[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Keywords 101Do you understand what keywords are, and how to use them to help your website rank higher in the search engines? In this article, I’m going to give you a non-technical, easy-to-follow introduction to keywords to help you get started.

The Big Picture

In the end, what you want is for your website to show up on the first page of Google’s search results when someone searches for something related to what you do. Let’s break this down a bit, so we can see what you have to do for that to happen.

When someone searches on Google, they type in a search term. Let’s say I want to look for a place to stay on my next vacation. I might type in “Paris hotels.” Google then looks through its massive index of all the pages on the web to find ones that are relevant to Paris hotels. It gives those back to me as a list, with the most relevant matches at the top.

Showing Up In Search Results

One of the ways that Google decides what’s relevant is by matching the user’s search term (in this case “Paris hotels”) with keywords that appear on the various web pages in its index. Pages that contain the keywords “Paris hotels” are more likely to show up near the top of Google’s results. (Note that this is a bit of an over-simplification, since Google takes other factors besides keywords into consideration when deciding what results to show, but that’s for another article! For now, know that keywords are one of the factors in ranking, so it’s important to get them right).

What is a Keyword?

First, a bit of history… And the only tiny bit of “tech” in this article, I promise! There are things called “meta tags” that you can add to your page. They don’t show up on the page that your visitors see, but behind the scenes, they give information to the search engines about your page. There’s one tag called “keywords.” In the “olden days” of the Internet ;-), that tag was what you used to tell Google what your page was about. Because it’s been abused by website owners trying to artificially boost their rankings, Google really doesn’t pay attention to it any more. You can forget about it!Instead, Google looks at the actual content of your page to determine what it’s about, and whether it would be relevant to a searcher. The term “keywords” has stuck around, though. Now when we say “adding keywords to your page” we don’t mean doing anything magical with fancy meta tags behind the scenes. We simply mean including the right words in key places within your page content.

It’s also worth noting that a keyword can refer to a single word, or a phrase. So “Paris hotels” is a keyword. When you want to rank for that phrase, you must use it exactly on your page.

Writing Your Web Pages

Now, what does all this mean for you when you write your web pages? If you’re a hotel in Paris, you want your page to show up first when I type in “Paris hotels.” That means that you have to use the keyword “Paris hotels” (exactly those words) on your webpage. You need to use it in your page title, in a heading, in the URL (slug) for the page, and in the content (body) of your page/article. The more words there are on your page, the more times you want to use that keyword. Using the keyword in all those places is a good indication to Google of what your page is about.

WordPress SEO by Yoast

It just so happens that there’s a free plugin out there that can help you determine whether you’ve done a good job of writing your content so that Google will recognise the relevance of your page. It’s called WordPress SEO by Yoast. This plugin adds a tool to your WordPress page editor that will give you feedback on your page content. You input a focus keyword, and the tool will tell you whether you’ve included it in all the right places, and whether you’ve included it the right number of times. It will also tell you whether your page is long enough, and a few other helpful details. You shouldn’t be without it! In addition to giving you feedback on your page content, the plugin sets up many aspects of your site to be search-engine friendly.

What keywords should you choose?

Now that you have an idea of what you need to do to your page to get it to rank for a particular search term, you need to figure out exactly what search terms you want your page to rank for! I’m a web developer. I would love it if someone typed “web developer” into Google, and my site popped up as #1! Is that a realistic goal for me, though? Probably not. “Web developer” is an extremely competitive term. That means that although many people are searching for the term “web developer,” there are also very many people competing for that front page spot in the search results. I’m much more likely to be able to win a competition for the top spot for a more specific (and therefore less competitive) term, like “Julie Waterhouse web developer.” Note that this example assumes that people already know my name, and are searching for me explicitly. To reach a new audience, I need to try to rank for something like “WordPress services for entrepreneurs.” For the latter to work, it must be a term that people actually type in to Google. It’s possible that no one ever types in “WordPress services for entrepreneurs,” so even if I make it to the number one spot for that term, no one will ever find me because no one is looking for those words!

The ideal keyword is one that many people are searching for, but not a lot of people are writing content for. If you have any kind of specialisation in your business, then you’ll want to try to incorporate those terms into your page. For example, if you’re a jewellery designer, then you will find it easier to be ranked for the term “handmade Swarovski crystal jewellery” than for “handmade jewellery.” If you are a local business, then ranking for “Toronto wedding photographer” will be easier than just “wedding photographer.”

You really need to start with the less competitive words. As your site starts to rank for those keywords, and visitors respond well to those results (i.e., they click on the link to your site when Google serves it up, and they also stay on the page a while, and don’t click off again right away, both of which tell Google that your page was relevant), Google will start to rank pages on your site for more competitive keywords. Patience! All this takes time.

Keyword Research Tools

It’s tricky to choose exactly the right keywords for your pages. There’s a whole industry that’s evolved around it, with SEO (search engine optimisation) experts to help you, and products that help you do keyword research. Go to Google, and search for “keyword research tools” to see what’s out there. There are a handful of free options, but if you’re serious at doing in-depth keyword research, you may decide to go with a paid tool.


It’s best to focus each page on a single keyword, and to have a different keyword on each page of your site. If you use the same keyword on more than one page on your site, you are competing with yourself to get that top spot in the search results.

Do keep in mind that your priority should always be to provide quality content that is relevant to your visitors. You should never write a page just for the search engines. Good quality content tends to rise to the top, and content that is artificially stuffed with keywords will be punished by Google, and will not rank well. Keep it real!

Be patient! It takes time for your site to rise in the Google rankings. The secret is to provide good quality content that is relevant to what searchers are looking for. Start by getting ranked for more specific terms, and as your site builds a good reputation with Google, you’ll be able to get ranked for more general keywords.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]


  1. Kirsty on January 30, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    The whole meta tags thing confused me for a while – I’m glad I don’t really need to worry too much!

    • Julie Waterhouse on January 30, 2014 at 9:02 pm

      Well, you don’t need to worry about the keywords meta tag. But you should set title and meta description tags. Those are what get displayed in the search results when your page gets listed. If you don’t set something explicitly, Google pulls the page title and the first words on the page as the description. That’s not always the most compelling description to get someone to click through from the search results to your page.

      The free Yoast plugin that I reference here gives you a place in the WordPress page editor where you can type in a custom title and description. It’s a nice, friendly interface for you, and the plugin adds those meta tags behind the scenes.

      Hmmm – maybe I have my next blog post topic here :-). Thanks, Kirsty!

  2. Carlaquarius on February 16, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    Wow, this post is PACKED with info I NEED. Thank you so much! xoxo

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