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What is a keyword?

When looking for information about keywords in relation to SEO, you get bombarded with information about keyword research. And of course, this is crucial if you’d like your page to rank. But it’s also important to understand what the basic principle of a keyword is. And that’s the thing I’ll explain here. I’ll also share some suggestions about how and where to add keywords for SEO.

In this post:

  • What are keywords?
  • Why are keywords important?
  • How to use keywords

What are keywords?

A keyword, or a focus keyword as some call it, is a word that describes the content on your page or post best. It’s the search term that you want to rank for with a certain page. So when people search for that keyword or phrase in Google or other search engines, they should find that page on your website.

Let’s say you’ve got a website about pianos: you sell all sorts and types of pianos. You blog about what to look at when buying a piano and you share reviews about the pianos you offer on your online shop. You sell digital pianos so you’ve created a product category page about digital pianos. Ask yourself this:

  • What kind of search term do you want to be found for?
  • Which words do you think people will use in search engines to find you?
  • What would the search query look like?

Probably [digital piano], right? Because this keyword reflects what’s on the page best. If you’d have to explain the bottom line of your content, how would that look? What words would you use? That’s your keyword or keyphrase – if it consists of multiple words.

We use the word ‘keyword’ all the time; this does not mean it consists of only one word. A lot of times it consists of multiple words. So when talking about keywords, a lot of times we mean a phrase instead of just one word.

Read more: Keyword research for your online shop »

Why are keywords important?

One of the things Google looks at when ranking a page is the content on that page. It looks at the words on the page. Now picture this, if every word on, for instance, a blog post about a digital piano is used 2 times, then all words are of equal importance. Google won’t have a clue which of those words are important and which aren’t. The words you’re using are clues for Google; it tells Google and other search engines what the page or post is about. So if you want to make Google understand what your page is about, you need to use it fairly often.

But Google isn’t the only reason why keyphrases are important. Actually, it’s less important, because you should always focus on the user: on your visitors and potential clients. With SEO you want people to land on your website when using a certain search term or keyphrase. You need to get into the heads of your audience and use the words they use when they are searching.

If you use the wrong keyphrase, you’ll never get the visitors you want or need, because your text doesn’t match what your potential audience is searching for. But if you do use the words people are searching for, your business can thrive. So if you see it like that, your keywords should reflect what your audience is searching for. With the wrong keyphrase, you’ll end up with the wrong audience, or none at all. That’s why having the right keywords is really important.

How to use keywords

There used to be a time where you could add a lot of keywords to your pages and posts, do some old-fashioned keyword stuffing, and you’d rank in search engines. But a text with a lot of the same words in it is not a pleasant read. And because users find this kind of copy terrible to read, Google finds it terrible too. That’s why ranking in Google by doing keyphrase stuffing, fortunately, became hard to do. Nowadays, you’ll need to add your keyphrase in a natural way by writing focused content.

Use them in moderation

Getting the right amount of keywords onto your page is a balancing act. If you don’t use your keyword enough, you will find it hard to rank for that phrase. But if you use your keyphrase too much, your page will become spammy and unreadable, and that will also make it hard to rank.

You need to find that sweet spot where you’re using your keyword enough, but not excessively. Make sure you don’t stuff it into almost every sentence. In general, if your keyphrase makes up 1 or 2% of all words of your copy, then you’re not overdoing it.

Use them naturally

Aside from trying to add enough-but-not-too-many keywords, you need to make sure you include them in a natural way. Your keywords should be part of logical, coherent sentences that tell users something about that topic. Don’t force keyphrases into text (or headings) where they don’t make sense, or where they’re not adding any value for your readers.

And, that’s not all. Make sure your keywords are all well-distributed throughout your text. Don’t put all your keywords in the first paragraph thinking you’re done with that part of the optimization. Naturally spread them throughout your page or post.

Where to add your keyword

As well as distributing your keyphrase throughout your text, there are some other places that you should also add your keyword. Remember, always add keywords in moderation and put readability first!

  • Page title and SEO title
    You should always add your keyword in your page title. Ideally you want to add it at the start of your title, especially if your title is long. The same goes for your SEO title, or meta title.
  • Subheadings
    You should add your keyword to some of your subheadings (H2 and H3), but not all. It’s just the same as with the keyphrases in your main text. Use your keyword in a heading or a couple of subheadings, depending on the length of your page or post.
  • Introduction
    The introduction is the first paragraph of normal text on the page. Your introduction should get straight to the point, so Google and your readers know what you’ll be talking about. This is a great opportunity to include your keyphrase!
  • Image alt text
    Hopefully, your page or post includes an image related to the topic you’re writing about. Add some alt text to your images and see if you can find a natural way to include your keyword.
  • Meta description
    Your meta description is part of the text Google displays in its search results. It should contain a short description of what users can find on your page. It’s another great place to add your keyphrase, too!
  • URL slug
    The slug is the second part of a URL (web address) that identifies a specific page. For instance, the URL for this post is https://yoast.com/what-is-a-keyword/. The slug is the ‘what-is-a-keyword‘ part. You should try to create clear, descriptive slugs for each page you make, and if possible you should include your keyphrase in them too.

The Yoast SEO plugin checks all this for you

Want to get the right amount of keywords in all the right places? The Yoast SEO plugin makes it much easier! Simply add your focus keyphrase and the plugin will automatically check the points listed above — including whether you’re using it too much, too little, and whether it’s distributed well throughout your text.

These super helpful features are available in both the free and Premium versions. However if you upgrade to Premium you’ll be able to add more related keyphrases in addition to your focus keyphrase, too!

Up next: doing keyword research

Now you have a common understanding of what a keyword or keyphrase is. This knowledge will really help you with your keyword research, which of course is the next and vital step!

Keep reading: Keyword research: the ultimate guide »

What is a keyword? – Yoast.