Keywords are the heart of Internet search. Every search begins by typing a word or phrase into the search bar – or, by talking to a virtual assistant. But what happens next?

In this post, we discuss how to use keywords to focus your content and bring in more qualified prospects. First, we clarify the purpose of keywords and their role in organic search. Then, we explain how to use keywords, and where to put them to work on your website.

Why Keywords (Still) Matter

There was a time when keywords functioned like categories. You could type in “attorneys,” and any website vaguely related to attorneys would appear in the search results. The results were wildly disparate and definitely hit or miss.

Fast forward to the present: Search engines are smarter and more intuitive. They analyze your online behavior and search patterns to determine the best return for your query. They almost “read your mind” to come up with the right information. Search engines also pick up on context, such as your location, to determine which results to show.

So, this may have you wondering, “If search engines are so smart, what’s the point of optimizing for keywords?”

Keywords are important because your prospective customer will use them to find you. Search engines take the search query and combine it with the user’s search history to determine the web pages that provide the best answers.

While you can’t control what the search engine displays, you can control what’s on your website, namely, all of the content, including the keywords that you target. It’s one of the few ways you can influence getting into search results.

So, think of keywords as the first connection between you and your prospective customer. Use keywords to honestly and effectively answer queries; it’s the best way to show your customer that, “Hey here’s a useful answer to the question you’re asking.”

How Keywords Relate to Your Website

Now, let’s discuss how to use those keywords to pull in more prospective customers to your site.

Organize Your Keywords

Let’s assume you have a website for your psychotherapy practice and that you work primarily with couples and parents-children in the Washington, DC, region. You used our tips to research and compile a list of all types of keywords that relate to family counseling.

Now, let’s organize those keywords into categories so that you can create a thoughtful content strategy for each of those groups.

For reaching out to families in need of therapy, your list of keywords for the overall website would probably include the following:

  • Family and marriage counseling Washington DC
  • DC family counseling
  • Family therapist in Washington DC
  • What happens in family therapy

You would create keyword groups for your clients who are couples and for parents and their child. You should also think about why a person is searching for a particular keyword phrase. Are they ready to act, or are they still in the initial “what happens in family therapy” stage?

Ideally, the content you create will reach your prospective client at every stage of the consideration process, from initial questions about your service to how to reach you when they’re finally ready to make contact.

Assign Each Page a Target Keyword

Your job now is to draw a strong keyword phrase from your list for each page of the website. There are a few questions to ask during this process:

  • Does the keyword phrase tie into the purpose of the page?
  • Is it relevant to the customer’s problem?
  • Can the copy be written with this as a focus?

Here are examples of how that plays out on your website:


  • Purpose: focus on your services and your location
  • Keywords: Family and marriage counseling in Washington DC

About page

  • Purpose: focus on the therapist and your credentials
  • Keywords: Dr. Ada Smith, Psychotherapist, Certified IRT Therapist

A Services page

  • Purpose: focus on a type of counseling you practice
  • Keywords: parent child interaction therapy (PCIT) in Washington DC

Another Services page

  • Purpose: focus on another type of counseling you practice
  • Keywords: marriage counseling, Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT)

FAQ page

  • Purpose: briefly discuss topics that are top of mind for your clients
  • Keywords: What happens in family therapy (plus other questions)

In each of these examples, your target keyword phrase matches a query that lots of people have searched for. By using their keyword phrase and creating content around that phrase, you’ll be more likely to win over new visitors.

By the way, vary your keywords. You don’t have to keep repeating the same keyword phrase over and over again throughout your page. In fact, please don’t do that. It doesn’t sound natural, it’s spam. Instead, use synonyms and secondary keyword phrases (the ones you set aside in favor of the stronger keyword). By working them into the content you’ll help the reader truly understand the topic.

Varying your keywords also gives you opportunities to reach more types of people. While some prospective clients may search for “family therapist in Washington DC,” others will look for “family counseling near me.” You can reach both with the same page.

But do you know where to place your keywords? Let’s tackle that now.

Strategic Keyword Placement

To be effective, keywords need to be on your website where search engine bots can grab them. Here are the places where keywords have the most impact:

  • The title tag
  • H1 header
  • Within the first paragraph
  • Meta description
  • Image ALT text

This can get pretty technical, so we’ll cover the basics and direct you to good resources if you want to learn more.

The title tag: This bit of copy in the back end of the website becomes the first line of the search result; it becomes the web page’s calling card, so to speak. Search engines look in this HTML tag for info to use as they categorize the page. See here for a detailed explanation.

H1 header: Not all website copy is equally important, and header tags in the back end help search engines see the hierarchy – the importance you’ve assigned. Using your target keywords in the first headline, H1, reinforces what the page is about, and helps people know at a glance that they’re on the right page. Here’s a good overview. Ask your developer to show you how your CMS handles headers.

Within the first paragraph of the text: When it comes to keyword placement, the sooner on the page, the better. Why? Search engine bots are busy– too busy, often– to crawl an entire page. The logic they use is that the most important information appears at the beginning. So, make sure that your most important keywords are there at the beginning.

Meta description: This data is also in the back end of the website and the meta description copy might appear as the snippet in the search result (beneath the hyperlink). Although search engines don’t look here for keywords, search engine users (your prospective customers) do. Keywords here help them learn what they will see when they click through to the page (so make it enticing!). Learn more here.

Image alt text: Adding a descriptive alternative text (ALT text) attribute to each image on the page helps it to support what the page is about. For example, the headshot on our example website could be tagged, “Dr. Ada Smith, Psychotherapist in DC.” This data is easy to add in the media section of your CMS; use the help function or ask your web developer to show you where to insert copy.

Keywords keep us honest

Keywords are how your prospective customers will reach you online. It’s important that you choose the right ones that align with what people are actually searching for. Websites that use keywords as a lure but fail to deliver wind up with disappointed visitors and crappy ranking. Use these tips to create content that is a bridge between you and your prospective customers.

Updated: Sept. 9, 2018