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How To Pick Keywords

No one can optimize for everything. Every keyword you choose to optimize on your website has to become the focus of content. Each one is also fodder for online ads, which cost money to run. And not all ads produce results. So how do you know which keywords are the right ones?


Let’s start by discussing how not to pick keywords. Keywords don’t come from thin air—and for the most part, they don’t come from hunches or instinct either. Often, business owners come to us with a list of keywords they want to optimize for, but when we ask them how they researched these keywords they shake their heads. The answer is more or less, “This is what we sell.” In other words, it’s what they’re hoping people search for.

Here’s an important equation to remember:

[What you’re hoping people search for] ≠ [What people actually search for]

Instead, keyword selection has to flow the opposite direction. You have to start off by finding out what people are actually searching for, and then adjust your content to optimize for those strings. The best way to do this is by acquiring cold, hard data on the keywords people use.

Fortunately, that data is free.

Your Data Set

Two of the most basic ways to get good keyword data both involve Google Keyword Planner. This is free to use once you create an account. Once you’re signed in you can:

  • Vet your own ideas. Remember that list of keywords you came up with, that you hope people are searching for? It probably does have some gems in it—maybe lots. Drop your whole list of keyword ideas into the planner (under “Get search volume for a list of keywords…”) and see how many searches each one gets. Strike off the ones that don’t get enough and keep the rest.
  • Get Google’s suggestion. It shouldn’t be any surprise that Google has a lot of experience with keywords. What may surprise you is that they’ll gladly tip their hand and share suggestions (seeing AdWords campaigns succeed is in their best interest). Choose “Search for new keyword and ad group ideas…” and enter your website. The suggestions will flow.

About this time, you should get a spreadsheet going where you keep all your keyword ideas. Ready? Good, because Trond Lyngbø over at Search Engine Land has lots more ideas on where to research keywords. These include:

  • Google Analytics. One of the reports Google Analytics offers shows all the keywords that have referred traffic to your site. Export them and add them to your spreadsheet.
  • Internal Searches. Do you have tools tracking the internal searches that users run on your site? (Hint: you should.) Grab these internal search terms and export them to your list.
  • Previous AdWords Campaigns. If you’ve run AdWords campaigns then you already have sets of keywords you’ve put to the test. Trond suggests exporting all data from previous campaigns, but we’d say take only the keywords that performed well; otherwise you’re once again grabbing keywords from thin air.
  • Webmaster Tools. You should already have Google Webmaster Tools and you may have similar tools for other search engines as well. These tools will provide information on search traffic which you should add to your list.

Putting the Data to Work

So once you have this data, what do you do with it? The first step is to prioritize it. Some of the suggestions may just not be that relevant to what you actually sell, and if they’re too much of a stretch you should scratch them off so that you don’t alienate customers or waste effort. But the main metric you want to use on your keywords is search volume. The more searches a keyword gets, the more traffic it can bring in. Again, you can use the Keyword Planner to estimate search volume for your whole list.

After that it’s about focus. Take high volume keywords and make a short list for each of your departments or niches. For example, you might have about five top keywords each for purses, hats, men’s footwear and women’s footwear. Or for service categories like injury lawyers, traffic lawyers, and DUI defense lawyers. If your business has a relatively narrow focus (like creating apps, and nothing else) then you might go with a longer list of keywords around your main niche. Finally, brand keywords (like the name of your business) should always make the list.

Obviously, there are more steps that SEO professionals take to research and vet keywords. For a DIY SEO process, however, this is a very good start—and a lot better than the guesswork we started with.

Want help choosing the right keywords? EverSpark Interactive offers custom SEO support for businesses of all sizes. We also offer a free consultation. Contact us and your consultation today.