What is a Keyword? – What It Means For Your Business

Written by Devin Sizemore

November 13, 2014

At Long Tail Pro, we spend a lot of time talking about “keywords” and more specifically “long tail keywords” and we firmly believe that knowing how to use these to your advantage can make a huge impact on your business. Long Tail Pro is a leading provider of keyword research software after all.

But what is a “keyword” anyway?

Can I be honest for a minute and just go off track?

A moment ago I was working on a post with some marketing strategies for small businesses and I just hit a wall.

You’ve probably experienced “writer’s block” before, and it felt a lot like that. Was I communicating things in a way that would make sense and actually help people improve their business? 

I took a break and started scrolling through Marcus Sheridan’s ebook on content marketing.

I was looking for a little nugget, something that could get me back on the content creation wagon.

It was then I came across a phenomenon that he calls “The Curse of Knowledge.”

The idea is that many businesses and bloggers know too much for their own good. In fact, you may know your industry so well that you can no longer relate to you consumers – who probably know a lot less than you think. The result is that you are unknowingly using terminology in your content that makes absolutely no sense to your audience.

This account from his book grabbed ahold of me:

Just last week, as I was speaking to a variety of SEOs and marketers at the Marketing Sherpa Optimization Summit , I asked the group a very simple question: “Everyone (in the world) knows what optimization is at this point, don’t they?”

As I expected, the majority of people in the room shook their head in the affirmative—-another sign that most simply don’t understand their clients and prospects.

My follow up went something like this:

“Actually, NO. Most people have no clue what the word “optimization” is. In fact, 95% of all business owners still don’t know what a “keyword” is. Furthermore, most of the people in the SEO and marketing industry use a slew of “common words and phrases” that very few small businesses actually ‘get’.”

I don’t know if Marcus ran an in-depth, carefully conducted survey to come up with his “95%” number, but I got the point.

So back to the main point of this article…What is a keyword?


My Personal Experience

Like many of you, I know a fair share of small business owners.

I’ve been “doing websites” for years and working on ways to grow traffic to those websites. These projects I work on tend to come up in casual conversation. I’m amazed that seemingly everyone I talk to, including business owners, know so little about how search engines work at a basic level. Why do you get the results you do when you “Google” something?

As our conversation continues, I then start talking about the “keywords I’m targeting” and I see their eyes starting to glaze over. I realize that they have virtually no idea what I’m talking about and the meaning of keyword.

This is the ‘curse of knowledge’ in action. It’s not that I’m on the cutting edge of the SEO or internet marketing industries, but after doing these things for a number of years I forget what it was like at the beginning.

This is true in anything that you spend a lot of time learning, like your business. You pick up bits and pieces of knowledge along the way and before you know it, you know a lot more than the average person on the street. Industry jargon is completely normal to you, but it doesn’t translate well to your average customer.

So let’s turn back a couple of pages and take it from the top:

What is a “Keyword”?

For our purposes a keyword meaning is simply something that you search for in Google.

Let’s do an example.

What’s the last thing you searched Google for?

Nevermind – I don’t want to know.

I’ll use myself as an example.

I live in Cincinnati, OH – which is arguably the finest city in America. I’m also a husband to 1 wife and dad to 3 young boys. Like most dads I want to be a good one. So I like to try to find fun things to do as a family and get some fresh ideas to break out of the ordinary.

So not too long ago I went to Google and searched for “family friendly things to do in Cincinnati.”

“family friendly things to do in Cincinnati” is a keyword.

I ended up finding some great ideas, including a local blog that is completely dedicated to writing about all the family-friendly things going on in Cincinnati. Perfect!

Now the odds are that I’m not the first person to search the keyword “family friendly things to do in Cincinnati” in Google. Without looking it up, I’ll guess that this phrase or “keyword” gets searched 50 times a month.

Being a little more general, perhaps “things to do in Cincinnati” gets searched a couple hundred times per month.

And then being super-general, the keyword “Cincinnati” is probably searched thousands of times per month.

On the flip-side, I could search for something really specific like “Fun things to do in Cincinnati when you have 3 loud kids and don’t want to spend money.”

That exact phrase may have never been searched before and may never be searched again, but it is still a keyword.

Why Keywords Matter To Businesses

Hopefully we’ve established what does keyword mean – it’s just something that gets searched for.

But what does it mean to you as a business owner?

I’ve mentioned the stat before that Google alone processes about 3.5 billion searches per day.

As a business owner, some percentage of those searches are people who you’d love to have as a customer. They are searching keywords like “Affordable Car Repair in Topeka” and “Can you dry clean your own suit?”

I just pulled those 2 ideas out of thin air, but now I’m going to run with them. Let’s look at why those might matter to your business.

“Affordable Car Repair in Topeka”

What do we know about this person? They are living in, or stranded in Topeka and something is wrong with their car.  You know what, I’ll just call our searcher “Kris”…

Let’s assume there are 2 car repair shops in Topeka.

Tom’s Car Service has been in business for 20 years and does okay. They get some repeat customers and stay busy, so they don’t see a need to worry about that internet thing. Maybe they have a couple reviews online, but they certainly don’t have a website or any online marketing.

Bill’s Car Service has been serving Topeka since 1979, and boy do they serve a great cup of coffee in the lobby! During the recession Bill’s son Dave started a website for the business. Over the last few years, Dave has been adding pages to their website which talk about common questions they get from their customers.

In fact, people were always calling with things like “how much is a tune-up?” and “what do you charge for an oil change?” that Dave decided to make a page on their website about it.

It was called “Car Service and Repair Prices – Bill’s Car Service, Topeka, KS”.

On the page it listed all their common services and exactly how much they cost.

Back to Kris…

We’ve established that Kris has a car problem and is probably on a tight budget. It’s also safe to assume that she doesn’t have a loyalty to a particular repair shop, or she wouldn’t be searching.

Given what we know about the 2 repair shops, which one do you think Kris is more likely to find when she does her search?

Clearly the answer is Bill’s shop.


Whether he knew it or not, Bill’s website was great at providing answers to the various “keywords” people were searching for. What’s more, Bill earns a level of trust from people like Kris because he is upfront about exactly what his services cost. Kris quickly went from someone who didn’t have a “go to” car guy in Topeka to someone who now has a pretty good feeling about ol’ Bill.

“Can you dry clean your own suit?”

This keyword is a little different because it isn’t location specific. However, we can guess that the searcher probably needs a suit dry cleaned but doesn’t want to spend the money. Or maybe they have the money, but they like doing things themselves.

So why do you, the owner of a local dry cleaner, care about this guy?

Because you know that dry cleaning your own suit is a horrible idea. Maybe it takes forever, maybe it is easy to screw up, whatever the reasons – the best answer is to spend the money to take the suit to a good dry cleaner.

If it’s a bad idea, create a blog post on your company’s website and explain why.

Maybe the answer goes something like this:

“Well, technically you can dry clean your own suit. To do that, you should follow steps A, B, and C… However, I’ve spent many years in the dry cleaning business so you should be warned that if do this, this, or that – you’ll ruin your suit. If you’d like some help and you’re in the Minneapolis area, our services start at $5. Click here to view all of our services and prices.” 

Now, I can already hear the “what if’s” bubbling to the surface.

“What if they just do it themselves anyway?”

“What if they don’t live in Minneapolis?” 

Both of these things are absolute possibilities. And in fact, most of the people who visit this page will fall into one of those two categories.

However, I have my own “what if?”

What if someone in your area searches this question and thinks “Wow, they’re probably right – I don’t want to ruin this suit. You know what? This place is 10 minutes away, I’m just going to head over there and drop off my suit.” 

So to me, the bigger question is this:

What is the alternative?

If you never create a page addressing this topic at all, I can assure you that nobody is going to find you when they search for information on whether they should dry clean their own suit.

So while you can sort out the details later, hopefully the decision of whether or not to spend the time creating content that your audience is searching for is an easy one.

Does It Work?

This idea of creating content for your website with the intention of having customers find you is often called “inbound marketing.” If you think of it like fishing, every blog post or page of content you add that specifically answers the questions of your customers is like throwing another hook in the water.

When you start out with one or two hooks, it’ll probably be a slow day. But with consistent focus and effort, you’ll have enough juicy bait in the water to start snagging some fish.

This idea isn’t something I’ve invented.

Businesses large and small have done this and continue to do this to pull in new visitors to their websites, and ultimately new customers to their business.

What To Do Next

Now that we’ve established what is a keyword, what do you do next?

Well the first thing to remember is that you are more of an expert in your business than you give yourself credit for.

You are a wealth of information.

Here are a couple of action steps you can take to start making keywords work for your business:

  • Start internally by asking your staff what questions they hear most. Turn that into an FAQ page on your website or better yet, create a page for each question – assuming it is open-ended enough to write at least several hundred words about.
  • Create a plan and stick to it. It’s easy to get motivated and knock out a couple of new posts, but it gets tough when business picks up and there seemingly isn’t any time to write. Block off an hour or two on your calendar and force yourself to do this – keep fishing.
  • Get a long term plan together. FAQs from your staff is a great starting point, but as you get more sophisticated you should start doing what we call “keyword research.

Keyword research is simply realizing that not all search terms (AKA keywords) are created equal. Some get searched thousands of times and have TONS of competition, while others are more specific (AKA long tail keywords) and tend to have less competition. When you get to that point, a tool like Long Tail Platinumcan save you a ton of time on deciding which keywords to write about.

When you’re ready you can start a 7 day Free trial.


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  1. Ryan

    Great stuff. Let’s say I identify three long tails all similar and related and want to include these in a 1,000 word article on a particular topic. Is it too much to put all three long tails in this one article? Is that too much? Can I legitametly have more?

    • Jake

      Hey Ryan,

      No – I don’t think that is too much at all if they are all on a related topic. What you may want to do, if it makes logical sense, is use the other keywords in a subheader in the article. I think what you’ll find is that you’ll get traffic from all those versions of the word even though you may be primarily targeting only one of them – at least that has been my experience.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • Michelle

        That’s interesting! I have been taught – only ever use one keyword per post, or page; 🙂

        • Jake

          Hi Michelle,

          Yeah – you can definitely do it both ways, it just depends on the situation. If you have 2 keywords that are so closely related that it would be awkward to devote 2 different posts to them, then doing one large post where you talk about both is probably the best way to go.

          Hayden and the guys at No Hat Digital are always testing such things and check out his comments on the topic in #11 of this list: http://www.nichepursuits.com/16-proven-money-site-strategies-that-you-can-implement-today-your-questions-answered/

          • Michelle

            Hey, Jake – great reply, thanks! 🙂 Have definitely been taught that more than one keyword ‘confuses’ Google.. also, might be viewed by Google as ‘keyword stuffing’? Or does that just refer to using the same keyword too many times, in a post? I do see what you’re saying.. 🙂

          • Jake

            Hi Michelle,

            Keyword stuffing means if I want to rank for “delicious cheese puffs” that I use the phrase “delicious cheese puffs” 25 times in a 500 word article or something along those lines.

            I think even in a larger post where you are optimizing for a couple of keywords you would still have one primary keyword target of the article, but then think of some of the related, perhaps lower search volume words as secondary targets in that post – use them in sub-headers if possible and include some content focused on those as well.

            Some keywords are so specific that it would be nearly impossible to get an entire, helpful page of content focused on them.

          • Michelle

            Fantastic answer, Jake – thanks so much! 🙂 🙂

  2. Michael Chibuzor

    This post is really helpful for anyone who wants to research and target the right keywords. This may seem basic, but I think we all need to resort to the fundamentals every now and then. Thank you Jake and I look forward to what you’ve to offer the amazing community here.

    • Jake

      Thanks, Michael – I appreciate that. I’m hoping this can help those folks who are just getting started on the journey of keyword research.

  3. Bryan McDonald

    I understand the importance of keywords in bussiness. I think when we focus on keyword research step, we can save much time for next step such as: SEO, advertising, preparing contents…Before a new project, I usually take from 1 to 2 weeks to find the worthiest keywords for myself. That’s why I absolutely agree with you. Thanks for helpful knowledge.

  4. Wordpress Dr.

    This is a very helpful post, it gives me new insight into keyword research as a niche blogger.

    Thanks a lot for coming up with this.

  5. Saqib Rauf

    Nice post!
    Could a website be successful without spending a lot of time on SEO? What if someone didn’t find any long tail keyword for his/her niche?
    I am looking for answers, can you show me ways to do so.

    • Jake

      Hi Saqib,

      Yes – I think it is completely possible because getting organic traffic from Google is only one source. Word of mouth and social media are two other ways to spread the word about your site, but it needs to be something with great content so when people see it, they want to share it and they want to come back.

    • Mark Tait

      Hi Saqib.

      Yes it can – as long as you can generate interest in ways other than using search engines – eg. social engagement through Twitter, FB, Pinterest etc.

      If you create a good enough “buzz” then your site can take off through word of mouth – but I would still suggest you carefully target keywords anyway, because people will “google” or “bing” for your services – so it would be ill-advised to not care about those sources of potential traffic.

      All the best, Mark

  6. Ashok Singh

    I think the problem starts with not having a clear idea of what you are really selling. This is followed by not telling the customer what he will get from you website that will benefit him or her. In other words we are not actually selling correctly. This problem gets compounded when we search for key words as people come to the site but still don’t see what they really need – I’m looking for this but what do I gain from buying it? Hence, the website should first be well organized with proper benefits identified for customers and then make sure that people are coming to the website.

    • Jake

      Good point, Ashok – converting visitors to customers is very important.

  7. Sanjay Dabhoya

    Thanks for the detailed post. It’s hard to explain these things but you made it extremely easy. I’m in the process of training new team members and this will come in REAL handy. Thanks again…

    • Jake

      I appreciate that, Sanjay

  8. Upenyu

    Thank you Jake for going back to the basics. As a newbie to online marketing l subscribed to many blogs which puport to teach SEO basics. Yet in their third mail they are already talking of ‘Google algorithms’ ‘key word optimisation’ and so forth forgetting that thee said training was for newbies. I enjoy reading your posts, keep up the good work.

    • Jake

      Thanks for reading, Upenyu

  9. Barb

    Hi Jake

    Thanks for the great post.

    I am a Platinum user of Long Tail Pro and would like to see from a users perspective some updated videos/content on the recommended metrics for finding a long tail keyword that is easy to rank for, based on the existing video KC breakdown where Spencer says keywords in the 0 to 35 KC range would be the target range.

    I know that Perrin and Spencer address analyzing competition for a keyword in the Project 2 posts, however that information gets lost in a sea of other posts and sometimes gets outdated as time goes by due to the changes in the google algorithm and other things that may affect the overall competitiveness of a keyword.

    As well if I was to become an affiliate for Long Tail Pro I would want some examples of how my potential customer could find a long tail keyword and determine it’s competitiveness based on the metrics to look for such as keyword Competitive score, Page Authority, Juice Links and Page Rank. (as well as any other ranking factor that is important)

    Personally I would not have purchased Long Tail Pro based on the video (I purchased the monthly plan as soon as I saw the whole process of analyzing a keyword) that is showing on the sign up page which in my opinion could be better in terms of showing the overall analysis process of determining the strength of the competition for a particular keyword found in the 0 to 35 KC range.

    A video would help to show potential new customers all the details such as how to look for a keyword that has 2 or more of the top ten sites showing under 30 Juice BL’s, etc. etc. etc.

    Hope that makes sense…I look forward to the continued great content on Long Tail Pro and love all the past content at Niche Pursuits.

    Best Regards

    • Jake

      Hi Barb,

      That’s great feedback – thanks. I actually have keyword competitiveness on my list of things to break down in a future post. Maybe we’ll do a video to go along with it.


  10. Kani Poly

    Thank you for your sharing.
    I’m thinking about what customers really want.
    Now I have struggle with sticking with the plan. I have to change the way I do it

  11. Christine

    I have to commend you on your wonderfully written article.
    You Sir…are definitely a “Wealth of Knowledge”.
    I am just beginning the internet marketing journey…and like most “THE KEYWORD”
    is what I find most confusing :(. After reading your article I have a much better understanding,
    of how I should be attracting customers.
    I thank you for you post and helping me to see and to understand more in depth the customers needs.
    I look forward to reading more of your posts, for help.
    Christine….Calgary AB. Canada.


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