One of the first things we do when we're launching an online campaign is to search for keywords, but many content and digital marketers don't give this activity the time and energy it truly deserves.
How hard can it be? You pick keywords that are popular in your industry and that describe the products and services you offer.
But that's only half of the equation, and the easy half at that.
The problem is, all of your competitors are doing the same thing, which means the keywords you select may be the same ones your competitors are using. The result? Your content gets thrown into SEO indexing algorithms with nothing to make it stand out.
When competing against larger, more established brands with a bigger online presence, your ranking for those keywords might put you several pages deep in search results. The difficulty, and opportunity, with keywords is to find some that are relevant in your industry and describe the products and services you offer, while also differentiating your content to search engines.
With some effort, your brand can rank for those keywords and get found at the top of search engine results pages. In this article, I'll lay out four keyword selection tips to improve your SEO and drive more traffic to your pages.
Why are Keywords Important
Search engines crawl website content and index it based on the words and phrases that are used prominently in the content on the page (among other factors). Essentially, search engines try to figure out what each page is about so they can place the page in the search engine's index, above some pages, and below others, ranking it. Crawling and indexing are complex processes that take many things into account, including the quality of the content related to searcher intent, backlinks, domain authority, freshness and keywords (Moz Academy has published a good article on how search engines rank pages for more context).
Keywords are very important because they're a key component that search engines use to rank pages, and because content authors have more control over keywords than many other SEO elements. Your small or medium business can't control the fact that a multi-national corporation with 14 websites competes in your space, but you can choose the keywords to set your products and services apart. And, by using them, you can make it easier for prospects to find your content and website.
To find, and select the best keywords, you should understand the following concepts that are used to describe keywords:
- Monthly Searches - This tells you how frequently the keyword is searched for. You want to use keywords that people on the Internet will use to find the products and services you're offering. Some tools will give you simple ranges like low or high, others will show you the estimated volume of searches over a given period, and even supply trend information.
- Difficulty/Competition - This is how many other brands are actively using that keyword. This information can be gathered from search engine indexes and from keywords purchased for search engine advertising. You want keywords that have less competition, or that are less difficult because that means it's easier for you to rank for them.
- Rank - This is how your content, the pages on your blog or website, rank in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for the chosen keyword. The lower the rank the better. Usually the first three results at the top of SERPs are paid search engine ads. Those are followed by the list of organic search results, ranked in order. That's what you're trying to do, have your content show up in the top three organic results for any given keyword, or at least in the top 10.
Like I said, crawling and indexing are complex processes. For now, the three key terms above are a great starting point for selecting better keywords.
Tools you can use to check how your site ranks for keywords include:
Harsh Agrawal has written a nice comparison of keyword rank checking tools. Some tools, like Hubspot Marketing software, have keyword analysis and rank checking built in.
Step 1: Look for Starting Keywords
Now let's look at how you can improve the keywords you use in your content, and by doing so, improve the SEO for your content and your website.
The first thing you need to do is to look for starting keywords. You likely have an idea of some of the major keywords used in your industry - if you've done your campaign planning right, you've created personas that identify the primary customers you're trying to reach. The people you want to be your customers. You have to think of keywords those people will type into a search engine to find your products and services.
To do that, use a focus group, or brainstorm session with people who fit your persona demographics, or with experts who understand customer personas well enough to generate lists of keywords to evaluate. You can also try the following:
- Type keywords into Google or Bing to see similar common searches, that will give you ideas for additional starting keywords.
- Use tools like SEMRush, or Google's Keyword Tool that can suggest additional keywords based on analysis of your website or keywords that you enter.
- If you've run search engine ad campaigns on Google AdWords or Bing Ads, review your data and see which keywords have performed the best for you.
Step 2: Select Good Long Tail Keywords
Many of the keywords you think of for your industry are probably short - this article, for example, might have several short keywords that you can think of to readily describe it such as "content marketing SEO," or "content marketing keywords." Those keywords do broadly describe what this article is about, however, since they're well known terms, they're also heavily used (have high competition or difficulty), and are likely very difficult to rank for. Furthermore, being broad in scope, they don't describe what this article is about with any specificity.
Keywords with more words in them are called long tail keywords. Long tail keywords have two advantages. First, they more accurately describe your content, products or services. That's a good thing because you want the best prospects to find your content and come to your website - if you select keywords that do a good job describing what you offer, the people finding you through search engines will be looking more specifically for what you're offering, and thus, will be more likely to consume your content, check out your products and services, sign up for one of your offers, or even buy something.
The second advantage of long tail keywords is that other brands are less likely to be using them. This means you have a better chance of ranking higher for them now, and getting into a top 10, or even top three position, with a little effort.
How do you select which long tail keywords to use? You have to choose the best combination of words that do the best job describing your products and services. Keywords that are meaningful in your industry, and that are used by your potential customers. You have to use a ranking tool, like those listed above, to see how well you currently rank for a keyword, the difficulty, and the search volume.
Obviously, you'd like to pick keywords you rank better for now, but in many cases achieving good ranking takes time, effort, and content. You'll often be forced to pick keywords that you have a decent ranking for, have less competition, and still have enough search volume to get results. Then, through keyword optimization in your content, work your way up the rankings. Depending on how competitive your industry is online, it can take some time to find keywords that aren't out of reach and that aren't too difficult to compete for.
Step 3: Using Keywords the Right Way
Once you select your keywords, you need to use them the right way. You need to put them in the right places, and follow rules for how you include them:
- Content should be focused around a single subject so you don't have too many keywords. A single keyword is fine. Two or three keywords that you're trying to build ranking for is also fine. For example, a cloud computing company might include keywords for "cloud service provider vendor lock in" because the article is about vendor lock in. It might also include the keyword "cloud computing consulting Portland Oregon" because the company is constantly trying to improve its raking for their consulting services in their local area.
- Include at least one keyword in the title of the content.
- Include at least one keyword in the URL of the content.
- Include at least one keyword in the ALT text for images in the content.
- Include at least one keyword in the meta description for the web page that the content is published to.
- Feel free to mix up the words that make up the keyword, as search engines are smart enough to figure that out. For example, if your keyword is "cloud service provider vendor lock in," the phrase "vendor lock in with cloud service providers" would also work.
- Don't keyword stuff by overusing the keyword. Most SEO authorities recommend using a keyword between one and four times in a page, or piece of content.
Step 4: Rinse and Repeat to Improve Ranking
Any single piece of content can impact your ranking, but improving your ranking over the long term usually takes consistency and dedication.
That said, even though you need to publish with frequency and consistency, always prioritize quality. If people don't like and share your content, or the content isn't relevant, odds are you won't rank anyway because engagement and activity on your posts are also used as ranking factors. It's a balance. You can publish one article a month, or one a week. Figure out what your team can publish with quality, and put the steps outlined in this article to work.
If you put the keyword selection tips outlined in this article to work, you'll improve your SEO over time as you start ranking for your selected keywords. This will drive traffic to your website, your calls to action, and your promotions, as your content is found more frequently by searchers.