A Guide to Secondary Keywords in SEO

A Guide to Secondary Keywords in SEO

Swapping secondary keywords into landing page content to boost traffic to it isn’t unlike sneaking vegetables into mac ’n’ cheese to give it more substance. Though cooking and search engine optimization (SEO) are two entirely different undertakings, each can benefit from hearty additions, and both can suffer from meaningless fillers. 

If you’ve been focusing only on primary keywords, it’s time to start tweaking your content marketing to include supplemental, yet super-powerful secondary keywords.

What Are Secondary Keywords?

Secondary keywords are synonyms, subtopics, and phrases closely related to the primary keywords on a web page. Remember that secondary keywords are, indeed, secondary; use them to fill in additional detail but don’t let them run the show. For example, a page targeting “computer mouse,” could include “wireless mouse,” “ergonomic mouse,” and “best mouse for a computer,” to help support and describe the primary term.

Selecting Secondary Keywords

We recommend keyword strategies that include primary and secondary terms. Not only do secondary keywords improve the SEO at face value, but these words and phrases also create interest for readers and provide cues to search engines. 

While I have go-to keyword research tools, I also like to use tech-free optimization tactics to gather a variety of words and phrases beyond the primary, or target, keyword. I start by making a longer list than I think I’ll need so I have plenty to choose from. Filter secondary keywords by search volume and competition to see whether there’s any low-hanging fruit you can grab. Once you have a solid list, review it for any words or phrases that won’t match what searchers are expecting to find on the page (also known as the search intent).

Crockpot KW Research.PNG

If an ecommerce category page features a collection of crock pots, the terms “extra large crock pots,” and “large crock pot 12 quart” are fair game. Just be careful that your brainstorming doesn’t stray off-course. Targeting “recipes for families,” might mean someone is using a crock pot, but a searcher landing on a page full of crock pots without recipes will bounce and thus hurt the page’s position in the search engine results. 

After I’ve narrowed my list, I like to compare the search engine results pages (SERPs) for the secondary keywords against the target keyword. If Google agrees these terms are closely related, the SERPs should be nearly identical.

Crock Pot Slow Cooker SERPs.png

How To Use Secondary Keywords in Web Content

Secondary keywords should be implemented using best practices, meaning, avoid taking SEO shortcuts that fail. The goal of any content should be to provide informative, valuable copy about the primary topic to the user. Secondary keywords enhance the page, adding depth, language variety, and context. 

The excerpt below shows how a variety of modifiers and semantic-match terms can add interest to content about the best pour-over brewers without losing sight of the topic:


Each secondary keyword should appear at least once in the content. The variations can be used in subheadings, as image alt text, and in meta descriptions if it makes sense to do so, but remember that the primary keyword is the showboat and should be featured. Use supporting words in high-profile spots only if the target term is already well represented. 

The Benefits of Using Secondary Keywords

Reading a blog post filled with repetitive language is difficult no matter how interesting the topic. Adding secondary keywords provides contextual cues that satisfy search engines’ needs without making the page unbearable to read. When incorporated correctly, secondary keywords help you capture users’ interest with well-written, tightly optimized content that offers these advantages:

It Is Relevant and Enduring

Even if a primary keyword begins to lose traction (due to seasonality, trends, etc.) the page won’t lose relevance if it includes secondary keywords to match new terms people are searching. Covid is one example where the very technical name SARS-CoV-2 evolved into an easier-to-digest, COVID-19 before we finally winnowed them down to simply ‘Covid’ or ‘the pandemic.’ Using a combination of keywords related to the topic makes sure your content remains relevant even after the target term evolves. 

It Captures a Wider Audience

By casting a wider net with several terms (i.e., leveraging multiple secondary modifiers, or using terms that are a semantic match to the target keyword) rather than zeroing in on a single word to capture search for a product or service, you’ll potentially boost traffic to your web pages. Opportunities for using secondary keywords along with—or in place of—primary words include

  • Swapping in generic names, like lip balm and lip care as secondary keywords in place of a brand
  • Adding supportive secondary terms to a company name to give it context, like “bar and grill” “hair salon” or “amusement park”
  • Incorporating long-tail keywords, like “restaurants in the Bryant Park neighborhood,” to reach people using voice search which relies on natural, speech-like keywords 
  • Considering terms popular outside of your immediate region, such as using “hot dish” and “casserole” to describe a recipe for American Goulash

It Improves the User Experience

Keyword stuffing isn’t only a poor SEO practice, it also results in content that is difficult and awkward to read. Including a mix of primary and secondary keywords allows for better language variation so the content reads naturally without sacrificing keyword density. The example below shows how inserting a few secondary keywords can reduce repetition and make for a better read:

PrimaryvsSecondary .PNG

It Outranks the Competition

One way to outrank competitors is by improving the semantic search value of a page. Semantic search refers to the process search engines use to understand the intent and meaning of a search query and find results that closely match. For SEOs wanting to improve semantic search, implementing secondary keywords and keyword clusters is a good first step.

Semantic SERP Prom Dresses.png

Identifying and then deploying the best keyword combination helps search engines understand the content well enough to determine it is a good match for the theme of the search, beyond keywords alone. For a query like “prom dress shopping,” the search engine will use hints from the user’s search history plus secondary and long-tail keywords on web pages to decide what should populate in the SERP. Comprehensive, focused content that is well optimized can earn spots in the SERP features, like the Knowledge Box, People Also Ask, or Places. These spots are the envy of any SEO and proof that secondary keywords shouldn’t be underestimated.

If you’re ready to start adding value to your site and driving organic traffic with a solid keyword strategy, contact us today. Eight Oh Two is a proven leader in search engine and performance marketing. Our expertise in search engine optimization can help you increase traffic and conversions one keyword at a time.

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