How to Use Keywords for SEO [2021 Guide]

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Keywords. Ah, the holy grail of SEO. What are they? How can you best use them and where should they be placed? Find out by reading our guide to using keywords for SEO.

What is an SEO Keyword?

Keywords are the words or phrases in your content that allow for people to find your page in search results. Think of what search query you type into Google when you are searching for something, such as “how to start a blog.” In this instance, “how to start a blog” is a long-tail keyword for the pages that show up on the search engine results page (SERP). This is the primary keyword the pages are trying to cover and best answer for users.

This means the content creators of those pages used that keyword to help their page on that specific topic rank higher than competitors’ pages. They also likely wrote the page in a way that it could target additional keywords relevant to the topic, such as “starting a blog” or “blogging tips,” etc.

“Blogging tips” is an example of a seed keyword and “how to start a blog” is a long-tail keyword or keyword phrase. Long-tail keywords are longer and more specific than seed keywords. To think of related keyword ideas, you can use different tools that we will talk about later.

Using highly relevant keywords is essential to upping your traffic and driving leads to your business. If you can focus on the right keyword, you can create the right traffic that will drive conversions. This is at heart of what we at Markitors do and how we go about creating SEO-driven content.

How Do Keywords Affect SEO?

To avoid any confusion, first we’ll briefly explain what SEO is. SEO stands for search engine optimization and it is crucial for small businesses when it comes to getting visibility in organic search. The higher your page ranks for a keyword, the more traffic you’ll get for the searches associated with that keyword.

Keywords are a huge part of search engine optimization and if you aren’t intentionally using them, there’s no chance your website will be visible on SERPs. They are the lifeblood of SEO. Organic search traffic produces more chances for generating leads and conversions for your business.

Googlebot crawls all web pages and indexes them to provide the most relevant results to users. There are many different factors that are considered ranking factors by Google, but for now, we’ll stick to how to find the right keywords for SEO.

How to Find the Right Keywords

How are you finding keywords right now? Are you pulling them from internal research and customer conversations? Using focus groups? Maybe checking comment threads like Reddit and Quora that are related to your products or competitors?

Step 1: Think About Keywords That Will Drive Sales

When your potential customers search online, some will know what they want and some will not. Those that do know what they want will likely search for a high-intent-to-purchase keyword; those who don’t know what they want will likely search for an exploratory keyword. Let’s use an example to make this one more practical.

Let’s just say you work for a university doing marketing and the university is looking to improve their education-based SEO around a teaching degree they’re offering to potential students.

A keyword like “teaching degree” is going to bring in an audience who have a high intention of signing up for a teaching degree. Why? Because they’re actually searching for teaching degrees. These users know what they want and they are beginning to shop around. They’re ready to consider purchasing your product.

A keyword like “become a teacher” is going to bring in a slightly different audience. This audience will generally have a lower intention of signing up for a teaching degree. Why? Because these users are still learning about the profession before the degree; they’re not yet shopping for a teaching degree. They aren’t quite ready yet to think about buying your product.

So if you’re a small business with a limited budget, you’re going to want to focus on keywords in these two buckets: high-intent and medium-intent keywords.

Step 2: Determine What Your Competitors Are Doing Right

Now that you have an idea of what types of keywords to create content around, you’re going to want to look at what’s working and what’s not working for your competitors. Spend some time studying their pages and their sites. Find out what keywords they’re targeting, what pages on their site are performing well, and then find ways to emulate what they’re doing right but in a way that accurately reflects your business.

Step 3: Expedite Your Research With Tools

These SEO and keyword research tools can help simplify your process and pull everything together!

Keywords Everywhere

Keywords Everywhere is a free tool to help you analyze potential keywords. It is a browser add-on that shows you trends, traffic estimates, keyword density, and more.

Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer

Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer is a paid tool but has more capabilities than Keywords Everywhere. Ahrefs’ allows you to discover thousands of keyword ideas, analyze their ranking difficulty, and see traffic potential.

This Youtube tutorial explains how Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer works effectively for keyword research.

Google Auto-Suggest

This is the simplest way to see potential keywords. Using Google Auto-Suggest in the search bar shows you what people are searching for around your topic. It’s also a good option because it’s free!

Google Trends

Google Trends is another free option for keyword research. There you can explore data and insights for trending search topics on a simple interface.

Step 4: Develop a Prioritized Keyword List

Once you have all of your data, your next step is to prioritize which keywords you want to target. From there you’ll want to prioritize the keywords based on monthly search volume, keyword difficulty, potential traffic value, and other metrics. Brian Dean of Backlinko has a super helpful step-by-step keyword guide of how to put this extensive list together.

Where to Use Keywords for SEO

Keywords should be used in lots of places on-page and off-page, but you’ll want to do this strategically. Moderation is the best practice for optimizing. Be sure to use keywords in the following locations.

Page Titles

To start, page titles or meta title tags are a place where keywords should be used. Meta title tags help Google understand what a page is about and why it is relevant to a search query. They are the clickable blue text on search results pages that people use to decide what page to select.

So, having unique page titles that use relevant keywords will help you guide organic traffic to your site. To learn more about the importance of title tags, check out our What Does a Meta Title Tag Do for SEO blog post.


The word “subheadings” listed above is an example of a subheading in a blog post. Subheadings are smaller headers that are listed below main headers to break up a piece of content into smaller sections.

Subheadings are great places to use keywords. When Googlebot indexes a page, it crawls through all of the information on a page. Using subheadings helps Google gain context about different sections of text within a piece of content.

When writing, you want to think about not just what subheadings would make sense for the article, but if there are opportunities for keyword usage when breaking up text.


Content is one of the most important places to use keywords for SEO. Content or articles are usually what people are searching for when they enter a query into Google. However, content should be value-packed, not keyword stuffed.

Using keywords within your content is necessary for being ranked on Google. You should choose one primary keyword from your keywords list to base your piece around. Then, you can use secondary keywords in subheadings and body text.

Where you position keywords on the page is important to think about. Using your primary keyword in the URL and H1 tag is suggested. Secondary keywords should be used in subheadings and the body text of a page.

URLs and Slugs

Let’s talk about URLs and slugs. You probably know what a URL is, but do you know what is considered a slug? A slug is the tail end of a URL that usually specifies the page that is linked.

For example, if the URL is, then the “/technical-seo-services/” section is considered the slug.

People who are looking for the information on this page are likely to search for “technical SEO services,” so it is a keyword we incorporated in the slug.

Anchor Text

Anchor text is the clickable text on a page of content (it is usually colored, underlined, or bolded). This can be used for both external links and internal links.

You want to use keywords for SEO in anchor text because they send signals to show Google how pages are interconnected. Anchor text should be straightforward and have relevant keywords. Use exact match anchor texts sparingly, if possible.

For example, Moz wrote an article about anchor text and within the article included an internal link to another page on their website. This is how they wrote their anchor text.

“As search engines have matured, they have started identifying more metrics for determining rankings.”

They seamlessly used a relevant keyword phrase as their anchor text here. This is a great example of how to use keywords as anchor text.

To learn more, read our blog about how to use anchor text.

Meta Descriptions

Meta descriptions are the short snippets of text under the title tags on SERPs. They are used to briefly describe what a page is about and attract users to click through.

Again, using keywords in these is a good idea because it signals to Google what the page is about and why it’s relevant to a search. You want to keep meta descriptions pretty short — only 120-160 characters. Use keywords intelligently to advertise your content to users.

For example, here is the meta description for a Hubspot blog called Everything You Need to Know About Writing Meta Descriptions.

“Learn what a meta description is, why you need it, how long it should be, and what makes a great meta description when publishing content.”

As you can see, Hubspot used the keyword meta description in the title of the post, and two times in the meta description. This is appropriate optimization using keywords.


We have a whole guide to optimizing images for SEO you can check out, but we’ll keep it simple here.

It’s not just text that matters. Images need to be optimized too! You will want to optimize image file names using related keywords. When Google crawls your page, it crawls images for even more context.

Make file names descriptive and relevant using a keyword, if possible. Remember not to keyword stuff, though!

Keyword Tactics to Avoid

That brings us to Black Hat SEO. Black Hat SEO is when people use link schemes and frowned-upon methods to affect PageRank.

Never use Black Hat SEO for your website.

Google penalizes those who keyword stuff and overload a page with keywords in effort to rank higher. Google’s algorithm is smart enough to pick up on this and it will negatively impact your SEO.

If you are conscious of how often you are using keywords and where you will be fine. But, if someone tries to cheat the system, there are measures in place to prevent them from succeeding.


Now that you’ve learned how to use keywords for SEO, never look back!

Do your research, and build a content strategy to optimize your site by using relevant keywords appropriately. Stay away from Black Hat SEO, utilize a keyword tool such as Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer, and remember users’ search intents!

Hopefully, this article provided you with valuable information about how to use keywords for SEO to increase your monthly searches. Good luck!

And, if you are looking for more technical SEO help, contact us today!

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