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How to Find & Use Secondary Keywords to Boost Your SEO Traffic

To choose the best keywords for your SEO strategy, you should know how Google search works. One key part is to understand the difference between primary keywords and secondary keywords.

SEO keywords no longer work the same way they did in earlier years. 

Instead of simply choosing a list of keywords and creating a page or piece of content to target each one, today you need a more sophisticated and nuanced keyword strategy. Which must align with the realities of semantic search, user intent, and modern SEO practices. 

Let’s find out more.

What Are Secondary Keywords?

In your SEO strategy, secondary keywords support and complement the primary keyword to enrich your content and broaden its reach. 

They are generally synonyms or close variations of the target keyword. And they help your content rank for a wider range of keywords and closely related subtopics. 

By using these thematically similar terms, both the reader and search engines get a better understanding of what specific subject matter you’re covering. 

As their name implies, they’re secondary to the primary or target keyword.

Important: The hallmark of a secondary keyword is when the search results are nearly identical to the ones provided for the primary keyword. 

Like this:

The links listed on the search engine results pages (SERPs) are almost identical. Google believes both searchers are looking for information on the same topic: vegan recipes. 

It wouldn’t make sense to target the primary keyword and the secondary keyword with separate pages of content. In fact, this would lead to issues of duplicate content or keyword cannibalization. Which could actually hurt your site’s rankings. 

Instead, you’ll want to group them in one piece of content.

The most popular version of the term (the one with the highest search volume) becomes your primary keyword. 

The less popular variations with lower search volume are your secondary keywords.

From the example above, we would group these into two types of keywords:

  • Primary keyword: Vegan recipes
  • Secondary keyword: Vegan meal ideas

Using this strategy, you could rank well for the primary keyword and one or multiple secondary keywords with a single webpage or article.

Why Are Secondary Keywords Important for SEO?

Secondary keywords help your content rank higher for a greater number of relevant search queries without the need to create new pages or standalone content. 

Spelling more organic traffic, conversions, and revenue for your business.

Secondary keywords are important because of semantic search.

Semantic search is how Google and other search engines translate what you type in the search box into a query they can understand and match.

For instance, someone looking for vegan recipes might type in any of the following search queries:

Google's SERP for "vegan meal ideas" and "vegan recipes I can make for my family on a Thursday night"

Behind the scenes, the search engine takes the words you type into the box and figures out which pages contain relevant content.

They interpret the language and search intent. Then translate it into a more common topic or phrase. 

In this case, something like “vegan recipes.”

That’s why Google will return very similar search results for any of these queries. Understanding that the different searchers share the same intent.

Including secondary keywords or variations can improve your rankings for other versions of a search query.

What if you target the primary keyword and ignore secondary keywords?

You could rank really well for “vegan recipes.” But miss out on traffic from people searching for “easy vegan recipes” and other variations. 

TL;DR: You’re hurting your overall potential traffic to that page.

Ideally, secondary keywords should be part of your main keyword research workflow.

This will make it much easier to use secondary keywords naturally when creating new content or optimizing pages on your website. 

Let’s walk you through how to include secondary keywords in your keyword research process.

Start by conducting keyword research like you normally would. We’ll use Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool. Here’s how:

On the left-hand navigation under “Keyword Research,” click “Keyword Magic Tool.”

Type in a topic from your content marketing strategy. Click “Search.”

"vegan recipes" entered into the Keyword Magic Tool search bar

The keyword research tool will return a list of keyword ideas and suggestions based on the topic you provided.

From the Keyword Magic Tool page, scroll through the list of keywords. Select those relevant to your content strategy and/or your business. 

Add them to a keyword list by ticking the checkbox next to each chosen keyword. Followed by clicking “Add to keyword list” > “Create new empty list.”

Selecting keywords from Keyword Magic Tool's ideas list for "vegan recipes"

Type in the name of your list. Click on the green check mark. 

Keyword list named "vegan recipes"

Repeat the process until you’ve built a complete list of keywords for the topic. 

Now, group the keywords together. And discover which keywords are primary and which are secondary.

You could do this analysis manually:

  • Conduct a search for each of the keywords on your list
  • Cross-reference the results for each query with all of the other results
  • Compare the SERPs to determine which keywords returned the same pages/listings 
  • Group together each of the keywords that return overlapping results
  • Repeat this process for every keyword, cross-referencing the results for overlap
  • Compile a final list of primary keywords along with their associated secondary keywords

Luckily, Keyword Manager performs this analysis with a single click. Follow these steps:

Once you’re done with your research, click “Add to keyword list” again. Then, click “20/2,000” next to the name of the list you created. This will open your keyword list inside Keyword Manager. 

“20/2,000” selected next to the "vegan recipes" list

Now, all you have to do is click the button that says “Cluster this list.”

“Cluster this list” button highlighted in the top right corner in Keyword Manager tool

Keyword Manager will then perform an analysis of each keyword and cross-reference them with one another. 

When it’s finished, simply click the “Clusters” tab.

“Clusters” tab in Keyword Manager tool

Here you can see that it has clustered the list of keywords. In this case, it recommends a single keyword cluster.

  • Primary keyword: Vegan recipes
  • Secondary keywords: Vegan recipe, best vegan recipes, easy vegan recipes, vegan dinner recipes, vegan recipes for dinner, easy vegan dinner recipes

When writing the article about vegan recipes, use that same content to also target each of the secondary keywords listed.

We’ll discuss how to incorporate secondary keywords in a later section. 

What Secondary Keywords To Add to Existing Content

You can also further optimize your existing content by adding secondary keywords. 

This optimization strategy can help you rank better for a greater number of keywords. Generating higher search traffic and increasing conversion potential as a result.

Let’s say you already have an article about vegan recipes on your website. But you want to boost search traffic by getting it to rank for more keywords. 

Jump straight into the Keyword Overview report for your primary keyword. Here you’ll get secondary keyword ideas without having to start the keyword research process from scratch.

Click “Keyword Overview” from the Semrush dashboard’s navigation bar. Type the primary keyword you’re targeting in the text box and click “Search.”

"vegan recipes" entered into the Keyword Overview search bar

You’ll see the Keyword Overview report for your primary keyword. 

Under “Keyword Clusters,” click the “View all clusters” button.

Keyword Overview report with "Keyword Clusters" section highlighted

Semrush will now perform the same cluster analysis on the keyword ideas provided in the report to generate a clustered list. This will take you to the Keyword Manager.

Click the “Clusters” tab. Then scroll down to see the list of keyword clusters. 

Find the cluster that shows your primary keyword. Click on the cluster to expand and see the secondary keyword recommendations. 

“Clusters” tab in Keyword Manager tool

You can manually copy and paste this list of keywords to where you’re working. Or, click the checkbox next to the cluster name. Then click “Export” in the upper right corner. 

With the list of secondary keywords in hand, you’re ready to optimize your existing content.

How to Incorporate Secondary Keywords into Your Content

Once you’ve discovered the right secondary keywords, you’ll want to add them to your new or existing content.

How?

The answer may seem obvious. Simply incorporate each of the secondary keywords at least once within your text. 

A section of "40 Mouthwatering Vegan Recipes" article, with secondary keywords highlighted in text

Remember: Secondary keywords are usually close variations or synonyms of your target keyword. It should be pretty straightforward to edit instances of your primary keyword to show a secondary keyword instead. 

For example:

“Check out these great vegan recipes” becomes “Check out these great vegan meal ideas.”

You can also add the secondary keywords to subheadings, image alt text, and meta descriptions if they make sense.

Keep the reader in mind at all times with the below tips:

  • Focus on search intent: Remember that this search is likely part of a larger journey for the user. Consider the query and the topic of the keyword you’re targeting. But also take into account topics that will be valuable as they explore further.
  • Don’t over-optimize: Keyword stuffing or spamming means overusing keywords to try to improve SEO. It’s bad practice that applies to both primary and secondary keywords. Don’t cram secondary keywords into your article. Remember, keyword density is not a ranking factor.
  • Use keywords naturally: Secondary keywords should always enhance the reader’s understanding. If you find yourself forcing the terms into a sentence or disrupting the content’s reading flow and comprehension, try adding them somewhere else.
  • Consider context: Use secondary keywords where it makes sense. For instance, you may not want to use a synonym when introducing the definition of your target term. But you could explain that the term in question is sometimes referred to in other ways. Enter secondary keywords.
  • Remember your primary keyword: Secondary keywords are valuable, but stick to your primary keyword in critical spots. Like the title tag and headings, alongside frequent occurrences throughout the article.

Here’s how you can use the SEO Writing Assistant to update your content.

Click “Content Marketing” > “SEO Writing Assistant” from the navigation. Then click “Analyze new text.”

"SEO Writing Assistant" selected from the navigation

Paste your list of primary and secondary keywords into the “Keywords” text box on the right. Then click “Get recommendations.”

"vegan recipes," "vegan meals," and "vegan dinners" entered into the "Keywords" text box in SEO Writing Assistant

The SEO Writing Assistant will score any content you create based on Readability, SEO, Originality, and Tone of Voice. 

In the right-hand sidebar, you’ll get specific suggestions for improving and optimizing your content. Based on the keywords you’re targeting. 

Right-hand sidebar in SEO Writing Assistant shows content scores and improvement recommendations

You can also compose content in Google Docs or Microsoft Word. Then paste your draft into the SEO Writing Assistant when done. 

Alternatively, install the SWA add-on to get the same recommendations while writing in Google Docs. 

Next, we’ll note some important differences between keyword terms.

Related keywords, or so-called latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords, are not the same as secondary keywords. 

While “LSI keywords” is a misnomer, it refers to the concept of related keywords

Related keywords (or related terms) are words, phrases, and entities associated with your primary keyword or topic. But they’re not necessarily close variations or synonyms. 

For instance, “tofu” is related to “vegan recipes.” 

Much of the content discussing vegan recipes will reference the use of tofu. 

"Coconut rice bowls" section of the recipe from "Feasting at home" with "vegan" and "tofu" words highlighted

So it’s definitely good SEO practice to use related keywords or entities in your content.

Further reading: What Is the Google Knowledge Graph & How Does It Work?

Using related keywords in your content helps signal article quality and topical depth. Search engines like Google (and users) expect most reasonably comprehensive articles about vegan recipes to mention the word “tofu” at some point.

But be aware: Using the word “tofu” in your vegan recipes article won’t help you rank for “tofu.”

To rank for related keywords, you’ll need to create a unique page or piece of content targeting that term (and its secondary keywords).

Secondary Keywords vs. Long-Tail Keywords

These are also not the same thing

The term “long-tail keyword” refers to more specific and less popular keywords (with lower search volume). In contrast to short-tail keywords (or “head terms”) that generally denote broad topics with high search volume.

Because long-tail keywords are more specific, users typing in these search terms may be more likely to take action. Like completing a form or making a purchase. 

An infographic explaining keyword searches in Google

The “long-tail” designation has no effect on whether a specific keyword is primary or secondary. These are just separate ways of categorizing and using keywords in your SEO strategy. 

Let’s explain this better with an example. 

A keyword like “homemade coffee filters” could be considered long-tail. It’s more specific and has lower search volume than the short-tail keyword “coffee filters.” Right?

But you could still use “homemade coffee filters” as your primary keyword. Identifying it as long-tail doesn’t mean it cannot also be a primary keyword. These categories are neither mutually exclusive nor mutually inclusive.

The secondary keywords in this case would be even more specific terms. Like “homemade filters for percolator coffee pots.” You would target this on the same page that talks about “homemade coffee filters.”

Examples of Secondary Keywords in SEO

Let’s look at some additional examples of secondary keywords applied across different industries.

Secondary Keywords in Ecommerce

You run an online store selling organic skincare products. You’re looking to optimize your products page for a relevant keyword. You might choose:

  • Primary keyword: Organic skincare products
  • Secondary keywords: Natural skin care products, organic beauty products
"organic skincare products" cluster showing "natural skin care products" and "organic beauty products" secondary keywords

Secondary Keywords for Health Blog

The benefits of a balanced diet are a hot topic for a health blog. Here are some keywords you could target:

  • Primary keyword: Benefits of a balanced diet
  • Secondary keywords: Why is it important to eat healthy, benefits of a healthy lifestyle, benefits of good nutrition
"benefits of a balanced diet" cluster showing "why is it important to eat healthy," "benefits of a healthy lifestyle," and "benefits of good nutrition" secondary keywords

Travel Website Application of Secondary Keywords

A special landing page on a travel website is promoting vacations in Bali. Note the secondary keyword examples below:

  • Primary keyword: Vacations in bali
  • Secondary keywords: Trip to bali, bali vacation packages
"vacations in bali" cluster showing "trip to bali" and "bali vacation packages" secondary keywords

Important: Not every article, page, or topic will have relevant secondary keywords. 

In the keyword research section above, we walked you through the process of discovering and identifying these terms. But if you don’t find any relevant ones for your specific topic or page, it’s okay not to use any. Ultimately, you shouldn’t force keywords into your content.

Frequently Asked Questions on Secondary Keywords

How frequently should secondary keywords appear in content?

Include a secondary keyword at least once throughout your content. But more importantly, you should integrate them naturally without disrupting the content’s flow.

Do secondary keywords directly influence content ranking?

Yes. Including secondary keywords in your content can improve the ranking of your content for those specific, secondary search queries. It likely won’t affect your ranking for the primary keyword.

How many secondary keywords should you use?

There’s no specific limit on the number of relevant secondary keywords you can use in a single page or article. But keep in mind they are only meant to be close variations or even synonyms of your target keyword.

If you’re unsure whether you’ve identified a “true” secondary keyword, manually compare its search results with those of your primary keyword. A considerable SERP overlap will confirm you have a valid secondary keyword.

Looking to speed things up and take the guesswork out of your research? Run Keyword Manager to automatically get keyword clusters for your content optimization strategy. 

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