What is a Keyword in SEO?

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Keywords are the foundation for any content you create for your website. Whether you’re writing a blog post, a case study, or “About Us” page, most likely you’ll use a keyword. Keywords are used to help people find your site through search engines.

A website that is well-optimized for a specific keyword helps search engines connect people to your site. Optimizing your website with keywords can help increase your organic traffic.

What is a Keyword?

In SEO, a keyword (or keyphrase) is a term added to a website’s content. Keywords are added to content in an effort to improve search rankings. When people search using a keyword you have optimized for, your website might appear in the search results.

By conducting keyword research, you can find out which keyword you should rank for. Factors that may influence what keyword to choose include search volume, competition and commercial intent.

Why are Keywords Important?

If you have a website and are looking to rank on Google then using keywords is where you can start. One of the things Google looks at when ranking a page is content. When you use keywords in your content, you’re telling Google and other search engines what your page is about. Optimizing your content around keywords helps search engines have a better idea of whether your website can provide an answer to someone’s search.

Keywords are also beneficial for users. However, you don’t want to target everyone with your content. Focusing on the right keywords can match what your potential audience is searching for. Defining your target audience is important in attracting people to your site and keeping them there.

Types of Keywords

Short-Tail Keywords

Implied by its name, short-tail keywords are search phrases with one to three words. Because of their length, short-tail keywords are broad, have high search volume, and highly competitive.

Short-tail keyword search for "shoes"

Some examples include “phone case” or “greek food”. This can help drive traffic to your website but it’s hard to determine search intent. We’ll revisit search intent later on.

Long-tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords usually consist of 3 or more words and are more specific than short-tail keywords.

Long-tail keyword search for "men's running shoes"

They are clear in determining what someone is looking for and what their intent is. Long-tail keywords result in lower search volume but have less competition and cost less per click.

Branded Keywords

Branded keywords are searches that include a brand’s name or any variation of it. 

With branded searches, you can better understand a user’s search intent. Branded keywords are closely related to navigational queries. People who search for brands are usually trying to get to a specific company website or webpage. We’ll revisit search intent later.

Unbranded Keywords

Unbranded keywords are keywords that don’t mention a brand name or any part of it. These are general keywords people search to find a product or service.

Unbranded keyword search for "pizza delivery.

People may use unbranded keywords if they don’t know who offers what they want, or want more information about companies. Unbranded keywords tend to be more competitive because they can apply to more than one business.

Understanding Search Intent

In SEO there is a lot of talk about keywords, but we should also mention search intent. Although not directly related to keywords, search intent is helpful in narrowing down keywords important to you.

Search intent can be simplified to the reason someone searched. In other words, why did they make this search? There are four types of search queries: informational, navigational, transactional, and commercial.


In this type of search, someone is looking for information. The search might be a simple question like “what is the population of Canada”. It could be a more in-depth question like “how does SEO work”.

Informational search on Google for "what is the population of Canada"

However, not all informational searches include questions. They could just include a person’s name or a term like “LeBron James” or “hockey scores”.


In a navigational search, someone is looking for a specific website. They already have an idea where they want to go. In all honesty, this type of search comes down to convenience.

Navigational intent search on Google for "walmart"

If they’re looking to visit a particular site, like Facebook or the NBA homepage, it’s quicker and easier to Google it rather than type the whole URL. Also, they may not know the exact URL for a website so by searching it they’ll find exactly what they want.


Searches with commercial intent usually mean that a person is in the market for a specific product or service but hasn’t made a final decision.

Commercial intent search on Google for "best restaurants in Toronto"

At this point, a person is looking for reviews or comparisons of different products. Many times searches with commercial intent also include local search elements like “electrician near me” or “cheapest hotel in Toronto”.


With transactional searches, a person is looking to make a purchase or sign up for a newsletter. 

Transnational search on Google for "orthopedic shoes"

They already know what they want to buy and are looking for somewhere to buy it. This search can be very broad (“shoes”) or very specific (“under armour shoes”).

Related Content: The Complete SEO Checklist for Your Website

Keyword Tools

Sometimes it can be hard to find keywords that work for you. Here are some keyword tools to help you choose the best keyword for your content and website. If you’re trying to find keywords but don’t have the budget for paid tools, most of the tools below are free.

Google Keyword Planner

A free tool offered by Google Ads, Google Keyword Planner is predominantly a workshop for building new search campaigns. However, the Keyword Planner is an incredibly useful tool for searching keywords. It will give you a list of keywords along with important statistics including search volume and competition.

Google Trends

Another great tool Google offers for free is Google Trends. Google Trends is a search feature that shows how frequently a given search term is entered into Google. It provides keyword-related data including search volume index and geographical information about search engine users. You can use this to compare keywords and to discover event-triggered spikes in keyword search volume.


One of the great keyword research tools is AnswerThePublic. It won’t show the search volume or competition of a keyword, but it combines suggested searches from Bing and Google. It organizes all searches in categories such as what, where and why, and visualizes them in a search cloud. It gives you an overview of the questions people are typing into search engines.


Sometimes you need a little bit more efficiency with your keyword research. Here is where SEMrush can help. A paid tool, SEMrush does your keyword research and tracks your keyword strategy by competition.

SEMrush helps to identify the keyword phrases that are likely to get you the most traffic. They also help discover the different keyword variations that are associated with a particular root word.

Related Content: 18 Top SEO Tools for 2019

Final Thoughts

Understanding keywords is important in creating any content on your website. Keywords are the foundation to understanding your audience and what they are looking for from search engines.

When creating content you don’t overuse your keyword making sure your content is easy to read. You want to use your keywords naturally and well-distributed throughout your text. Ideally, you want to make each page on your site to target a unique keyword.

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