What is a key phrase?

On web pages, the words we write that help customers find a website are known as keywords. 

Keywords are widely known; we use them within metatags – a snippet of code within a web page that helps search engines index information.

However, the keyword metatag was abused; spammers would add keywords to metatags maliciously, affectively ranking for topics that had nothing to do with the bulk of the page. It made a mess of search results.

So what is a key phrase?

Key phrases are made up of a few keywords and often form a complete sentence.

We make specific search queries these days – especially considering we now search by voice as well as typing.

Rather than use the odd keyword on our websites to attract visitors, we must now target key phrases – sometimes known as long-tail key phrases. 

Long-tail key phrases can contain up to ten keywords, although ten is rather long.

Target phrases with lower competition 

On a website, the use of short, high competition keywords like ‘biking’ aren’t likely to improve rank on a search engine because there are so many other websites battling for that word.

Longer key phrases give an article more intention. We can target extended, more specific search queries to enable the website to gain traffic.

For example:

Guided mountain biking holiday French Alps

Rules for using key phrases

Search engines are wise to the abuse around keywords. Now, it’s a requirement to include the targeted key phrase within the article content. Write the page around the researched phrase. Embed it into the article’s essence.

The article’s intent and metatag must align to show search engines what we’re targeting.

It’s good practice to use the key phrase in the URL (slug), the page title, and within images – as the file name and ALT text. 

Using key phrases is a fraction of organic search engine optimisation. Don’t expect to write a few articles and rank well, but it is a great starting point.

What is a key phrase? Keywords make up key phrases, also know as key terms.

Research the key phrase

It’s worth researching terms to check what people search for within your industry. 

There’s little point in creating an article if people aren’t interested in the topic. Or for a small business to produce content around a key phrase with too much competition. It’d never rank.

Consider what people would search to find a website like yours. Research it to judge the competition – if there are large, popular websites targeting that phrase, it’d be hard to rank well.

Now write around that term. Incorporate the phrase into the copy, title, links, headers and paragraphs to create a well-optimised article.

Black hat practices

Keyword stuffing is the act of repeating a keyword (or phrase) to trick the search engines into ranking the page well. 

It lowers the quality of content on the internet because people produce pages that repeat the phrase rather than deliver great content. 

Search engines weed offending websites out by penalising them; they just don’t rank as highly.

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9 thoughts on “What is a key phrase?”

  1. Exactly what I was looking for, but I do have one question. When creating a key phrase for the overall site, is there a limit to how many words you use?

    1. Hi Gerry, it is much better to use key phrases on each page (or post). You can rank for 3 or 4 phrases per article. So don’t use a general one for the whole site. Be specific on each page/post to rank well.

      When it comes to the number of words within a phrase, just be sensible really. Four or more words to create a long-tail key phrase that people would actually search for. Remember people also search using voice search much more now so those phrases would be longer, up to 10 words.

  2. So, if a key phrase is clunky, can you seperate it with other words? using your example, do I say There is nothing more exciting than a Guided mountain biking holiday French Alps. or can I say “Consider taking a guided mountain biking trip on your next holiday in a beautiful place like the French Alps.”
    I am writing SEO articles and am not sure whether or not to stick to the clunky word clusters that are given as key phrases.

    1. Hi Cookie, the most important thing is not to write for search engines. Write for humans. It used to be that we avoided joining words (such as the, a), but that just makes web pages read really badly. Search engines have caught onto that. If you have researched the term you’ll know which is searched most frequently. Does ‘trip’ need to be in there at all?

      Out of the two I would suspect that “guided mountain biking holiday in the French Alps” is more highly searched, so I would use that throughout the content. I’d be happy using the second phrase too as it is still relevant and sounds nice. Just take out ‘trip on your next’. Don’t repeat one phrase throughout the page, you have to be clever and interesting about it. Make it sound human and to the point. Use the key phrase in the title, the first paragraph and the last paragraph to sum things up – but only if it sounds good.

      Search engines now understand a lot more about the intent that people have when they make a search. When it comes to the slug, leave out joining words and keep it short.

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