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Keeping Up with Keywords: Improve Your Site's Relevance for Users and Search Engines

June 22, 2021 | Northwoods Team, Your Trusted Digital Trail Guides

5 Minute Read

What Exactly Are Keywords?

The phrases or single words that best convey the essence of text content are keywords. They play a crucial role in guiding people to your content as they use search engines to find the information, products and services they seek. Search Engine Optimization is the art and science of predicting the terms that searchers will type into search engine query fields. Marketers and website owners select keywords and seed their content with them as part of their SEO strategies .

When content and relevant keywords align your products and services, you have a better chance of showing up on search engine results pages.

Three Keyword Types

The main keywords types are:

  • Short-tail keywords (also called broad or generic)
  • Long-tail keywords
  • LSI (latent semantic indexing) keywords

Short-Tail Keywords

Short-tail keywords are search terms that comprise just one or two words. They are broad rather than specific, e.g., “running socks” or “buy socks.” Many websites use them, so the field is more crowded compared to long-tail keywords.

Short-tail keywords, being generic, often return high search volume. “Running socks,” for example, outpaces “best socks for running” in average monthly searches.

screen shot of short-tail and long-term keyword examples

Short-tail keywords benefit your business because they have the highest search volume per month. They offer the biggest opportunity for any website to drive more traffic and conversions from organic search. But, again, short-tail keywords are broad, so they are more competitive.

This graph from Ahrefs show the demand curve for short-tail and long-tail keywords and their search volume:

search demand curve graphic from Ahrefs

The demand curve shows the direct relationship of keyword length on search volume and competition.

Pro Tip: Note that short-tail keywords frequently nest within long-tail keywords. If you optimize your web content with long-tail keywords, it will help you also rank for the competitive short-tail keywords.

Long-Tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords are more specific and comprise three or more words. “Buy breathable running socks” and “where to buy running socks” are long-tail keywords.

Long-tails are more specific and thus claim a small percentage of all searches. However, long-tail keywords are beneficial for good organic ranking.

Longer, more specific keywords target more relevant searches, which return more qualified search traffic and better search rankings. You can find long-tail keywords through SEO tools such as SEMRush and Google Keyword Planner.

Also, simply use Google’s “people also ask” section and the search box suggestions to see terms actual users type into search fields when they seek content similar to yours.

example of a People Also Ask box on Google

example of Google search results drop-down search box suggestions

Pro Tip: Users at the top of the sales funnel search broader terms, e.g., “running socks.” Lower in the funnel, they get more specific: “running socks for cross-country racing.” Short-tail keywords generate more results-page appearances; long-tail keywords often have higher conversion rates.

Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) Keywords

LSI keywords are terms or phrases similar to your website’s target keyword. Their main purpose is to help both users and search engines add context to your content. Google’s algorithm uses LSI keywords to determine whether your content is relevant to the search term.

Let’s stick with the running socks example. An LSI keyword could be “anti-blister socks” or “5k socks.” Targeting LSI keywords bolsters Google’s confidence that your webpage is, in fact, about running socks.

Back in the day, Google understood a website’s page topic solely from the keywords on a specific page. Now, Google is much more sophisticated. Always remember that Google’s prime directive is to satisfy the user. To do that, it must understand the webpage’s overall topic. Now, Google relies on LSI keywords to understand the content on a deeper level.

Pro Tip: LSI Keywords are not synonyms. The best way to check for LSI keywords is to use Google's Autocomplete.

Why Are Keywords Important?

Keywords allow your website to be visible to users who are searching for your products or services. If you want to rank well in Google and drive valuable traffic to your website, you must know how your audience conducts its searches.

Keywords are a primary means for communicating with search engines. Google relentlessly pursues better ways to understand website content in order to better serve users. That means endless updates of its algorithms.

How to Conduct Keyword Research

Researching keywords can be free and easy, and you can buy tools that offer more insight. Free keyword research tools:

More sophisticated tools:

Check the “related searches” list at the bottom of Google’s search results to spark ideas for other keywords:

example of related searches results on Google

Focus Keywords

When conducting keyword research, focus on an especially important keyword or phrase, one for which you want to rank high. If I’m writing a blog about the best running socks for a 5K, my focus keyword should be “running socks.”

Then, based on the focus keyword, find other relevant keywords to enhance your content’s search engine visibility. They can be short tail, long tail, or LSI. These keywords must be relevant, authoritative, and have enough search volume per month to bring in traffic.

Once you have a list of keywords, place them not only in body content, but also in:

  • Meta tags
  • Meta description
  • Alt text
  • URLs
  • Subheadings

When keywords appear in these elements, your webpage can rank highly for those keywords. But don’t overdo it; Google does not look kindly on keyword stuffing.


Keywords are important to any content strategy. They help your website show up in search engine results, so potential users can find you. Without keywords, you cannot optimize your website to target your audience.

Revisit your web pages regularly to check page performance. User behavior evolves, and that drives Google’s constant updating. Keep up; evolve along with your audience’s ways of searching for your products and services. Keyword research keeps you relevant, to Google and to your users and potential users.

We’re here to help you stay on top of how users search and what keywords will work for you. Don’t hesitate to contact us. Also, don’t forget to keep up with the latest digital marketing trends — subscribe to our blog emails.