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Reader Question: What Are Keywords?
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flight attendant.
Originally uploaded by solecism

What are keywords, you ask? Great question!

First let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time many years ago there was a major airline that wanted to drive traffic to their website. In particular, they wanted to attract people who were looking for inexpensive air travel fares.

So, they created a gorgeous website and on appropriate pages on their website they talked about their “inexpensive air travel fares”.

They thought, “Who doesn’t want to travel inexpensively? Surely we will get lots of search engine traffic to our site because we’ve made it clear that we specialize in inexpensive air travel fares!”

But their faces fell when they saw their website traffic stats–they were hardly getting any site visitors at all, and they were extremely perplexed and disappointed.

“Why?!” they asked. “We know that oodles of people want inexpensive air travel fares, so why isn’t Google sending all those people to our site?”

Then one day a wise person answered their cries of distress and confusion.

She said to them, “The reason why Google isn’t sending any traffic to your website is because no one is interested in inexpensive air travel fares.”

The airline people were outraged. “What?”, they demanded. “Who in their right mind would prefer to pay a higher price for an airline ticket? Everyone always wants the lowest price.”

“You’re exactly right about that,” the wise person told them. “Everyone does want the lowest cost that they can get, but there is one problem. When these people go to Google they are not searching for inexpensive air travel fares.”

Intrigued, the airline people asked, “Well, then what in the world are our potential customers typing into Google?”

The wise person told them, “They’re typing in the words “cheap flights”.”

Keywords Tell Google What Your Website (Or Article) Is About

According to Wikipedia, keywords are words with special significance that identify and classify the content on a web page.

When the search engine customer types words (such as “cheap flights” or “inexpensive air travel fare”) into the search box, the words are called a “search term”.

It may help to keep in mind that search terms are thought of as keywords only from the perspective of the website owner who is trying to anticipate which words the search customer will type into the search box.

Think about it–search engines are designed to serve the needs of the searcher, rather than the website owner. When someone types in the words “cheap flights” into the search box, the search engine wants to give them a list of web pages that are most likely to satisfy their query ranked in order with the web pages that are most likely to satisfy at the top.

Google evaluates how well a web page can satisfy search customers by examining the content on the web page (among other things).

As website owners who are trying to cooperate with Google and the other search engines, not only do we need to make it very clear what our website is about, but we also kind of have to think backwards–we have to think like a search engine customer would think.

Learning To Think Backwards

Now, in the fairy tale story above about the airline, the people who worked at the airline didn’t take into consideration that most of us do not usually say “Hmm, I need to travel to San Diego. I wonder who has the most inexpensive air travel fares?”.

No, we don’t talk like that :-) . The people at the airline might talk like that, but we, the search engine customers just say “Where can I get a cheap flight?”

As website owners who are trying to attract certain types of search customers, we do research to pinpoint which keywords are appropriate for our website based on what our potential customers are typing into Google when they do searches. (If you want to get more in depth you can research how much demand there is for a certain search term and how saturated the internet is with web pages already meeting that need–more on this in another post.).

When we write content on our website or do article marketing or whatever, we keep in mind what our keywords are for our website so that we can send a clear message to Google. We want to proclaim to Google–My website provides great information about “cheap flights” (as opposed to “inexpensive air travel fares)!

That way when a person types “cheap flights” into the search box, Google goes, “Ahh, I remember seeing a website that I’m positive will satisfy this search customer’s query. Let me show them that site as one of the results.”

Now, of course this is a dramatization to try to make this keywords thing easier to understand :-) –what is happening on Google’s end is technical and based on many factors, but as far as keywords go, we know that we need to provide the information that our customers are searching for, using the words that they use, or variations of the words that they use.

Keywords tell the search engines what your website (or article) is about, and we want to be sure that we’re using phrases or variations of phrases that our customers really use.

What does do with the keywords I type in?

When you’re filling in the “Enter Your New Article” page at, there is a space where you’re asked to enter your keyword phrases.

What exactly is done with the keywords that you type into the keywords box when you’re entering your article?

The keywords you type in are used on many sites (including our own article directory) where some keywords are wanted for the meta keywords tags for the page where the article is published. It also helps search functions on some article directories.

In plain English–it’s a technical thing to help Google and the other search engines (and search functions on the directory itself) determine what your article is about.

Whew! I hope that helps explain what keywords are a little bit more, but you probably have other questions like:

How do I do keyword research?

And then what do I do with my keywords after I’ve figured out what they are?

We’ll go over those questions in upcoming posts, but for now–do you feel like you have a better grip on what keywords are? I hope so!

Related resources you may find helpful:

How To Appropriately Use Your Keywords In Your Article Titles

How Do I Get Started With Keyword Research?

SEO Article Writing 101 (scroll down to the section about keywords)

NOTE: Please be aware this content may now be outdated. For the latest quality content on how to build massive publicity for your website, please go to The vWriter Blog - Helping Businesses Grow Traffic, Build Engagement, and "Be Everywhere"

35 Responses to “Reader Question: What Are Keywords?”

  1. [...] In a recent post about keywords we learned that when a website owner is determining her keywords for her website that she needs to think backwards–she needs to put herself in the place of the person who is searching for information on the topic of her website.  [...]

  2. Kaye says:

    You are so right about keywords. It can cost you a lot of time and money if you do not research and use the right keywords to find the right buyers, especially if you are using PPC advertising.

  3. Michaela says:

    It is true, not all keywords are created equal. I mean they don’t have same power.
    This is the reason why we have to study the popularity (using SEO book) vs. competition (using Google search). And we have to do split test changing only one word at a time from title until we find the best title keys combination.
    A well chosen bunch of keywords will narrow the scope in search and that title will be visible. I remember when I start to use eBay 5 years ago, if I typed in search box “men watch” I got 1,000 listings, if I do the same search now, I’ll get back 20,000 listings. I think I made my point why chosing the best keys is crucial.

  4. Steve Shaw says:

    Hi Kaye,

    Exactly! Thanks so much for chiming in :-)

  5. Steve Shaw says:

    Hi Michaela,

    Yes, you’ve made your point–keywords are uber important!

    Thanks for stopping by :-)

  6. Tidders says:

    A very nice and informative article. In my case they may be searching for a specific type of erotic or sexy lingerie rather than ladies underwear in a general sense.

  7. Paul says:

    Man….what an excellent explanation of “What are Keywords” for my website or blog. It is important to use the right keywords and even more so to do “keyword research”. Sure wish I could have known this 5 years back.

  8. Roy Sencio says:

    Fantastic information about keywords and keyword research. I have shared this with a few people I know.

  9. Hi Steve one n all … excellent post Steve
    … Strange as I was going down my in-box subjects line titles I noticed the main theme of most of my emails is keywords this morning and one seemed to fit the other … in other words if these few emails where stitched together they would answer the other emails question so I would like to share this blog link of Jim Morris
    Hope this helps even the seasoned keyword users are sometime struggling to come to terms with how things change on the old internet

    All my best to you and your keyword research
    Phillip Skinner

    PS: One Dollar for a couple of weeks keyword trial can’t be bad
    the video tutorials are very very informative just like being back at school learning your ABC

  10. Steve Shaw says:

    Hey Tidders,

    That is so true–what we think would be natural for folks to type into the search box to reach us is not always reality :-) I know I am usually wrong when I try to figure it out on my own.

    Thanks so much for stopping by :-)

  11. Steve Shaw says:

    Hi Paul,

    Thank you! Oh, and me too about wishing I’d known this a few years back–I guess we live and learn and there is an extremely sharp learning curve on the net, so sooner or later we do catch on :-)

    Thanks so much for chiming in.

  12. Steve Shaw says:

    Hi Roy,

    Awww, that’s great. I’m so glad this was helpful to you!

  13. Steve Shaw says:

    Hi Phillip,

    Thanks for sharing those resources :-)

  14. Gavin Cole says:

    I have got to say your article got straight to the point regarding keywords, a lot of people don’t understand the importance of good keywords.

    Gavin Cole

  15. Steve Shaw says:

    Hi Gavin,

    Thank you!

  16. Very nice post, thank you..
    maybe if you can share some keyword researching software names – in case you know any – in your next post, that would be really great..

  17. Steve Shaw says:

    Hi Smart–

    Thank you–yes we’ve got that info for you. Here is a list of some specific keyword researching tools.

    I hope that helps!

  18. An article that has helped me understand keywords better i will use your ideas in the future thanks.

  19. Nice point on keyword research. It’s all about what people are looking for not always what we think that we are offering.

    Marketing, marketing and more marketing.


  20. John Bonzo says:


    Keywords are so important! Your article was great. It hit so many of the points a website owner must know. I try to read everything I can on this topic and your article says so much.

    Thanks for your help and good luck in the future,

  21. ramber says:

    I am very confusion at keywords, but the article is so useful to me that i will do according to what the article tell me, and thanks.

  22. Will D says:

    Very simple and easy to understand explanation about keywords.

    Sometimes we run off and write a great article and wonder why the hats are not just coming.Now we know why!



  23. I have definitely gained from the displayed in this article site.

  24. andrew says:

    Surveys are the key to finding anything. Without surveying the terrain and what’s under it, you can miss a vein of gold, even by an inch. Surveys tell you exactly where the ‘gold’ resides, so that when you dig for it, you’ll find it!

    Let your potential subscribers, followers,and visitors, find you. The way they do that is through their own words. GET IT!

    Find their words, and you can relate directly to them though their own words.

  25. [...] What Are Keywords? – gives illustrations explaining what keywords are and how Google sees keywords. [...]

  26. Rosis says:

    A good story.hOW important the keyword select to us!

  27. Kathy Clark says:

    Hi Steve, thanks for sharing all this great info on KeyWords and Article Writing Tips. I have bookmarked this to keep it handy. You are so right that we need to use the words they people are using to search, not just what we think they might want. It takes research. Thanks again,

    Kathy Clark
    Skype: kathyclark1945

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