Defining the words and phrases for which you want your website to appear at or near the top of search results pages is a key part of your website’s SEO plan.
But keyword targeting is a craft – perhaps equal parts science and art. Keywords obviously should be pertinent to your audience and the content of your website. But they also need to be both broad enough to ensure there really are people using them in searches and specific enough to ensure the audience they draw is the same audience that can profit from your content. And they need to be narrow enough that it will be a realistic, achievable goal for you to get your website listed in the first few results.
Use these tips to help choose keywords that make sense for your site:
Target language that people really use when searching.
Your definition of the “topic” of your site might not be the same as the word or words people use to find information about that topic. And you need to use the words people use in searches when you are writing for your site.
- Tactic 1: Use tools that help you identify the terms people really use when searching. There are numerous tools that can help with this, and a quick Google search on “keyword research tool” or “keyword selection tool” will bring you a list of options. My personal favorite is the Google AdWords keyword research tool.
- Tactic 2: It helps to try to get into the mind of your audience. You need to think like a searcher, not a writer or business owner or content expert. If you know your subject well, you likely don’t think about it in quite the same way as an average visitor to your site might. So you need try to put yourself in their place when you’re developing keywords. Try creating use cases to help you think more like your audience. You also can look at your website’s traffic analytics to see the terms users already are using to find your site through search, as well as the terms they use in your internal site search engine.
Set realistic targets.
It’s important to set goals that are achievable. So if you’re just starting out, it might not be wise to target the very most popular search terms in your field. Often it makes sense to set your sites a little lower and work your way up the list. Run some searches on the keywords you are considering, to see what websites and content are showing in the first page of results. If the results for the most popular ones are dominated by well-known Goliaths in your field, then it’s probably best to leave those top keywords alone, at least for know. Look instead for some lesser used, but still common, keywords that cover the topics you will be writing about. As you start to see your pages rank well for those keywords, you can always move on to targeting more popular search terms.
Target phrases, not just single words.
This goes hand in hand with setting realistic targets. It’s important to remember that people don’t always search on single words. Although we call search terms “keywords,” a better term might be “key phrases.” Often when we search we type in a phrase or set of key terms that combine to narrow our search. As an SEO practitioner, it’s important to bear this in mind – and use phrases and groups of words as your targets. Instead of just “SEO,” maybe your keyword targets should include “SEO keywords” or “SEO keyword tools” or “what are SEO keywords”?
Target the long tail.
Sometimes you can get just as much traffic by targeting very specific phrases or keyword combinations that are used less frequently by searchers, rather than more frequently used terms. This is known as the long-tail effect, a term coined by former Wired magazine editor in chief Chris Anderson, and there’s a great explanation of it on the LeftClick blog. The amazing thing about these long-tail phrases is not just that they bring in traffic from search engines but that they actually can bring in more engaged readers. Because these people are searching for very specific information, they really want to read it when they find it. So if you provide them the content they want, they won’t just come to your site; they’ll read your whole article.
How many keywords should you target?
There’s really not a hard and fast rule that answers this for everyone. My best advice is: Make sure every web page you write targets at least one very specific keyword/phrase. Sometimes you can target multiple keywords on a page, but don’t overdo it. The most important thing to keep in mind is the user’s experience in reading the page. The final read has to be natural and feel right to the reader; over-stuffing with keywords will be a mistake every time.
Don’t forget local search.
Not everyone can find an audience through local search. But many websites can. Do you work for an association or non-profit that serves a specific state? Be sure to target search terms that include your state as well as cities within it. If your geographic area is a city, think about neighborhood names as well. There’s a handy keyword tool that can help you specifically with geo-targeting your keywords locally.
Use your keywords when you write.
Now that you’ve got your keywords defined, is your work done? Alas, no. The most important part is yet to come. You still need to use your keywords on your website. Use them on the page; use them in headlines; use them in your title and description metatags. But whatever you do, don’t overuse them! Your reader’s experience is always the most important factor when you’re writing. Make sure that your writing will flow naturally for your reader.
Always remember: search engines want to think and behave like readers. So if your website offers a good experience for your visitor, that is essentially a good experience for a search engine. If that means you give up three opportunities to use your keyword on the page, because repeating the word or phrase in those particular instances would feel stilted and unnatural, then forego those three opportunities. If the end result is better for your reader, the benefit will carry over to your search optimization.
This post is part of a periodic series on search engine optimization, to help readers follow through on the 2013 New Year’s Resolutions for Search Engine Optimization.