What Is a Keyword? – SEO for Entrepreneurs

A key to any successful business, whether it’s local or global and whether is business-to-business or business-to-consumer, is having a valuable website that leverages the proper use of keywords.

Whether you run an ecommerce business, a brick and mortar retail store, a supply company focused on commercial clients or any other type of enterprise, there’s one question you need to be able to answer – “What is a keyword?”

Back in 1972, Liza Minnelli sang in the Academy Award winning movie Caberet, “Money makes the world go around.” Times have changed. In today’s search engine-dominated world, many entrepreneurs will argue that it’s not so much money that makes the world go around as much as it is showing up on page 1 of a Google (or any other search engine) search.

Buyers head to search engines to research a purchase before making a decision. And more to the point, the substantive majority of people end their search on page 1 of search results. Therefore, knowing how to get a web page to appear on page 1 is of critical importance to any business. Keywords play a significant role in getting such placement.



The Role of Search Engines

Strong search engine results are the new currency in our economy. They are part of a larger practice of Internet marketing called search engine optimization, or SEO. SEO, which is part art and part science, is focused on how to position a web site and its web pages to maximize search engine visibility.

The primary role of search engines is to scour the Internet, index (a technical word for saying, “make note of the information on each web page”) the content of each web page it finds (some exceptions apply – we’ll discuss exclusions in a later article) and serve up those web pages when someone comes asking. Keywords help determine the web pages that the search engines serve up. However, keywords are just one factor among many that influence search engine results. Regardless, if you are a business looking to be found on the Internet (and what business isn’t?), you must know what keywords are and how they work.

What is a Keyword? - SEO for Entrepreneurs

What is a Keyword?

A keyword is the word or phrase that a search engine user types into the search engine (e.g., Google) to find information on the Internet. The search engine takes the keyword entered and searches its database to find web pages that are relevant to the keyword. For purposes of this article, the term “keyword” also includes keyword phrases.

For example, someone looking for information about wheelchair artist Tommy Hollenstein may type in the keyword “wheelchair artist Tommy Hollenstein.” Typing this keyword into a search engine should result in a set of web pages that are relevant to wheelchair artist Tommy Hollenstein.

What is a Keyword? - SEO for Entrepreneurs

Search engines will include on the search engine results page (referred to as “SERP”) those pages that the search engine believes are relevant to the specific search and that include the keyword within the page. In the example above the keyword contains four different terms. The search engine will provide results that include the four terms – although not necessarily in order.

Entrepreneurs looking to have their businesses found on the Internet must ensure that they analyze the keywords that people would likely enter in a search engine to find their company, product or service. Once those keywords are determined, entrepreneurs must develop content that includes those keywords.

Ideally, entrepreneurs should create different pieces of content with each one focused on a distinct keyword or related keyword group. Spreading distinct keywords throughout different content gives the entrepreneur’s website greater depth and allows each piece of content to drill down on a particular topic. A future article in this series will discuss the use of keyword groupings and the creation of a Keyword Map that guides the development of content to help spread out the keywords throughout multiple pieces of content.

Sample Keyword Results

Below are the top four SERP results for the keyword “wheelchair artist Tommy Hollenstein.” The first entry on the SERP contains portions of the keyword in various locations.

First, the terms Tommy and Hollenstein are contained in the web page title. Next, the same terms are found in the web page URL. Finally, the entire keyword is found within the text of the web page – broken up in two segments comprised of “Tommy Hollenstein” and “wheelchair artist.” Note that the search engine is also smart enough to associate the terms “art” and “artist” as well as to group “Tommy Hollenstein” and “wheelchair artist” when displaying the SERP.

Similar results can be observed in three results that follow.

What is a Keyword? - SEO for Entrepreneurs

If a keyword doesn’t appear anywhere in the text of a web page (title, URL and/or body) it is unlikely that the web page will appear in the SERP. An exception to this rule would be a paid ad where someone paid to show a particular web page when someone searched for a specific keyword. This article is focused on “organic” or non-paid search. As such, it will not address paid search.

How Important Are Keywords to Search Results?

In the early days of search engines, keywords were of vital importance to search engine results. Search engines used to rely almost entirely on the words contained in web pages when deciding which pages to serve up. Unfortunately, certain website operators cheated by unnaturally stuffing web pages with keywords in an effort to have their pages served up ahead of other more relevant web pages. In some cases the words they stuffed into web pages had no relationship to the topic of the web page.

Search engines have come a long way since those early days. Today, search engines use complex algorithms to determine which web pages to serve up. While keywords continue to rank as an important factor, other factors rank equally or more important. For example, a search using the keyword “wheelchair artist Tommy Hollenstein” might return on page 1 web pages that not only contain the keyword but that also are highly regarded, by way of backlinks, by other “authoritative” websites dedicated to wheelchair artists or the handicapped. Later articles in this series will address page authority, backlinks, keyword density and keyword stuffing.

All Keywords Are Not the Same

When it comes to keywords, all keywords are not the same. Below are the keyword results for two related but slightly different keywords: “coffee maker” and “stainless steel coffee maker.” The Keyword Overviews provided below were obtained from SEMRush.com, an online SEO analysis tool.

Some observations:

  • The more generic the keyword, the greater the number of searches. The monthly search volume for “coffee maker” is approximately 33,000. The search volume for the more refined “stainless steel coffee maker” is only around 1,900.


  • The more generic the keyword, the greater the number of web pages competing for attention. The number of web pages associated with “coffee maker” approaches 63 million. This number is significantly larger than the number of web pages associated with “stainless steel coffee maker,” which approximates 1.3 million.
  • It may be better to be a big fish in a small pond. A business looking to attract search engine users searching for “coffee maker” will have to compete with 63 million other web pages. The odds of getting good search engine placement may improve significantly if the web page is geared to ranking for the keyword “stainless steel coffee maker.” Using the more refined (“long tail”) keyword reduces the competition to only 1.3 million competing web pages and can improve the odds of getting a good SERP ranking. These keywords are referred to as “long tail keywords” because they occur further out on the distribution curve (see below).
  • The more refined and descriptive the keyword the greater the likelihood of a conversion. This is due to the reduction in competition as most websites develop their content to go after the more common “broad” keywords. Another factor is that search engine users typically go through an iterative process that begins with broad keywords that produce too many irrelevant search results. Eventually the search engine user ends with a long tail keyword that provides highly relevant results (e.g., the consumer specifically looking for a stainless steel coffee maker).
  • Keywords are not the end-all, be-all. As noted above, including the keyword in the web page is only one factor that influences how the search engines display results. Other factors include the quality of the web page, the quality of the overall website, whether external web pages link to the web page, the quality of those web pages and many other factors. However, before the other factors come into play a web page must, at a minimum, include the keyword in one or all of the following locations: page title, URL and page content. A later article in this series will discuss keyword density and best practices associated with the incorporation of keywords.

Keyword Takeaways

This article is intended to provide a very cursory and high level introduction to keywords and the importance of keywords. The following are some things entrepreneurs should consider with respect to their websites:

  1. Determine if your website content is geared to being a big fish in a small pond or if it goes after audiences using generic keywords. The smaller the business, the more difficult (in some cases impossible) it is to rank well highly using common keywords. Think about using more refined keywords (longtail keywords) in your website content. While the volume for longtail keywords is less than generic keywords, the business stands a better shot at ranking well. Remember, 0% of a million is zero, but 100% of 50 is 50!
  2. Research keywords in advance of developing website content to make sure it includes keywords that have a shot at getting a high ranking. Using tools like SEMRush.com will give you ideas on how to move down off the competitive peak and along the longtail for better results. Later articles in this series will focus on finding the right keywords for your website.
  3. Update your website content with better keywords. Consider updating your website content if your website is already up and running. There’s nothing like a content refresh to improve a website’s rankings. Examine the keywords in use and determine if there are better or more relevant keywords that can be used within the content to improve longtail keyword search results.
  4. Focus on quality content – not keyword placement. While keywords are important, there’s no substitute for quality content. Through the use of algorithms, search engines are geared to evaluate the quality of web page content. As such, regardless of the use of keywords within content, poor content will result in poor search engine rankings. Incorporate the keywords in a natural way and make sure that the overall content provides value to the reader.


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