What is a Keyword?

What Does a Keyword Mean in Marketing?

In the context of digital marketing, a keyword is a specific word or phrase that is used to represent or describe the main topic or theme of a webpage, blog post, social media post, or other type of content.

Keywords are used in search engine optimisation (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and other online marketing strategies to help search engines understand the content and relevance of a webpage or piece of content in relation to a user's search query. Keywords are important because they help marketers optimise their content and advertising campaigns to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs), drive targeted traffic, and increase visibility and discoverability online.

Types of Keywords in SEO.

There are many different types of keywords used in SEO (Search Engine Optimsation). Here are the most common:

Seed Keywords

A seed keyword is a foundational keyword that serves as a starting point for keyword research in digital marketing. It is typically a general keyword that is related to the topic or industry being targeted, and is used to generate additional keyword ideas through various keyword research tools and techniques.

Seed keywords are used to initiate the keyword research process and expand the list of potential keywords that can be used in digital marketing campaigns or content strategies. For example, if a marketer is planning a digital marketing campaign for a fitness product, a seed keyword could be "fitness equipment" or "workout gear". The marketer would then use keyword research tools to generate more specific and relevant keyword ideas based on the seed keyword, such as "treadmills", "dumbbells", "yoga mats", etc.

Seed keywords are important because they help marketers identify relevant keywords that are commonly searched for by their target audience. They serve as a starting point for keyword research and provide a foundation for building a comprehensive keyword list that can be used in search engine optimisation (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, content creation, and other digital marketing strategies.

Keywords by Search Intent

A keyword by search intent refers to a keyword that is chosen or targeted based on the intended purpose or goal of a user's search query. Search intent, also known as user intent, is the underlying motivation or objective behind a user's search query, and it can fall into these different categories:

  • Informational Intent: Users are seeking information on a specific topic or question. Example: "How to lose weight fast", "What is the weather like today", "Best practices for content marketing".
  • Navigational Intent: Users are looking for a specific website or online destination. Example: "Facebook login", "YouTube", "Amazon".
  • Transactional Intent: Users are looking to complete a specific action, such as making a purchase or signing up for a service. Example: "Buy running shoes online", "Sign up for a free trial", "Download latest software".
  • Commercial Intent: Users are researching products or services with the intention to make a purchase in the future. Example: "Best digital cameras", "Compare iPhone vs Samsung", "Top 10 web hosting providers".

When targeting keywords by search intent, marketers aim to align their content, ads, or SEO strategies with the specific intent of users to provide relevant and valuable information or solutions. Understanding the search intent behind keywords can help optimize marketing efforts, improve user experience, and drive more targeted traffic to websites or landing pages.

"Keywords are the foundation of digital marketing. They help optimise content, improve search rankings, and drive targeted traffic. From seed keywords to niche keywords, understanding their types and intent is crucial for success. It is a huge discipline all on its own, but AI is making it easier for marketers optimise content."

Paul Mills
CEO & Founder, VCMO

Short-Tail Keywords

A short-tail keyword, also known as a broad keyword or head keyword, is a general and commonly used keyword phrase that typically consists of one or two words. Short-tail keywords are often more generic and have higher search volumes, but they are also more competitive in search engine rankings.

For example, "shoes" is a short-tail keyword, whereas "women's red running shoes for flat feet" is a long-tail keyword.

Four characteristics of short-tail keywords include:

  1. Higher Competition: Short-tail keywords are more competitive as they are commonly used and targeted by many businesses and marketers. It can be more challenging to rank higher in search results and gain visibility for short-tail keywords.
  2. Higher Search Volume: Short-tail keywords often have higher search volumes as they are more commonly searched by users. This means there may be a larger potential audience for businesses targeting short-tail keywords.
  3. Less Specific Intent: Short-tail keywords are generally less specific and may not indicate a clear intent from users. This can result in lower conversion rates as the traffic may not be as targeted.
  4. Less Relevancy: Short-tail keywords may have lower relevancy compared to long-tail keywords, as they are more generic and do not cater to specific needs or interests of users.

Despite the higher competition and potentially lower relevancy, short-tail keywords can still be valuable in certain marketing strategies, such as brand awareness campaigns or for businesses with broader target audiences. They can help generate broader exposure and reach, but it's important to carefully consider the overall keyword strategy and balance between short-tail and long-tail keywords to effectively target and engage the desired audience.

Long-Tail Keywords

A long-tail keyword is a specific and highly targeted keyword phrase that usually consists of three or more words. Unlike broad or generic keywords, long-tail keywords are more specific and less competitive, but they often have lower search volume. Long-tail keywords are typically used by users who are further along in the buying process and have a clearer intent in their search.

For example, instead of targeting the broad keyword "shoes", a long-tail keyword could be "women's red running shoes for flat feet". This keyword is more specific and indicates a clear intent, which may result in more targeted traffic and higher conversion rates.

Some advantages of using long-tail keywords in marketing include:

  • Lower Competition: Long-tail keywords are less competitive compared to broad keywords, which means it may be easier to rank higher in search results and get more visibility.
  • Higher Conversion Rates: Long-tail keywords often have more specific intent, indicating that users are closer to making a purchase decision. This can result in higher conversion rates as the traffic is more targeted.
  • Better Relevancy: Long-tail keywords allow marketers to create highly relevant and targeted content or ads that cater to the specific needs or interests of users, resulting in improved user experience and engagement.
  • Niche Targeting: Long-tail keywords can help target specific niches or segments of the market, allowing businesses to reach a more targeted audience and tailor their marketing efforts accordingly.

However, it's important to note that long-tail keywords may have lower search volume, which means the overall traffic potential may be lower compared to broader keywords. Nevertheless, they can be a valuable addition to a comprehensive keyword strategy and can help businesses attract more qualified and engaged traffic to their websites or landing pages.

Low Competition Keywords

A low competition keyword is a keyword phrase that has relatively low competition among websites and marketers in terms of search engine optimisation (SEO) and online advertising. These keywords are less commonly targeted by businesses, which can make it easier to rank higher in search results and gain visibility for those keywords.

Low competition keywords typically have the following characteristics:

  • Lower Search Volume: Low competition keywords generally have lower search volumes compared to high competition keywords. This means there may be fewer people searching for those keywords, but it can also mean that there is less competition among businesses to target those keywords.
  • More Specific and Niche: Low competition keywords are often more specific and niche-focused, catering to a smaller, more specialised audience. These keywords may reflect specific interests, needs, or long-tail queries that are not as commonly targeted by other businesses.
  • Lower Bid Prices: In the context of online advertising, low competition keywords may have lower bid prices in pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, as fewer businesses are targeting them. This can result in lower costs per click (CPC) and potentially higher return on investment (ROI) for businesses running ads on those keywords.
  • Higher Relevancy: Low competition keywords may be more relevant to the content or products/services offered by a business, as they are more specific and cater to a narrower audience. This can result in higher engagement, conversion rates, and better alignment with the target audience's needs.
  • Potential for Long-Term Growth: While low competition keywords may have lower search volumes initially, they may also present opportunities for long-term growth. As businesses create relevant and valuable content around those keywords, they can potentially capture a niche audience and establish authority in a specific area, leading to sustained traffic and engagement over time.

Identifying and targeting low competition keywords can be a strategic approach for businesses to optimise their SEO and online advertising efforts. By carefully researching and selecting relevant low competition keywords, businesses can potentially gain an advantage in search results, attract a more targeted audience, and achieve better results with their online marketing efforts.

Niche Keywords

A niche keyword is a specific and targeted keyword phrase that caters to a specialised or narrow audience. Niche keywords are typically more focused and specific than broader, more generic keywords. They often represent specific interests, needs, or long-tail queries that are not as commonly targeted by businesses or marketers.

An example of a niche keyword could be "organic vegan pet food for senior dogs." This keyword is highly specific and caters to a narrow audience interested in organic, vegan pet food for senior dogs. It includes several modifiers such as "organic," "vegan," and "senior dogs," which further narrow down the search intent.

This keyword is likely to have lower search volume and lower competition compared to broader keywords such as "pet food" or "dog food," but it may attract a highly targeted and motivated audience who is specifically interested in this niche.

Niche keywords have the following characteristics:

  • Specificity: Niche keywords are highly specific and cater to a particular topic, industry, or audience. They may include detailed modifiers, geographic locations, or other qualifiers that narrow down the search intent.
  • Lower Search Volume: Niche keywords may have lower search volumes compared to broader keywords, as they target a smaller audience or market segment. However, they can still be valuable as they often represent highly targeted and motivated users who are more likely to convert.
  • Lower Competition: Niche keywords typically have lower competition from other businesses or websites, as they are more specialised and less commonly targeted. This can make it easier for businesses to rank higher in search results and gain visibility for those keywords.
  • Higher Relevancy: Niche keywords are highly relevant to the content, products, or services offered by a business, as they are closely aligned with the target audience's interests, needs, or pain points. This can result in higher engagement, conversion rates, and better alignment with the target audience.
  • Greater Opportunity for Authority: By targeting niche keywords, businesses can establish themselves as authorities or experts in a specific area, industry, or topic. This can lead to increased credibility, trust, and brand recognition among the niche audience, potentially resulting in long-term customer loyalty and advocacy.

Identifying and targeting niche keywords can be a strategic approach for businesses to optimise their SEO and online marketing efforts. By understanding their target audience's specific needs and interests, and by conducting thorough keyword research, businesses can uncover niche keywords that have lower competition but higher relevancy, and create content or campaigns tailored to those keywords. This can help businesses attract a more focused and engaged audience, achieve better visibility in search results, and drive targeted traffic and conversions to their website or online presence.

Branded Keywords

A branded keyword is a keyword that includes a specific brand name or brand-related term in the search query. It is used by users who are specifically searching for a particular brand or its products/services.

Branded keywords are typically unique to a particular brand and are used to identify and differentiate that brand from its competitors. For example, "Nike shoes," "Apple iPhone," or "Coca-Cola soda" are examples of branded keywords that include the brand name within the search query.

Branded keywords are important for brand recognition, brand awareness, and online reputation management. They can drive highly targeted traffic to a brand's website or online presence, as users searching for branded keywords are typically already familiar with the brand and have a higher likelihood of converting into customers or engaging with the brand.

Branded keywords are usually less competitive compared to generic or non-branded keywords, as they are specific to a particular brand, and this can make them more cost-effective for pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaigns. Brands often incorporate branded keywords into their search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy, paid advertising campaigns, and online marketing efforts to leverage their brand recognition and capture relevant traffic from users who are actively searching for their brand or products/services.

Primary and Secondary Keywords

Primary keywords, also known as "head keywords" or "main keywords," are the main focus keywords that are most relevant to a website, web page, or content piece. These keywords are typically broad and generic, and they represent the main topic or theme of the content. Primary keywords are often used to optimise a website or webpage for search engines and to target a wide audience.

Secondary keywords, also known as "long-tail keywords" or "supporting keywords," are more specific and detailed keywords that are related to the primary keywords. These keywords are typically longer and more specific phrases that provide additional context and relevance to the primary keywords. Secondary keywords help to provide a more comprehensive and focused view of the content, and they can be used to target a narrower and more specific audience.

Primary keywords are generally used to optimise the overall structure and content of a website or webpage, while secondary keywords are used to provide additional context and relevance to specific sections or topics within the content. Both primary and secondary keywords are important for search engine optimisation (SEO) and content marketing efforts, as they help to improve the visibility, relevance, and searchability of a website or content piece for users searching for relevant keywords in search engines.

Advantages of Keyword Research.

Keyword research is an essential part of any digital marketing strategy, and there are several advantages to conducting this research:

Improved SEO

Keyword research helps you identify the most relevant and high-performing keywords for your website or content, which can lead to better search engine rankings and increased organic traffic. By optimising your website or content with well-researched keywords, you can attract more targeted and relevant visitors from search engines, resulting in higher visibility and potential conversions.

Better Content Planning

Keyword research provides insights into the topics, questions, and interests of your target audience, which can help you plan and create content that meets their needs. By aligning your content with the keywords your audience is searching for, you can create more engaging, valuable, and relevant content that resonates with your target audience and drives higher engagement.

Enhanced PPC Campaigns

Keyword research is crucial for Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising campaigns, as it helps you identify the keywords that are most likely to generate conversions and drive relevant traffic to your website. By selecting the right keywords for your PPC campaigns, you can optimise your ad targeting, improve your Quality Score, and achieve better results with your paid advertising efforts.

Competitive Advantage

Keyword research allows you to gain insights into your competitors' strategies and identify gaps or opportunities in the market. By analysing the keywords your competitors are targeting, you can identify potential niches, untapped keywords, or new content ideas that can give you a competitive advantage and help you stand out in your industry or market.

Improved User Experience

Keyword research helps you understand the language, needs, and preferences of your target audience, which can help you create a better user experience on your website. By aligning your website's content, structure, and navigation with the keywords your audience is using, you can create a more user-friendly website that provides relevant and valuable information to your visitors, resulting in better engagement, longer visits, and potential conversions.

Disadvantages of Keyword Research.

While there are many advantages to conducting keyword research, there are also some potential disadvantages:

Time-consuming and Labour-intensive

Keyword research requires a significant investment of time and effort to identify and analyse relevant keywords, competition, search volumes, and other metrics. It can be a time-consuming and labour-intensive process, especially for businesses with limited resources or expertise in keyword research.

Constantly Changing Landscape

Keyword research is not a one-time task, but an ongoing process, as search trends, user behaviour, and competition can change over time. Keywords that were relevant and high-performing in the past may lose their effectiveness, and new keywords may emerge. Keeping up with the constantly changing landscape of keywords and search trends can be challenging and may require continuous monitoring and adjustments.

Limited Accuracy and Reliability

Keyword research tools provide estimations and insights based on data, algorithms, and assumptions, which may not always be accurate or reliable. Keyword search volumes, competition levels, and other metrics can vary, and the actual performance of keywords may differ from the predictions. Relying solely on keyword research tools without validation or real-world testing may lead to inaccurate or suboptimal keyword targeting.

Increased Competition

Keyword research is widely used by businesses and marketers to optimise their SEO and PPC strategies, which means that popular and high-performing keywords can be highly competitive. This can make it challenging for smaller businesses or new entrants to rank high or compete effectively for popular keywords, and may require them to target more niche or long-tail keywords with lower search volumes and competition.

Limited Contextual Understanding

Keyword research provides insights into the popularity and search volumes of keywords, but it may not always provide a deep understanding of the context, intent, or nuances behind those keywords. Understanding the intent, preferences, and needs of your target audience requires more than just keyword research, and may require additional research, analysis, and customer insights to fully understand and address the interests and behaviours of your audience.

How Search Engine Algorithm Changes Affect Keyword Optimisation.

Algorithm changes by search engines can have a significant impact on keyword optimisation. Search engines, such as Google, regularly update their algorithms to improve the relevance and quality of search results, which can affect how keywords are ranked and displayed in search results. The impact of algorithm changes on keyword optimisation can include:

  1. Ranking Changes: Algorithm updates can result in changes to how keywords are ranked in search results. Keywords that previously ranked well may experience a decline in rankings, while new opportunities may arise for other keywords. This can affect the visibility and traffic generated from keyword optimisation efforts.
  2. Search Intent Changes: Algorithm updates may also affect how search intent is interpreted by search engines. This can result in changes to the types of content or keywords that are considered relevant for specific search queries. Keyword optimization efforts may need to be adjusted to align with the evolving search intent of users.
  3. User Experience Changes: Algorithm updates may prioritise user experience factors, such as mobile-friendliness, page load speed, and site security. Keyword optimisation efforts may need to take into account these factors to ensure that the website or content is optimised for a positive user experience, which can impact rankings and overall performance.
  4. Quality and Relevance Factors: Algorithm updates may place more emphasis on quality and relevance factors, such as content quality, relevance of keywords to the content, and overall user engagement metrics. Keyword optimisation efforts may need to focus on creating high-quality, relevant, and engaging content that aligns with the latest algorithm updates.
  5. Compliance with Guidelines: Algorithm updates may introduce new guidelines or requirements for keyword optimisation, such as avoiding keyword stuffing, using natural language, and adhering to other best practices. Keyword optimisation efforts may need to ensure compliance with these guidelines to avoid penalties or negative impacts on rankings.

It's important for marketers and businesses to stay updated with algorithm changes and adjust their keyword optimisation strategies accordingly to maintain visibility and rankings in search results. Regular monitoring, analysis, and adjustments to keyword strategies can help mitigate the impact of algorithm changes and ensure continued effectiveness of keyword optimisation efforts.

What Tools are Used for Keyword Analysis?

There are several keyword analysis tools available that can help marketers and businesses identify, analyse, and optimise keywords for their SEO and digital marketing efforts. Some popular keyword analysis tools include:

Google Keyword Planner

This is a free tool provided by Google Ads that allows users to find keywords related to their business or industry, view search volume data, and identify keyword competition levels. It also provides keyword ideas and suggestions based on search queries and offers historical data on keyword performance.


SEMrush is a popular SEO and digital marketing tool that offers a comprehensive suite of features, including keyword research and analysis. It provides keyword ideas, search volume data, keyword difficulty, and competition analysis. SEMrush also offers features like competitor analysis, rank tracking, and content optimisation.


Ahrefs is another popular SEO and digital marketing tool that offers a wide range of features, including keyword research and analysis. It provides keyword ideas, search volume data, keyword difficulty, and competition analysis. Ahrefs also offers features like competitor analysis, backlink analysis, and rank tracking.

Moz Keyword Explorer

Moz Keyword Explorer is a keyword research tool that offers keyword suggestions, search volume data, keyword difficulty, and opportunity metrics. It also provides insights on organic click-through rates (CTR) and keyword prioritisation features.

Google Trends

Google Trends is a free tool by Google that allows users to explore and compare the popularity of keywords over time. It provides insights on the search volume trends, geographical data, and related queries for a particular keyword.

Long Tail Pro

Long Tail Pro is a keyword research tool that specialises in finding long tail keywords, which are longer and more specific keyword phrases. It provides keyword suggestions, search volume data, and keyword competitiveness analysis.

These are just a few examples of popular keyword analysis tools available in the market. It's important to choose a tool that aligns with your specific needs, budget, and level of expertise, and use it to conduct thorough keyword research and analysis to optimize your SEO and digital marketing efforts.

Recap on Keywords.

In summary, keywords are an essential part of digital marketing and SEO strategy. By conducting keyword research and identifying the keywords that are most relevant to their business, website owners can improve their visibility on search engines, drive more traffic to their site, and provide a better user experience for their visitors. While there are some potential disadvantages to keyword research, the benefits of this strategy generally outweigh the drawbacks.

About VCMO

VCMO helps SMEs and investor-backed portfolio companies with a £2 million or higher turnover that operate without a full-time Chief Marketing Officer. Our Fractional CMOs and tailored services transform marketing potential into a competitive advantage that delivers scalable and predictable growth, increased profits, and enhanced enterprise value.

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