One of my first posts here was an introduction to search engine optimization, or SEO. If you haven’t read that post and are new to SEO, I highly suggest that you start there to get an idea of the concepts that will be discussed in this post.
I recently received an email from a reader who saw my first SEO post and wants some extra help choosing keywords.
I read your post about using SEO and I feel like I understand it, but I never know what keywords I should use. Is there an easy way to find keywords that will be good?
While I’m no expert on SEO, I do know enough to get search traffic for the keywords I choose. We could talk about ways to improve your search rankings all day, but for now I want to focus on the basics of deciding which keywords to use in your blog posts.
SEO: Let’s Review
I’m assuming that you’ve read the SEO 101 post, so you understand what search engine optimization is, why it’s important, and how to use an SEO plugin like All in One SEO Pack or Yoast SEO to fill in a title, description, and keywords for each of your posts.
Also noted in that post is the importance of picking specific keywords that tell search engines (and readers!) what your posts are about.
So now that you know all that, how do you come up with keywords that will actually bring in visitors?
- Remember to choose relevant keywords. If your post is about making earrings, don’t use keywords about making necklaces. You’ll just piss off the people looking for information about making necklaces.
- Think about what question your post answers or what problem it solves. What would people be googling that would lead them to your post?
- Don’t feel pressured to come up with a million keywords for each post – just use the ones that make the most sense.
But How do I Actually FIND the Keywords?
Here’s how I find my keywords, step by step:
1. Go to the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. This tool was created for people who pay to advertise with Google, but it is free to use and can really benefit a blogger looking for keywords.
2. Sign in with your Google account so you don’t have to fill out a captcha for each search.
3. Be sure you’ve selected “Keyword Ideas.” The Ad group ideas tab is selected by default, but that won’t be helpful in this case. Just click the Keyword Ideas box to make sure it’s white instead of green before you search.
4. Enter a basic keyword for your post. For example, for this post I searched for “seo keywords.” I left all the other fields blank and clicked the search button.
How to Decipher the Results
Once you search for your basic keyword, you’ll get a list of results like this (click to embiggen):
First, you’ll see the keyword you actually searched for, as well as how many global and local monthly Google searches it gets. (Local meaning in your country, not your state or local area.) You’ll also see the competition for that keyword – low, medium, or high.
Then you’ll get a long list of related keywords, with all the same info for number of searches and competition. You might look at some of those and think, “Oh, that’s related to my post!” You might also think of related keywords to search based on the results you get. And now you see why the Keyword Tool is awesome.
Personally, I tend to go for keywords that have a decent number of monthly searches – at least a few thousand – and medium or low competition. I avoid the ones with a low number of searches because, well, no one is searching for those keywords! Then I avoid highly competitive keywords because they’re more difficult to rank for. If you’re just getting started with SEO, this is the easiest way to get some search traffic going.
Okay, I Found Keywords. Now What?
Remember in SEO 101 when we talked about using a plugin to put in a description and keywords for your post? Now it’s time to do that. Here’s what I used for this post after doing research with the AdWords Keyword Tool:
As you look at my keywords, hopefully you’ll see that each of them is relevant to the content of this post. Also, you’ll notice some repetition with slight variations on wording. That’s because the results for “choosing keywords” might be different than the results for “choose keywords.”
The goal of using keywords is to catch the people who are searching for something that your blog post provides. In this case, I want SEO beginners to find this post so they can learn to choose keywords for their own posts. So I used keywords that those people might be searching.
Once you’ve written posts with SEO information included, it’s just a matter of time before Google indexes your posts, compares your keywords to the content of the posts, and decides where you’ll rank in search results for your keywords.
If you haven’t submitted your site to Webmaster Tools, this would be a good time to do that. You’ll need to create a sitemap (there are tons of plugins that will do this for you) and submit it so Google’s bots can crawl to find updates to your site.
Sometimes my posts start showing in search results the same day I write them; other times it takes longer. As your site ages and gains Page Rank and other stats, your posts will show up faster. In the meantime, relax and watch for the search traffic to start coming in!
Does this method seem useful for deciding what keywords to use? What other questions do you have about SEO? Do you know what percentage of your site traffic comes from search?