One of the most important elements of search engine optimization (SEO) is choosing the right keywords for your content. It’s an art as much as a science, and it’s difficult to teach. I think considering use cases for your target audience can help.
First, an introduction to keywords: Essentially, keywords are terms — words or phrases — that people use to search on the Internet. Whether on Google, Bing or another search engine, they type in a word or phrase to find information they’re looking for.
If you own or manage a website, you generally want them to find your site — if, that is, they’re looking for anything related to what you do. To do this, you can optimize the content on your site to match up with the keywords people are using in their searches.
It’s important not to overdo this — not to load your pages up with too many references to the keywords, for example. (The best rule of thumb to keep in mind at all times is to make your website a good experience for visitors. You do not want your language to feel unnatural to a visitor.) But that’s a subject for a different day. All I really want to address here is choosing keywords.
Is SEO a technical term?
This can be a tricky challenge for a website owner or author, particularly for someone who is a knowledgeable expert with deep understanding of their subject matter — and especially if that subject matter is highly technical or scientific. Why? Because the terms they use to think and talk about their subject are probably different from the terms people would use when searching for that information.
Let’s consider a rather simple example: If I know a lot about search engine optimization, then “search engine optimization” and “SEO” are terms I might use a lot. And I might think they would make great keywords to include on my website. But if the audience I’m trying to write for — the people I hope will find and use my content — is very non-technical and completely new to this world of SEO, then the term SEO itself might be too technical for them to use in a search. They might be more likely to looking for “website writing tips” or “how to get found by search engines.”
Using use cases
So I think it can be useful to put together a list of the kinds of visitors you hope will use your website, and some examples of when/why they might be looking for information that you could provide. This can help you consider how they might think about your subject matter, which in turn can help you imagine what they might type into a search box. You’re basically trying to get into their brains and think like they do, to imagine what they will type into Google when they have a question you could answer.
So, following the example above, someone writing about search optimization might come up with the following partial list of use cases:
- Someone who just launched a blog and doesn’t see it listed when searching Google
- Website owner who sees an ad or gets an email offering help “getting found by search engines” and wants to know whether to respond
- Webmaster who doesn’t know whether to use images or text links for their website navigation links
Those are just a few examples. But they might help that SEO expert start to think like his/her target readers and imagine the real language those people might type into a search engine.
An assignment for you
Try it. Put together a short list of visitor use cases for your website in general, and then some additional, more specific lists of 2-3 potential readers for some of your individual articles. Does that help you think of real language those people might type into a search engine?
It doesn’t end there, of course. There are some cool tools and resources you can use to help suggest and choose keywords — again, maybe fodder for a later post. For now, let me know if this helps you start to get into your readers’ heads, and think the way they might when they search for information.