When I talk with clients about keywords, our conversation can quickly get confusing. We start out straightforward: Explore your business, your customer base, and the way you solve problems for those customers. But how do we distill that information so Google understands it? Our goal is to have Google serve up your website content to those who need it. That’s where keywords come in. Keywords unlock the intent of your website.
The purpose of keywords in SEO
What are keywords? Why do they matter? And how do you pick the right ones for your business?
Google wants to provide the best possible answer to each and every search on their search engine (yes, all 3.8 million of them per minute). To do that it constantly crawls websites throughout the world, looking for each webpage’s intent. If you make it difficult for Google to understand your site then it will figuratively throw up its hands and move on to the next one. It may be months (or longer) before it stops by again to see if it can get a handle on your business this time around.
Keywords are the key that unlocks intent for Google
When you use a keyword in your website content, you offer clues to the search engine crawling your site. One use of a keyword will not necessarily give them the whole picture, but it helps to bring what you do, for whom, and how well you do it, into focus.
Whether your viewers use Google (as 87% of them do), or Bing, Internet Explorer, and Duck Duck Go (the other 13%), judicious use of keywords will tell the search engine if you are a match for their current query.
What does it mean to “rank for keywords?”
When a searcher types a query into the search bar of a search engine, the list of websites that come up is called the SERP – search engine results page. There may be millions of results for your query (literally). “Ranking” for a keyword in the world of SEOs means being in the top 100. There are 10 organic results on each page of the SERP, to if you are #78, you’ll be on page 7 of the SERP, lower down on the page. But tell me honestly, when was the last time you clicked through to page 7 of your search results? Or even page 2?
SEOs joke that page 2 of the SERPs is where you go to bury dead bodies. In other words, you want to get in the top 10 organic results so you show up on page 1 of the SERPs.
Even so, you’ll have to compete with the 3 ads at the top and bottom of the page, the snippet (called position 0) which attempts to answer your query without you ever clicking into an actual website, and the list of “People also ask” suggestions, plus image or video suggestions.
Is it impossible? Nope. But it’s also a cakewalk to rank for any given keyword phrase.
Kinds of keywords for your website’s SEO
- Navigational keywords point to a specific website. These are generally branded terms like “Sora Creative” or “Home Depot” which will take the searcher to that website without making them type in the exact URL.
- Informational keywords are used to find out about a subject. This is the research phase of the buying decision. The searcher is higher up in the sales funnel. “Who does SEO in San Jose?” “Why should I care about keywords for SEO?” “How do I get rid of the slugs on my tomatoes?” “Should I charge my phone overnight?” “How often do I need to season my cast iron skillet?”
- Commercial keywords indicate the searcher is ready to make a purchase. Clues like “cost” and “buy” imply that they are done with the research phase and want to know where to make a transaction.
Types of keywords for your website content
- Head keywords are 1 to 2 word phrases that are very difficult to rank for. You will need considerable domain authority, plenty of backlinks, and an abundance of the highest-quality content on your website and blogs.
- Body keyword phrases are 2 to 4 words long. These are a bit easier to rank for than head keywords, but not by a whole lot. You’ll still need plenty of top-notch content, good backlinks, and patience as your SEO rankings increase over time.
- Long-tail keywords are phrases of 4 words and over. These tend to be easier to rank for due to their specificity.
How to pick keywords
As you get ready to decide which keywords you want to focus on, it’s a good idea to think of them in 2 categories. You’ll have a handful of keyword phrases that you’ll use for your overall website. I call these your “business keywords.”
For example, if you are a photographer, you may target “Family portrait photographer in [your town].” If you own a hardware store, you’ll target “Locally-owned hardware store in [your town].” What if you have a nation-wide customer base? Then you’ll need to cast a wider net. “Website developer for small businesses,” “Natural, dye-free dog food,” or “Online chemistry tutors for college students.”
Think like your customer
Ask customers how they found you, what they wonder about your industry, or what they would like to know. What led them to become customers can help you reach out to other like them.
Study the competition
Take a look at businesses that do what you do, and how they present themselves online. Note what their blog topics are and what terms they use in their home and money page content (services and products pages).
Use keyword tools
If you have access to a paid tool, by all means, take advantage of it. Semrush and Ahrefs are my favorites, but there are many more.
My favorite free tool is Keyword.io which allows you to plug in a possible keyword, then it produces many related keywords from that suggestion.
You can also use Google as a keyword suggester. Simply type in your keyword to the Google search bar and see what autofill brings up. Check “People also ask” and the search suggestions and related searches at the bottom of the page.
- Start with the general idea of what you want to write about
- Put it into Google search bar
- Take a look at what comes up
- Is this in the same area you had in mind?
- Would a variation make better sense?
- Adjust your search and try again
Where to put your keywords
Overarching business keywords
Your business will have 3 to 4 general keywords for the intent of the overall business. For example, a women’s adventure travel site might target; “women’s outdoor adventure tours,” “outdoor adventure tours,” and “adventure tours for women.”
A Natural dog food company might target; “healthy food for dogs,” “natural dog food,” and “organic dog food.”
These general business keywords should be scattered within your on-page content on:
- Home page
- About page
- Services pages
- Product pages
- Google My Business profile
- Social media page descriptions and profiles
- Also include at least one in your meta descriptions for each page and your alt descriptions for photos
Topical long-tail keywords for blogs
In addition to the general keywords for your business, you’ll want to create a strategy for the addition of ongoing content. Usually, this means a blog with regular posts. What is regular? It can be daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Essentially, you’ll train Google to come back and visit your site based on how often you post. (Although you still want to request Google to index your site using Google Search Console after each post, just to make sure.)
Pick one long-tail keyword for your blog topic.
Use this keyword:
- In your blog content
- In blog URL (with hyphens not underscores so Google understands its a phrase that goes together
- Blog meta description, preferably in the first part of the 165 characters to make is easy for Google (and the reader) to understand the intent of the blog
- Blog hero image name because you don’t want your article matched with someone else’s image on the SERP because you failed to pay close enough attention to the name and alt description of your hero image!
Once you have a main blog keyword, plug it into Keyword.io to find related keywords within the same topic. Pick no more than 6 to 9 closely tied phrases and use them within your content copy.
Use these secondary keywords as subheads when possible. This will double down on the intent of your article. Not only that, using plenty of related subheads within your text will give the reader plenty to go on if they want to skim instead of read – as many do.
If you’re tempted by keywords that are not quite on topic, Just say no!
You’ll water down the intent of your blog with Google and confuse readers with too much scattered information. Create another blog post. Make a blog content brief on the new topic and stash it away for later. Think rifle shot instead of shotgun blast when planning hyour blog post.
For example, in this article, my main keyword is ‘how to pick keywords for website” Related, secondary keywords include:
- Purpose of keywords
- Where to put keywords
- How to rank with keywords
- Topical long-tail keywords
- Business keywords
- Keyword tools
Topics like writing effective copy and boosting on-page SEO may be related to keywords, but they are distinctly different from how to pick keywords and they deserve their very own blog post. (Stay tuned for these topics coming soon…)
Picking keywords for your blog posts and your website is as much an art as a science. You can use tools like Keyword.io and Google suggestions to give you good ideas. But your best bet is to trust yourself. After all, you are the expert in your field. And trust your customers and clients, too. They know why they want to do business with you. You solved a need they had, and if they can put into words the way you did that – you can leverage that solution to help reach others who need it too. Picking keywords isn’t hard, but you must be intentional in telling both Google and your readers what you do and why you do it well.