What is a Keyword?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
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  • Last Modified Date: 15 May 2020
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A keyword is an important concept in computer programming and internet protocol. It may have very different meanings depending on the context; a programming keyword is very different than a keyword used in managing search engine functions. It may be important to understand what keywords are and how they work when building a website or programming.

In terms of computer programming, keywords are used in a variety of computer languages. They are often predetermined phrases or words that trigger a particular function or behavior. Sometimes, keywords in this context are also called reserve words, meaning that they cannot be used within the programming language as anything other than their intended use, such as for user-defined names or files. Some programming languages include keywords that actually have no function in the current version, but are reserved for incorporation into later versions. Examples of languages that use keywords include COBOL and C languages.

In the context of the internet, a keyword is a very different concept. When using an Internet search tool, a user will generally type in a word or phrase for the search. The search engine will return a list of websites that contain the word or phrase, often ranked by how many times the word is used on the web page. The word or phrase that matches the search to the results is known as the keyword.

One of the most important ways that websites create traffic is through the proper and comprehensive use of keywords. People are generally far more likely to click the first few websites that come up on a results page, so making sure that a website stays near the top is vital to the popularity of the website. The practice of creating keywords or key phrases that will put a page at the top of a search engine results page is known as search engine optimization or SEO.

Choosing the right keywords for a website involves understanding the search habits of the general public. When building a website around a certain subject, it is important to consider how people would search for information about the subject. There are online programs that can perform statistical analysis on how often a term is searched for, but much of choosing keywords is common sense. Shorter terms are generally better than longer ones, while common phrases can be more common than specific terms. For instance, in a website devoted to selling cheese, a simple keyword such as cheese will be searched for more often, and thus may make a better keyword, than something like cheese making, where can I buy cheese, or Jarlsberg.

On the Internet, keywords may also be used to define advertising for a web page or website. Many advertising programs link what advertisements are shown to the keywords for a website. For instance, a website where the keywords are all related to cats would likely have advertisements that relate to cats, cat food, animal shelters, or pet boarding facilities. For this reason, beware of terms that have double or alternative meanings; a website about computer safety that uses spam as its main keyword can end up with advertisements for potted and canned meat, instead of anti-virus programs.

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