Guide to different types of keywords and how you can use them to level up your SEO.

Types of Keywords: Differences and Why They Matter in SEO

Tamara Danielyan

Table of Contents

When you think about SEO, “keyword” is probably a term that often pops up in your mind. They are the foundation of any successful search engine optimization strategy. Just like anything else in SEO, it has different, in fact, lots of them.

In this article, we will go through those types one by one and explore their differences and similarities so that by the time you’re finished reading it you’ll be a pro at identifying those types and know them like the back of your hand.

What are keywords?

Keywords are words or phrases you target and try to appear on search engines.

Let’s say your company provides a photo editing solution. The keywords you will try to rank with will probably be something like “photo editing tool”, “photo editing software,” and other similar phrases, depending on your preferences and the metrics of potential keywords you want to use.

Why are Keywords Important for SEO?

Keywords are not just important, but rather crucial in SEO. Search engines use keywords to find relevant content and show it in search results. 

Going back to the photo editing example – if you use the keyword “photo editing tool” properly on your website when someone searches it, the search engine will know that it is relevant and show it to the “searcher” as one of the top results. Of course, it’s not as easy as it sounds, and it takes way more to rank high, but in essence, this is why keywords are so important in SEO.

So, why is keyword research important for SEO?

Failing to do proper advanced keyword research and optimize your website will result in lower visibility, lower chances of getting noticed by both search engines and users, and low rankings.

Now that we got that figured out, let’s explore all the different types of keywords and what purpose each of them serves.

Keyword Types Based on Length

To help you have a better understanding of the various types of keywords in SEO, we’ll separate them into categories. First up are keywords that can be identified based on their length!

Short Tail Keywords

Short tail keywords are just like they sound – short! They are clear, concise, and general terms that consist of 2-3 words. They are probably the words that will come to your mind when you try to describe your business to someone, also considered as seed keywords.

Those types of keywords usually have very high search volumes – meaning that users often search those exact phrases – but because so many websites try to rank with them they are also highly competitive.

Moreover, with this type of keywords, the search intent is super unclear.

Let’s say go on Google and search for “good cheesecake”. As smart as Google is it doesn’t know your intent – do you want to bake one, buy one, find a restaurant that serves the best cheesecake in town?

So, what ends up happening is it will show you all these results – recipes, shops, restaurants, and reviews all on one page.

This, however, doesn’t mean you should avoid using them. Quite the contrary. Use them better and more strategically so that you and your content shine in the eyes of search engines. And obviously, this is where long tail keywords may come to the rescue, which we’ll talk about in a bit.

Long Tail Tail Keywords

Long tail keywords, and I know this might come as a surprise, are usually longer than the short tail ones and they’re very specific.

Again, let’s go back to the cheesecake example.

Previously you’ve searched “good cheesecake” and as we discussed, here the intent is not clear at all and a search engine will show you lots of different results. However, if you search “how to make good cheesecake at home” your goal is clear – you’re looking for a recipe!

And that right there is what we call a long tail keyword. They are essentially longer more specific versions of your seed keywords. But don’t get me wrong, these types of keywords are not necessarily questions. Even if you just search “good cheesecake recipe” it is also considered a long tail keyword as it’s still very specific and the intent is crystal clear. 

It’s true that people search for them less often but because they are highly specific the users who search those keywords are much more likely to convert into customers.

The main advantages of long tail keywords are:

  • They are much easier to rank with.
  • They bring highly targeted traffic.
  • They cost way less than PPC but give similar results.
  • Give you the flexibility to experiment with different variations of keywords.

How to Find Long Tail and Short Tail Keywords?

Use Google Search Console

Simply go to your GSC account, click on “Performance,” and then explore the “Queries” section. Here, you’ll get a list of keywords that your website already ranks for. However, we recommend you try this, only if you’re already getting traffic from Google, otherwise it’s not a foolproof way of doing things.

Using Google Search Console to find short- and long-tail keywords.

Use Google Autosuggest

This one’s a bit controversial. Some say you should go for it and start by typing your target keyword and then seeing what the autosuggest gives you, and some think this is completely useless. This is especially useful for short tail keywords.

Using Google autosuggest to find short- and long-tail keywords.

Well, I think you can still use this to see what the most popular things people search for that include your target keyword, but I wouldn’t plan my strategy solely based on this.

Instead, I would take these popular phrases and double-check them through Ahrefs to make sure that their keyword difficulty as well as search volume correspond to my needs, and to see whether they’re actually considered long tail or not.

Use Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer

This is probably the easiest way out. You can just search for your target keywords or just words related to your industry, and you’ll immediately be provided with many different long tail keyword options along with their KDs and search volumes. You can also use this information when creating keyword clusters and grouping related keywords together for more effective SEO strategy implementation.

Below, you can see the suggestion from Ahrefs when I typed in “digital marketing” in the Keyword Explorer section along with their search volumes.

Using Ahrefs' keywords explorer to look for different types of keywords.

Do a Competitor Analysis

Find competitors’ keywords that they are ranking for as it’s always useful. For this step also you can use Ahrefs’ Site Explorer section and look through the different types of keywords that bring them the most traffic, or really any traffic at all.

Use Quora, Reddit, and similar platforms

When people don’t find the answers to their questions by doing a simple Google Search, the next best thing is browsing through forum sites to find people with similar queries and what others suggest as solutions. For example, if you offer SEO services, you can search the word “SEO,” as I did in this screenshot, and find out what people are looking for exactly.

Using Quora to find different keywords.

This is basically all the information you need to be able to differentiate between short tail and long tail types of keywords, as well as to find them so let’s move on to the next type, shall we?

Primary and Secondary Keywords

When you’re trying to come up with the perfect SEO strategy, identifying and efficiently using primary and secondary keywords is crucial. Let’s discuss what they are and how you can find and use them to get the best results.

Primary keywords, also known as focus or main keywords, are the words and phrases that you want to target for your website.

The main purpose of these types of keywords in SEO is to signal to search engines what this or that website/webpage is all about.

Usually, they have quite high search volumes and this is why they might be the “cause” of lots of organic traffic to your website.

For instance, for a blog post about digital marketing trends in 2024, the primary keyword can be just that “digital marketing trends”. It clearly shows what this webpage is about and is “generic” enough to attract visitors. 

It’s crucial, though, to not only identify these types of keywords but also use them correctly and as many times as necessary. Avoid keyword stuffing but also don’t completely ignore your primary keyword.

Secondary keywords, on the other hand, are almost complementary to your primary keywords. They might cover similar topics, relevant subtopics, or even be synonyms of your primary keyword.

They are usually less popular and have lower search volumes, but it does not mean that you can ignore them completely because when it comes to content optimization for SEO, they are essential. They support your main topic and make the purpose and intent of your content more comprehensible for search engines. So, you attract traffic that is targeted toward a specific query.

Again, if we take this blog post as an example, the secondary keywords might include “keyword categories,” “how to find trending keywords,” and so on. It’s also important to mention that you usually pick one keyword as the primary one and then choose as many secondary keywords as you want, just make sure that their metrics such as KD and search volumes are not too bad.

How to Find Primary Keywords

Okay, so how do we find primary keywords?

Well, first of all, we go to our good old friend Ahrefs!

Now to spot a primary keyword think about a phrase that best describes your website and type it in the Keyword Explorer. There are a couple of important metrics to take into account here:

Keyword Difficulty

Usually, we want to aim for keywords that are in the low or medium spectrum of KD. However, if you think the content you provide is of high quality and can potentially rank with keywords that have high difficulty, then who am I to stop you, you should absolutely go for it!

Search Volume 

With the search volume, it’s the opposite – the higher the number, the better, because it tells you that people are searching for those keywords, which means the chances of you getting organic traffic are quite high.

In case any of these two metrics are not of your liking, Ahrefs also suggests similar keywords and even a “parent topic,” so make sure to browse through those as well before making a final decision on your primary keyword.

Relevance

When looking for primary keywords make sure to stay on your topic and only choose keywords that are extremely relevant to the content of your website.

That’s all for the primary keywords!

How to find Secondary Keywords

To find and identify secondary keywords there are two routes you can take:

Use Keyword Explorer

As we discussed right before this, Ahrefs has a “Keywords Ideas” section and after you put your primary keyword in the Keyword Explorer you can carefully go through these suggested ideas and select the ones that best suit the tone and intent of your website.

Check out the competition

To easily see what others with similar topics are using as their keywords, start by searching for your primary keyword on your preferred search engine. If you have an SEO extension installed you can easily see the organic traffic of the top-ranking websites, if not check them manually and separate a couple with the highest rates.

Then go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, paste the webpage and you’ll see all the keywords, both primary and secondary, that they are ranking for. 

Let’s say you provide a template editor, which can be used to make any type of visual content. One of your biggest competitors in the industry would probably be Canva. By simply searching their domain in the Site Explorer section and exploring their organic keywords, you can find out which keywords they’re ranking for and consider targeting them as well.

All you have to do is use either of these methods to find the perfect primary and secondary types of keywords for your website and efficiently use them in your SEO strategy.

Keyword Types Based on Search Intent

We’ve already discussed the types of keywords in SEO based on their length, as well as based on relevancy and search volume. However, we still have lots of other categories to go through, and one of them is the types of keywords based on their search intent.

Analyzing keywords based on their intent is crucial as it helps in understanding how to optimize your content and rise above your competitors.

There are four main types of keywords based on search intent, and we’ll go through each one to understand what they are, how they’re used, and how you identify and find them.

Informational Keywords

Informational keywords are the words or phrases used by people who want to learn something. They are often in the form of a question, starting with “when,” “how,” and “who,” but can also be in the form of simple phrases.

For instance, if you search “content writing vs copywriting” search engines know that you probably want to learn the difference between the two and it will show you articles that talk about it and that can help you learn the answer to your question.

Moreover, Google often shows the short answer to such informational questions in their featured snippet section. In the screenshot below you can see exactly what it looks like.

Google featured snippet example.

As a business, these types of informational keywords are a way for you to build and establish brand awareness, authority, and trust․ However, they most likely won’t lead users into buying your products and services.

Commercial Keywords

Commercial keywords are the keywords that show the user’s intention to buy something or research a brand, a product or a specific service.

This type can include branded types of keywords, keywords that represent your main products and services or even be used for listicles, reviews and comparisons.

“Link building services”, “Starbucks coffee”, “best CRM software“ are all examples of commercial keywords.

These are the keywords that will probably lead a prospect to become a paying customer.

Navigational Keywords

Navigational keywords are to help users navigate toward their desired location – both online and offline.

People who use these types of keywords are probably already familiar with the brand and want to find its website, a specific webpage within that website, or even the physical location of a store.

For instance, if you just search “Facebook” you’re probably just looking for its official website and not about information on Facebook.

Actually, fun fact according to SEMrush the most searched keywords on Google are ‘YouTube,’ ‘Facebook’ and ‘WhatsApp web’. Kind of ironic, don’t you think?

If your brand is already well-known these keywords will help drive traffic to your website and they will be easier to rank with as they often contain branded keywords, and who will rank higher with your brand name than you yourself?

Transactional Keywords

Transactional keywords are similar to the commercial ones, however, they show an even stronger intent to make a purchase and are more specific.

Usually, the target web pages for such keywords are homepages, landing or product pages that will help the user make the purchase right there and then.

They are the last step a user takes right when they are at the end of the buying funnel after doing some research, weighing their options, and making a final decision.

These types of keywords often include phrases like “buy,” “cheap,” and “for sale” and are targeted when coming up with PPC campaigns. This is why when you search such keywords, you’ll often see a lot of sponsored content.

Without identifying transactional keywords and effectively targeting them, your SEO and PPC strategies will not reach their full potential.

How to Find These Keywords?

The best way to find keywords with different search intents is to use modifier words.

Let me explain how it works.

There are different keyword modifiers for different search intents.

For instance, for information keywords, it can be how, what, who or resources, guides, etc. For navigational keywords, it’s the names of the brand, its products or services. For commercial keywords – best, top, comparison, and for transactional ones – buy, order, price, cheap and so on.

So, what does this give you?

Once you sign in to Ahrefs with this information, consider the keywords you’re looking for. 

You go to Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer, type in your seed keyword, go to Matching terms and add your modifier words in the Include filter. 

Ta-da! You have the keywords you were looking for in under a minute.

Here’s a video example of how it’s done.

Remember though to set the Include filter to “Any word” if you’re giving it a couple of modifiers at the same time.

How to Identify a Keyword’s Search Intent

The intent behind some keywords is not always obvious, so here’s what you can do to identify it quickly and easily.

Search the keywords

Seems too simple, I know, but if you just search the keyword yourself you’ll quickly understand the intent behind it based on the results the search engine shows you.

Use an SEO tool

Well, we’re going nowhere without our trusty SEO tools! Ahrefs, SEMrush and other similar platforms usually mark the types of keywords as informational, commercial, navigational or transactional. Sometimes it’s also possible for a keyword to have mixed intent, meaning it can be understood by a search engine in more than one way.

Keep in mind that using different keywords with different search intents is crucial when trying to optimize your content for SEO because search engines use search intent to deliver the most relevant results to users.

If you think now we’ve covered all the keyword categories, you’re definitely underestimating keywords. Yes, this means there’s (a lot) more that needs covering! 

Go get a cup of coffee and bear with me 🙂

Other Types of Keywords to Consider

We’ve talked about the most famous keyword categories, however, there are more types used in SEO every day and it’s quite likely that more will emerge as time passes. But for now, let’s just go through a couple more types of keywords that you might encounter in the digital world.

LSI Keywords

LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing ) keywords are words or phrases that are highly relevant to the target keywords and are often paired together.

For instance, if your target keyword is “off-page SEO” your LSI keyword might be backlinks or “link building”.

LSI itself is a method of gathering information by considering the semantic relationships between words or phrases.

Say someone searches for the word “jaguar”.

If a search engine only uses keyword matching it might show results related to the animal called jaguar.

However, if it uses LSI and other similar technologies it will understand that “jaguar” could refer to multiple things, including the animal, the luxury car brand “Jaguar,” or the popular video game console “Jaguar.” It might even favor results based on the user’s browsing history, location, or other contextual cues to deliver more relevant information.

Niche Keywords

Niche keywords are extremely specific long tail keywords that refer to a specific niche or industry.

It’s crucial to optimize all your digital campaigns to these types of keywords as they are highly targeted.

Let’s say you have an e-commerce store.

You sell women’s clothing online, but more specifically you sell sustainable athletic clothes for women.

So, although our competitive keyword may be “women’s clothing”, the niche keyword can be “sustainable activewear for women” or something along those lines.

Basically, the main purpose of these keywords is to attract highly targeted traffic to your website and boost visibility.

Branded keywords

This one’s pretty simple.

Branded keywords are the types of keywords that include a brand name or a slight variation of it.

For instance, if you search “saynine blog” it’s clearly a branded keyword, as you’re not interested in any blog, but rather want to find the blog of SayNine.

You might think it’s useless to try to rank with branded keywords because if the user searches for them, they are already familiar with the tools.

Well, that’s not actually true.

People who search for such phrases most probably have navigational intent, and if you rank with these types of keywords, which shouldn’t be hard to do as they literally have your name on them, you’ll make it easier for them to find you or the service you provide. This will improve their user experience and guarantee all the conditions for them to turn into a customer.

Question-Based Keywords

Question-based keywords are the search queries that are presented in the form of a question and include words like “how,” “why,” “where,” and so on.

For example “how to write a blog outline”, “what is link building”, “where can I find guest posting opportunities” are all question-based keywords.

They are pretty easy to identify and use as you know exactly what the user is searching for and can ensure that they find what they need and satisfy their search intent.

Competitors Keywords

Competitor keywords are the words and phrases that your rivals are ranking for on search engines.

Competitor keyword research is essential to help you understand what your target audience is looking for and what attracts them.

By gaining insight into your competitors’ keyword strategies, you can identify the gaps in the market that you can fill and adjust your strategies accordingly. So, make sure to check competitors’ keywords regularly and shift your strategies where you need to.

Zero-volume keywords

Zero volume keywords are highly specific long tail keywords that don’t have many searches on Google or, sometimes, any searches at all.

Although some people search for very specific things, apparently it can get too specific and not have any searches at all.

Some think of this as an opportunity to rank with such types of keywords. However, Google usually recognizes if those zero-volume keywords provide the same value as the more popular keywords they will likely show the popular ones to the users.

Although it might be easy to create content around those keywords, as you’ll probably be one of the few or the only people to talk about these specific topics, it still doesn’t mean it will do you any good.

Keywords Are The Foundation of Your SEO Strategies

 Let’s sum up what we learned today, shall we?

  • Keywords are words or phrases a website wants to rank in SERPs.
  • Keywords are essential in SEO as they are one of the main resources search engines use to find relevant content and show it to users.
  • Based on length keywords can be short tail, general 2-3 word terms, or long tail, longer more specific phrases.
  • Based on importance, keywords can be primary, which signals the main purpose of a website, and secondary, which is complementary to the primary ones.
  • Based on search intent, keywords can be informational, navigational, commercial, or transactional.
  • There are also types of keywords that don’t fall into any specific categories – LSI, branded, question-based, competitors’, or zero-volume keywords.

Well, I guess that’s a wrap, I hope you had fun on this little journey and learned something new.

Now, go explore the keyword jungle on your own little traveler!

FAQ about types of keywords

Should I target every type of keyword?

It’s not necessary to target every type of keyword, and usually, it’s quite challenging, but try to target as many keywords as you can without overlooking their quality.

Which keyword types are the least important in terms of SEO?

There is no such thing as the least or most important keyword, as they all serve different purposes and can have different impacts depending on how you use them.

How many times should I use long-tail keywords in my articles?

Try to aim for one keyword every 150-200 words for your long-tail keyword if it’s a primary one, but if it’s a secondary keyword you can use it way less.

What are the 4 criteria for keywords?

The 4 criteria for keywords include search volume, relevance, conversion value and competition.

What is a good keyword for SEO?

No one answer defines what a good keyword is, but any good keyword should be relevant, have a high search volume, align with user intent, be specific, and target lower competition.

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