The Different Keyword Types in SEO Explained

Keywords are the backbone of SEO. Choosing the right ones can make or break your strategy. In this comprehensive guide, we’re going to explore the different types of keywords you need to know about and how to leverage them effectively.

We’ll specifically take a look at keywords based on:

  • Length
  • Role
  • Target
  • Intent
  • Competition Level

By understanding these different classifications and picking the right keyword types for your goals, you’ll be well on your way to search engine success.

Time to dive in!

Table of Contents

Keywords by Length

Not all keywords are created equal. The length of a keyword can have a significant impact on its effectiveness and competition level. 

In SEO, keyword length is generally categorized as follows.

Short-Tail Keywords

Short-tail keywords are 1-2 words long. They refer to broad topics like “real estate” or “web design.”

While short and sweet, these keywords are often extremely competitive to rank for because of their lack of specificity. Major industry players tend to dominate search results for short-tail terms.

That said, for sites with high domain authority, targeting selective short-tail keywords on pillar pages that comprehensively cover a topic can be worthwhile.

Mid-Tail Keywords

Mid-tail keywords contain 3-4 words. A mid-tail keyword would be a phrase like “residential real estate” or “freelance web designer.”

Mid-tail terms add helpful context compared to short-tail options. They narrow down search intent while often remaining relatively popular searches. Like short-tail keywords, though, mid-tail ones can still attract quite a bit of competition.

Mid-tail keywords work best for sites publishing in-depth, authority-building content supported by tightly interlinked internal content around sub-topics.

Long-Tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords are extended phrases of 5 words or more. For example, “becoming a licensed residential real estate agent” or “how much do freelance web designers make per hour.”

The ultra-specific nature of long-tail keywords means they usually have significantly lower competition. For most sites, especially newer ones, targeting long-tail options is the easiest path to achieving respectable search engine rankings.

Once your site’s domain authority improves from ranking for long-tail terms, you can graduate to more competitive mid-tail and short-tail keywords.

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Finding Keywords by Length

Manually hunting for keyword length variations can be tedious. Instead, utilize these handy shortcuts:

  • Google Autocomplete – As you type queries into Google, autocomplete will populate lots of long, mid, and short-tail suggestions.
  • Keyword Research Tools – Most keyword research tools either let you filter by keyword length or facilitate finding long-tail variants.

By mixing keyword lengths, you can capture traffic from both high-popularity and highly-targeted searches.

Keywords by Role

Within your content, not all keywords play an equal role. To optimize pages effectively, you must be methodical about assigning keyword types by hierarchy.

The main classifications are as follows.

Primary/Focus Keywords

Focus keywords, also called primary keywords, are the main phrases you want a page to rank for. This key term should appear prominently in the URL, title tag, headings, and body.

For example, if the focus keyword for a page is “becoming a real estate agent,” logical places to integrate it would be:

  • URL: website.com/become-real-estate-agent
  • Title Tag: How to Become a Licensed Real Estate Agent in 2024 – Step-by-Step Guide
  • H1 Heading: How to Become a Licensed Real Estate Agent in 2024

Every page should have one, and only one, focus keyword to avoid diluting its relevance.

Secondary Keywords

Supplementary to the primary keyword, secondary keywords introduce other relevant sub-topics that provide added context about a page’s subject matter.

Using the real estate example, effective secondary terms could be:

  • real estate license requirements
  • how to pass the real estate exam
  • finding a brokerage to work for

Incorporating pertinent secondary keywords naturally throughout content bolsters how search engines understand relevancy.

Semantic Keywords

Semantic keywords are words and phrases with similar meanings. They can be synonymous with other keywords or closely related.

Some semantic variations for “how to become a real estate agent” include:

  • how to turn into a real estate agent
  • process of being a realtor
  • steps to being a licensed realtor

Varying semantics stop content from sounding overly repetitive to visitors. More importantly, though, it signals strongly to search engines what the page focuses on.

Finding Keywords by Role

The best way to research keywords by hierarchy is as follows:

  1. Identify a Focus Keyword: Use Google Trends to discover topics with substantial search volume and consistent interest over time. Verify competition levels using keyword research tools.
  2. Develop Secondary and Semantic Keywords: Plug your focus keyword into a tool like UberSuggest to populate lots of relevant long-tail variations ideal for secondary and semantic keywords.

Keywords by Target

In SEO, not all traffic is created equal. Targeting keywords aligned with your most valuable audience segments leads to the best ROI from search marketing.

Some of the main keyword targets include.

Market-Specific Keywords

General terms and phrases defining a particular market or industry are called market-specific keywords.

For a shoe company, examples would be:

  • athletic shoes
  • running shoes
  • sports shoes

These keywords help attract broad website traffic from people interested in a particular market.

Generic Keywords

Generic keywords describe a general product, service, or topic without any brand-specific information.

For example:

  • blue sneakers
  • leather shoes

They’re mostly common early in the buyer’s journey when searchers aren’t yet sure about preferences.

Branded Keywords

Branded terms mention a specific brand name within the keyword, like:

  • Nike running shoes
  • Puma athletic clothing

If you sell branded products, directly optimizing for your brand names can help consolidate your dominance for product-related searches.

Product Keywords

These keywords describe particular product types without being connected to specific brands necessarily:

  • basketball shoes
  • women’s running shoes
  • orthopedic shoes

Optimizing for keywords around each of your key product lines attracts highly-targeted traffic.

Customer Keywords

Customer keywords provide added context about the searcher, like profession, gender, age, etc:

  • nursing shoes
  • boys basketball shoes

Creating content for different customer demographics extends your reach substantially.

Location Keywords

Location-based keywords specify a particular geographic area like a city, region, or country:

  • shoe stores in Miami
  • running shoes Canada

If you have a local business or want to attract customers from a certain area, optimizing for relevant location keywords is crucial.

Finding Keywords by Target

Most keyword research tools allow adding filters so you can isolate the exact type of keywords you want. For example, in UberSuggest, you can specify combinations like:

  • intitle:women’s intext:sneakers location:United States

Getting keyword targeting right is challenging but highly rewarding when it comes to elevating conversion rates.

Keywords by Intent

All web searches have some form of underlying intent. Matching keywords to searcher intent is integral for creating content that persuades and converts visitors.

Some of the main keyword intents include.

Informational Keywords

Informational keywords indicate searchers simply want to research and learn more about something.


  • tips for buying running shoes

Informational queries commonly occur early in the buyer’s journey when prospects are still figuring out problems and exploring potential solutions.

Commercial Keywords

Commercial intent shows searchers are getting closer to making a purchase but may still be deciding on the best product or brand.


  • most durable running shoes 2024

These mid-funnel keywords present prime opportunities to make your case to prospects actively evaluating options.

Transactional Keywords

Transactional searches use even more decisive language, implying users have already committed to buying.


  • buy black running shoes online

Creating frictionless paths to purchase is imperative when optimizing pages for ultra-high-intent transactional keywords.

Navigational Keywords

Navigational queries indicate searchers want to find your business online or physically visit your locations.


  • fleet feet locations
  • fleet feet near me

Ensuring your NAP and schema markup is flawless is particularly important for targeting navigation keywords.

Finding Keywords by Intent

Uncovering keywords by intent requires getting into the minds of searchers. Here are two useful approaches:

  1. Use question-based tools like Answer the Public which generates lots of informational “how to” and “why is” keyword ideas based simply on an input keyword.
  2. Many paid tools like Semrush allow sorting keyword lists by standard commercial, informational, and navigational intents to streamline research.

Matching intent properly is what transforms keywords from merely driving generic traffic to facilitating tangible business outcomes.

Keywords by Competition Level

Not every keyword is equally attainable to rank for. Assessing the competitiveness landscape for target keywords is crucial.

Niche and “head term” keywords tend to attract lots of competition. Going up against established authority domains is risky. Instead, focusing on longer tail variations and supporting keywords offers better odds.

Many SEO tools quantify keyword difficulty on a 0-100 scale. Anything over 60 is quite competitive. 40-60 is moderate difficulty. Under 40 has lower competition.

While chasing only low-hanging fruit (long-tail keywords) can limit growth, being strategic by mixing some mid-tail targets into your content still affords solid ranking potential.

Other Types of Keywords to Consider

While the above-listed keywords are considered the main types of keywords in SEO, there are subcategories that you should consider as well.

Trending Keywords

Google processes over 40,000 searches every second. The interests and trends amongst those billions of monthly searches are always evolving. As a savvy SEO professional, staying on top of rising keyword opportunities is essential.

Trending keywords typically reflect:

  • Breaking News Events – Natural disasters, celebrity stories, political developments, etc.
  • Viral Topics Capturing Attention – Pop culture fads, funny memes, influencer drama, etc.
  • Seasonality and Events – Sports championships, awards shows, holiday shopping, etc.

Knowing how to jump on trending keywords quickly can deliver a surge of targeted traffic while search volume is still high.

Monitoring Tools

Google Trends should be the foundation of any trend-based keyword strategy. The intuitive chart shows you exactly when certain terms are spiking or waning over any date range.

Other invaluable but overlooked options include Soovle Keyword Trends and UberSuggest Hot Keyword Tab. Each provides clear visibility into bubbling keyword opportunities.

Optimizing Content

Publishing blog content that analyzes a trending topic while seamlessly embedding target keywords is the best optimization approach.

For example, around a cultural phenomenon like Wordle, insightful commentary around the topic itself performs better than hard-selling Wordle products.

Repurposing evergreen content to align with trending themes also enables quickly capitalizing on keywords with staying power.

Overall, amalgamating 10-20% of your content calendar to trending keywords keeps your site perceptive to the always-evolving interests of searchers.

Seasonal Keywords

Seasons, holidays, and annual events lead to predictable keyword spikes. Although the search volume is temporary, seasonal keywords present valuable visibility opportunities.

Spring sees upticks for keywords around:

  • Gardening
  • Outdoor recreation
  • St. Patrick’s Day
  • Easter

Summer keywords include:

  • Beach vacations
  • Outdoor activities
  • Fourth of July
  • Back to school shopping

Fall searches reflect:

  • Halloween costumes
  • Thanksgiving recipes
  • Black Friday deals

Winter keywords revolve around:

  • Christmas gifts
  • New Year’s resolution
  • Snowshoeing
  • Tax Preparation

To determine the most lucrative seasonal keywords, look for ones aligning with your products or services. Prioritizing “commercial intent” keywords ensures website visitors convert at higher rates during peak periods.

Adapting your content calendar to target seasonal keywords guarantees your site stays top of mind for these predictable annual spikes in search volume.

Local Keywords

For businesses with a physical location or a specific service area, captivating, relevant searchers geographically close to you is critical. This is where local keywords and local SEO enter the picture.

Examples of local keywords:

  • [city name] pizza restaurants
  • plumbers in [zip code]
  • [business name] store locations

Dominating the first page for keywords containing your city, region, and zip code builds awareness among nearby searchers. It transforms your website into a pillar for community members to fulfill their needs.

Besides exact location mentions, “near me” keywords also deliver hyperlocal traffic. For instance, “cafe near me” or “florists near me.”

Ensuring your Google Business Profile and schema markup properly showcase your locations and contact info helps immensely with ranking for local keywords.

Actively pursuing customer reviews specifically referencing your neighborhood or city also strengthens your local relevance.

For small businesses, especially, overlooking local keywords means missing out on connecting with the customers geographically closest to converting.

It pays dividends to make location-optimized keywords a foundational component of your organic acquisition strategy.


As you can see, keywords power everything in SEO, from visibility to conversions. But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to selecting the best ones.

By thoughtfully incorporating different keyword types based on role, length, target, intent, and other factors, it’s possible to craft search-friendly content that also persuades visitors.

Choose focus keywords to indicate page topics. Sprinkle in secondary terms and semantic variations to optimize pages.

Target the audiences that matter most to your business through customer, product, and location keywords. And align keywords with the user’s intent to guide visitors on their journey smoothly.

Once you master these core keyword concepts, your pages will go from getting glimpsed to getting clicked by high-value searchers.

Picture of Phillip Stemann
Phillip Stemann
I'm Phillip, and I've been in the SEO game since 2020, where I took it under the skin. I've grown multiple websites to thousands of clicks, and I'm sharing all my SEO knowledge through my content and YouTube channel. I started as a curious mind at 13 years old, programming and programming for many years before I discovered SEO. I then started with the technical part of SEO as it came naturally to me with my technical background, and then I took on all parts of SEO. I love helping other people grow their websites, and I help my clients do the same.

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The Different Keyword Types in SEO Explained

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