases that are similar to your primary keyword and incorporate them into your content.

Our most important advice for using keywords is to sprinkle and not spam.

Implementing keywords
While the targeted keywords for this example appear right off the bat, they don’t feel spammy or forced.

Use Keywords Naturally

If you write your content and avoid keyword stuffing, that’s a good start. But what does it mean to use keywords naturally?

Here’s an example.

In your keyword research, you might discover commonly searched keyword phrases like “coffee shop near me.” 

This particular keyword is difficult to place in content naturally because of how it’s written. For instance, you would not start a blog post with “Looking for a coffee shop near me,” especially if you are composing content for a reader and referring to them as “you.” 

When incorporating keywords, trying to force them into sentences when they already have a strange order may also pose a problem. The keywords “coffee shop famous” may be difficult since it is a seemingly incomplete search query. Your blog post title shouldn’t read “10 Coffee Shop Famous in Seattle.” 

It’s just not natural.

Using a semantic version of the keyword in the title is a better idea. In this example, you could use 10 Famous Coffee Shops in Seattle”.

Coffee shop search example
The keyword “coffee shop famous” triggers results that don’t even have “famous” in the title of the posts because Google is able to determine which ones best answer the user’s query.

So when you are adding keywords, make sure they fit into a sentence like any other word would, so the reader wouldn’t even know the difference.

In general, it’s best practice to focus on creating great content that answers users’ queries and gives them valuable information on the topic they’re searching for. Create good content rather than over-analyzing the number of times you place a keyword or fitting the exact match keyword in perfectly.

Find Long Tail Keywords With Reasonable Competition

Long tail keywords are much better than solitary keywords for one reason—they focus very specifically on a topic. 

For example, a head term or single keyword like “coffee” will bring up a wealth of results covering a broad set of topics for the user. However, they might not find the answer they are looking for right away because the search query “coffee” is just too vague. 

The word “coffee” likely has a high search volume and high competition, making it more difficult to compete for a higher ranking.

Keyword Magic Tool results for coffee
In this example, the keyword “coffee” has a very high volume, but a higher Keyword Difficulty.

Long tail keywords like “how to make iced coffee” yield results with lower search volumes and lower competition, giving you more of an advantage when ranking.

So if you owned a small coffee shop in Seattle trying to rank for “coffee” when big sites like Starbucks are out there, you would face some challenges.

How to make iced coffee Keyword Magic Tool results
For this keyword, “how to make iced coffee” has lower volume and lower Keyword Difficulty.

Learn How to Place Keywords

There are numerous places you can put your keywords when writing content. 

While you’ll probably end up naturally including your primary keyword in the body of your content, there are other places you can include it that will help Google determine what your page is about. 

Content can be much stronger when incorporating keywords into:

  • Page Titles
  • Title Tags
  • Meta Descriptions
  • Alt Tags
  • Headers

Read more about on-page SEO signals in our On-Page SEO Guide.

The Best Tools For Using Keywords

Using your keywords to the best of their ability requires a bit of assistance to use them naturally and effectively requires easy-to-use tools.

Fortunately, Semrush offers some great tools that help you use keywords in SEO, content, and advertising. 

Here are some of the tools we recommend:

Why Choose a Keyword?

For an online business, keywords guide your strategy. 

Optimizing for the correct keywords can help make your business more visible than your competitors. This can help bring in leads, online traffic, and even foot traffic.s.

But how do you determine which keywords are right for your content?

Let’s take a look at Home Depot’s website. When we look at all of the keyword positions they rank for, we understand what their website is about and what products they are marketing online. 


However, Home Depot is a household name. If you run a local home improvement store, it’s going to be tough to rank for high-volume, high-competition keywords successfully.

It’s best to find a sweet spot for your business—take note of the keyword difficulty as well as the keyword volume. There’s no use creating a page targeting a term no one searches for.

Don’t forget about the user, though. If a topic is high-difficulty but essential to your business, it still belongs on your site. It just might be a foundational page for users rather than an organic traffic success.

Qualities of a Keyword

So when we are doing keyword research, what are some of the components of a keyword? To perform great keyword research, you need to understand the qualities that define a keyword’s value. 

The main qualities of a keyword include:

  • Search volume
  • Competition 
  • Price (cost per click)
  • Word count
  • Intent

Keyword Search Volume

Search volume tells you how many times a keyword is searched on Google. Semrush measures this metric in average monthly searches by location. 

This metric lets you evaluate how popular a specific query is and how much potential traffic you could direct to your site with a high position.

For example, as of October 2021, “what plants grow in the desert” had a volume of 210 monthly searches in the United States. You can see that it also had a global volume of 420.


Meanwhile, as of October 2021, “Loans” had a monthly search volume of 246 thousand in the United States and a global volume of 850.8 thousand.


Investing in a keyword with a tremendous keyword search volume has the potential to attract more visitors to your website. But, this is easier said than done. 

Volume isn’t the only thing determining how hard it will be to rank. To help you understand that, you will need to look into a keyword’s level of competition.

Competitiveness of a Keyword

No matter how impressive the search volume of a keyword is, you should be mindful of the competition. The more sought-after a keyword is, the more likely there will already be tons of websites and marketing agencies vying for the top spot. 

Most keyword tools have a way of measuring competition—on Semrush, there are two metrics:

  1. Keyword Difficulty: This metric tells you the level of effort it will take to rank in the top 10 results of Google for a keyword. This is based on how strong and reputable the websites are already on the first page. To outrank what is already there, you need to provide something better in the eyes of Google.
  2. Competitive Density: This metric tells you how competitive it is to rank an advertisement at the top of the results page. This is based on how much advertisers are bidding on a particular keyword.

In general, Keyword Difficulty helps you manage your SEO campaign, and Competitive Density helps you prioritize your advertising campaign.

Keyword Price

Speaking of advertising, every keyword has a price—a “ cost per click” (CPC) that tells you how much it costs an advertiser every time a searcher clicks on their ad after searching the keyword. 

For the word “loans,” in the US, the CPC was listed at $3.94. 

That means every time someone in the US searches “loans” on Google and clicks on an ad associated with that keyword, the advertiser pays Google $3.94 in exchange for the website visitor. 

When you’re planning an advertising campaign, evaluating the CPCs of your target keywords is necessary to manage your advertising budget and estimate the cost of a campaign.

Knowing this, you can determine if it’s worth paying nearly four dollars per click to get a person to visit your site.

Keyword Word Count

Word count refers to the number of words in the phrase. For example, the term “loans” has a word count of one, while “what plants grow in the desert” has six.

While looking for keywords in a keyword research tool, the search volume and the competitiveness of the query can be more important than the number of words in the phrase. However, word count is still a way to hone your research. 

The higher the keyword count, the more specific the search query. When a search query contains long tail keywords, the competition is much lower than it would be for a solitary keyword.

For example, in a keyword research tool like Semrush, you can filter a list of keywords by word count—to look at only keyword phrases that have at least five words or more in them. 

Why would you want to do this? 

Well, you can find more specific queries this way and get more context of the intentions of every search. For example, look at how the phrases with five or more words have more context than a single word like “loans.” 


Keywords with more context and clearer intent can be easier to target effectively. 

Keyword Intent

The keyword intent tells you where the user is in their journey—are they ready to buy a product, or are they still doing preliminary research?

Intent is determined by a few questions:

  • Are they searching with the intent to buy something? 
  • Are they simply looking for a definition? 
  • Are they shopping around to gather information and see their options but don’t want to purchase yet? 

Based on this, intent generally falls into four main categories: 

  1. Transactional (buyer) intent
  2. Commercial intent
  3. Navigational intent
  4. Informational intent

Semrush makes it easy to identify the intent of any keyword in our database. Just look for the dedicated column in any keyword report. 

Here’s an example of keyword intent in the Keyword Magic Tool, for example.


With this information, you can map your strategy accordingly and target each keyword with specific content that fits the searchers’ intent in your niche.


Transactional queries represent a strong intention to make a transaction on a website.

Some query examples include:

  • Buy air force 1 online
  • Size 10 red sneakers under 80 dollars
  • Where can I sign up for cheap flight alerts

Such queries include words like “buy,” “subscribe,” “for sale.” As a rule, these keywords are more specific as well—they may describe the product or service more precisely, like “neon blue unisex watch.”

Related reading: What Are Buyer Keywords and How do I Find Them?

buy air force 1 online


In this case, users are investigating products, services, or brands prior to shopping. While they aren’t ready to buy just yet, they likely plan to buy a product soon.


  • Best running shoes
  • Best shoes for dog walking
  • Types of dog harnesses
Types of dog harnesses

Even though users may not plan to buy something right away, they might be more likely to buy from a brand they trust. This is why it’s crucial to target the customer during every stage of the customer journey. 


Informational queries look for directions, facts, or knowledge without an explicit intention to make a transaction related to this search.


  • Where is Machu Pichu
  • How long does it take to boil water
  • What does stereo mean

With these queries, people are looking to solve a problem or are searching for information to support their idea of purchasing a particular product. By this time, they have already decided to buy, read reviews, or compare prices to help make their buying decision. 

While these words aren’t likely to give you a good ROI from advertising, targeting them can help bring general traffic to your site and improve your reputation—if you can provide a lot of helpful information to people, that is.

Where is Machu Pichu

Navigational queries show an intent to navigate to a specific website or content. 


  • Doug the Pug Instagram
  • Bank of America login 
  • Try Guys youtube channel

These searches already have a path mapped out for the user. Such keywords are usually helpful when the brand is well-known and popular. 

Doug the Pug Instagram

Types of Keywords

In addition to keyword intents, marketers use a few types of keywords to categorize targets. 

They include:

  • Branded keywords
  • Long tail keywords
  • Geo-targeted keywords
  • Negative keywords

Let’s explore each one below. 

Branded Keywords

Branded keywords are keywords that include the brand name or identity in them. These are queries that will contain a brand name such as “Adidas tracksuit for sale” or “Gucci bags.” 

Long Tail Keywords

Long tail keywords have lower search volume but show specific user intent. They are typically three to five words in length. Because users are looking for something specific, they are likely farther along in their buyer journey and more likely to convert.

See the chart below—less specific keywords are the opposite and typically have higher search volume but lower conversion rates.


Targeting long tail keywords can significantly help your website stand out from the competition and provide tremendous help to users. 

Think about it this way: when you type in a super-specific search on Google and get the perfect, super-specific answer, isn’t that a great feeling? 

You should strive to provide that feeling to the people searching for answers in your market. 

Geo-targeted Keywords

These queries contain a geographic location such as “dentist Philadelphia” or “restaurants in Chicago.” 

These are great targets for businesses advertising more locally with their SEO and paid campaigns. 

Restaurants in Chicago

Negative Keywords 

These are keywords you can add to a Google Ads campaign to indicate keywords where you don’t want your ads to appear. 

For example, by adding the word “free” as a negative keyword, you will tell Google Ads not to show your ads to any searchers using the word “free” in their query.

Negative keywords

The reason you will need to indicate negative keywords is that Google Ads allows you to specify your targets as “broad match.” This means Google might show your ad on a keyword’s result page that is not precisely the keyword you indicated but a closely related one. 

Negative keywords let you specify what you don’t want your ads showing up for. 

Tips for Choosing SEO Keywords vs. PPC Keywords

Choosing your target keywords defines your online strategy and shapes your reputation. 

Whether you want to know how to find keywords for SEO or PPC targets, here are some general guidelines to keep in mind.

As you choose your keywords, here are a few questions to ask:

  • What content or webpage do you have on your site that would satisfy someone’s search? 
  • What words would you search for to find that content?
  • How would you describe your product to a novice? 

Things to Do:

  • Check your site’s current search referrals via Google Search Console and build off of them
  • Look for low-hanging fruit, i.e., long tail keywords with specific intent and low competition
  • Think logically about how you would search for your website to help define keywords for SEO, content, and PPC
  • Plan one main target keyword and two to five related target keywords per landing page or blog post in your campaign

What to Avoid:

  • Try to avoid words with multiple meanings
  • Don’t expect instant results with high-competition keywords if you are not a major player in your market 
  • Make similar landing pages with the same keywords and intent

Getting to Know Your Keywords With Semrush

Understanding how keywords work can heavily influence your marketing strategy. Now that you know how to use them to your advantage, there is nothing you can’t accomplish with your online business. 

But, don’t do all the work without a little bit of help. 

Excellent keyword research happens when we use all tools available to us. And with Semrush, you have the power of over 50 tools to ensure you’re harnessing the power of keywords properly. 

If this article has answered your questions about keywords and provided some tips on conducting keyword research, then you’re already on your way.

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