If you want to attract more visitors to your site, you need targeted keywords that are relevant to your business and that people are actually searching for.
Most businesses focus on primary keywords, which are the most obvious and popular terms related to their products or services. But they're also excruciatingly difficult to rank for. If you want to get the most out of your SEO efforts, you need to also target long-tail, secondary keywords.
At Embarque, we've brought some of the best results to our clients by doubling down on these secondary keywords. And in this guide, we're going to share what we've learned about how to find and target these valuable terms.
Ready? Let’s go.
What are secondary keywords?
Secondary keywords are long-tail, less competitive terms that are related to your primary keywords. They tend to be more specific and attract a narrower, but more engaged audience.
For instance, our client, MentorCruise, is a mentorship platform that’s reached 2 million in annual search traffic by targeting keywords relating to mentorship without ranking for the keyword ‘mentor’. But why not? The first page of the query has a ton of noise, the keyword is almost impossible to rank for, and our energy is better spent targeting more lucrative keywords.
In contrast, it’s ranking first for more relevant secondary keywords where people are looking for a mentorship platform:
Not only are these terms less competitive, but they also tend to be associated with people who are further along in the buying cycle. That means that if you can rank for them, you're more likely to reel in people who are ready to purchase.
Work smart…and hard ;).
Why are secondary keywords important for your SEO?
- Rank faster. To be realistic, you're not going to rank for a primary keyword right off the bat. So by targeting less competitive terms, you can start to see results from your SEO efforts much quicker. As you build up your authority and rank for more secondary keywords, you'll eventually be able to have a shot at ranking for primary keywords as well.
- Learn more about your audience. Secondary keywords are also a great way to fine-tune your SEO strategy. Once you've started to rank for some secondary keywords, you can use them to get a better understanding of what your audience is looking for and what kinds of terms they respond to. Then you can use that information to better target your primary keywords.
- Add context to your content. By including secondary search terms in your copy, you can make your pages more relevant to what people are actually searching for and help search engines better understand what your page is about.
How to research secondary keywords like a pro
1. Think: service, product, & customer experiences for keywords
When brainstorming secondary keywords, it can be helpful to think about your product or service from different angles. Consider all of the different ways that people might search for what you offer.
- If you sell software, someone might search for "in-depth review of X software" or "X software vs. Y software." And if your SaaS tool is tied to a larger network, you can provide content related to that network itself – since its user base is probably much larger and they may be interested in your solution. For instance, Flick is an Instagram hashtag management and analytics tool, but they publish educational content on other Instagram-related things like How to use Instagram Guides to support their ranking efforts and potentially capture leads.
- MentorCruise is an online mentoring platform that connects emerging talent with industry veterans. But they don't just stick to "best online mentoring platform" or "graphic design mentors" as secondary keywords. They also provide their audience with career-related content like helping you pick your next tech role.
- If you're a local luxury restaurant, someone might search "best special occasion restaurants in City X," or "cool date ideas," which you may want to supply content for and link your business in the meantime. And so on.
You should also think about the different stages of the customer journey. Someone who's just starting their research will have different needs than someone who's ready to make a purchase. Consider what kinds of keywords they might use at each stage.
While "electrical muscle stimulation" may indicate a user trying to learn about the topic, "electric muscle stimulator" suggests purchase intent. You can tap both keywords by first publishing an introductory guide on the topic, and then following up with an optimized landing page or product listicle of the "best electric muscle stimulators" with your product being at the top of the list.
2. Google Autocomplete & Related Searches
Alongside brainstorming, one of the simplest – and free – ways to come up with keyword ideas is to use Google's own search engine. Start typing in a keyword and see what Google suggests. These are all potential keywords that you could target.
You can also take advantage of Google's related searches feature. Just enter a seed keyword into the search bar and scroll down to the "Searches related to" section at the bottom of the page.
And lastly don't forget about the "People Also Ask" section that you run by mid-scroll on the search results page. These tell you the leading questions (long-tail keywords) that customers are asking about the product in question. Be sure to include them in your content to maximize your ranking potential.
2. Check out your competition's content
Researching your competition is always a good idea when you're trying to come up with keyword ideas. Not only will you be able to see what terms they're targeting, but you'll also get an idea of how difficult it will be to rank for certain keywords.
If you're not sure where to start, a simple Google search can be helpful. Just enter a keyword or phrase related to your business and see what comes up.
You can also use tools like Ahrefs' Site Explorer or Moz's Open Site Explorer to get an in-depth look at your competition's backlink profile and the keywords they're ranking for.
4. Use a paid keyword research tool
If you want to go beyond Google, there are some great paid and free keyword research tools available.
Some of the best paid secondary keyword research tools include:
- Moz Keyword Explorer – Moz's keyword research tool is one of the most popular on the market. It's great for finding both primary and secondary keywords.
- Ahrefs Keywords Explorer – Ahrefs is another well-known SEO company that offers a comprehensive keyword research tool.
- SEMrush Keyword Magic Tool – SEMrush is a popular all-in-one marketing tool that comes with a keyword research feature. And remember how we were talking about keyword search intent earlier? They have a great feature that auto-labels keywords into different intent categories like "informational" or "commercial."
- KWFinder – KWFinder is a great option if you're on a budget. It's one of the more affordable keyword research tools on the market.
Admittedly, SEO software can get expensive and there's a bit of a learning curve. That's why many successful businesses opt to hire SEO professionals who have both the industry-leading tools and talent to boost your rank on the SERP (you can get 4 keywords for free by contacting your friends at Embarque).
There are also some great free options available, including:
- Google Ads Keyword Planner – The Google Ads Keyword Planner is a free tool that's designed for advertisers, but it can also be used for keyword research.
- Ubersuggest – Ubersuggest is a free keyword research tool that's created by Neil Patel.
- Answer the Public – Answer the Public is a great tool for finding questions people are asking about your topic.
5. Look for gaps in your content
Another great way to come up with keyword ideas is to do a content audit. This will help you see what topics you're already covering and where there might be gaps in your content. To start, create a list of all the topics you write about on your blog or website. Then, use a tool like Google Sheets or Excel to track the keywords you're ranking for.
Once you have your list, take a look and see if there are any topics you're not covering but should be. This can be a great way to come up with new ideas for blog posts or even product pages.
Of course, SEO tools or agencies can do this for you in half the time as well.
Using secondary keywords the right way: Don't forget these tips!
- Build topical authority. Secondary keywords inspire informative and relevant content that helps build your authority on a topic – AKA the primary keyword. One effective way we do this at Embarque is through what's called a "content cluster," which is creating a group of comprehensive and deep-diving blog posts or articles that all revolve around a primary keyword. Keep in mind that your first step is, therefore, identifying the primary keyword and your content goal, from where you can start writing on secondary terms.
- Don't overdo it with the keywords. Just because you're targeting secondary keywords doesn't mean you should stuff your content with them. This will not only turn off your readers but could also get you penalized by Google. A good rule of thumb is to use 1-2 keywords for every 100 words of copy. And if you're worried about using too many keywords, there are some great tools like and Surfer SEO that shows you optimal keyword ranges and Yoast SEO plugin to keep you in check
- Identify long-tail phrases. Keywords in SEO aren't just "words." They can also be phrases or short sentences that you can strategically implement throughout your content to optimize your page while maintaining readability.
- Use keyword variations. Just because a keyword has high search volume doesn't mean you should use it verbatim. Instead, try using variations like "how to" or "what is" to target the same keywords in a more natural way.
- And finally, don't forget about your title tags and meta descriptions. These are two of the most important places to use keywords, so make sure you're including them in your optimization strategy.
Putting it all into action: Example walkthrough
Now that we've gone over all the different ways you can use secondary keywords, let's put it into action with a quick example.
Let's say you own a small business that sells dog food.
You've been using primary keywords like "dog food," but you're not getting as much traffic. And why would you? With companies like PetSmart pouring thousands into content marketing, you need something more on your level.
This is where secondary keywords come in. By using a tool like SEMrush, you can find related keywords with lower competition that you can rank for.
For example, while "dog food" has a SEO difficulty of 97 according to the tool, we can see that there are some with much lower competition like "high calorie dog food" (27) and "lamb dog food" (28). These are much more possible to rank for.
You can also use a tool like Answer the Public to find questions people are asking about your topic. This can give you some great ideas for blog posts or even product pages.
For example, some of the questions people are asking about organic dog food are "what is the best organic dog food," "is organic dog food worth it," and "where to buy organic dog food." By targeting these keywords, you can start to rank for them and get more traffic to your site. You can also add the secondary keywords you found and add them into the mix too: "is lamb dog food worth it?" And so on.
So how do I use these keywords for my website?
While it can be very difficult for a newer business to rank for a primary keyword, that doesn't mean you should ditch them altogether.
If you're selling dog food or even organic dog food (which also has a high keyword difficulty), you'll still want to add it to the meta tags on your main page despite their scary high KD, since they have the most traffic potential for when you do start ranking.
And since high calorie dog food and lamb dog food have lower search volumes, you'll want to use these as blog post ideas or even create new pages for them on your site. They will be your secondary keywords.
You'll definitely want to choose one primary keyword, but you may very well have a handful of secondary keywords to work with. As shown in our example, the secondary keywords should be a close match to the content and primary keyword.
Steal secondary keyword traffic from competitors with Embarque
When it comes to secondary keywords, there's no one-size-fits-all approach. The important thing is to start by identifying the gaps in your content and then using them strategically throughout your site. By doing this, you'll be able to fine-tune your keyword traffic and get more eyes on your content.
And if you're looking for help with your SEO efforts, be sure to check out Embarque. We're an agency specializing in all things SEO and we would be more than happy to help you get the traffic you deserve.