What Makes a Keyword Effective?

Choosing the right keyword can be difficult, but it’s a lot easier if you understand how keywords work and the difference between an effective keyword and an ineffective one.

What’s in a keyword? 

A whole lot more than you might expect. Although quality and relevance are far more important than exact-match keywords, targeting the wrong one can still considerably undercut your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. With that in mind, let’s go over the three core qualities that determine whether a keyword is a winner or a dud. 


The best keywords are chosen with their target audience in mind. They account for how that audience talks and thinks and are tailored to the audience’s specific search intent. For instance, let’s say your business sells home repair supplies, and your blog primarily consists of how-to’s. 

Someone who comes to your site looking for information on repairing a pocket door doesn’t want to be hammered with your sales pitch. Instead, they want a simple, step-by-step tutorial. Your keyword choice should account for that, as should your copy. 

As you may have surmised, choosing a relevant keyword means you’ll also need a clear notion of your niche. Again, make sure you’re as specific as possible. The better you define your niche, the more effectively you can target your content. 

Difficulty & Traffic

One of the most common mistakes we see made by novice SEOs is that they choose keywords without much thought about how the search engine results page (SERP) looks for each. Ideally, when selecting a keyword, you want one that isn’t too competitive. However, if you choose one that’s in extremely high demand, you’re going to end up competing with larger, much more established brands, many of which might not even be in your industry. 

The key is to strike a balance — not too competitive, but with enough traffic that targeting it is still worthwhile. The exception, of course, is if your business works in an extremely specific field. Your keywords might still bring traffic to your site, but your SEO tools might consequently not have much to offer in terms of traffic data. 


Back in the early days of SEO, short-tail keywords were all the rage. The industry has evolved, as has the way your audience uses search engines. Between conversational search and Google’s ever-increasing focus on semantics and intent, long-tail keywords are the way to go. 

The idea here is that you want to think about the kinds of questions your audience might be asking, or the sort of thing they might type into search, and optimize to target that. 

Choose Your Words Carefully

In light of how Google has changed its algorithm in recent years, it would be easy to simply assume that keywords no longer matter. To treat keyword selection as an afterthought to be sacrificed on the altar of content marketing. Doing so would be a mistake, however. 

Keywords might not hold the same sway they did back in the Internet’s infancy, but they’re still a crucial component of an effective SEO strategy and one that you ignore only at your peril. 

Author: Terry Cane

Terry Cane is a technical writer for SEOHost.net, a reliable and supportive SEO hosting partner.