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What are keywords

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Find out what keywords can -- and cannot -- do
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Answer the question what are keywords, and learn why they're so important

So, what are keywords? For such a simple word, there are so many misunderstandings. According to some, they are the magical key to endless web traffic. Other claim they are a relic from the way SEO (search engine optimization) used to operate.

The reality is, neither is right. And both are. Clear as mud, right?  Well, now I'm going to try and help clear that up. 

The simple definition

To start at the very beginning, (as the song says), is a very good place to start. And that's true for keywords, too.

A keyword is a word -- or a phrase -- that people use to look for information online, using a search engine. Yes, it's just that simple. So if people looking for new computers for their kids type in the phrase "cheap computers for kids", that is a keyword phrase.

Single word or two word key phrases are called "short tail" or "primary" keywords. Longer, more specific phrases are called "long tailed" keywords.

Keywords are shopper/searcher driven

This is where the big misunderstanding starts for so many website owners, business managers and bloggers.

Many people think that they can choose the words they think describe their product or website, then try to call those "keywords".  The fact is, unless people use the terms in searches, it's not a keyword -- only wishful thinking. 

Keywords aren't magic bullets

The Internet and the shelves of bookstores are filled with bad advice about keywords. Neophyte website owners and bloggers are told that they need to pick one or two keywords and then use them over and over again. Use them repeatedly and exactly in content, in titles, as link anchor text and as ALT text for images.

Unfortunately, this technique won't help your website perform better. With recent Google search algorithm changes, this kind of keyword stuffing could very well hurt your site's ability to rank well for the very terms you're using.

Keywords aren't a blast from the past

For every "advice" site or website book that encourages keyword stuffing, there is another that proclaims that the keyword, along with the rest of SEO, is dead. Unfortunately, their advice is just as off-base.

The fact is search engines do still look for keyword matches to determine whether a website is a good match for a query. They look in content fields and in URLs. They look for links and tags. But they also look for a lot more.

Spiders and search bots look for supporting terms and variations on keywords too. They look for real and significant content that matches the keywords.

But without the keywords, and the searchers using them, there would be no way to make that initial connection.

Keywords work within social media, too

Keywords, in the form of tags (often marked with a # sign), also function as search and grouping tools within social media sites like Twitter, G+, Pinterest, and Tumblr. By tagging posts and images with keywords (and keyword phrases) people are likely to search, users can optimize the chance that their contributions will be found and re-shared.

And with the increase in real time search results, these same social media posts are now showing up in general search engine results --- all thanks to the oft maligned, but still important keyword.

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