What’s a key phrase? • search engine optimisation for Freshmen • Yoast

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Willemien Hallebeek

Willemien is the content manager of yoast.com. She loves creating user-friendly content and making it easy for people and search engines to find.

When looking for information on keywords related to SEO, you will be bombarded with keyword research information. And of course, that’s crucial if you want your site to rank. But it’s also important to understand what the rationale behind a keyword is. And that’s exactly what I am explaining here. I’ll also make some suggestions on how and where to add keywords for SEO.

In this post:

What are keywords?

A keyword, or what some call a focus keyword, is a word that best describes the content of your page or post. It is the search term that you want to rank for on a particular page. So when people search for that keyword or phrase on google or other search engines, they should find this page on your website.

Let’s say you have a website about pianos: they sell all kinds and types of pianos. They blog about what to look for when buying a piano and share reviews of the pianos that you have on your online store. You sell digital pianos, so you have created a product category page about digital pianos. Ask yourself this:

  • For which search term would you like to be found?
  • What words do you think search engines use to find you?
  • What would the search query look like?

Probably [digital piano], to the right? Because this keyword best reflects what can be found on the page. If you had to explain the bottom line of your content, what would it be? What words would you use? This is your keyword or key phrase – if it is made up of multiple words.

We use the word ‘keyword’ all the time; This doesn’t mean it is just one word. It often consists of several words. So when we talk about keywords, we often mean a phrase rather than just a word.

Read more: Keyword research for your online shop »

Why are keywords important?

One of the things that Google takes into account when ranking a page is the content of that page. It looks at the words on the page. Now imagine that every word, for example in a blog post about a digital piano, is used twice, then all words are equally important. Google will have no idea which of these words are important and which are not. The words you use are pointers to Google; it tells Google and other search engines what the page or post is about. So if you want to make Google understand what your page is about, you have to use it quite a lot.

But Google isn’t the only reason keywords matter. It’s actually less important because you should always focus on the user: your visitors and potential customers. With SEO, you want people to land on your website when they use a certain search term or key phrase. You need to get into the minds of your audience and use the words they use in their search.

If you use the wrong key phrase, you will never get the visitors you want or need because your text will not match what your potential audience is looking for. But if you use the words people are looking for, your business can thrive. So, if you see it that way, your keywords should reflect what your audience is looking for. With the wrong keyphrase you end up with the wrong target group or none at all. That is why it is very important to have the right keywords.

How to use keywords

There used to be a time when you could add lots of keywords to your pages and posts, do old-fashioned keyword stuffing, and rank in search engines. But a text with a lot of the same words is not pleasant to read. And because users find this type of copy terrible, Google finds it terrible too. Fortunately for this reason, keyword stuffing made it difficult to rank in Google. These days, you need to add your keyphrase naturally by writing focused content.

Use them in moderation

Getting the right amount of keywords on your page is a balancing act. If you don’t use your keyword enough, you will find it difficult to rank for that phrase. But if you use your key phrase too often, your page will become spammy and illegible, and that will also make it difficult to rank.

You need to find the sweet spot where you use your keyword often enough, but not excessively. Make sure you don’t cram it into almost every sentence. In general, if your key phrase is 1 or 2% of the total number of words in your copy, then don’t overdo it.

Use them of course

Aside from trying to add enough, but not too many, keywords, you need to make sure that you include them naturally. Your keywords should be part of logical, coherent sentences that tell users something about the topic. Don’t force key phrases in text (or headings) where they don’t make sense or add value to your readers.

And that’s not all. Make sure your keywords are well distributed throughout the text. Don’t put all of your keywords in the first paragraph and think that you are done with this part of the optimization. Of course, distribute them on your page or post.

Where to add your keyword

In addition to distributing your key phrase throughout the text, there are a few other places where you should add your keyword. Remember to always add keywords in moderation and put readability first!

  • Page title and SEO title
    You should always include your keyword in your page title. Ideally, you want to add it at the beginning of your title, especially if your title is long. The same goes for your SEO title or meta title.
  • Subheadings
    You should add your keyword to some of your sub-headings (H2 and H3), but not all. It’s just like the keywords in your main text. Use your keyword in a headline or in some sub-headings, depending on the length of your page or post.
  • introduction
    The introduction is the first paragraph of normal text on the page. Your introduction should be straight to the point so that Google and your readers will know what you are talking about. This is a great opportunity to insert your keyphrase!
  • Image alt text
    Hopefully your page or post will have an image on the topic you are writing about. Add some alt text to your images and see if you can find a natural way to insert your keyword.
  • Meta description
    Your meta description is part of the text that Google displays in its search results. It should contain a brief description of what users can find on your site. It’s another great place to add your keyphrase!
  • Url slug
    The slug is the second part of a URL (web address) that identifies a particular page. For example, the URL for this post is https://yoast.com/what-is-a-keyword/. The snail is the “what-is-a-keyword” part. You should try to make clear, descriptive slugs for every page you create and, if possible, include your key phrase in them as well.

The Yoast SEO plugin will check all of this for you

Do you want to get the right amount of keywords in the right places? The Yoast SEO plugin makes it a lot easier! Just add your focus keyphrase and the plugin will automatically check the points listed above – including whether you are using it too much or too little and whether it is well distributed in your text.

These super helpful features are available in both the free and premium versions. However, if you upgrade to Premium, you can add other related keywords in addition to your focus keyphrase!

Next up: do keyword research

Now you have a general understanding of what a keyword or key phrase is. This knowledge will really help you with your keyword research, which of course is the next and crucial step!

Continue reading: Keyword Research: The Ultimate Guide »

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