Primary Keywords: The Most Critical Part of Your SEO Strategy?

Semrush Team

Oct 13, 20238 min read
Primary Keywords


What Are Primary Keywords?

Primary keywords are the main terms and phrases you’re targeting in your SEO strategy. They align with the central theme or topic of the content. 

In short, primary keywords are telling search engines, “This is what this page is about.” 

Once you choose a primary keyword, that term acts as the building block for your content. You’ll use that keyword to determine relevant subtopics and optimize your content. The end goal is to rank well in the search engine results page (SERP) for that specific term or phrase.

Primary Keywords Vs. Secondary Keywords

When creating an SEO strategy, we generally differentiate between two types of SEO keywords:

  1. Primary keywords: Overarching keywords or search phrases that we want to target
  2. Secondary keywords: Related terms and phrases that are usually not distinct enough or popular enough to warrant their own page 

Ideally, your pages should target both 1-2 primary keywords (very close variations) and 4-10 secondary keywords.

For example, you might target the primary keyword “vegan recipes.”

That page could also target secondary keywords like “vegan food recipes” and “vegan meal ideas.”

These keywords are all closely related. But the primary keyword is generally the most popular or common term associated with this topic. 

The Relationship Between Primary and Secondary Keywords

Secondary keywords can cover relevant subtopics or themes. Sometimes they’re simply synonyms of the primary keyword. Often, typing secondary keywords into a search engine returns similar or the same results as the ones you’d see for the primary keyword.

Try it out on Google. This is how you know it’s safe to consider them a secondary keyword.

For example, “vegan food recipes” and “vegan meals recipes” return many of the same search results on page one as “vegan recipes.” 

An infographic showing how results for “vegan recipes” and “vegan meal recipes” overlap

In your SEO strategy, secondary keywords are grouped together with the primary keyword rather than targeted separately. 

Creating multiple pages to target these similar terms would result in keyword cannibalization. This is when your site is essentially competing against itself to rank for a single keyword because you have multiple pages with very similar content. 

Further reading: What Are Secondary Keywords?

How to Find Primary Keywords

The primary keyword you choose to target on your webpage plays a key role in the amount of organic traffic that could come to your webpage from search engines.

There are a few key factors to consider when choosing the best keyword for your page:

  • Search volume: Keywords with high search volume can generate more traffic to your website. The monthly search volume of a keyword tells you how often users search for it. This can give you an idea of how popular that topic is. Successfully ranking a webpage for a high-volume keyword increases the page’s visibility. Lower search volume keywords can sometimes have lower keyword difficulty, but it also means there’s less traffic opportunity. Your total addressable search volume will be based on the total search volume of your primary keywordand your secondary keywords. 
  • Keyword difficulty: Choosing a primary keyword with an acceptable level of keyword difficulty can maximize your chance of ranking well for that keyword. Keywords are often rated on difficulty based on the pages that currently appear in the SERP. This difficulty is generally based on the quality of the content that already ranks and the number and quality of backlinks pointing to that page and the domain. 
  • Relevance to target audience: The right keywords are relevant keywords. Whenever you’re selecting keywords for your home page or a blog post, you want to make sure that the page contains relevant content.
  • Search intent: The page or piece of content that you are planning to target for a primary keyword must align with the searcher’s intent and expectation when conducting the search—more on this below.

To analyze and choose the right keywords, you need an SEO keyword research tool.

Enter: Keyword Magic.

Here’s how it works:

Click “Keyword Magic Tool” under the “Keyword Research” section.

In the text box, enter the topic you’re planning to write about. Or, if you don’t have a particular topic in mind, start with a broader topic like “digital marketing” or “dogs.” Click “Search.”

“digital marketing strategies” entered into Keyword Magic Tool search

The Keyword Magic Tool will then give you a list of keyword suggestions.

Keyword Magic Tool results for “digital marketing strategies”

From this list, you can now begin to look for search terms that either match the content you’re planning to write or seem like relevant topics for you to cover.

You can sort and filter the list of keywords to make it easier to find the types of keywords that make sense for your use case. 

Across the top, you’ll see “Broad Match,” “Phrase Match,” “Exact Match,” and “Related.”

Click on any of these to filter the list.

Keyword Magic Tool match type filters highlighted
  • Broad Match: Keywords that include your seed keywords or any words within in any order or with additional words and modifiers
  • Phrase Match: Keywords that contain your seed keyword as a complete phrase or very close variations
  • Exact Match: Keywords that contain your seed keyword as a complete phrase only
  • Related: Related keywords that may not contain your seed keywords verbatim

You can use the filters “Volume,” “KD,” and “Intent” to analyze your results and narrow them down.

For example, use the “KD” filter to evaluate keyword difficulty. The filter tells you how hard it would be to rank for the keyword, with 0% (green) being the easiest and 100% (red) being the hardest.

Select “KD” > “Easy” or “Very Easy” to find the easiest keywords.

“KD” filter drop-down menu

If you have a new site or a site with relatively low site authority, consider choosing keywords in the “Easy” and “Very easy” range.

Next, use the “Intent” filter to find keywords that match the search intent of your content. 

In our example, “digital marketing strategies” is an informational keyword. This means searchers using this query are likely looking for information on this topic—not products or services.

To filter, click “Intent” and click on the option that best matches the user intent of your keyword, “Informational,” “Navigational,” “Commercial,” or “Transactional.”

“Intent” filter drop-down menu

It’s important to select a primary keyword that has a search intent that aligns with the content of the page where you’re targeting it. 

Search intent represents what kind of content the searcher expects. And it also indicates which types of pages rank already for that keyword.

Here’s what they mean:

  • Navigational intent: Searcher looking for a specific page (e.g., “semrush login”)
  • Informational intent: Searcher looking for more about something (e.g., “digital marketing strategies”)
  • Commercial intent: Searcher researching before making a purchase decision (e.g., “best digital marketing tools”)
  • Transactional intent: Searcher looking to complete a specific action (e.g., “hire digital marketing expert”)

If you already have a page in mind and you’re choosing a primary keyword, make sure that the keyword you choose has a search intent that matches the content of the page. 

What if you’re generating new content ideas? As you research, be thoughtful that the search intents behind the new keywords line up with the type of content you aim to create: be it blog posts, landing pages, or any other format. 

For example, if your content marketing strategy primarily focuses on writing blog posts, then you’ll probably want to focus on informational keywords.

Next, filter by “Volume” to further narrow down keywords by their search volume.

Click the “Volume” drop-down. Choose from the predefined ranges or create a custom range. Then click “Apply.”

“Volume” filter drop-down menu

How Do You Know If It’s a “True” Primary Keyword?

In most cases, the primary keyword is simply the most popular variation on the search term. 

But the definition of what constitutes a “primary keyword” is ultimately subjective and depends on your content strategy. 

For example, “b2b digital marketing strategies” could be a primary keyword. 

But, for another site, it might be used as a secondary keyword for a page about “digital marketing strategies.”

One thing you should do before settling on a primary keyword is look at the list of keyword variations. 

The Keyword Magic Tool will show you variations of this keyword. These are closely related keywords that all generally cover the same topic.

Keyword Magic Tool results for “b2b digital marketing strategy”

If the keyword that you planned to target is the most popular or one of the most popular keywords on the list, then you should feel confident that it functions as a primary keyword rather than a secondary keyword. 

If the keyword you chose is lower on this list, then you may want to choose a more popular variation (near the top of the list) as your primary target keyword.

How to Optimize Your Page for the Primary Keyword

Optimizing your webpage to target a primary keyword ensures that search engines like Google can understand the context of your content and how relevant it is for a search query.

Follow best practices to optimize your page and give yourself the best chance at appearing at the top of Google search results:

  1. Title tag: Include your primary keyword in your title tag. This makes it easy for both users and search engines to identify the topic of your post.
  2. First 100 words: Use your primary keyword at least once in the first 100 words of your content to make the topic clear
  3. Headings: Include your primary keyword in various places in your H1, H2, and H3 tags to give your content a sense of structure and hierarchy
  4. Meta description: Use the keyword in your meta description to compel your users to click on your page when it appears in the SERP
  5. Images: Use your primary keyword within the alt-text of your image files. This makes the content more accessible and can improve your rankings in image search results.
  6. Videos: Add your primary keyword in video titles, descriptions, and tags to help make it more visible on video search platforms

Finally, remember to avoid overuse.

Using your primary keyword multiple times in a single sentence or paragraph or excessively throughout a page is known as keyword stuffing. This goes against Google webmaster guidelines and is considered an outdated practice.

Instead, incorporate keywords organically and where they add genuine value to your content.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What’s the difference between primary keywords and secondary keywords?

The primary keyword is the main search term being targeted on a specific page. Secondary keywords are close variations, synonyms, or subtopics. They’re both an important part of your overall content and SEO strategy. 

2. Can you rank for both primary and secondary keywords?

Yes. In most cases, the reason why your strategy contains both primary and secondary keywords is with the intention of creating a single page designed to rank for all of these terms. 

3. What’s the difference between primary keywords and short-tail keywords?

Primary keywords are the main keywords for your page. This is determined by your content and SEO strategy. Short-tail keywords (sometimes called “head terms”) refers to keywords with a high search volume relative to other keywords within a given topic. 

In some cases, your primary keyword for a specific page might also be a short-tail keyword. But your primary keyword could also be a long-tail keyword (a keyword with relatively lower search volume).

For example, when writing a blog post about indoor workouts you can do at home, you might choose “home workouts” as your primary keyword. This would be a short-tail keyword. 

But another post might target the primary keyword “home workout routines with no equipment.” This is a long-tail keyword.

4. How can I separate primary keywords from secondary keywords?

The Semrush Keyword Manager automatically groups keywords into clusters, giving you a primary keyword and secondary keyword for each topic. 

Enter up to five seed keywords to compare the search results side by side to determine which keywords can safely be targeted with a single page. 

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