They’re not the only thing that’s important in SEO. But keywords do play a crucial role in helping search engines like Google understand:
So, the more you know about the different types of keywords in SEO and how they’re used, the stronger you can make your SEO strategy.
Your SEO strategy will be as strong as that last pic after reading this post.
In this post, we’re covering:
Before we detail the types of keywords in SEO, it’s important to understand what SEO keywords are. SEO keywords are the words or phrases that allow your website to show up in search results for related queries.
These are what you optimize your web content around so you can get found and drive traffic to your website—which will hopefully, in turn, drive conversions and sales for your business.
As we dive into the types of keywords in SEO, we’ll also discuss how and where they may be used throughout your strategy as well as how to find them.
Time to get to it!
In this section, we’ll cover:
Short-tail keywords are 1-2 words long. They usually represent a broad topic without much context on what information searchers are looking for within that topic.
For example, someone types “real estate” into Google. What are they looking for? It could be real estate news, real estate available to buy, advice on becoming a real estate agent, and so on.
The broadness of short-tail terms often means there are more websites competing to rank for them. Search results for these terms are often full of the same big industry names. And they typically have strong websites capable of outranking smaller sites.
How to use short-tail keywords: Because they tend to be more competitive, short-tail keywords are best when you already have high domain authority. Domain authority (DA) or domain rating (DR) in SEO tools is a measure of roughly how authoritative a website is and, therefore, how easily it can rank for target keywords.
Short-tail keywords can also be good for pillar pages—long, comprehensive pages that cover all of the subtopics of a broad topic.
Mid-tail keywords are 3-4 words long and slightly more specific than short-tail. Continuing our real estate example, a phrase like “residential real estate” would narrow down the search results somewhat. Instead of general real estate news or residential and commercial properties for sale, the results would show only residential real estate-related results.
In many cases, mid-tail keywords can still be fairly competitive, especially the broader they are.
How to use mid-tail keywords: Mid-tail keywords—like short-tail—are best to target when you have a mid to high domain authority. Or when you plan to create longer, authoritative content on a topic, as well as quality content on related subtopics linking back to it.
Finally, long-tail keywords are 5-8 words long and much more specific about the intent of a searcher. For example, compared to simply “real estate,” the phrase “how to become a real estate agent” is a lot clearer about what information a searcher wants.
In many cases, there are far fewer websites targeting long-tail keywords than short- or mid-tail. Less competition can mean a higher ranking probability (when your SEO writing is up to par).
How to use long-tail keywords: Long-tail keywords (with search results not entirely dominated by unbeatable high DA websites) can work wonders for new or low DA sites. Over time, as you’re able to rank for these less competitive keywords, your domain authority will rise. You’ll eventually be able to rank more easily for mid- and short-tail phrases.
The most basic way to find keywords is to use the autocomplete feature on a search engine like Google. As you type, you’ll see different completions of your query—long and short.
The People Also Ask and Related searches sections in search results are useful as well.
But keyword research tools are a faster way to find keywords of the length you need. Most have an option to filter by a minimum or maximum number of words.
Additionally, there are SEO tools specifically for finding long-tail, low-competition keywords. My favorite is LowFruits. All you have to do is pop a short- or mid-tail keyword into the KWFinder tool.
LowFruits will find relevant long-tail keywords and show you which terms are worth targeting based on:
You can then sort the results by intent, questions, clusters, words included, and so on. It’s a fast way to find easy-to-rank-for keywords and even build out topic clusters.
In this section, we’ll cover:
A focus keyword—also known as a primary keyword—is the main phrase you want your page to rank for. It’s the focus of your content and is typically found in the URL, title, body, and at least one heading of a piece of content.
How to use focus keywords: You’ll need to choose a primary keyword for any SEO content or copy you produce. It should state the main topic of the page. (Often, it will be higher traffic and more competitive than your secondary and semantic keywords, which we’ll cover next.)
Related: Want to see how your website’s SEO is stacking up? Try our free website grader!
Secondary keywords are phrases that are closely related to your primary keyword such as subtopics. They give search engines more context on what a page is about. Ultimately, if you cover various aspects of your topic well, your content is more likely to rank well in search engine results pages (SERPs).
How to use secondary keywords: These related words and phrases should be used naturally throughout the content you create for your focus keyword. Include them in H2 and H3 headings where you can.
Terms that are closely linked to one another are called semantic keywords. “Local SEO” and “local marketing” are semantically related, for example.
But the term “semantics” (in a linguistic context) has to do with the meaning of words. So, semantic keywords can also be synonyms. Think of keyword variations like “small business marketing” and “marketing for small businesses” that share the same meaning.
How to use semantic keywords: Using different variations of target keywords is a great way to make content read more naturally. And it also reinforces for search engines what your content is about. As does using semantic keywords that are related but not synonymous.
There are many methods for finding focus and supporting keywords. For example, you could start your research with a tool like Google Trends to:
Once you’ve found one that has a decent amount of interest, you can check it in your keyword tool of choice. What should you be looking for? This is a simplification but, if the keyword has:
In this section, we’ll cover:
Terms and phrases that focus on a specific industry or kind of business are known as market-specific or market-defining keywords. “Athletic shoes and sneakers” is an example of this.
How to use market-specific keywords: Because they’re fairly broad, keywords of this type work best for main website pages (as opposed to content that needs to be more specific such as blog posts).
Usually short-tail and nondescript, generic keywords point to a broad or general topic. Unlike branded keywords, which we’ll cover next, generic terms don’t mention a specific brand. “Tennis shoes” is an example of a generic keyword.
How to use generic keywords: Generic keywords are good for top-of-the-funnel and awareness stage content when searchers’ queries tend to be less specific to certain brands, products, etc.
In contrast to generic terms, branded keywords do mention a specific brand. So, for example, “Nike tennis shoes” instead of just “tennis shoes.”
How to use branded keywords: Especially if your brand name is fairly unique or your company is well-established, your website may already rank for some branded keywords. If you have Google Search Console set up for your domain, you can see them there. You can then intentionally optimize the pages showing up most in search results for the branded keywords you want them to rank for.
Product-related keywords can be specific to a brand (e.g. “nike air force 1”). Or they can be generic and specific only to a product type (e.g. “running shoes”).
How to use product-related keywords: Of course, you can target keywords related to your products. This would likely involve writing content on different use cases or for different user types.
However, you can also use product keywords to be discovered by people who aren’t directly searching for your products. Keywords like “[competitor product] alternatives” and “tools like [competitor product]” work well for this.
Keywords of this type give context about—you guessed it—the customer. That context could relate to age bracket, gender, profession, or other demographic and psychographic characteristics. So, continuing with our example, “tennis shoes for women” would be customer-defining.
How to use customer-defining keywords: These terms up your chances of being found in search results by more of the right people. So, identify who needs the information you’re sharing, or the product or service you’re promoting the most. Find a relevant customer-specific keyword, and optimize your content for it.
Related:Use these target market examples to help narrow down who you want to target.
Location-specific keywords are what their name suggests. They mention a certain locale, city, state, or country (e.g. “nike retailers in atlanta).
How to use location-specific keywords: Trying to attract customers within your local area (even if you don’t have a physical location they can visit)? You can optimize your home page for a local keyword or even create landing pages or service pages specific to each of the areas you serve.
No matter the research tool you use or the type of keyword you’re looking for, the method is the same. Enter a keyword that reflects the topic and the market, location, customer, or brand you’re interested in keywords for. For instance, I typed a market-specific keyword (“web design”) into LowFruits. Then, I used one of the filters to see customer-defining keywords (web design-related keywords for beginners).
You could use a similar process for just about any targeted SEO keyword type you’re looking for.
In this section, we’ll cover:
Informational keywords are just what they sound like. They reveal that a searcher is looking for information on a topic. For example, think of a keyword like “tips for buying a used car.” Other common modifiers that show this intent include “how to” and “what is.”
How to use informational keywords: Not surprisingly, informational keywords are used in educational content meant to teach an audience, as well as showcase and build trust in your expertise. Teaching and trust-building are necessary before people will be ready to buy from you, which is why educational content correlates mainly with the top of the content marketing funnel.
Commercial intent keywords show that a searcher is heading in the direction of making a purchase. And, specifically, they’re gathering information to help them make the best purchase. So, for example, a search like “best used car lots chicago” would indicate that a person is very interested in and likely to make a used car purchase in Chicago. But only once they’re confident they’ve found a reputable lot to buy from.
Besides “best,” other common terms include “top,” “cheap,” “affordable,” “reviews,” and “vs.” These show that the searcher already has some level of purchase intent and is looking for or weighing specific products or services.
How to use commercial intent keywords: In comparison to informational keywords that are used mostly for content at the top of the marketing funnel, commercial intent keywords are more middle to bottom-of-the-funnel. In other words, they’re used more in content and copy for people who already have general knowledge and are now considering potential purchases and solutions—yours included.
Similar to commercial intent keywords, transactional phrases are used by searchers in the later stages of the customer journey. But now, they’re ready to buy and its shows in their search queries. They may use terms like “buy” or “for sale.” For example, both “buy used car online” and “used cars for sale” indicate high purchase intent.
How to use transactional keywords: These high purchase intent keywords are best for bottom-of-the-funnel content and the stage where potential customers are ready to buy. That’s why you’ll see them used mainly on services and product category pages. Or in other online copy where the main goal is to get visitors to shop, convert, or buy right then.
Navigational keywords indicate the searchers want to find something—either online or in-person. It’s not uncommon for searchers to type a website name or physical location into Google. Or to use phrases like “store locations” or “near me.” To illustrate, someone looking for a used car might type in “used car lots near me.”
How to use navigational keywords: These keywords are especially of interest when doing local keyword research. They’re often used in local SEO to drive traffic to physical locations. For example, a used car dealership in Chicago could target the keyword “used car dealership in chicago” to increase its chances of showing up in search results and being visited in person by the individuals searching for that term.
Tools like Answer the Public and its free alternative Answer Socrates generate questions such as who, what, when, why, where, and how. So, they’re good for brainstorming informational keywords especially.
To find keywords with other intents, you can use more robust SEO tools. For example, Semrush and some other tools allow you to filter keyword lists by intent.
And even if no such feature is available, you can use modifiers like the ones we talked about for each intent to generate similar keyword options.
We’ve covered 16 of the many types of keywords used for search engine optimization. They are:
Now that you know what they are, how and when they’re used, and how to find them, you can begin narrowing down the right types for your strategy. As you do, remember two things.
One, it’s not so much about the SEO and keyword research tools you use. Any reputable SEO tool will give you directionally correct data to help you choose the right keywords to target. (So if you don’t have the need or the budget for a top-of-the-line tool like Semrush, don’t stress about it.)
Two, keyword difficulty and other scores are not the ultimate source of truth. In other words, a keyword with low difficulty isn’t automatically a good keyword. Always evaluate the SERP yourself. See if there are opportunities to rank based on your domain authority, content and link-building strategies, and ability to rank for the keywords you target. Happy researching!