SEO basics: What is a keyword?

When looking for information about keywords in relation to SEO, you get bombarded with information about keyword research. And of course, this is crucial if you’d like your page to rank. But it’s also important to understand what the basic principle of a keyword is. And that’s the thing I’ll explain here.

What is a keyword?

A keyword, or a focus keyword as some call it, is a word that describes the content on your page or post best. It’s the search term that you want to rank for with a certain page. So when people search for that keyword or phrase in Google or other search engines, they should find that page on your website.

Let’s say you’ve got a website about pianos: you sell all sorts and types of pianos. You blog about what to look at when buying a piano and you share reviews about the pianos you offer on your online shop. You sell digital pianos so you’ve created a product category page about digital pianos. Ask yourself this:

  • What kind of search term do you want to be found for?
  • Which words do you think people will use in search engines to find you?
  • What would the search query look like?

Probably [digital piano], right? Because this keyword reflects what’s on the page best. If you’d have to explain the bottom line of your content, how would that look? What words would you use? That’s your keyword or key phrase – if it consists of multiple words.

We use the word ‘keyword’ all the time; this does not mean it consists of only one word. A lot of times it consist of multiple words. So when talking about keywords, a lot of times we mean a phrase instead of just one word.

Read more: Keyword research for your online shop »

Why are keywords important?

One of the things Google looks at when ranking a page is the content on that page. It looks at the words on the page. Now picture this, if every word on, for instance, a blog post about a digital piano is used 2 times, then all words are of equal importance. Google won’t have a clue which of those words are important and which aren’t. The words you’re using are clues for 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 need to use it fairly often.

But Google isn’t the only reason why keyphrases are important. Actually, it’s less important, because you should always focus on the user: on your visitors and potential clients. With SEO you want people to land on your website when using a certain search term or keyphrase. You need to get into the heads of your audience and use the words they use when they are searching.

If you use the wrong keywords, you’ll never get the visitors you want or need, because your text doesn’t match what your potential audience is searching for. But if you do use the words people are searching for, your business can thrive. So if you see it like that, your keywords should reflect what your audience is searching for. With the wrong keywords, you’ll end up with the wrong audience, or none at all. That’s why having the right keywords is really important.

How do you use keywords in your pages and posts?

There used to be a time where you could add a lot of keywords to your pages and posts, do some old-fashioned keyword stuffing, and you’d rank in search engines. But a text with a lot of the same words in it is not a pleasant read. And because users find this kind of copy terrible to read, Google finds it terrible too. That’s why ranking in Google by doing keyword stuffing, fortunately, became hard to do.

So what are the rules of thumb here? First and foremost, it’s very important that your content is easy to read. Of course, you should use your keywords in your text, but don’t stuff your them in almost every sentence. In general, if 1 or 2% of all words of your copy, is your keyword, then you’re not overdoing it. Make sure your they are all well-distributed throughout your text. Don’t put all your keywords in the first paragraph thinking you’re done with that part of the optimization. Naturally spread them throughout your page or post. Use your keyword in a heading or a couple of subheadings, depending on the length of your page or post. And use it in your page title, first paragraph, and your meta description. You can find all of these recommendations in the SEO analysis of Yoast SEO.

Now you have a common understanding of what a keyword and keyphrase is. This knowledge will really help you with your keyword research, which of course is the next and vital step!

Keep reading: Keyword research: the ultimate guide »

18 Responses to What is a keyword?

  1. Stijn Spijker
    Stijn Spijker  • 3 years ago

    Thank you for this article!! It helped me a lot with the understanding of keywords/keyphrases :)

  2. Nomi @NogenTech
    Nomi @NogenTech  • 3 years ago

    Brilliant explanation about keywords, well, wisely use of keywords in content can take your online presence beyond your expectations as Google love the content written for readers not for bots. So always try to insert your keywords in the content in a way that doesn’t look spammy.

  3. Serena P.
    Serena P.  • 3 years ago

    Great article. Do you use some tools that generate the best-ranking keywords, and if so, which ones? Also, once you hire someone to optimize your website, does it mean that you don’t have to change it ever again? I’m asking because I see that a lot of SEO techniques are outdated and not only do they become useless, they can even harm you. Is that true?

  4. SEObureau Nicecreame
    SEObureau Nicecreame  • 3 years ago

    Very nice article. Great explaining for people that are new to SEO. :)

  5. Aarohi Khanna
    Aarohi Khanna  • 3 years ago

    Keywords is the key of your online business.

  6. Ahmed
    Ahmed  • 3 years ago

    Hi can you recommend tools for Keyword research? and also some light on keyword density?
    Thank you.

    • Willemien Hallebeek

      Hi Ahmed, we’ve written a complete post about keyword research tools! Check it out here: For keyword density we recommend to stick between 0.5 and 2.5%. But most of all, read your text and if it feels natural than it should be ok!

  7. Digember
    Digember  • 3 years ago

    Optimizing the page for keywords is quite simple if we follow the basics mentioned in this article. As said above, use keywords in URL, meta description, Title and headings. I think it doesn’t matter how many times we use keyword in a page, but where we use keywords matters. In the blog content we can use LSI keywords which are probably the best keyword ranking approach in 2018.

  8. Consulente SEO Milano
    Consulente SEO Milano  • 3 years ago

    Great article Annelieke. You’ve explained them very well. Keywords, title, description and all other on page elements are very important factors for a good position in SERP.

  9. Akash
    Akash  • 3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this helpful article on use of keyword in SEO basics. It is so explained that one can easily understand the importance of Keyword in SEO optimization.

    Great Job!!

  10. Mukul Bhatt
    Mukul Bhatt  • 3 years ago

    Truly acknowledging information regarding keywords.. I myself am a blogger and I had quite gathered some important info with this post..
    I have a site that I keep updating and enlightening us with such great and useful posts.

  11. APJ Smart Works
    APJ Smart Works  • 3 years ago

    Great article. Couldn’t be write much better! I was really enjoyed reading this article. Keep it up.

  12. Sameer Khan
    Sameer Khan  • 3 years ago

    You have really explained the Importance of keywords in a single post very well. Thanks for sharing :)

  13. Basit Ansari
    Basit Ansari  • 3 years ago

    Thank you so much for telling me basic of keyword.

    I love your article’s so thanks

  14. Freddy G. Cabrera
    Freddy G. Cabrera  • 3 years ago

    Hey Annelieke!

    This is keyword basics 101! :)

    You’ve explained them very well.

    Using keywords in your content and pages is very important for better Google rankings. That is for sure.

    You have to get very creative when you are using keywords to make sure you don’t overuse them and end up creating a boring piece of content. As you’ve mentioned, you have to also take great care of the Google user.

    Thank you for sharing this helpful info about keywords!

    Best regards! :D

    • Willemien Hallebeek

      Thanks, Freddy!

  15. Olabiyi Malik
    Olabiyi Malik  • 3 years ago


    This is a very good guide that explains about keyword, though I have known keywords since a very long time.

    I learned more about it from here and get some new information about keyword.

    Thanks to you.

  16. dbj
    dbj  • 3 years ago

    Ok then. Is this the following the “best” strategy for writers of essays (longer professional, academic or literral texts) ?
    1. use blog posts to sell your key material (aka essays)
    2. in them blog posts do as Annelieke says and write them as gods of SEO demand.
    3. In your portfolio projects (WP terminology) keep your goods (aka essays) written as your profession or art demands.

    The rest is some online selling mechanism for 3 as advertised from 2.

    I would be puzzled if the above is completely wrong.