How to Select the Right Keywords for SEO

September 24, 2013

If great content exists on the web, but no one can find and read it, is it still great content? Unfortunately, it’s not. Great content doesn’t just read well; it reaches its target audience and compels them to take a desired action.

The right keywords can take your content from good to great because they put your writing in front of those who want and need to see it. And, it all starts with effective keyword research.

Smart keyword research helps put you in your readers’ shoes. You begin thinking like they would think when they search for the products and services you are writing about. How do they speak about them, and what words will they use to find what they are looking for?

The answers to these questions are the building blocks of your keyword selection process.

5 Steps to a Successful Keyword Search

Step 1:  Select general keywords to get started

Use the questions mentioned above to begin a list of possible keywords. Consider the language that your target audience uses when they talk about their needs, desires, and pain points in your industry. Then, think about what information your clients might seek online, including information relating to trends, how-to’s, and terms they would like to have defined for them.

Research the words and phrases they use in social media channels like Twitter and Google+ when they discuss problems and wishes with their friends and families. Use all of this research to create a list of five or six keywords you can use to begin your research. This initial list may just be an informed guess about what your readers will be searching for, but you will refine it later.

Step 2:  Check the popularity and competition of your keywords

Now it’s time to put your initial keywords to the test. Use a keyword research tool like the Google Keyword Adwords Tool, Scribe, or Moz to discover how many times people search on each of your terms. Note keywords with high monthly searches — global topics should yield at least 100,000 monthly searches.

However, popular doesn’t always mean your keywords are the best ones. You’ll need to check out the competition, too. Check to see how many pages of web content and websites are targeting your keywords. The more competition your keywords face, the harder it will be to rank well for them.

The ideal keyword has a high number of searches, meaning that it is popular, and has few people trying to rank for it, meaning that it has low competition.

Step 3:  Explore other keyword options

As you begin your keyword research, you’ll notice that the keyword tool will give you a list of related keywords to consider. These helpful suggestions are based on semantic search principles, and they might provide some additional words for you to consider.

Use the same method for testing competition and popularity mentioned above to determine whether these keywords make the cut. Now is the time to dig a bit deeper to find other useful terms you may not have considered in your initial brainstorming session.

Drill down further to refine your keywords

Step 1:  Spot keyword trends

Are your keywords popular? In other words, are they trending up or down over time? Before you optimize your entire site for them, you’ll want to find out.

Use Google Trends to discover whether your keywords are heading up or down in popularity. This tool shows you how often keywords have been queried over time, and you can compare several keywords at once to save time.

If you find your keywords are on a downward slope of popularity, kick them out of your keyword clique.

Step 2:  Research social networks

Who’s talking about your keywords? Consider how people use terms when they are chatting casually with family and friends online. They may not use the same, specific terms that they would in a Google search.

Use Twitter’s built-in search tool, Hootsuite’s monitoring function, Google+’s built-in search function, and a “Public Posts” search on Facebook to see what has been said about your keywords, and consider the context, too. Use this information to inform your keyword selection.

Once you’ve whittled down your keyword list to a refined set of terms, pick a few primary keywords you will be targeting. Based on all of your keyword research, make an educated decision on which terms you want your site to rank for.

Now, optimize away!

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