What Keywords Are & How to Use Them

Rachel Handley

Mar 19, 202416 min read
Contributors: Christine Skopec and Connor Lahey
A Keyword Definition


What Are Keywords?

In search engine marketing, keywords are terms you try to appear for in search engines like Google. So you can attract valuable traffic to your website or physical location.

This keyword definition covers two categories:

  • SEO keywords: Keywords you target through search engine optimization (SEO). This means you try to appear in the organic (unpaid) results.
  • PPC keywords: Search terms you target through pay-per-click (PPC) search campaigns. This means you try to appear in the sponsored (paid) results.

For example, a jeweler’s keywords might include “custom engagement rings.” Because they sell these products and want to appear prominently when people search for them.

Like these websites do:

Paid and organic search results for "custom engagement rings" in Google. The word "Sponsored" appears above paid results.

Why Are Keywords Important?

Keywords are important because search engines use them to find relevant content to show in search results. 

Basically, if you use the term “custom engagement rings” appropriately on a webpage and/or ad campaign, the search engine is more likely to think it’s relevant and rank it highly (position it high up on the page) when someone searches it.

And that’s crucial. Because users are far more likely to click top-ranking content on search engine results pages (SERPs):

A chart showing that organic position 1 has an average click-through rate over 22%. This drops to below 3% in position 10.

Plus, keyword research (the process of finding and analyzing keywords) allows you to identify popular search topics.

This means you can create content and ads that align with your target audience’s needs.

How to Find Keywords

It’s possible to come up with keywords yourself. And get ideas from search engines or competitors’ websites. 

But the best way to find keywords is with keyword research tools.

These allow you to search keyword databases. So, it’s quicker and easier to find relevant keywords. And harder to miss anything important.

Plus, these tools typically provide access to useful metrics.

Here are two of the most popular keyword research methods:

Find Keywords from Seed Keywords

With options like Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool, you find relevant keywords by basing your search around a seed keyword. Which is a broad term related to your niche.

To illustrate, let’s search “gold necklace” in our U.S. database.

"gold necklace" typed in the search bar for the Keyword Magic Tool. The term is labeled "Seed keyword."

By default, you’ll get “Broad Match” results that contain any variation of your seed term.

This is generally the best way to ensure you don’t miss any relevant keywords.

The "Broad Match" button near the top of the Keyword Magic Tool results page

But you can get more specific results by looking at “Phrase Match” keywords. Which contain your exact term with the words appearing in any order. 

Or “Exact Match” keywords. Which contain your exact term with the words in the order you specified.

The "Phrase Match" and "Exact Match" buttons on the Keyword Magic Tool results page

To focus on keywords that trigger ads (not all keywords do), go to “Advanced filters” > “SERP Features.”

And add a filter for both:

  • Ads top: Keywords that trigger text ads at the top of the SERP
  • Ads bottom: Keywords that trigger text ads at the bottom of the SERP
The "Advanced filters" > "SERP Features" menu with "Ads top" and "Ads bottom" selected

Later, we’ll explain how to use the metrics provided in the Keyword Magic Tool to choose the best keywords for your search engine marketing strategy.

Find Keywords by Checking Your Competitors’ Keywords

With tools like Semrush’s Keyword Gap, you can compare your keyword rankings against competitors’ (i.e., conduct a keyword gap analysis).

This helps you discover relevant keywords you might have otherwise missed. And gather useful insights into your rivals’ search performance.

Simply enter your domain and the domains of up to four competitors. And choose which type of keywords you’d like to focus on:

  • Organic keywords trigger a top-100 organic result for at least one of the analyzed sites
  • Paid keywords trigger a search ad for at least one of the analyzed sites

Then, choose your target country and click “Compare.”

A Keyword Gap search for organic keywords on myka.com, onecklace.com, and oakandluna.com

Scroll down to the table to see a list of keyword ideas.

We recommend focusing on the following tabs:

  • Missing: Keywords that all the rival domains rank for but you don’t. This suggests that they’re highly relevant and you should consider targeting them.
  • Weak: Keywords that all analyzed domains rank for but you rank lowest. Improving these rankings could help you gain more visibility over your rivals.
  • Strong: Keywords that all analyzed domains rank for and you rank highest. Maintaining or improving these rankings can help you maintain a competitive edge.
  • Untapped: Keywords that you don’t rank for but at least one analyzed competitor does. This can help you identify keywords you’re missing out on.
  • Unique: Keywords that you rank for but your analyzed competitors don’t. This suggests that they’re topics, products, or services you specialize in.
The "Missing" button in the Keyword Gap results. Keyword results include "choker necklaces" and "dangle earrings."

In the next section, we’ll explain how to understand the keyword metrics this tool shows.

Understanding Keyword Metrics

Keyword metrics are data points about particular keywords. They help you identify the best search marketing opportunities for your business.

The availability and accuracy of metrics depends on the keyword research tool you’re using.

Let’s explore some of the most useful metrics and where you can find them.

Search Intent

Search intent is the usual reason behind a particular search.

For example, someone searching “lab created engagement rings” is typically shopping for engagement rings made with synthetic diamonds.

As the search results suggest:

Two Google results for "lab created engagement rings." Both are product category pages on ecommerce sites.

There are four types of keywords when it comes to search intent:

Intent Type


Keyword Example


The user wants to find information

“how are diamonds made”


The user wants to find a specific webpage or site

“de beers diamonds”


The user wants to research brands, products, or services 

“moissanite vs diamond”


The user wants to take action (e.g., make a purchase)

“diamond hoop earrings”

Some keywords have mixed intent. Meaning that significant portions of users want different things from the results.

For example, the SERP for “diamonds” contains informational pages like the one from Wikipedia. And transactional pages like the one from Diamonds Direct.

Google results for "diamonds." One is the Wikipedia page for “Diamond” and the other is the “Diamonds Direct” homepage.

You can see keyword intent type(s) when you do keyword research in Semrush.

The "Intent" column in the Keyword Magic Tool results page. It contains "C" and "T" icons.

You can also visit the SERP for a more in-depth understanding. 

Just click the icon that looks like this:

The "View SERP" icon in Keyword Magic Tool depicting a magnifying glass on a webpage

Or open the keyword in Keyword Overview and click the “View SERP” link.

The "View SERP" link in the "SERP Analysis" section of a Keyword Overview results page

Search Volume

Search volume is the average number of monthly searches a keyword receives. So, it gives you an idea of a high-ranking result’s potential reach.

In Semrush, you can see search volumes and how they’ve fluctuated over the previous year.

For example, our database shows that “valentines jewelry” gets 1.9K searches per month in the U.S. And that most of those searches occur in January and February.

January 2024 data for "valentines jewelry" in Keyword Overview. The trend bars are higher in the first two of 12 columns.

So, a jeweler might want to plan a search advertising campaign for the start of next year. To capitalize on the potential to reach more audiences.

Keyword Difficulty Score

Semrush’s keyword difficulty score (KD%) measures how hard it’ll be to earn a top-10 organic ranking. And is expressed as a percentage.

It’s a useful metric when you’re choosing keywords for SEO. Because there’s little point in targeting keywords that you’ll struggle to rank highly for.

To illustrate, let’s look at a couple of keyword examples:

  • “jewelry” has a 100% difficulty score. This means that the SERP is extremely competitive and most sites will struggle to rank on the first page.
  • “star jewelry” has a 33% difficulty score. Which means even newly established sites stand a good chance of ranking—if they create the right kind of content.
Data for "jewelry" and "star jewelry" in Keyword Overview, with the "KD %" column highlighted

Here’s a breakdown of all the possible keyword difficulty scores:

Semrush keyword difficulty scores: 0-14 is very easy, 15-29 is easy, 30-49 is possible, 50-69 is difficult, 70-84 is hard, 85-100 is very hard

Cost Per Click

Cost per click (CPC) is an important metric in PPC marketing, because it's how much you pay each time someone clicks your ad.

You can get CPC estimates when you do keyword research in Semrush. 

For example, “gold necklace” has an estimated CPC of $1.70.

The "CPC (USD)" column for the keyword "gold necklace" reads "1.70"

An ad’s CPC is determined by an auction between advertisers. While there are many factors that go into determining it, a higher CPC generally indicates that you can expect a higher conversion rate and/or a higher average order value.

(Because advertisers are unlikely to pay for clicks that don’t generate a return.)

But what works for one business won’t necessarily work for another. That’s why it’s so important to monitor your PPC results and adapt your strategy accordingly.

You might also want to target high-CPC keywords through SEO. So you can attract valuable traffic in a more cost-effective way.

Competitive Density

Competitive density (Com.) is a Semrush metric that measures the level of competition for a paid search keyword in Google Ads.

It’s measured from 0-1.

The "Com." column for "gold necklace," "gold cross necklace" and "gold necklace women" reads "1.00"

A score above 0.8 suggests that lots of advertisers are competing for the same spaces. To rank, you’ll probably need a high-quality ad campaign and a high budget.

A score below 0.6 suggests that few advertisers are bidding on the keyword. This might just mean that the keyword is overlooked. But it could be that it doesn’t generate a good return on ad spend.

The only way to know for sure is to run an ad campaign and measure your results.

How to Use Keywords in SEO

In this section, we’ll explain how and where to use SEO keywords on your website. So you can rank higher and get more organic traffic.

1. Do Keyword Clustering

Keyword clustering is the process of grouping keywords that share the same search intent. And targeting them through the same piece of content.

This is more efficient than targeting one keyword at once.

It also helps you avoid keyword cannibalization—an SEO issue that occurs when multiple pages on a site satisfy the same search intent. Which also confuses search engines.

You can cluster keywords automatically with Semrush’s Keyword Manager.

Just open or create a keyword list. 

Then, click “Cluster this list.”

The "Cluster this list" button at the top of the page in Keyword Manager

You’ll end up with a list of keyword clusters.

For each cluster, you can see the intent type breakdown, the number of keywords, the average keyword difficulty score, and the total search volume. 

Data for three clusters in Keyword Manager labeled "Intent," "Keywords," "KD %," and "Volume"

We recommend that you choose a primary keyword to represent each cluster. This should be the main keyword you want to rank for—and one that represents the overall topic well.

All the related keywords in the cluster become secondary keywords by extension. And you can use them to support the primary one.

2. Create a Keyword Map

A keyword map is a document that matches each of your keyword clusters with a target URL on your website. 

The target URL is the page (or eventual page) on your site that should be optimized. Because it satisfies the cluster’s search intent.

Here are a few examples to illustrate:

Primary Keyword

Target URL Slug

“diamond rings”


“lab grown diamond rings”


“how to clean a diamond ring”


Once your map is complete, decide which pages to focus on based on factors like:

  • Cluster search volume
  • Difficulty score of the primary keyword
  • Resources required to optimize or create the content
  • Conversion potential of the page

This is an important part of developing a solid keyword strategy.

Next, we’ll explain the on-page SEO techniques you can use to optimize your chosen pages for both search engines and people.

3. Write Optimized Title Tags and H1 Tags

Search engines look at the title tag (the HTML page title) and the H1 tag (the main on-page heading) to understand what a page is about.

So, it’s important to include your primary keyword in both places in your HTML.

Like this:

  • <title>Diamond Rings</title>
  • <h1>Diamond Rings</h1>

Search engines may also display your title tag (or a close variation) in the SERP.

Google typically displays up to 60 characters in this spot:

An organic Google result. The large blue text near the top reads "Shop Diamond Rings."

It’s a good idea to include your primary keyword near the front to reduce the risk of it being cut off.

And make the most of any unused space by adding elements such as:

  • Your brand name
  • A call to action (e.g., “Shop Now”)
  • A unique selling point (e.g., “Free Delivery”)
  • Secondary keywords

Just make sure to avoid unnaturally forcing in keywords. This is an issue called keyword stuffing, and Google can punish you for it.

4. Optimize Your Meta Descriptions

Your meta description (HTML page summary) won’t directly affect your page’s rankings.

But search engines may display it in the SERP. 

In this spot right here:

An organic Google result. The gray descriptive text is underlined.

So, you should try to engage the searcher and encourage them to click on your result.

One way to do this is to include your primary keyword. And incorporate other relevant terms, if possible. 

This will help signal to users that your result is relevant. Especially since Google bolds terms that correspond with the search query:

A Google result for "diamond rings." The terms "diamond ring" and "diamond rings" are bolded in the result's description.

To increase the chance of your meta description being used in full, we recommend a length of around 105 characters.

5. Add Secondary Keywords to Subheadings

Subheadings allow you to break your content into sections. So, they’re often good places to include your secondary keywords.

And if you use the correct heading tags (H2-H6), you’ll help search engines understand the structure and content of your page.

For example, you might have a heading structure that looks like this:

  • <h1>Types of Gemstones</h1>
    • <h2>Precious Gemstones</h2>
      • <h3>Diamond</h2>
      • <h3>Sapphire</h2>
      • <h3>Ruby</h2>
    • <h2>Semi-Precious Gemstones</h2>
      • <h3>Amethyst</h3>
      • <h3>Aquamarine</h3>
      • <h3>Opal</h3>

6. Naturally Incorporate Keywords in the Body Content

We recommend that you mention your primary keyword in the first paragraph of body content. To quickly establish what your content is about.

And then incorporate all your keywords throughout the content where natural.


Keyword stuffing can harm your SEO. And it’s likely to harm your conversion rates, too.

What Is [Keyword Stuffing]? [Keyword stuffing] is repeating your target keyword excessively. [Keyword stuffing] can be found in headings, subheadings, body text, and even hidden in the blank space of your page. Sometimes [keyword stuffing] can create unnatural sentences to fit the keyword in. Please avoid [keyword stuffing].

For inspiration, see how your top SERP competitors are using keywords.

The SEO Content Template tool makes it easy.

Just enter your target keyword(s), choose your target audience, and click “Create content template.”

"diamond rings" in the search bar for the SEO Content Template. "US (Desktop)" is selected.

Then, scroll down to see how your top 10 competitors use your target keywords.

The "See how your competitors use your target keywords" section in the SEO Content Template results page

The tool also provides a recommended word count, readability score, etc. Based on its analysis of the top-ranking content.

When you’re ready to start writing, go to “Real-time Content Check” > “Open in SEO Writing Assistant.”

The "Open in SEO Writing Assistant" button in the "Real-time Content Check" tab of the SEO Content Template

The SEO Writing Assistant scores your content based on readability, keyword usage (SEO), tone of voice, and originality.

If you get stuck or want to save some time, you can use the built-in AI copywriting tools to help you create your draft.

An article about diamond rings in the SEO Writing Assistant. On the right, there is a radar chart and a section called "Smart Writer."

7. Use Keywords in Your URLs

Including keywords in each page’s URL (webpage address) helps search engines and users understand what they’re about.

For example, compare these fictional URLs for lab-grown diamond rings:

✅ /rings/diamond/lab-grown/

❌ /products/item/12345/view?category_id=789

The first is clearly more SEO- and user-friendly.

To optimize your URLs, you need to build a good website architecture. And use short, descriptive IDs for your folders, pages, etc.

How to Use Keywords in PPC Search Campaigns

In this section, we’ll share some tips for using PPC keywords effectively in your search ad campaigns. So you can achieve a higher return on ad spend (ROAS).

1. Create Keyword Groups

Keyword groups are sets of PPC keywords you target with the same ad campaign(s). Because users are looking for similar products or services.

This tends to be more efficient than targeting one keyword at a time.

You can organize your keywords into groups with the PPC Keyword Tool

During the setup process, import your keywords manually, from a file, or from a Semrush report. 

And choose how to create your groups:

  • Create or select a group: Manually create a new group or choose an existing one
  • Auto grouping: Automatically group keywords that share a root word or phrase
  • Create groups: 1 kw = 1 gr: Create single keyword ad groups (SKAGs)
The "From Semrush" button in the "Add keywords" stage of the PPC Keyword Tool's setup wizard

When setup is complete, click the “Recommendations” button in the upper right.

For each campaign, the tool may suggest:

  • Cleaning keywords (removing unnecessary elements from your keywords, such as punctuation)
  • Removing duplicate keywords
  • Adding cross-group negatives (including negative keywords—which we’ll talk more about later—to prevent your ad groups from competing with one another)

When you’re done, you can export your keyword data in a Google Ads-friendly format.

The menu for the "Export" icon in PPC Keyword Tool. It contains an "Export to CSV" button.

2. Understand the Keyword Match Types

In Google Ads, the keyword match type you choose determines the scope of keywords that may trigger your ads.

There are three types:

  • Broad match: Search queries that relate to your keyword may trigger your ad
  • Phrase match: Search queries that include your keyword’s meaning may trigger your ad
  • Exact match: Search queries that match your keyword’s meaning may trigger your ad

So, choosing the right match type is key to maximizing your reach. While minimizing exposure on irrelevant SERPs.

3. Use Negative Keywords Effectively

Negative keywords are search terms that prevent your ads from showing.

For example, a jewelry retailer might want to add “tiffany” as a negative keyword. Because they don’t sell products from this brand and don’t want to pay for clicks from those SERPs.

You’ll need to choose match types for your negative keywords. But they work differently than normal:

  • Negative broad match: Your ad won’t show if the query contains your keyword with the words in any order
  • Negative phrase match: Your ad won’t show if the query contains your keyword with the words in the exact order you specified
  • Negative exact match: Your ad won’t show if the query is exactly the same as your keyword

4. Incorporate Keywords in Your Ad Copy and Landing Pages

How relevant your ad copy (the text that appears in your ad) and campaign landing page (the webpage that your ad links to) are to your chosen keywords plays a significant role in your ad rankings and performance.

One of the best ways to establish relevance is to incorporate your target keyword(s) in both your ads and landing pages.

For example, here’s a top-ranking ad for “lab grown diamond engagement rings”:

An ad with the title "Lab Grown Engagement Rings - GIA Certified Lab Diamonds"

And the corresponding landing page:

A webpage with text reading "Shop engagement rings" and "Browse lab grown diamonds"

For inspiration, you can look at your competitors’ ads and landing pages with the Ads History tool.

Enter the PPC keyword you’re interested in, choose your target country, and click “Search.”

"lab grown diamond engagement rings" in the search bar for the Ads History tool

The blue boxes show each domain’s highest ad ranking by month.

The Ads History results page. For each month and domain, there is a blue box containing a number.

Click these boxes to see the corresponding ads. You can then click through to the campaign landing pages.

A box below a "1" shows a diamond rings ad. It includes a title, URL, and description.

Find and Track High-Value Keywords

With Semrush, you can find high-value keywords in minutes. And get help creating quality content and ad campaigns.

It’s easy to monitor your performance, too.

Just enter your target keywords into the Position Tracking tool. To see where your site ranks in the organic and paid results.

A table entitled "Rankings Overview." There are columns for "Keyword," "Pos. Mar 6," and "Pos. Mar 7."

Sign up free to try our keyword tools. Or start your trial to unlock their full potential.

Keyword Research Statistics 

  • Over 36% of SEOs say they spend most of their time on keyword research
  • Keyword rankings are the third most important metric SEO professionals use to measure performance
  • Content longer than 1,500 words published by the top 10% of websites ranks for a median number of 7 keywords
  • About 4% of SEO professionals are looking to automate keyword research within the next year
  • Keywords that are between 10-15 words in length get 1.76x more clicks than single-word terms
Author Photo
Rachel has been a digital marketer for over 11 years. Having worked both in-house and agency-side, she has a wide range of experiences to draw on in her writing. She specializes in creating beginner-friendly articles on topics including keyword research, on-page SEO, and content creation.
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