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Know Your Keywords: How to Tell the Difference Between Topic and Target Keywords—and More!


By Jen Meli

When you're new to search engine optimization services for your business, some of the terms you encounter can be confusing. And because so much of SEO relies on keyword usage on your website and your backlinks on other sites, knowing how and when to use keywords—and which ones to choose—is an essential part of your online marketing strategy.

First off, however, you may wonder what a keyword is exactly. Stated simply, keywords are used to point Google and other search engines in the direction of your website. When internet users perform a search, they will often type in a keyword to find relevant information. For example, if you own a pizza parlor in Kalamazoo, someone might type "Kalamazoo pizza" into Google to find shops nearby. When you develop a great SEO strategy with an agency, your ultimate goal is to get to the top of the search results for your particular industry.

An SEO agency will often employ a keyword finder or keyword selection tool in order to "discover" relevant keywords for your marketing campaign. Keyword finders are able to rate keywords based on how many hits they receive in search engines and what other keywords are related to them. A similar tool to this is Google AdWords, which many businesses and marketing agencies may use to develop their pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns and other marketing strategies.

When contracting an SEO agency, you'll come across several terms that describe different types of keywords. While different agencies may use these terms in different ways, for the most part, keywords can be broken down into the following categories:

Topic Keywords

Keywords are often used within content marketing online—that is, content such as blog posts or infographics. In order to create this content, a topic keyword is selected that represents the main idea, or one of the main ideas, for these items. SEO agencies with writers and graphic designers will create content centered around this topic keyword. Going back to the pizza parlor example, the topic keyword of "veggie pizza" could lead to an infographic on the most popular pizza toppings. Topic keywords help diversify the links on a page, and it's important to remember not to overuse them to avoid the risk of being flagged as spam by Google.

Long Tail Keywords

Long tail keywords are often used in conjunction with a topic keyword. They are often the keywords that don't get the same number of hits on Google; they might also receive more or less competition in terms of how frequently they are used within a search engine's results. Some long tail keywords are also topic keywords, because they can be easier to fit into a sentence, but this isn't always true.

Target Keywords

Target keywords are used specifically to build links on a page, often in a content piece's anchor text. Target keywords don't always make for good topic keywords. For instance, "pizza Kalamazoo" might be a target keyword because it helps to optimize your search results, but it wouldn't necessarily be included within, say, a blog post because of how awkward it sounds.

Interest Keywords

Interest keywords are those that may be used for deeplinking—that is, building backlinks within page data—but they are not used within the content of a piece. You can select interest keywords if you signal which keywords you don't want to use to create content.

Even if you are only selecting your topic keywords or target keywords for a marketing campaign, all of these keyword types may be included within a piece of content. They are also included in a page's metadata, so search engines have an easier time finding them. Ultimately, using a keyword finder tool will help you discover which keywords are relevant to your business.

Have more questions about the keyword selection process? Leave us a comment.

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