SEO Content– why keyPHRASES are more important than keyWORDS

Nikki Pilkington

SEO Copywriting & Technical SEO for UK Business Websites

Too much of the time people involved in the world of search talk about keyWORDS when what they really mean is keyPHRASES.

Let’s face it, while it would be awesome to be on the front page of Google for ‘copywriter’ or ‘content’, the chances of that happening are pretty slim.

But, there’s every chance you could be ranked well for ‘Human Resources copywriter’ or ‘copywriter in Bolton’ – and that’s why I want you to stop thinking about key WORDS and start thinking about key PHRASES.

Start thinking about:

  • Short tail keyphrases
  • Long tail keyphrases
  • Semantic keyphrases
  • Keyphrases that are questions
  • Places to research keyphrases
  • Search intent and search volume

Short tail keyphrases

A short tail keyphrase usually consists of 1-3 words. Examples of short tail keyphrases could be:

  • copywriter uk
  • seo copywriter
  • SAAS content writer
  • copywriting expert uk
  • copywriting services

Short tail keyphrases are your Holy Grail – the things you want to be looking at long term. Listing well for these doesn’t usually happen overnight, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim for them.

But don’t put all your eggs into the short tail basket.

Because I’m going to let you in on a little secret – short tail keyphrases aren’t all that.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re a great achievement. But they have their downsides:

  • they bring in broad rather than targeted traffic.
  • they have high SEO competition (keyword difficulty or KD).
  • the conversion rate is usually pretty low.
  • the search intent is usually informational (I wrote about search intent here and it’s well worth a read.)
  • most people use longer tail keyphrases to search.

So when I start a client SEO campaign, I use short tail keyphrases as the ‘base’ for the rest of my research.

Long tail keyphrases

Long tail keyphrases get a bad rap in the non-SEO world. People think a long tail phrase is something like ‘blue widgets in red flowerpots in Margate, Kent’, and that they’re only used by SEO people who can’t do proper SEO.

Those people are wrong.

Long tail keyphrases usually consist of 3 words or more. Examples of long tail keyphrases could be:

  • copywriter financial services in London
  • freelance copywriter for small businesses
  • copywriter with tone of voice expertise
  • video script copywriter in Stoke
  • ecommerce product description copywriter

They’re much more attainable short term, and have advantages over short tail keyphrases:

  • they bring in more targeted rather than broad traffic.
  • they have lower SEO competition (keyword difficulty or KD).
  • the conversion rate is usually higher.
  • the search intent can still be informational rather than transactional or commercial, but it’s more focused, and you have more chances to show specific expertise that could lead to that enquiry or sale.
  • most people use longer tail keyphrases to search (I know, I said that already, but it bears repeating).

Long tail keyphrases are going to be the main focus of your SEO, so it’s worth researching these in-depth.

Semantic keyphrases

Semantic keyphrases are phrases that have a similar meaning or context to the main keyword. It’s like talking about different flavours of ice cream – even though they all have a different name, they are all still part of the same category of dessert.

So, if the main keyword is “copywriter” some semantic keyphrases might be:

  • content creation
  • marketing writing
  • SEO writing
  • brand messaging
  • blog writing

These phrases are related to the main keyword and help search engines understand the context and meaning of the content on a webpage, without sounding like an over-optimised page from 1998.

Search engines are clever enough now to understand that “content creation” is related to “copywriting”, so when thinking about the keyphrases on your pages & blog posts, take some time to expand on your core phrases; your clients, Google, and your readers will thank you for it.

Keyphrases that are questions

Back in the day, when people didn’t really know how to use a search engine, and search engines themselves were very basic, people would just type in one or two keywords and hope for the best. And web designers and SEO consultants relied on that and did very well from it.

But times have changed, and SEO people, search engine users, AND search engines are a little more sophisticated.

Using the ‘People Also Ask’ feature on Google is a really quick and easy way to find questions that are being asked by users on a regular basis. I wrote about how to use this feature, focusing on bookkeepers, but a quick search for ‘copywriter’ throws up the following questions:

  • How much does it cost to pay a copywriter?
  • How do I find a copywriter?
  • Is it worth it to hire a copywriter?
  • What exactly does a copywriter do?
  • How much should a copywriter charge UK?
  • How much do copywriters charge UK?
  • How do I hire a good copywriter?
  • What to do before hiring a copywriter?
  • How do I find a freelance copywriter?
  • What is the disadvantage of copywriter?
  • Why are copywriters so expensive?

All of the above are valid long tail keyphrases to focus on within the content and copy of your website and blogs.

Add to them the questions that you get asked all the time. When you talk about your business to friends and family, what are the questions they ask? When you’re onboarding a new client, what do they want to know? Which questions do you find yourself answering again and again in emails, on social media, on phone calls? All of this should be added to your keyword research – collate all the info in a spreadsheet, in Notion, in Trello; wherever you store your research data.

Places to research keyphrases

An important part of working out which keyphrases you’re going to focus on for SEO is to do a little research – research that shows you other phrases that include your phrase, search volume (how many times it is searched for in a month), search intent (what the people searching for that phrase are most likely intending to do when they find a result) and search difficulty (how many other people are you competing with?).

Here are my top places to find out the info:

  • SEMrush – I have a paid agency account, which gives me more than enough credits for keyword research, but the free account is limited. It’s a great place to get all the info you need in one place though, so read this and start your research there.
  • ChatGPT – I know, I know, we’re supposed to hate ChatGPT because it’s going to steal all our jobs and make us sacrifice our first born or something, but it’s an awesome place to do research. While it won’t tell you the search intent or search volume of a keyphrase without a very detailed prompt, it’s a brilliant place to come up with keyword ideas. If you don’t have an account, get one. Then use prompts such as:
    • Show me semantic keyphrases and keywords related to [insert your phrase here]
    • Give me 30 search phrases related to [insert your phrase here]
    • What questions do people ask about [insert your phrase here]
  • ahrefs Keyword Generator – this free tool will show you related keyphrases, keyword difficulty (KD) and search volume.

There are hundreds of other places you can find keywords – I wrote a list here on LinkedIn, but to be quite honest, most of them do much the same, and spending hours looking up the same research on different sites is just putting off doing the real work. Find a couple you like and stick to them.

Search intent and search volume

Not every website visitor is a buyer, and that’s ok. Sometimes people searching on Google or other search engines are looking for something other than a product or service to spend their hard-earned money on. Knowing what the user is probably looking for when searching using a particular keyword or phrase is an important step in defining the SEO strategy of any website.

In the SEO world this is called ‘Search Intent’.

There are 4 types of Intent – Informational, Navigational, Transactional and Commercial.

It’s worth knowing what users are probably looking to do once they reach a page on your website after searching for a specific keyphrase.

Because when you know what they want, you know how to give it to them; with your content, your copy and you Call To Action.

Using a free SEMrush account, you can perform a limited number of searches per day that will tell you the search intent of people using that particular keyphrase.

Search volume is how many people on average search for that keyphrase per month. Your SEMrush account and the ahref keyword generator mentioned above will give you this information.

Some search phrases will have a very low search volume, and may not seem worth focusing on – DO NOT FALL INTO THIS TRAP! Just because a phrase has fewer than 10 searches a month, does not mean it isn’t worth adding to your list of focus keyphrases. If it’s hyper-focused and relevant to you and your services, it’s worth playing with to see how it performs when you’re ranking well for it. (Its probably going to be lower competition too, so easier to get rankings for.)


Spend some time researching your keyphrases, using the things you’ve learned above.

If you’re a copywriter or content creator, simply doing the above research for your clients will set you apart from many of your competitors. Knowing how to research keyphrases, use semantic phrases in your copy and offer alternative phrases makes you proactive rather than reactive, even before you’ve ‘optimised’ a thing.


Originally published on


Featured image by Matt Brown on Unsplash

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