A Website without an SEO Foundation is Pretty Much Useless (Part 2 of 3, Keywords)

Keywords lie at the center of any impactful SEO strategy. That’s because they are ultimately the guideposts that will help search engines drive relevant traffic to your website (for free!).

Specifically, keywords are the words or phrases that are typically employed by search engine users seeking information on a particular topic (and, yes, that search engine is probably Google).

Google’s goal is to understand what a user who enters a given search term is actually looking for; that’s how Google provides relevant, useful search results. By thoughtfully integrating keywords with your website and overall digital marketing strategy, we can not only build organic search traffic but search traffic that’s tightly focused to target customer personas.

Website content built around keywords creates a lasting foundation that will continue to yield results. But Google and other search engines no longer reward content that simply “stuffs” unhelpful keywords into a webpage. They’re looking for signs of well-organized content that will connect users with the information they need.

A deep-dive into some of the different types of keywords is the best way to illustrate how carefully you need to think about how keywords interact with your broader marketing strategy. We divide keywords into 9 functional categories below: short tail, longtail, short-term, long-term, product defining, customer defining, geo-targeting, LSI and intent targeting.

These categories can overlap, and each of these keyword categories brings real value to the table. The key is matching these different strengths to the right content to amplify your SEO results. Each of these keyword types can and should be utilized in different phases of your SEO efforts to increase your chances of obtaining a relevant lead.

Understanding Different Keyword Types

Short Tail Keywords- Short tail keywords include one or two words. Because they’re so short, these terms don’t tell us much about the intent of the underlying search. A short-tail keyword like “Technology” could be used by search engine users with a huge array of possible intent. Because these terms are so broad, they can command huge volumes of traffic. The value of this traffic can be limited, however, as we know very little about it.

Long Tail Keywords – Long tail keywords are comprised of several words (more than 3). Just a few added words can amount to some crucial detail and description when it comes to SEO strategy. Long tail keywords earn less overall traffic volume, but this traffic has much more focused intent (and is likely to be less competitive than a short-tail equivalent).  A user who submits a long tail keyword into a search engine is much further along their information gathering process–the sort of process that can ultimately result in a purchase. Someone who searches “technology cost projection tools” is dramatically more likely to be an actual customer than someone using a shorter tail keyword, and an effective digital marketing strategy needs to take advantage of that fact.

Short Term Keywords – Short term keywords have an impact that is time-limited. Consider a search term like “2019 World Series.” In the days surrounding the World Series, this may be one of the most searched keywords in North America. In 2020, its numbers will fall off a cliff (though some people will still be looking for highlights). As time goes by, the volume of this search term will only decrease. Just as fast as you gain traffic from a short term keyword, you lose it. This content can be valuable, but it has an expiration date.

Long Term Keywords – Long term keywords may not offer the dramatic spikes of shorter-term keywords, but their value sustains more over time. These words earn traffic consistently over time, usually by presenting a topic that is informative or educational. Education is king. And the more content you can generate that is a true educational resource for your target clients, the more views you will gain over the long term. In general, we want to build “evergreen” content that continues to drive value for years to come.

Product-Defining Keywords – These keywords are the specific phrasing used to best describe your product or service. Examples of product defining keywords: bicycle helmet, bicycle handlebars, bicycle pedals and bicycle frame. These keywords will gain a great amount of relevant traffic but typically at a high price unless it is a very niche offering.

Customer-Defining Keywords – Customer Defining Keywords are a set of keywords that define a specific group of individuals. For example: Cubs Fan Club. While these words may tell us less about the specific intent of the search term, they tell us even more about the user behind the search. Sometimes, we want a marketing strategy to target a group rather than an intent, and these terms are just the ticket.

Geo-Targeting Keyword – Geo-Targeting Keywords pertain to locations and help obtain viewers from local business entities. Google tries to level the playing field for local businesses by providing opportunities for local businesses’ search results within relevant geographies. Geo-Targeting Keywords should be included in the SEO efforts of virtually all websites, taking advantage of free local marketing value from Google.

LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) Keywords – LSI Keywords are keywords with a data-based correlation with specific other keywords. Folks tend to think of LSI keywords as synonyms, and that can be true, but this definition slightly misses the mark. Consider the search terms “Google” and “Android Apps.” They’re not synonyms at all, and they don’t contain any of the same words. Yet it’s almost certain that these terms are used by an overlapping group of users, a fact that’s sure to show up in Google’s algorithm. The upshot is that Google will use LSI to determine the “true” relevance of your website. This fact makes building up content that’s useful to your target customers can be valuable, even when each piece isn’t built on a directly relevant keyword.

Intent Keywords – These golden nuggets give us precise information about not only what a user is searching about, but what they’re trying to do. Someone searching “IT Consulting 101” is doing background reading, they’re highly unlikely to be a customer. Someone searching “IT Consultants in my area” is a more serious prospect. Someone searching “IT Consultant Rates and Services” is a red hot target with a specific interest in making a purchase decision sooner rather than later. Terms with highly specific intent may post extremely low overall traffic numbers, but this traffic can potentially be extremely focused toward high-value prospects.

Shaping Keyword Insight into a Digital Marketing Strategy

You don’t necessarily need content covering hundreds of keywords across all of these categories to succeed. The point of these categories isn’t to be exhaustive, but to show how subtly keyword selection interacts with user intent (a subtlety Google is paying brilliant mathematicians to have captured in its search results).

That’s why, even though keywords are at the foundation of any successful digital marketing strategy, they only matter to the extent they help us connect with and sell to relevant customers. Building huge amounts of traffic to keywords that aren’t ultimately connected to your target customers won’t generate any returns.