Keywords: An introductory guide

Written By Fraser McCulloch

Traditional marketer specialising in keyword research, SEO content plans, and content briefs. Has-been Scottish golfer. 

In this post, we’re going to talk about keywords.

But before we do that, let’s define what keywords are.

  • Why should you care about them?
  • How can you find them?
  • How can they help you rank better?
  • And much more…

What are keywords?

Keywords are words and phrases used by people when they type into a search engine. They help direct searchers to websites that contain the information they’re looking for.

Keywords are the words and phrases that people type into a search engine search box to find an answer. They help Google understand the best answers or search results to display.

Keywords are sometimes called queries or search queries.

Are keywords any different from search queries?

Keywords and search query basically mean the same thing.

Marketers have adopted the phrase “keyword” to mean any word or combination of words entered into a search engine search box.

The action performed by a searcher is a search query; they are querying the search engines for a result or answer.

I know it sounds petty, but it’s important when you communicate SEO services that your prospects and customers know what you are talking about when you mention these words.

How keywords appear in Google search results

Look at the search query or keyword in the Google search box and now look at the words in the page titles or the headlines of each page result.

Most of the time, these keywords match.


Keywords appear in organic search results (search engine optimisation) and in paid advertising campaigns (PPC)

Google wants to show the most relevant page results that match the user’s keyword search.

Notice in this example they also show advertisements, videos and people also asked results.

Other ways keywords appear in Google

There are also tabs just underneath the search box showing all, video, image, news and shopping results.

And maps, books, flights and finance links.

So the keyword can appear differently in these different search results options.

How keywords appear for product keyword searches

As I hunt for a pair of winter shoes, here’s how Google typically shows a product keyword search in the shopping results.

You want to add relevant keywords to the Image ALT text on your category pages or the product page to describe your product to help your page be discovered.

Here’s a typical keyword displayed in Google images.

Why do people type search queries into search engines?

People use search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo to search :

  • For answers to questions that they have
  • Find people
  • Find information about products, services, movies, flights, hotels etc
  • Compare and review products and services and
  • Enquire or buy such services and products.

Why are search queries important?

Before the internet, we had telephone directories to find people, businesses and libraries to research or find answers to questions.

Today search engines dominate our research and information-gathering process.

Search queries are important because they drive website traffic, communicate information and facilitate enquiries, sales and customer revenue to millions of businesses around the world.

According to Internet Live Stats there are 3.5 billion search queries made every simple day.

And the volume of searches is growing at around 10% every year.

How to find keywords people are searching for?

SEO and marketing agencies and experts exist in order to help companies target what their target audience are searching for and serve them with useful content or advertising.

Keyword research strategies will involve:

  • Choose a seed keyword and generate a new keyword list using keyword tools or Google Search Console to identify keywords existing content is ranking for
  • Filter your initial list of keyword ideas into relevant keywords or groups
  • Group the best keywords into problem, information, comparison and purchase intent groups
  • Note the keyword search volume, keyword click volume and keyword difficulty of the current top-ranking pages.
  • Develop a content strategy aimed at potential customers based on each keyword group.

We know from Ahrefs, my favourite keyword research tool, that the most popular searches in the USA are for Facebook, YouTube, Amazon, Gmail, Google, weather, eBay, Yahoo, Walmart and Yahoo Mail.

However, the easiest way to summarise 3.5 billion daily searches is to look at different types of search queries.

Different types of keywords or the buyer’s journey

These different types of questions can be broken into different groups, such as :


These are questions about people, places, television shows, how to spell a word, what a word means and so on.


These search queries most frequently start with “how” with the searcher looking for an answer to their problem.


When people are unsure about or disappointed with their previous experience with a product, service or company, they will typically search for an alternative.

Reviews, comparisons and recommendations

People will also review and compare different products, services and companies and 48% of shoppers surveyed said use Google to get helpful recommendations or suggestions on what to buy.

Informational search queries

The most popular bucket of search queries is informational search queries.

These could be search queries for a product name, service name, a video, a tutorial, a guide or an example.

45% of shoppers surveyed said they use Google to find the best option for their needs.

Buyer or Purchase Intent

And the final type of search term can be classified as a purchase or buyer intent query.

According to Search Engine Roundtable 46% of all searches in Google have local intent.

That’s people searching to find a local service, business or provider.

According to Google, 74% of in-store shoppers searched online before going to a store to shop.

However people will also include words such as bargains, discounts, offer, hire and price in their service query, indicating their intent to buy.

How do you choose keywords?

Choosing keywords is a crucial step in planning to rank and earn traffic from the search results.

There are 8 basic steps detailed in my guide to choosing keywords

  1. Have a goal
  2. Create a keyword list from your seed keywords
  3. Identify keyword search volume
  4. Identify the clicks and other keywords the top pages rank for
  5. Under the keyword and user intent

Outcome: use keywords to grow organic traffic to your website

The outcome of learning about keywords is using that knowledge to grow the organic visits to your website.

The more organic traffic your website has, the more you can educate and convince visitors to take action, like subscribe, enquire or buy.

What not to do with keywords

The average number 1 page will rank for another 1000 closely related keywords, according to Ahrefs.

Keywords and topics

When you are doing keyword research, you want to find a keyword that is a topic.

A topic is a number of related keywords.

People search in different ways looking for the same answer.


  • Low competition keywords
  • How to find low-competition keywords
  • Find low competition keywords
  • Finding low competition keywords.

As you can see, my page is ranking on Google for 180 keywords.

And my page is getting 80 clicks from the search results to my page.

I only needed to create one page to provide an answer for all these keywords.

So you don’t want to rank for an individual keyword you want to find and rank your page for a group of related keywords, ie: a topic.

Short-tail keywords and long-tail keywords

When I researched and wrote this page, I targeted the long tail keyword; how to find low competition keywords with high traffic.

This keyword has 9 words in it.

Over time, I gradually began to rank higher and earn clicks for the short tail keyword, low competition keywords.

And the short-tail version of “low competition keywords” is the single word “keywords”; which is much more difficult to rank for.

Using and optimising keywords on your web page and content

After you’ve researched the keyword that people search for you need to write your web page.

Here are some general guidelines for using keywords on your page.

Page Title

Put the keyword you are targeting at the start of the page title tags.

Meta Description

Put the keyword you are targeting towards the start of your meta description.

Page Heading

Use an h1 header and use the keyword you are targeting as the page header.

Page Introduction

I like to use the keyword that I am targeting in the very first sentence of the page content.


Use the keyword in the URL of your page as this sends strong signals to Google and users about the content of the page.


Use the keyword to describe your images within the ALT Text feature, especially if you sell products online.

Keywords in page content

I am using a content optimisation tool to help me write better and more relevant page content.

In this example, the keyword that I am targeting is mentioned 4 times (keyword density) and the short tail version of the keyword is mentioned 12 times in the body text.

There are no hard and fast rules about how many times your keyword should be included in your page content.

You should write your website content to serve the user intent, map out the key sections of your page, and the keywords will come naturally as you write, and you will avoid keyword stuffing.

AI tools such as and Page Optimizer Pro can help you fill in any missing keyword gaps.