All about keywords
In this week's newsletter: it's all about keywords. Do you know what 'seed' keywords, long-tail terms, LSI phrases and keyword cannibalization are? Soon you will!
Hello and welcome back! This week, it’s Jessie, back from a waterfall-free trip to Hamilton. Fun fact about Hamilton, Ontario: the city has 156 waterfalls within the city limits – the most of any city, anywhere (wow).
This week, it’s all about keywords – the foundation of any search strategy. Here we outline the key terms to know and understand.
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Let’s get into it.
The week is all about keywords.
What is a “seed” keyword?
A “seed” keyword is the starting point of your keyword research process. Seed keywords are usually one or two words and often a short-tail keyword (see below).
For example, you are covering the pandemic in Canada, then seed keywords might be:
You’re not necessarily targeting the seed phrases – instead, after you identify a seed keyword, expand your efforts to find topic angles or more specific questions your stories can explore.
To find seed keywords, consider the phrases you already rank for (using Moz’s Keyword Explorer or the Ahrefs tool Keyword Rank Checker). You can also check Google Search Console (GSC) for phrases sending traffic to your site.
Google already considers your content relevant to these topics, so it will likely be easier to rank for similar terms.
Main-focus (or primary) vs. secondary:
The main-focus (or primary) keyword is the primary phrase you are targeting for a given piece of content (a story, an explainer, FAQ, etc.). Primary terms should be captured in headlines and URLs, and in the body of a story.
Consult Google Trends for the breakout term during a news event – that’s often a good main-focus keyword to target overall.
Secondary keywords are the supporting players. They provide additional detail and information for the main term. These are related terms also used to find content on a specific topic, but used less frequently in your coverage. Capture secondary terms in the meta description (the dek or subtitle) for a story, or as a section of an explainer.
For example, you are covering the pandemic in Canada, then primary keywords might be:
vaccine passport ontario.
While the secondary keywords might include:
omicron variant symptoms;
alberta covid restrictions christmas 2021;
vaccine passport ontario without health card.
The level of detail and search volume are main differences between primary and secondary keywords.
Short- vs. long-tail keywords:
A short-tail keywords are terms with high search volume. Often, they are shorter in length (literally, they contain fewer words – usually about three), and refer to broader categories. Short-tail keywords are more difficult to rank for because of the wide interest in those broad terms. Ranking for these terms is likely to result in lots of traffic, but it also requires more work (more robust content, more backlinks, etc.).
For news in Canada, short-tail keywords might include:
Long-tail keywords are queries with lower search volume, but potentially a larger window of interest with more specific intent. These are the terms you would target for evergreen content (the topic is consistently of interest for readers).
Why pick a medium- or long-tail keyword instead of the higher volume query? They are significantly less competitive. If you – a small regional outlet – are writing about COVID-19, you’re significantly less likely to rank for a head keyword like “coronavirus” or “COVID-19 vaccines” than if you consider long-tail, more regional keywords. Short-tail keywords take more content to fulfil search intent, where long-tail terms (because they’re more specific) are more easily fulfilled.
About 15 percent of daily Google searches are new – having not been previously searched, according to Ahrefs.
The bottom line: Publishers should target a combination of long- and short-tail keywords because those top-level terms (trudeau news) nets a lot of traffic, while more specific terms are easier to rank for and respond to a user's specific needs. Both are part of a smart SEO strategy.
Branded vs. unbranded keywords:
A branded keyword is a search term that includes your website’s brand and is unique to your website’s domain. For The New York times this would include:
New York Times;
Branded keywords are part of an organization-wide search strategy. (Think about how readers search for beats that are specific or the proven domain of a publication – ie., “NYT business,” “WSJ investing” – or for specific, marquee writers. An organization should optimize homepages, author pages, and category pages keeping these branded searches in mind).
Branded keywords can also be a shortcut to typing a website’s address into the browser bar (i.e., it’s faster to type “nyt cooking” than navigation to nytimes.com and clicking through to the Cooking vertical from the website’s navigation).
Non-branded keywords are all the search terms that don’t reference your site or domain. For a national news organization in Canada, that list might include “trudeau news,” “tsx today” or “Bill C-4.”
Check your GSC data for the list of the top branded and non-branded keywords sending you traffic already. SEO tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs are typically able to filter branded from non-branded keywords pretty easily.
LSI or Latent Semantic Indexing is the idea that Google understands keywords which are semantically related. According to Ahrefs, Google says they don’t exist. So why talk about LSI?
If you think about LSI keywords as “nothing more than related words, phrases and entities,” then using those related phrases in your content can help with SEO, according to Ahrefs.
This makes sense based on how we write, communicate and search. We don’t write “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau” every single time he’s referenced in a story. That’s repetitive and a poor reader experience. We interchange references to the Prime Minister or Trudeau after the first reference to not create an irritating reader experience.
If you’re writing a news file, you are already going to use related terms. Because writing 101. Check Google’s autocomplete feature, Related Keywords or People Also Search For from Keywords Everywhere to see if there are common alternatives.
Okay, so those are the basic types of keywords. We will go a bit further with other useful keyword considerations, like cannibalization and stuffing.
Keyword cannibalization occurs when a single website unintentionally targets the same search phrase across multiple stories or pages. This often happens when the topic those pages are ranking for is too similar, or you targeted them for the exact same term.
The result is that you are competing with yourself, with multiple pages competing for the same limited story place in the Top Stories carousel or other spots in SERPs.
You can use this structure for a Google query to check if your content is getting cannibalized:
site:yourwebsite.com + target keyword. Then check that search term again in a normal Google search. Where does your content rank in SERPs?
Because news is quick and ever changing, multiple stories will rank for the same keyword. The goal is to ensure the most up-to-date stories are ranking and giving readers the best information.
Keyword stuffing refers to the bad, old school SEO tactic of adding the same keywords to a page or site over and over again in hopes of boosting rankings.
This could be a block of text containing the key terms but no additional context, or a group of keywords that are not written in natural, human prose (ie., in a news story about the Prime Minister, it would look like: Prime Minister, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trudeau, Prime Minister Trudeau, etc.). Another common black-hat tactic is adding the keywords using white text on a white background (invisible to readers, but not to Google).
Readers and Google consider this to be spam. It’s dumb and bad. Don’t do it (and if it’s somehow on your site, remove it). The focus is writing stories and producing explainers, FAQs, and journalism with high-quality information that effectively answers a reader’s need.
Keyword density is a related concept that outlines the percentage a keyword is used in a given story (it’s determined by taking the total number of words in a piece and dividing that figure by the frequency of a keyword.
If your story is 800 words, and the keyword “Doug Ford announcement” appears 12 times, the density is 67 percent.
There’s no hard and fast rule here, but above two per cent density is not great (use a keyword as often as makes sense organically in your copy). There are tools in SEMRush or Yoast that will alert you when you’re getting too close to the fire.
To avoid stuffing or high keyword density, first: write like a person for people. Second, identify the keywords you’re trying to rank for on a given page (that’s your primary keyword). Use that term in the headline and URL, and as high up in the story as organically possible.
Identify your secondary terms, and use those related phrases in the meta description and elsewhere in the body of the article.
Keyword stemming refers to the process of reducing a search phrase to its “stem” or root term. If a reader used “buy” in a query, the search algorithms will understand that “bought,” “buying” and “to buy” are variations of the “stem” term.
A keyword gap analysis is the process of identifying the keywords that competing news organizations rank highly for – but that you do not.
This is a strategic effort that will outline the high-value terms that you should target (it’s important to remember these terms should be keywords that are likely to bring in your ideal demographic, and phrases that you could rank for).
Keyword gap analysis can also uncover terms you do rank for (but in lower positions on SERPs) where it’s possible to improve your ranking. Moz or SEMRush have tools that can help with this process.
When a reader uses a key term, where does your site’s content sit in SERPs? That’s keyword ranking. The crux of SEO is improving your publication’s ranking in results pages – reaching more potential subscribers or answering important reader questions.
Also called “SEO difficulty” or “keyword competition,” this refers to how much competition there is for a specific term. High-competition keywords will be more difficult to rank for, while low-competition keywords will be easier to rank for (but also have much lower search volume). Target moderate- to low-competition keywords with decent search volume. It’s wise to go after a combination of higher and lower competition keywords as part of your search efforts.
SEO tools like the Keyword Difficulty Checker from Ahrefs or SEMrush’s Keyword Difficulty tool will show how hard it will be to get into the top 10 search result spots for any keyword.
🔗 Read more: Ahrefs’ SEO metrics: What they mean and how to use them
The bottom line: There are many, many different kinds of keywords! Next week, Shelby will go more in depth on keyword strategy.
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Have something you’d like us to discuss? Send us a note on Twitter (Jessie or Shelby) or to our email: email@example.com.
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Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley
Great article, best that I have read on the web. Thanks