Keywords for SEO: A Primer

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You’ve heard of this SEO thing and you’ve been told that you need some keywords to target. There’s just one little problem: you don’t actually know what a keyword is, let alone what targeting one means. That’s ok, this article is here to explain the basics.


What is a Keyword?

Keywords are words or phrases that match the content on your webpage to terms that people are searching for.

For example, let’s say you wanted information on training your dog. You would probably open up a search engine like Google and type in something like “training my dog”. Google would see that you are looking for “training” to be associated closely with “dog” and Google would look for webpages with these terms closely associated.

Keyword Words and Keyword Phrases

Yes, it’s a little confusing, but a keyword is both an individual word and a phrase composed of multiple words. It’s kinda like moose. You can have a single moose or twenty moose and whether single or plural you still use “moose”. So for a keyword, you can have one or twenty and it’s still called “keyword”. Keywords (plural) is a group of two or more individual keywords.

For example, “dog training” is a keyword. “dog” is also a keyword. “dog training” and “dog” is a group of two or more and therefore called keywords.

So when someone asks you what the keywords for you website are, they are looking for a grouping. If someone asks you what keyword a specific page targets, they are looking for an individual keyword which could be a single word or a phrase.

Keywords are usually nouns (people, places, things, ideas), verbs (actions), and adjectives (descriptors).

Articles, pronouns and the other little parts of speech are usually ignored (which is why in the previous example of “training my dog” I didn’t include “my” as a keyword).

Side Note: At the time of this writing I have a 7 month old german shepherd, hence my example topic 🙂

Picking, Targeting & Stuffing

Now that you know what a keyword is and what keywords are, how do you pick them and what is targeting?


If you are going to add a page to your site you probably have a topic for the page. For example I have a page devoted to an overview of our website and graphic design services. That topic is an excellent place to start with your keyword search. So for this example, I’ll make a short list of keywords which might be appropriate.

It’s better to start with some extra words and then cut them down later

  • Web Design
  • Website Design
  • WordPress Website Design
  • Web Hosting
  • Graphic Design
  • Logos

So this is a decent list to start writing a page from (remember: this is a very basic tutorial, not an advanced one).


Now that I have a topic for my page and a basic list of terms, I’ll start writing a page. I will keep this list of terms of handy as I write the page and try to include these terms and variations of them.

Modern search engines are pretty smart, they can tell if two terms are close to each other that they are related. You don’t need to use each of your terms verbatim. So I don’t need to use “WordPress website design” as an exact phrase, I can break it up to flow normally.

Remember, while you want search engines to understand what your page is about, your page is actually designed to be read by people. You should be writing your page aimed at people reading it and getting useful information.

Usage & Stuffing

Let’s say you are having a conversation with someone and you want to get a point across. You would probably use a term more than once, but if you use it too many times you’ll annoy the person. So you use it a few times. If the conversation goes on longer then you will likely use it more than if it’s a short conversation.

The same applies to keywords on webpages. You want to use your keywords more than once so that it’s clear what your topic is, but not too many times. If you use a word too many times it’s called stuffing.

At Thanksgiving, stuffing is good. Unfortunately on a webpage, stuffing is bad. Stuffing annoys people reading your content and therefore search engines look for it and mark pages with too much stuffing as spam.

Where to Use Your Words

Your keywords are really just your topic.

You should clearly state your topic up front by putting your keywords in the title of your page. Of course the title is meant to be read by humans, so remember to make understandable and interesting.

The next place you should use your topic is in the first paragraph of your text. You should tell people up front what they will be reading about. If you don’t tell them the topic up front they will probably leave your site.

Similarly, you should remind people of your topic in your last paragraph of text. This is a conclusion which is designed to wrap up what you were talking about.

The next place is headings. It’s not a big factor to search engines, but it’s really helpful to the humans reading your page to break up your page with some headings and use your topic in those headings. People on the internet are known for skimming through pages. When people skim they tend to read headings, words in bold and the first sentence or two of sections. These are good places to put your keywords.

Lastly, you should put your keywords into the meta description. The meta description is used by search engines to display a snippet of text below the title of your page in search results. People read these snippets, so you should make sure that they are relevant and useful. If you don’t know what a meta description is or how to get one on your page, take a look at the WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast tutorial.


I tried to keep this discussion simple and avoid more advanced topics like keyword research, competition analysis, back links, page rank or domain authority and how those factor in. If you want to take the next step down the path towards SEO, I’d suggest downloading my SEO Fundamentals for WordPress (it’s free).

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