How to Pick Your First SEO Keywords
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One of the best ways to grow a business is through search engine optimization (SEO), the process of making changes to increase a website’s likelihood of being ranked for relevant searches within Google and other search engines.
Keywords are a critical component of the strategy; optimizing your site for specific ones gives you the power to control which searches you rank for (and therefore who your target audience is). Accordingly, adjusting your keyword distribution gives you power to change your campaign over time.
To be successful, you need to start by picking the right keywords. Over time, you’ll gather data that helps you determine which of your keywords are most successful, and which ones need more work -- but how do you pick the right initial set of keywords?
Set and understand your overall goals.
Before you decide which keywords are right for your brand, spend some time thinking about what your SEO goals are. Most companies use SEO to increase website traffic, which in turn, increases revenue, but you’ll need to be more specific than that.
How fast do you want to see results? SEO is a long-term strategy, so it sometimes takes months before you start seeing results. If you want results faster than that, you’ll need to choose lower-competition and higher-volume keywords.
How relevant does your audience need to be? Are you laser-focused on one specific audience, or flexible with the types of people you have coming to the site?
What types of traffic are you seeking? Do you want people to buy your products, or are you focusing for now on brand awareness?
Decide on a blend of head and long-tail keywords.
Once you know your goals, you should be able at least to decide on a balance between “head” keywords and “long-tail” keywords. Head keywords are short phrases, usually one-to-three words, associated with higher traffic but also higher competition.
Long-tail keywords are longer, usually conversational phrases that have lower traffic but lower competition. Head keywords are better for long-term, traffic-centric strategies, while long-tail keywords are better for short-term, fast results-centric strategies. You’ll need both, in some combination, for the best overall results.
Conduct your preliminary research.
Once you have those goals and that initial vision in mind, you can work on your preliminary research:
Come up with root ideas. Start by sketching out some ideas for what people might search for related to your business. You don’t need to be exhaustive here, but try to come up with at least a few broad categories of searches, and both head and long-tail keywords they might use to find you.
Use topic and keyword generators. Next, use an online tool to help you come up with more keyword and topic ideas, based on some of your preliminary ideas. I like to use Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool for this, since it helps you come up with ideas and gives you stats on the keywords themselves (which you’ll need later).
Create a master list. Export all the keywords you can into a master spreadsheet, so you can quickly compare them and sort by various fields.
Narrow down the list.
Once you’ve got a “master list” created, you can start weeding out the weakest candidates. Take a look at the following variables with special focus:
Volume. "Search volume" refers to how many times a particular phrase is searched for. It’s a handy way to gauge how much traffic you’ll receive from a specific query, though you should know that volume tends to fluctuate over time.
Competition. Next, look at the level of competition for each keyword. It’s no coincidence that the highest-volume keywords also tend to have the highest amount of competition, and of course, the higher the competition, the harder it’s going to be to rank for that keyword. You’ll need to strike a balance between the two.
Relevance. You should also consider the relevance of each keyword to your core brand. Sure, it might have high traffic and low competition, but will it really be forwarding the type of traffic your website needs?
Current rankings. It’s worth checking to see if you currently rank for any of these terms -- if you do, that might help you build early momentum.
Pick your top candidates.
At this point, your top candidates should be a matter of personal taste. You’ve narrowed your list down to keywords with the highest likelihood of earning you the results you want, so for now, pick a handful that you’ll have an easy time optimizing for (or the ones that seem the most attractive).
Your first blend of keywords isn’t going to be perfect, but it will give you a solid baseline you can use to improve your level of traffic even further. Pay close attention to how your results develop over time, and don’t be afraid to make changes when you need to.