One of the first things you learn about SEO is the value of keywords. As a refresher, keywords are the words or phrases that web users put into the search bar when trying to find something online. Spending time researching the keywords you want to target can pay off in a big way over the long run.
To perform keyword research properly, you’ll need to understand the process and have a plan in place. And that’s what this article is all about. Let’s get started!
Everything about search is based around the concept of the focus keyword. When a user opens up a search engine to look for something on the web, that person can enter anything he or she wishes into the search bar. Depending on the input, a collection of web pages will be returned, and those pages will be ranked in order of relevance.
So, what is going on behind the scenes that allows the search engines to come up with these results? Well, it all starts with the keyword that was selected by the user. That word or phrase is going to act as a starting point for the search, as only pages that include that word or phrase is likely to be returned.
Now, of course, it’s important to point out that keywords are far from the only factor used by search engines to sort out the results. But they are a starting point. It might be helpful to think about SEO as a car race. Using the right keywords doesn’t mean that you will win the race – but it does give you a spot on the starting line. The right keywords allow you to get in the race, and the other elements of search engine optimization will then determine who wins in the end.
Early in your SEO journey, you are going to need to do keyword research. This research will help you determine which keywords you are going to target on your pages. Some of the keywords will be easy and obvious, while others may surprise you. A well-rounded SEO plan includes targeting a range of keywords that all relate directly to the core offerings of the business.
This concept is best explained through the use of an example. No matter what kind of business you run, you should be able to adapt this example to understand how keyword research can work for you. For our purposes, we are going to imagine that the business in question is a plumber in Chicago, Illinois. This plumbing business wants to focus on SEO in an effort to move up the organic search rankings, which should result in more traffic to their website, and more customers in the end.
It is pretty easy to figure out what the main keyword targets will be for this kind of business, even without keyword research tools (more on those later). For starters, ‘Chicago plumber’ is something that is probably searched many times every month by people in need of plumbing services. Targeting that main keyword, and variations like ‘plumber in Chicago’ or ‘best Chicago plumber’, can form the foundation of an SEO campaign.
But that’s not the end of the story. In fact, those keywords are just the beginning. Simply targeting those alone likely won’t get you very far. Let’s take a quick look at how you can branch off from there to find valuable keywords that could earn you a rankings boost.
Think local. This is a strategy that is extremely important for local service businesses (like plumbers). If you serve a specific geographical area, you’ll want to drill down and focus on specific locations with your SEO plan. So, in addition to targeting ‘Chicago plumber’, you can also add terms that include nearby city names, or neighborhoods within the city. So, things like ‘South Side Chicago plumber’, ‘Logan Square plumber’, ‘Hyde Park plumber’, and many more are all great options. Covering as many location names as possible will come in handy, as you never quite know what a possible customer is going to search when looking for assistance.
Get more specific. So far, we’ve been talking about targeting the word ‘plumber’ with other attachments like city names. But those who need a plumber might not actually search the word ‘plumber’ when trying to find a business to use. Instead, they might get more specific and search the kind of work they need to have completed. For this example, it could be things like ‘toilet repair’, ‘fix leaking pipe’, ‘clogged drain’, etc. Again, it’s all about casting a wide net to catch as many different types of searches as possible. Whatever market you are in, think about all the various ways people could be looking for your products or services.
Add words. The phrases that you target don’t have to be limited to just two or three words. In fact, going after search phrases that are several words long may be an opportunity to grab some traffic that other sites missed because they didn’t go this far in their research. One possibility for the example we have been using would be ‘best toilet repair company in North Chicago’. That’s a seven-word phrase, and it won’t be searched often, but including something like that on your site might help you land extra traffic over the long run.
From a keyword perspective, your first task is to identify a list of keywords that you want to target on various pages on your site. Of course, that list alone isn’t going to do you much good. From there, you need to actually get the keywords onto your site. That means writing content that includes those keywords a few times – which is a task that it is a little trickier than it might seem at first.
Writing with keywords in mind can lead to some pretty ugly writing. The internet is filled with examples of websites that have focused almost exclusively on including keywords in their copy. The result is content that is hard to read and does not represent the business positively. You don’t want to put this kind of content on your site.
Remember, the whole goal is to bring human visitors to your site – visitors who will be reading your content. If the content is awkward and reads like just a list of keywords rather than a cohesive message, what will that say about your business as a whole?
Writing for keywords is a learned skill that should improve with practice. However, the two tips below will help point you in the right direction from the start.
Modest volume. In the early days of search engine optimization, the goal was simple – just add your target keywords as many times as possible, even if the writing was terrible as a result. Back then, the search engines were not as sophisticated as they are today, so maximizing keyword volume paid off. Times have changed. Search engines are now smarter, so you don’t need to include your keywords nearly as often. Just sprinkle them into the content naturally where they fit. This is not a hard and fast rule, but you could aim for once in the first paragraph, once in the last paragraph, and once somewhere in the middle. That approach would make sure you hit the keyword without just repeating it over and over again.
Use keywords in headlines. One of the best ways to incorporate your keywords is to use them within headlines. You should find it easier to use them here as opposed to within sentences, especially if it is a keyword that’s a little awkward to fit into your writing. Also, using keywords in headlines may even give you a little search boost, so it’s a method worth using.
Don’t forget, if you are struggling with the writing portion of your SEO journey, you can always hire help. A professional SEO writer will know how to incorporate your chosen keywords without ruining the copy.
Those who are serious about their SEO efforts may decide to use keyword research tools to find more opportunities. These tools typically include a monthly fee, but that investment could be worth it if you are able to find new keywords to target. Some of the popular options on the web today include –
In addition to those listed below, you can also use some of Google’s own tools to search for keywords. Specifically, you can use the Keyword Planner to spot keyword opportunities that you might not have considered otherwise.
If you do decide to use a keyword research tool, you’ll have access to some interesting pieces of information. While they all have their own methods for collecting and displaying info, some of the things you’ll likely encounter are as follows.
Keyword volume. Simply put, this is an estimate of how many times per month a given keyword is searched. It’s important to know that there are plenty of variations on any specific keyword, so it’s possible – and even likely – that there will be more searches than what is shown for the monthly search volume.
Level of competition. This is an interesting one. Most of the keyword planning tools have a metric that attempts to grade the difficulty of ranking a page for the keyword you are researching. In other words, it will tell you how competitive the keyword is so you can decide whether or not you have a chance to rank well. These metrics should not be considered perfect, but they are a nice addition to your research.
Competitor research. Another valuable tool that you could access here is the ability to research competing sites. You can learn more about what your competition is doing in the hopes of finding ways to gain an advantage.
Your SEO campaign simply isn’t going anywhere without some quality keyword research. Fortunately, with some time and effort, you can get this right and produce a list of useful keywords to target with your content. With keywords in hand, it’s time to get down to the work of writing outstanding articles and publishing them for the world to see.