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Do SEO Keywords Need To Be Exact?

When do SEO keywords need to be exact, and when do they need to be variations? You always need the exact keyword in certain places, and in others, you can hurt your ranking potential by using exact keywords. In this article we'll teach you the difference.
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So when writing SEO content, do your keywords need to be exact? The answer is that it depends. In some places, it should be an exact match. While in other areas, it would benefit more to have variations. In this article, we'll review what places on the website require exact match keywords, what places need variations, and how to spot the difference, so stay tuned!

If you have any questions we don't answer in this article, you have suggestions for more articles, or you want some advice on improving your website's rankings, feel free to reach out. We are an SEO agency based out of Michigan focused on the growth of our clients.

Do Keyword Phrases Have To Be Exact?

Do SEO keywords need to be exact, or can I use keyword variations? We'll discuss that in this section.

Certain places on a webpage require you to have the exact keyword you want to rank for if you're going to rank for that keyword. In other places - while you should - use an exact match keyword, you can get away with and actually benefit from using a variation of your keyword instead. Knowing the difference takes time and understanding the priority level of each of the HTML elements on your website.

In the following two sections, we'll help you understand which places on your website need you to use your exact keyword and which places require a mix of exact matches and variations.

When Do I Need To Use The Exact Keyword For SEO

In this section we discuss when in SEO it makes sense to use your exact keyword.

SEO may seem complicated, but it isn't. All you need to understand is how Google works and what its algorithm is looking for. Certain HTML elements on a webpage hold more weight than others, and in those weightier places, exact matching keywords are required for the best SEO possible. 

We will use the example of a concrete company to illustrate our point. The targeted keyword for our example will be "Concrete Atlanta".


You need only your exact keyword in your URL if you want to rank.

Your URL is by far the most important text on any webpage. If you don't have your target keyword in the URL, you will drastically hurt your chances of ranking for that keyword.

For example, if you owned a concrete company in Georgia but served Atlanta and a few other cities near Atlanta. You could make landing pages targeting those cities. So the URLs for a landing page targeting Atlanta might look something like this "www.georgiaconcretecompany/services/concrete-atlanta"

A URL structured like the one above is perfectly optimized and ready to rank for concrete services in Atlanta.

Title Tag

You need your exact keyword in your title tag, but it also needs to be enticing to your potential visitor.

While a title tag isn't as important as your URL structure, it is one of the three most important pieces of text on your website/web pages. Like in your URL, you need to have your exact keyword in your title tag. Staying true to the example above, you could easily optimize your title tag with a title like: "Best Concrete Atlanta Offers | Georgia Concrete Company"

You can get away with using a variation in the title, but it really should be an exact match for the best results possible!


Your keywords always need to be exact when it comes to your H1 tag.

Your H1 is the most important piece of text on your webpage. Google uses your H1 to determine what the content of your webpage is. Basically, your H1 determines what Google will classify your webpage as. So continuing our example, if you were crafting the H1 for the concrete landing page targeting Atlanta, all you need for your H1 is your keyword. That's it. Your perfect H1 in this example would quite literally be "Concrete Atlanta"

Both the H1 and the URL are the easiest things to optimize in all of SEO because there isn't any sales copy involved in the process, it's just an exact match of your primary keyword, and that's it.

When Can I Use Variations Of My Keyword For SEO

In SEO sometimes your keywords need to be exact, but in other instances keyword variations make more sense.

In all elements on the page, it's best to use your exact keyword as often as possible without sounding spammy. You want to use your exact keyword in as many headings, alt-tags, paragraphs, image names, etc., as often as possible. But, if it makes more sense to phrase it differently, do it. 

You want your content to read really well. Always proofread your articles, and if there is ever any discomfort when you're reading, that's because you probably are keyword stuffing, and you need to change your text around a little bit to make it easier on your users. 

The goal of SEO when it comes to keywords is twofold. 

One - Your Content Should Be Optimized

The first goal of any SEO is writing optimized content.

First and foremost, if you are breaking Google's guidelines left and right, you stand no chance of ranking for anything, so you have to read their guidelines and follow them. But, a step beyond that, you should strive only to write optimized content. Get your keywords in the places they need to be, ensure you're submitting a proper sitemap, make sure your content is accessible for users with disabilities, give all images alt-tags, etc.

Two - Your Content Should Be Quality

The second goal of SEO when it comes to your keywords is making quality content.

It isn't really enough to write optimized content if your content isn't keeping your users' attention. Google is timing how long your users stay on your website before leaving, whether or not they share your pages, if and when they return and how often. In every possible way a user can interact with your page - anything from clicking buttons, links, hovering over your images - Google is tracking it all and judging the opinion most users have of your content. 

If users stay a long time on your website, bookmarking it, sharing it, returning, etc., then Google will allow your website to rank higher, and your SEO will improve. So your main focus should be writing quality content because even if your website isn't perfectly optimized, the positive response of your users will outweigh your lack of optimization, and you can still rank very well.

What Should My SEO Keywords Be?

Finding the right keyword for you to target depends on multiple factors discussed in this section.

Your keywords should be the primary thing your customers will be typing into Google to find your goods or services. For example, "Concrete Atlanta" might be the best keyword for you if you sell concrete services in Atlanta. But, in reality there isn't any way of knowing unless you do the research first. 

Using a keyword research tool is the best way to determine which keywords you should target. Semrush, Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, it doesn't matter which keyword research tool you use, so long as you enjoy the one you're using. Google keyword planner is free if you don't have a large budget, but it doesn't provide the same utility and information Semrush or Ahrefs would. We would recommend using one of these tools, and using them to determine which keyword makes the most sense for the current state of your website.

Some keywords will have a lot of traffic but a lot of competition, and if you're starting lower competition, low-volume keywords make more sense for you to begin targeting because you'll be able to rank for them easier. While it doesn't give you the same traffic volume as more competitive keywords, you'll still get traffic from potential customers.

The important part is that you just continue to create quality content each week. Make more landing pages, more blog posts targeting keywords that are relevant to your target demographic. If you choose the right keywords for these pieces of content you're creating each week, you'll be growing your monthly traffic with relevant leads, and in turn, your authority will increase, making it easier to rank for more competitive keywords. 

Eventually, if you keep up with creating quality content, you will be able to rank for those more competitive high-volume keywords that will bring you 700+ monthly leads.

Is 500 Words Enough For SEO?

500 words may or may not be enough to rank well. It depends on your keyword.

For some articles, you'll only need to write 500; for others, you will need to write 5000. It depends. To determine how long an article needs to be, you need to look at the top 3-5 websites ranking for your target keyword. Then, copy and paste their entire article into a word counter tool, and take the average of all 3-5 of the website. That is how many words you need to write, at least. 

Ideally, add 500 more words to that average, but you can be safe with just the average. If, after a few weeks, you still aren't where you want to be, add 500 more words and a few images. 

Do this same practice for assets as well. If the average number of images is 12, then you should have at least 20 images in your article if you hope to rank. It seems like a lot of work to go through this process, but it really is worth the time. Unlike with PPC, SEO is completely customizable. The results and improvements are yours to keep, and even if you do pay someone to do these things for you, when you start getting the traffic you want to see, even if you stopped your campaign you will still enjoy that traffic for potentially months or years to come, because the improvements made to gain you that traffic don't stop when your campaign does.

Can SEO Keywords Be Phrases?

SEO keywords can absolutely be phrases. SEO keywords don't always need to be exact.

SEO keywords can be phrases, questions, or single words. It just depends on the keyword you want to target. The term "keyword" doesn't necessarily mean it has to be an actual word. It's just the phrase the SEO community has given any - and all - words, phrases, and questions you want to target. Sometimes your keyword will be a question if you're writing a blog post, and other times it will be a statement or maybe even a sentence fragment if you want to write a landing page, for example. It just depends on what you want to target.

Getting Keywords In Your Google Reviews

It can even help your rankings if you are able to include your target keywords in your reviews where it makes sense to do so. Especially if your clients leave reviews that include your target keywords. You cannot really control this, but when it happens, it's an awesome way to help Google understand what your business is, and what services you offer. But none of this matters if you don't respond to your reviews. You always want to ensure that you respond to your Google reviews in a quick and professional manner, because this too will help your website improve its ranking potential.


Hopefully you found this article helpful! If you have any questions, suggestion for anything we could add to the article or future articles, don't be afraid to reach out! If you want to learn more, feel free to read more of our blog posts - as we've got a ton of them - or reach out to us for a free audit.

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