Here’s what we recommend: pick just one primary keyword and enough secondary keywords to cover a given topic in full.
In the rest of the article, I’ll explain why and how.
Going forward, we’ll differentiate between two kinds of keywords.
The primary keyword, also called the target keyword, is the main topic of a page. It’s also the single keyword to optimize a page for.
Secondary keywords are any keywords closely related to the primary keyword that you’re targeting with your page.
Synonyms, subtopics, and long-tail keyword variations can be considered secondary keywords. But the best use of secondary keywords for SEO is as relevant subtopics—this is what I’ll focus on in this article.
So to sum up the difference, if the primary keyword is the topic of the book, you can use secondary keywords as subtopics.
There are at least three reasons why.
Sounds quite obvious, but a satisfactory explanation of this idea can become complicated quite quickly. It’s probably best if we look at this from a user experience perspective.
Since people look for specific things online, it won’t be the best idea to make them look for those things on pages about multiple things or even worse—everything. So a single page targeting multiple topics will not be that useful.
And since Google exists to help people find specific things, it will likely show a page with a specific focus, i.e., the most relevant one, rather than a page that tries to rank for multiple different topics simultaneously.
Have you noticed what happens when you misspell something in Google?
Google will correct you like a grammar teacher because you likely had something else in mind when typing that search term.
But what about close variations and synonyms?
Same thing. Google will rank your page for keywords with the same meaning and intent without you having to target every single variation intentionally. It knows that people search for the same thing in different ways.
To illustrate, let’s compare “submit website to search engines” and “website submission to search engines.” The SERP comparison in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer tells us these two keywords have almost the same results.
According to our study, the average #1 ranking page will also rank in the top 10 for nearly 1,000 other relevant keywords.
This doesn’t apply only to keywords with large volumes. The pattern remains the same even for less popular keywords.
Case in point: Our article on seo basics was optimized for a single keyword with 1,400 monthly searches. The article now ranks for 463 keywords, out of which 156 are in the top 10.
Some of those keywords don’t sound like close variations at first:
Yet, in Google’s eyes, they can be “served” by the same or similar pages.
The best part here is that all of the keywords bring traffic independently. As a result, that article optimized for a keyword with a volume of 1,400 monthly searches in the U.S. generates an estimated 8,600 visits every month.
So while targeting not multiple but a single primary keyword is the best tactic, you will get the best results if you incorporate multiple secondary keywords.
In short, to cover a topic in full, you need relevant subtopics. And one of the best ways to find relevant subtopics is through secondary keywords.
Imagine that Google is a huge bookstore, and you walk in to get the best beginner’s guide to gardening. You’d surely appreciate it if the shop assistant showed you a guide that explained all the basics in layperson’s terms that other people seemed to be satisfied with. Why would you even look at other guides?
In an overly simplified analogy, that’s how Google works. The system understands what the searcher may be after and tries to serve the most helpful result while keeping other options in the back.
Let’s look at some practical ways to find both primary and secondary keywords at scale.
Use these methods to find the main topic for your content.
One of the best ways to find a good keyword to target is to use a keyword research tool. One that not only uncovers keyword ideas but also provides actionable SEO metrics.
Here’s how to find a good primary keyword with Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.
Let’s say you run a website with pet supplies, and you think dog toys may be a good topic for your visitors. You can:
Use a content gap analysis tool like Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool to find topics often covered within a niche. It’s a helpful technique if you’re entering a niche you don’t know much about.
Here’s what to do:
You can also use filters to refine your list. For example, show only the most common keywords (Intersect filter) with a minimum volume of 100 and a maximum Keyword Difficulty (KD) of 20.
This method will show the keywords that your competitor ranks for (or any other site you wish to analyze). Based on that, you can pick keywords that could make a good fit for your website too. Here’s a rundown of the process using Site Explorer. You can:
Use these methods to find relevant subtopics for your content.
Once you uncover secondary keywords of the top-ranking content, you’ll have a good idea of the subtopics to include in your content.
Here’s how to find them with Keywords Explorer:
Google tries to avoid ranking content that brings nothing new to the table.
So use competitor analysis wisely. Get an understanding of the kind of information necessary to meet searchers’ expectations but make sure to add something unique (your own research, a unique perspective, more up-to-date data, etc.).
This last method should be used to boost your existing content. It allows you to find subtopics you may be missing by uncovering relevant keywords you don’t rank for.
We’ll use Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool again. But this time, we’ll insert a page in the last input to compare it with others.
For example, comparing pages about playing with dogs, we see that the authors of the compared page can consider adding a section about games to play with puppies.
If you want to target a keyword for SEO effectively, it’s essential to know how to use your primary and secondary keywords inside the content. Here’s a quick overview.
What’s most important is your primary keyword should determine the search intent, which is a fundamental aspect of search engine optimization. To get the search intent right, plug in your primary keyword into Google, look at the top-ranking pages, and identify:
Next, as already mentioned, you need to cover your chosen topic in full. A quick reminder here: Your primary keyword is the topic, while your subtopics can come from relevant secondary keywords.
But not all relevant subtopics will be uncovered by keyword research. It’s always a good idea to look at the structure of top-ranking pages to get an idea of what searchers may be looking for.
To make the job even easier, get our free SEO Toolbar and let it work out the structure for you.
While we’re at using keywords inside the content, let’s address a couple of “don’ts”:
Finally, it’s a good idea to:
Those are the basics. If you’re interested in learning more, check out How to Do Keyword Optimization for SEO (3 Steps).
Let’s recap the article in a handy list of dos and don’ts.
Source: ahrefs.com, originally published on 2023-01-11 14:00:00