How to Choose the Right Keywords for SEO

By Tom Shearman

Do you want to hear something about SEO that totally blew my mind when I heard it?

You’ll always rank for something.

Alright, so that may not have quite blown your mind too, but let me elaborate a little. You could throw together a website in twenty minutes, hit publish, and it’ll get organic traffic. Sure, it’s more likely to be a trickle than a deluge, but let’s reframe that this way:

Given enough time and effort, you can rank for almost anything.

GIF showing "mind blown."

Now, that isn’t to say that if you owned a Chicago running shoe store you could outrank a business like Amazon or Zappos for a term like “running shoes,” but you could certainly outrank them for “Chicago running shoes.” But how do you choose the keywords that are worth this time and effort?

Using the right keywords for your website is essential to your website’s success. Focusing on the wrong keywords will increase the work it takes to see results. It all begins with a strong keyword research strategy. In this article, I will demonstrate how to choose the right keywords to maximize your SEO efforts.

The Importance of Keyword Research

So what does the “right” keyword mean? The right keywords for your website speak to your individual audience and help you execute your business goals. Ideally, these are terms that you can both rank high for and that are relevant to your audience. 

Keyword research is vital to any successful SEO strategy. It involves identifying related and profitable keywords (search terms) that people in your niche are using to find relevant information. This process helps you optimize your website for certain words and phrases, improve your visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs), and attract more qualified traffic to your website.

Text: The Benefits of Keyword Reseach

There are several reasons why keyword research is important when learning how to choose your SEO keywords. First, it helps you to understand your target audience and their search behavior.

By analyzing the search terms that people are using to find information related to your business, you can gain insight into their needs, preferences, and pain points. This can aid in writing content that resonates with your audience and improve your chances of converting that traffic into customers. More on this later.

Keyword research can also help you identify opportunities for growth and expansion. By analyzing search volume, competition, and search trends, you can identify new keywords and topics to target in your content marketing and SEO efforts.

Lastly, keyword research can help you improve your website’s authority and relevance in the eyes of both search engines and visitors. By optimizing your website for relevant search terms, you can improve your website’s ranking in the SERPs, attract more organic traffic, and establish your website as a credible source of information within your industry.

But there’s more to selecting the right search terms than just focusing on the keywords themselves. It really all starts with your target audience. 

Understanding Your Target Audience

The first step in selecting the right keywords to support your SEO efforts is knowing who your target audience is. Who are the right visitors for your website? What are their individual needs and preferences?

If you know the answers to these questions, then you will have an idea as to what searches they are likely to conduct when looking for information that your website contains.

When you know who your target audience is, you can start analyzing their search behavior. Tools like Google Trends, Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, Moz, and SEMrush can help show which keywords they are using and what types of content they are engaging with.

Logos of five keyword research tools.

These tools also provide information about the keywords themselves, including the number of average monthly searches and how difficult those terms are to rank for.

The more you know about your target audience, the more likely you’ll choose keywords that resonate with them and this can help to improve your SEO performance. Putting your audience first will not only generate more website traffic but can also increase the likelihood of converting that traffic into customers or clients.

Once you have a firm understanding of what it is your audience is looking for, it’s time to start doing the actual research.

Keyword Selection and Conducting the Research 

Keyword research involves finding popular search terms that people use when looking for goods and services related to those your business provides.

Several tools like the ones mentioned above are available for conducting keyword research. These can help you find new keyword ideas, as well as analyze search volume, competition, and cost-per-click (CPC). They can also provide insights into related keywords and search trends.

You can start by brainstorming a list of potential keywords that you think people might use to find your website. These can be broad or general searches related to your business, or they can be for specific products and services you offer.

Gif: "I'm going to look that up"

In addition to identifying broad, high-level keywords, you’ll also want to identify long-tail keywords. These keywords are more specific and typically have lower search volume but higher intent. For example, “best vegan restaurants in Chicago” is a long-tail keyword that is more specific than “vegan restaurants.” While “vegan restaurants” is likely to have more search volume, “best vegan restaurants in Chicago” is likely to have higher conversion rates.

Once you have a list of potential keywords and long-tail keywords, use one or more of the keyword research tools to identify other relevant search terms that you may have missed. Ideally, you want to focus on keywords with high search volume, low competition, and a high CPC (if you plan on running paid search campaigns).

 Additionally, there are going to be three factors that come into this equation.

  1. Search volume: you’ll want to target higher volume keywords, all things being equal.
  2. Keyword competitiveness: you’ll want to target lower-competition keywords.
  3. Keyword value: you’ll want to rank for keywords that have a higher value for your business.

What’s the search volume?

While some of the metrics we’ve outlined above are going to be relatively subjective, the easiest metric for you to find objective data is going to be search volume, which measures the average monthly searches for a given keyword. For example, let’s take one of the keywords in our very own keyword universe, ‘digital marketing Chicago’, and plug it into Google’s Keyword Planner. Here’s a look at the search volume of this term (plus some related terms):

How to find the volume of keyword

So ‘digital marketing Chicago’ is a term that’s searched, on average, 140 times per month, while ‘digital marketing agency Chicago’ is searched 110 times per month, and so on. For more details on how to use the Keyword Planner for SEO keyword research, check out Brian Dean’s great guide at Backlinko.

How competitive is the keyword?

While there are plenty of different tools you can use for measuring keyword competitiveness, you can actually get a pretty good picture of how competitive a keyword is from the ‘suggested bid’ column in the keyword planner results.

What that column is showing you is an average of the cost-per-click that advertisers are paying for Google Ads clicks on ads targeting that search query. What this provides you with is a pretty decent approximation of the ‘commercial intent’ of a given keyword. So if we compare the top two rows:

Using the Keyword Planner to gauge how competitive a keyword is

It appears that advertisers are willing to pay around $3.10 more per click for ‘digital marketing agency Chicago’, so we can assume that this keyword variation has higher commercial intent- which typically means that it’s also more competitive.

What is the value of the keyword to your business?

This last question goes from the joyful land of finite, objective numbers into the terrifying ambiguity of subjective judgment. In order to find a sweet spot between high-volume queries, and queries that are simultaneously easier to rank for, you might have to start considering how these keywords fall into any of the following categories.

  1. Informational: These kinds of queries might be relevant to your audience, but lower in commercial intent and higher up the sales funnel. To our previous example, this might include queries like ‘how Google works’. There might be some relevant, awareness-level traffic in there for us, but there’s also going to be a lot of noise, so they’re going to have low value.
  2. Research: These are the kinds of keywords that are a little further down the funnel, searching things like ‘how to increase organic traffic’. These kinds of keywords tend to fall somewhere between the awareness and consideration phases, so they have moderate value.
  3. Transactional: These are the real bottom-funnel keywords that we’ve been talking about, and are more likely to convert highly, like ‘digital marketing agency Chicago’. These keywords have a high value.

How different types of keywords fit in your marketing funnell

So while you may be able to objectively rank various keywords for volume and competitiveness, assigning their value can be somewhat more tricky. If you’re currently running a PPC campaign, your Google Ads data should provide you with great insight into the average CPA and conversion rate of visitors coming in via a given keyword. Alternatively, you could take a look at the keyword data in your Google Search Console.

By conducting thorough keyword research, you can identify the most relevant and profitable keywords for your niche and optimize your website accordingly. This will help improve your SEO performance and attract qualified visitors to your website.

But there’s even more to it than that. Keywords don’t exist in a vacuum. They also exist within the context of the search query, so it is also important to take keyword intent into account during this process.

Keyword Intent and Relevance

Selecting the right keywords for SEO is not only about finding the most popular search terms. You also must take search intent and relevance into consideration. Search intent refers to the reasoning or the “why” behind a user’s search query. Understanding a keyword’s intent can help you create more relevant and engaging content that satisfies the user’s needs.

The 4 types of keyword intent

There are four types of keyword intent: informational, navigational, commercial, and transactional. Informational keywords are those where a user is looking for specific information or answers to a question. Any “who, what, why, when, how, or why” searches would fall into this category.

Navigational keywords are those where a user is trying to find a specific website or web page, but can’t precisely recall how to get there. An example of this would be someone trying to find the login page for their credit card company or bank like “Wells Fargo login.”

Commercial keywords are used when a searcher has decided to purchase a particular product or service but is still conducting research. For example, a search for “Nike vs Adidas trail running shoes” would reflect someone who is ready to buy trail runners but is still unsure which brand or company to go with.

Lastly, transactional keywords are the bottom-of-funnel terms used when a user is ready to make a purchase or take a specific action. These are often considered the “money” keywords in e-commerce businesses.

Determining keyword intent

To determine the intent behind a keyword, you’ll want to consider the context in which it is used. What type of content are searchers looking for when they use that keyword? Are they looking for a specific product or service, or are they seeking general information about a topic?

Searches like “buy inexpensive air conditioner” are very different from “my air conditioner isn’t working” queries. One has commercial intent while the other is informational in nature, and the search results will reflect this.

Keyword tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs provide search intent, but there’s no substitute for checking the actual search results yourself. If you type a certain keyword or phrase into Google and the search results return mostly blogs or articles, the search intent is likely informational. If the keyword you use results in ads and products that you can purchase, the intent is likely commercial.

Google is always testing search results to make sure they understand searcher intent so if you are using a keyword tool you will want to compare their findings to what you are seeing in the SERPs.

Once you have identified the intent behind a keyword, you can choose relevant keywords that align with your business goals. For example, if your goal is to drive sales, focus on transactional keywords that indicate a user’s intent to make a purchase.

Determining keyword relevance

Relevance is another important factor in selecting keywords for SEO. Focus on keywords that are relevant to your business, industry, and the content you produce. Avoid using generic keywords that are not specific to your business. Doing so can bring unqualified traffic to your site, reducing the likelihood of attracting potential customers and generating leads.

In addition, it’s important to consider the searcher’s query and the context in which it is used. Use keywords that are specific, descriptive, and that accurately reflect the content of your website. This will help improve your website’s relevance and authority in the eyes of Google and other search engines.

By choosing keywords that align with the user’s intent and that are relevant to your business, you can create more effective and engaging content that drives traffic and leads to your website and converts them into customers.

Now that you have the keywords you want to use for your website, what do you do with them?

On-Page Keyword Optimization

Once you have identified the search terms that are the most relevant to your audience and your business, the next step is to optimize your website for these keywords.

On-page optimization involves making changes to your website’s content so that it is easy to navigate and understand, both for humans and search engines. This is done through keyword mapping.

Keyword mapping involves assigning target keywords to specific pages on your website, and then building out the content of that page so that it aligns with the targeted term. This will ensure that each page on your website is optimized for a specific topic and that your content is targeting the right related keywords.

To map keywords to specific pages, you will first want to identify the primary keyword for a given website page. This is the keyword that best represents the content on that page and is most likely to attract the kind of traffic that you want.

You can then identify secondary and related keywords (like the long-tail keywords I mentioned earlier) that are relevant to that primary keyword and map them to that page as well.

In order to accomplish the keyword mapping process, there are several on-page optimization techniques that you can use to improve your website’s chance of appearing in the SERPs:

  • Title tags: Title tags are the main headlines that appear in search engine results pages. Use your primary keywords in your title tags to help search engines understand the content of each web page
  • Meta descriptions: These are the brief summaries that appear under your title tags in the SERPs. Use compelling and relevant meta descriptions that include your target keyword(s) and entice users to click through to your website
  • Header tags: Use header tags (h1, h2, h3, etc.) to organize the page’s content for both people and search engines. Headers are also useful for breaking up long blocks of content and can help readers quickly navigate to the sections they want to read
  • Content optimization: Use relevant and descriptive keywords throughout your website’s content enough to thoroughly cover the context and content on a given topic
  •  Image optimization: Use descriptive file names and image alt text for all website images to help search engines understand their content. Image alt text is also important in getting your site to be ADA-compliant
  • Internal linking: Use internal links to connect pages of related content on your website and help users and web crawlers to navigate the site. (Linking to authoritative external websites can also be useful in supporting your content.)

On-page optimization is a critical component for making your website search-friendly. By optimizing your website for relevant keywords and making it more search engine and user-friendly, you can improve your chances of appearing in the search results pages. You’ll also have a better shot at attracting more qualified traffic to your website, improving the chances of converting the traffic you do get.

Need Help Choosing the Right Keywords for SEO?

As you can see, selecting the right SEO keywords is a process. It requires understanding your audience, conducting thorough research, and taking keyword intent and relevance into account.

Once you have identified your target keywords, it’s important to optimize your website’s content through keyword mapping to improve your website’s visibility. In taking these steps, you can identify and focus on the keywords that will drive website traffic and ultimately generate new business.

SEO is an ongoing process, one that is continual and requires consistent attention. It’s important to monitor and adjust your keyword strategy over time to stay competitive in your industry, and to stay at the top of the search rankings.

If you need help with your SEO strategy, contact Digital Third Coast. Our SEO team has over 15 years of experience in search engine optimization, organic search, and award-winning content strategy. Let us help you find the right SEO keywords for your business.

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