There are twenty-one types of keywords in SEO spread across 7 main categories. Knowing these types of keyword will help you target your content at the right audience.
Here are the seven categories:
- Searcher Intent
- SEO Strategy
- Google Ads
Each of these main types can be broken down into further types of keyword. For example, ‘Length’ breaks down into:
- main keywords
- middle keywords
- long-tail keywords
But before we go any further, what are keywords?
What Are Keywords?
The Seven Main Types of Keywords in SEO
The most commonly used classification of keywords refers to their length.
1. Short-tail (or head)
Short tail keywords or ‘head’ keywords are keywords comprising a single word. An example would be ‘cars’. Short-tail keywords (a) very high search volume, (b) are incredibly competitive, and (c) are very un-targeted in terms of searcher intent.
2. Mid-tail (or middle)
Middle keywords are keywords comprising two words, such as ‘Italian cars’. These keywords are still very competitive and still have high search volume.
Long tail keywords comprise three or more words, such as ‘Italian vintage cars’. They typically have much lower search volume than either head or middle keywords, but they are also much less competitive. These are the keywords that you can rank for on Page #1 of the search results.
This classification refers to the keywords on a particular web page.
4. Primary keyword(s)
The primary keyword is the main keyword that you want the page to rank for. This keyword will usually be found in the title of the article and the slug of the article (the part of the URL that comes after the domain). It should also appear numerous times throughout the body of the article and in at least one heading or sub-heading.
5. LSI keywords
LSI keywords are related keywords. They may be synonyms but more often than not they are simply words that are naturally associated with the main keyword. For example, ‘iTunes’ is an LSI keyword for ‘Apple’ because the two words are often found together and share the same context.
This classification refers to the intent of the searcher who typed the keyword into a search engine.
Navigational keywords are keywords that people use when they know what they are looking for or where they want to go. For example ‘maccas’ (Australian vernacular for McDonalds) would be a navigational keyword. Likewise, ‘apple store’ is a navigational keyword.
Informational keywords are keywords used by people searching for information about a product, a service, or a topic. For example ‘invention of x-ray’ would be an informational keyword. In the context of online commerce, an informational keyword is used when someone is still in the information-gathering stage. An example would ‘dslr cameras’.
Transactional keywords are used when the searcher is ready to make a purchase. They’ve gathered their information, they’ve made a decision, and now they want to make a purchase. An example of a transaction keyword would be ‘best dslr cameras under $1000’.
9. Branded and Unbranded keywords
Branded keywords are words that contain your company name or a competitor's company name. For example ‘best fitness tracker for men’ is an unbranded keyword, while ‘best fitbit for men’ is a branded keyword.
Depending on your goals, you may or may not want to target branded keywords. For example, if you were trying to attract new customers (people are not aware of your brand) you would target only unbranded keywords and avoid branded keywords.
On the other hand, if you wanted to maximum conversion, you would target branded keywords, since they convert at over two times the rate of unbranded keywords.
10. Customer-defining keywords
Customer-defining keywords are keywords that your target audience use to describe themselves and their activities. In the recreational vehicle market, for example, customer-defining keywords might be ‘RVers’, ‘nomads, ‘campground’, ‘retirees’. ‘freedom’, RV clubs’, etc.
11. Market-defining keywords
These keywords (also known as related vertical keywords) are broad keywords that refer to an entire business or industry. For example, market-defining keywords for scuba diving would include ‘scuba diving’, ‘introductory dive’, ‘certified dive’, ‘referral courses’, and ‘liveaboard diving’.
12. Product defining keywords
These are keywords that refer to specific products. Examples would be Nike Flex Contact, Panasonic Lumix G85, and Breville Barista Express.
13. Geo-Targeted keywords
Geotargeted keywords are keywords that combine a product or service with a locality. They are an important part of Local SEO. Examples would be ‘ventriloquist Sydney’, ‘thoracic surgeon Los Angeles’, or ‘smash repairs Cape Town’.
14. Standard keywords
Standard keywords are keywords that result from standard keyword research. This is keyword research where you type a ‘seed’ word into a keyword research tool and sift through the results looking for a keyword that you can rank for and that that has sufficient search volume.
15. Competitor keywords
Competitor keywords are the keywords that your competitors are using to rank their content on Google and other search engines. The idea behind competitor keywords is that if your competitors are ranking for those keywords, you can as well (this idea is valid as long as you have a domain authority equal to or higher than your competitors’ DA). To find competitor keywords, you would need an advanced keyword research tool such as SEMrush or Ahrefs.
16. Short-term fresh keyword
These are keywords that are related to current events. Their search volume spikes and then falls away as the thing they refer to is no longer in the news or no longer popular. Examples would be moves that have just hit the movie theaters.
17. Long-term evergreen keyword
These are keywords that people are always searching for. They don’t spike suddenly and then fall away to nothing. Examples would be ‘cheap family recipes’, ‘study tips for teenagers’, or ‘best dating sites’.
These four keyword types are ways of determining which kind of searches on Google will trigger your ads.
18. Broad match keywords
Broad match is the default setting in Google Ads. With this setting, your Google ads are triggered on variations of your keywords, including synonyms, singular and plural forms, possible misspellings, and stemmings (e.g. floor and flooring).
19. Phrase match keywords
With phrase match, your ad is only triggered by search queries that contain your exact keyword phrase. For example, if your keyword was ‘tennis shoes’, your ad would be triggered for a search on ‘red leather tennis shoes’ but not on a search for ‘shoes for tennis’.
20. Exact match keywords
With this option, your ad will only be triggered by exact matches with your keyword or close variants. If your keyword was ‘shoes for men’, your ad would be triggered by searches for ‘shoes men’ and ‘men shoes, but not for ‘red shoes for men’.
21. Negative keywords
Negative keywords are keywords that prevent your ads from being triggered. A commonly used negative keyword in Google Ads is the word ‘free’. And the reason is simple: if you’re paying for ads, you obviously don’t want to be wasting your ad spend on searches for free products or services.
As I said in the Introduction, these seven main types of keyword are simply different ways of looking at keywords. Each type focuses on a different characteristic of a keyword.
But the most important type is length:
- head keyword
- middle keyword
- long-tail keyword
This classification of keywords ties in with search volume and level of competition. It is this division of keywords that will tell you whether or not you can rank on Page #1 of Google.