How to Effectively Use Keywords to Rank Higher on Search Engines

How to Effectively Use Keywords to Rank Higher on Search Engines
Key 'Takeaways' From This Post:
  • Keywords are categorized as either short-tail (which are broad) or long-tail (which are narrow) search queries.
  • Latent Semantic Indexing (LSIs) are any words that regularly occur along with your main keywords.
  • Keyword research should be one of the first things you do when you start optimizing your marketing efforts for search engines.
  • General guideline: Put a specific keyword approximately three or four times on the page

We’ve all become reliant on the Internet for information. Whether we’re shopping online, doing product or price comparisons, looking at online reviews about a business or trying to find a local restaurant to have dinner at, we typically turn to the Internet first to find information.

It all starts with keywords. The Internet is all about content — words on a web page, videos, audio, images, infographics — but everything online originates with keywords.

Keywords are the foundation of content on the Internet. In fact, Google’s algorithm is based around them. But what are keywords? How are they used online? And how do you select the right keywords to include in your content to help you rank higher on the search engines?

When you know how to strategically perform keyword research and use those keywords effectively in your Internet marketing strategy, that’s the key to success!

What are Keywords?

So what are keywords? Keywords are simply the words or phrases a searcher enters into search engine search boxes. Typically keywords are made up of two or more words, which allows the searcher to get more precise and better quality search engine results. For instance, if you’re shopping for or doing research on pregnancy tests, you wouldn’t simply type in the word “pregnancy,” you would more than likely enter search phrases like “pregnancy tests,” “where to buy pregnancy tests,” “what type of pregnancy test is most accurate,” etc. Make sense? The more specific you are with your keywords, the more likely it is you will get search results that match what you’re looking for. As an Internet marketer, you want to think like your potential customers and identify keyword phrases that they will likely use to find your business, products or services.

Keywords are categorized as either short-tail (which are broad) or long-tail (which are narrow) search queries. Short-tail keywords are common terms customers use to find your business. As an example, if you’re a local plumber in Nashville, some short-tail keywords might be “plumber” or “Nashville plumbers.”

Long-tail keywords are more targeted than short-tail queries, typically have more words and tend to have more “user intent” on a specific product or service. An example of a long-tail keyword phrase would be “sony cyber shot dsc-rx100 digital camera.” As you can see, long-tail keywords are often very specific and gives the searcher targeted search results. Long-tail keywords often show a “buyer’s intent” because the terms they’re searching for are very detailed. Another example of a long-tail keyword is “2004 GMC Envoy spark plug.” With this search term you know that the searcher is looking for the correct spark plug needed for a specific year and make/model car.

In addition to specific keywords on a page, the search engines also look for other words on your web page that gives Google (or Bing, Yahoo!, etc.) an idea of what your page is about. These words are called LSI Keywords or semantic keywords (Google calls them Latent Semantic Indexing Keywords.) LSIs are keywords or any word that regularly occurs along with your main keywords.

One way to think about semantic words is this: if you’re an SEO professional, other words on your site and pages would probably be “search,” “search phrases,” “ppc,” “keyword rankings,” “search results,” etc. These words all relate to SEO. Synonyms can be LSIs (but not always.)

Why does Google care about the other words on a page? Google has always made it clear that their main goal is to provide searchers with the best, most relevant search results. Semantic keywords help give Google an idea of the overall purpose of the page or site. Google uses LSI in their algorithm to try to establish a relationship between words on your site’s pages or blog posts.

The Best Place to Start: Keyword Research

For your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy to be successful, you need a plan of attack for keyword research so you can create a master list of keywords that you will focus on. You’ll use these keywords, phrases and variations (like synonyms) on each page of your website and on other Internet marketing efforts (like video descriptions on a YouTube video, for instance.)

YouTube Video Descriptions With Keywords

Keyword research should be one of the first things you do when you start optimizing your marketing efforts for search engines. These keywords will then become the foundation of all your SEO efforts — on-page SEO, off-page SEO, inbound marketing, content marketing and virtually all other online marketing strategies.

How to do keyword research

There are many tools (paid-for and free) that can help you find what search terms people are using to find your type of business. One of the best keyword research tools comes from Google itself: Google Keyword Planner. Here are a few other keyword research tools you can try:


Knowing how to find and effectively use keywords is probably the most important skill for SEO. The first step to using keywords effectively is finding what people search for.

Your goal is to do keyword research and compile a list of every keyword you want your site to rank for.

Once you have a core keyword in mind, you can look at who is performing best for this keyword in your local area by using a grid tracker that displays local rankings on a map.

Where Should You Put Keywords?

Google loves content, but not just any content. Google wants to see quality content on your website. Content that answers the questions searchers are asking. If you want to rank for specific keywords, write the content using the keywords you’re targeting.

When you’re writing for keywords, be sure you don’t overdo it and use the keywords too many times. That’s called keyword stuffing and the search engines consider that as spamming. Not only does Google consider keyword stuffing spam, it also makes for a bad user experience. Any time you write content you should write for the end user first and then the search engines.

The general guideline is to put a specific keyword approximately three or four times on the page you’re trying to rank. Put the keyword once in the header (preferably H1s because those are considered important), towards the beginning of the opening paragraph and then two times in other parts of the page. You should also include keywords in image Alt tags.

Additionally, you should include a keyword in the Title and Meta description tags:

Title: Every page on your website should have a unique Title tag that describes what the content of the page is about. The title tag is HTML code that appears in the title bar of a web browser. It’s not visible on the page itself, but the search engines can read the Title tag’s code and that will help them determine what your page is about. A website page’s title will also display in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), often as blue hyperlinked text.

Meta Description: The meta description (sometimes called a page description) is a short description that goes into a little more detail about what the content of the page is about. Just like a Title tag, Meta Descriptions are behind-the-scenes HTML code that the search engines can see, but is not visible on the page itself. The page’s Meta Description will also appear in SERPs, typically under the blue Title tag.

What are title and description tags

By strategically placing keywords on the pages of your site, you’re increasing the likelihood of your page appear in search engine results.

You may need to not only optimize your existing content for the keywords you’re targeting, but also create new content pages that are written specifically around a keyword you’re traying to rank for. You can use a tool like BrightLocal’s ranking report to find out where your site is ranking for specific keywords. There are other tools that will allow you to check individual pages/URLs for rankings.

Get Started Today With Keywords

Keywords are your first important step to ranking your website for the keywords you’re trying to rank for. Do the research up front, keep meticulous notes on the keywords and phrases you’re going for and begin writing your content!


Sherry Bonelli
About the author
Sherry is the former Local Search Evangelist at BrightLocal. She led BrightLocal's Research and Content programs and championed the needs of their SEO Agency and SMB customers. Having worked in digital marketing since 1998, Sherry has a Master’s Degree in Internet Marketing along with numerous digital marketing certifications.