When you choose keywords for SEO, you’re doing more than just picking some terms you like or think people search for. You’re fighting the entire internet for one of only 10 (10!) coveted front-page spots on Google. When the post and pray method has failed you, it’s time to take a closer look at your strategy before you waste any more resources on content creation. Here’s a step by step guide for how to effectively research, select, and implement keywords that will actually help grow your business.
When people talk about using keywords for SEO, what they really mean is that they’re using a single word or a phrase in their copy. These words and phrases explain what your content to search engines. When potential leads look up these words and phrases, your goal is to land in the top results so that they’ll click on your website instead of a competitor’s.
For example, your local ice cream scoop shop in Ohio might use keywords such as “ice cream”, “ice cream near me”, and “best ice cream in Ohio” to help get more website traffic. These keywords help describe what the business is. They also explain that the shop is nearby and that it’s the best choice for a specific area.
Although the definition is straightforward, the act of choosing the right keywords for your industry, brand, and goals is anything but. That’s where keyword research comes in.
To conduct keyword research, you’ll need to look for words and phrases that follow a set strategy and take the big picture (user intent, current rankings, competition, etc.) into account. A winning keyword research strategy makes sure to include at least one word or phrase for each different type of keyword.
Different types of keywords help paint a full picture of what your website is all about. Even websites devoted to a single topic can use more than one word in their strategy to help contextualize where they fit in with other search results. Here are the 5 different types of keywords you absolutely need to have.
Some marketing blogs claim there are as few as 3 or as many as 18 types of keywords. The ones we’ve just covered are absolutely essential for websites that want to appear towards the top of Google search results. But if you have additional online properties (such as an app or Google paid ads) then look into adding a few other types to your strategy.
As you go about choosing which keywords you’d like to put under each type of keyword, you have to consider user intent.
User intent is the difference between what the user is searching for and what they actually want to find. For example, a search for the keyword phrase “what is carrot cake?” doesn’t bring up a definition. Instead, Google’s complex ranking algorithm has determined that what people really want to see when they search for this includes recipes, ingredients, and variations.
So even if you have the world’s best blog post for the definition of carrot cake ready to go, you may want to add some of these other related keywords to your text. Doing so will make your content match up with user intent, which proves to Google that you understand what this audience really wants.
The lesson here is there’s a difference between what you think the user is looking for and what they’re actually looking for. A quick Google search for the keyword is crucial for determining user intent, so don’t skip this step!
As Neil Patel, a man who built his fame and fortune on SEO optimization, says, “Keyword research is the blueprint for your online marketing efforts, driving every decision you make.” And he’s right! Without keyword research, your content doesn’t stand a chance of getting more page views, acquiring new leads, or making all that time and money you spent creating website content worth it in the end. As long as people use the internet to look things up, keyword research will remain relevant.
Before you get started, you have to come up with a plan. In terms of keyword search, your plan is your SEO strategy, which defines which keywords you’re targeting and your goals for the website as a whole. Kickstart your strategy and your search by answering these questions:
You should have a lot of keyword ideas after answering those questions. But not all keywords are created equally, which means you’ll have to narrow this big list down.
Now you have some solid ideas about which big picture keywords you can cover. This means it’s time to strategically choose the ones with the best ROI for your goals. Here’s an easy three-step keyword selection process you can use:
Get the right keyword research tools.
At a minimum, you need to have:
Do note that a solid SEO keyword tool will hit many of the above requirements; for example, both Ahrefs and SemRush can act as a keyword planner, SEO optimizer, and competitive keyword tool. They can also do rank tracking for you (e.g. website analytics data.) With these tools, you should be able to develop a list of keyword ideas to continue researching.
Search on Google.
Start typing your first/best keyword idea into the homepage of Google. Look for relevant terms that Google tries to auto-fill and add them to your list. Then, look for user intent by skimming first-page result titles for repeating themes or words.
Next, see if Google has included any special category cards such as local business listings, image spotlights, shop links, or any niche-specific call outs (a search for “bone broth” brings up a Flavor card).
Finally, make note of the “Searches related to” section at the very bottom. Add these new keyword ideas to your master keyword list or aim to include them as secondary keywords for content related to the term you searched.
Check out People Also Ask (PAA) questions.
This section is included in your Google search too, but it’s so important that it deserves its own step. People Also Ask questions are the clearest view into search intent the engine has to offer. Aim to answer all of them as part of your strategy so that Google sees your website as an authority on the subject.
Only use “good” keywords.
In a perfect world, the best keywords have high search traffic, low competition, and high conversion rates. But since we don’t live in a perfect world, we’ll just have to settle for good keywords that come as close to that as possible. Bad keywords, on the other hand, are words and phrases that are too generic, already dominated by the competition (e.g. high keyword difficulty, or "KD" in Ahrefs), and/or just aren’t being searched for.
Remember that long-tail keywords add up; low search volume (or clicks) keywords can be incredibly valuable in aggregate.
Understand Informational vs. Transactional Search Intent, and meet that need
Maybe a user is looking for informational content and you show them a product to purchase. Or perhaps they are seeking to purchase and you deliver content instead. Either way, you aren’t meeting those expectations appropriately. Moral of the story: Don’t forget to research and understand the user’s Informational vs. Transactional intention then give them what they want.
This doesn’t mean you can’t offer products as solutions to informational queries. But it does mean that you better meet that informational need first and foremost. You should also clearly outline exactly how the product is a good and appropriate solution for the query. Think these through and you’ll have yourself some good (maybe even great) keywords!
Review “No Click” and “Low Click” searches.
Even though good keywords have high search volume, they’re considered bad if they don't get any clicks. After all, the point of SEO is to get leads off of a search engine and on to your website.
Metrics that define “No Click” searches include Clicks and Return Rate (which Ahrefs can measure), and Organic CTR (which Moz can measure). Eliminate any keywords from your master list that are proven to not convert traffic based on these results, no matter how well they rank.
Leverage Paid Search data.
Work with your paid search (PPC) team to better understand the following, and inform your SEO keyword targeting decisions:
Accuracy above all else.
If your chosen keyword doesn't accurately align with what you are offering, don't bother. All the search volume and traffic in the world won't matter if you don't meet the user's need (and for goodness sake, don't mislead them!)
Once you have a keyword, the next step is to figure out the correct way to implement them.
Leverage keywords that already drive traffic to your site.
Review Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) to find which keywords are working for you. Create landmark content around these keywords to maintain your domain authority over the subject area. Build out additional content with secondary keywords that further support them. Target “Page 2 Performers”, e.g. those keywords that you are already close to performing well for… and just a little extra work could help you get over the finish line.
Identify new potential targets, as needed.
First, take a good hard look at the keywords you already rank on the first page for. Then, begin to add interesting target keywords (that you don’t yet rank for) onto both pre-existing pages and new pages.
Adding new potential target keywords to the mix will help you seek new audiences, and cover content gaps in the keywords you already rank for. They’ll also paint a clearer picture of what your website is all about.
If you don’t try to identify new potential targets, you may miss out on big opportunities - sure your current rankings are good, but what if other keywords will do even better? You never know until you try!
Know where on the page to use them.
For every URL, make sure that your chosen keywords appear in the heading tag (the visible title on the page), any sub-headings, and within the content (e.g. page copy) of each page. If you include media assets (like images, videos, etc.) you’ll also want to add keywords there that describe those assets (e.g. image name and alt text.)
Avoid keyword stuffing.
Wondering how many keywords are good for SEO? Well, less is more. In fact, you only need to feature your main keyword five times in a piece of content. You can feature it more times throughout each webpage but just keep in mind that Google will drop your ranking if it detects that you’re using a bunch of nonsensical keyword inclusions to cheat the system.
Optimize your Metadata.
In addition to using keywords in your website copy and paid ads, you’ll need to put them in your metadata. Website metadata refers to the meta description and title used on each page. Make sure you include your primary keyword or key phrases in the title tag - ideally towards the front of the tag - and ideally in the meta description as well (though note that the meta description is not a ranking factor.)
Organize & visualize your strategy in a keyword matrix.
Create a keyword matrix to organize and visualize what keywords you are going after - plus where they’ll appear on your website. This strategic website inventory gives you instant visibility into your strategy as a whole. It also helps ensure you know what content has already been created so you don’t duplicate your efforts. A keyword matrix also makes it easy to see how you’ll link to these existing pages from new content by using your target and supporting keywords as anchor text.
To make one, you’ll list the following information in a spreadsheet:
For an even more comprehensive look at your site, you can also choose to include:
Here’s a Keyword Matrix template you can use to get started; simply make a copy of this template to utilize it (please don’t request access.)
By now you’ve learned everything you need to know about how to choose keywords for SEO as well as how to organize, optimize, and implement them. Whether you’re planning to optimize existing content or create new SEO content that reflects your keyword & content strategy, The Gray Dot Company can help. Contact us for help choosing keywords for your search engine optimization efforts!