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Style Manual

Keywords and search engines

Keywords reflect core ideas and topics in content. Choosing the right keywords will support people’s ability to find the content they need when they search for it online.

Match keywords to the search terms people use

Using keywords helps people find content that meets their search intention. Keywords help people:

  • find government services – for example, ‘myGov login’
  • discover information – for example, ‘can I get paid maternity leave?’
  • do a task – for example, ‘import wine to Australia’.

Government content should help users do at least one of these things.

To write for users and search engines, you need to understand:

  • what users need to do with government
  • the keywords they’re likely to use.

A website helps users become Australian citizens.

You have researched with users who are keen to become Australian citizens. You have found they use the keyword ‘citizen’ a lot.

Include ‘citizen’ in the content, title, meta description and URL.

Digital Service Standard requirements

You must help the users of your service to find the information they need to meet the Digital Service Standard.

Accessibility requirements

Write in plain English. This helps all users and is essential for some.

Avoid (or explain) unusual words, phrases, idioms and so on. Expand all acronyms on their first use.

WCAG quick reference:

Write keyword-based content

To write content that users and search engines will discover:

  • Find out which keywords to use through a keyword tool, analytics and user research.
  • Write content using keywords and descriptive plain language.
  • Structure content (including forms and online tools) to people find what they need.

Include keywords once or twice, if they make sense, in the first paragraph of the content.

Include terms and concepts that are closely related to the topic you are writing about. This helps search engines understand the theme of the page.

Don’t use too many keywords or keywords that are outside the context of the content. This is known as keyword stuffing. Search engines ban or penalise this type of content.

Some information could relate to a specific place or a group of people. Make sure you include these details (for example, ‘student placements in northern NSW’).


You are writing content to help users find Australian embassies in Europe.

User research shows that when people search for an Australian embassy they’re either:

  • preparing to travel
  • needing help with an emergency situation.

The types of keywords you might use are:

  • embassy locations
  • emergency terms and current dangers
  • modes of travel
  • passport and visa terms.

Release notes

The digital edition expands on information from the Content Guide on understanding search engines. It incorporates information from the Content Guide on keywords and search engines and on-page optimisation.

The sixth edition had some information about search engine optimisation, including a section explaining what search engines are and how they work. It had basic information about search engines but did not go into detail on how to write for them.

The sixth edition recommended using the Australian Government Locator Service (AGLS) Metadata Standard. The digital edition gives contextual links to the National Archives of Australia’s information management standards. Those standards cover current metadata requirements for Australian Government content, including AGLS.

About this page


General Services Administration (n.d.) ‘Keep refining’, 18F content guide, 18F website, accessed 30 May 2020.

GOV.UK (2020) ‘Data and analytics’, Content design: planning, writing and managing content, GOV.UK, accessed 30 May 2020.

Lynch PJ and Horton S (2016) Web style guide, Web Style Guide website, accessed 30 May 2020.

Moz (2020) The keyword research master guide, Moz website, accessed 30 May 2020.

Moz (2020) ‘What are keywords?’, SEO learning center, Moz website, accessed 30 May 2020.

Search Engine Land (2020) Essential guide to SEO: how to master the science of SEO, Search Engine Land website, accessed 30 May 2020

United States Government (n.d.) ‘Search engine optimization’, USAGov bilingual style guide,, accessed 29 May 2020.

W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) (2016) ‘Readable: understanding Guideline 3.1’, Understanding WCAG 2.0: A guide to understanding and implementing WCAG 2.0, W3C website.

This page was updated Monday 21 September 2020.

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