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How to Select the Right Keywords for Your Website

by Rania Kort


If you have made the decision to design or redesign your website, or want to optimize your site on your own, one of the first things you need to determine is what are the best keywords for you to use to compete online.   You can save yourself time and money if you understand the research and selection process and include the keywords into your site design effort as early as possible.

What are Keywords? Keywords (or more accurately, keyword phrases) are what people type in the search bar when they are looking for something on the Internet. The search engines use these keywords to determine which websites to display in the results and rank your website relative to your targeted keywords.  Therefore, the keywords you select are "key" to your success and are the driver behind your online marketing efforts. They need to be included in the content of your website, in the meta tags, and overall onsite optimization activities - as well as in your offsite marketing efforts. 

Your goal in selecting keywords is to determine which keywords are best for your business, which ones will drive the "right" audience to you and which ones will provide you the best chance to be on top of the search engine results. This process is both an art and science that requires an understanding of how to research competitive keywords and how to select the right keywords, so you can significantly increase your odds of ranking highly in search.

Below is a five step process to help you with your keyword research, analysis and selection effort. I call this process B.I.N.G.O - a process to help you get to the winning keywords.   

B - Begin with the end in mind

Before you even begin doing the research, the first step is to think about your ultimate goal - which is to drive the right target audience to your site and to be ahead of your competitors.  Therefore, with that in mind start by thinking from the perspective of your target audience. Ask yourself, "what are the needs of my target audience and how would they express it if they were typing it in the search bar?" These keywords can be about the challenges, needs and problems your target audience is trying to solve. They could also be about the solutions they are seeking – which is the solution you provide. Think of the keyword phrase people would type rather than a single keyword. Single keywords have far more competition and are not as targeted. 

As you think through the first step of the process, begin by jotting doing an initial list. Then go through it and think about it from your perspective. Ask yourself the question "will this bring me the right target audience? "

I - Initiate your keyword research

Once you have a starting point for your keywords, the next step is to initiate your competitive keyword research process.  There are a number of keyword tools out there, but Google has a keyword tool that makes it very easy to do this research for free. Google analyzes millions of searches every day and builds up a complex database of the keywords people use. The tool will give you some related and recommended keywords and phrases based on what you type into it.

For each keyword phrase, it displays the average monthly search volume along with the competition index (an indication of how competitive that keyword is -  i.e. how difficult  it will be to rank for that keyword). This information will provide you with valuable data to do your analysis. You can also get ideas of what keywords to use by entering the name of a competitor’s website in the tool or a website similar to your business. The tool will scan the content of the specified website and provide you with a list of keywords based on that content.  You can also visit your competitors' site and look at what they are using in their title and keyword meta tags. 

The first pass at this initial research, will turn out a list of keywords far longer than you can actually use. You can export those keywords from the tool into a spreadsheet, and cull the list by keeping in mind the questions and thought process in step 1.

N - Narrow your keyword list

Your next step is to narrow the list of keywords down to the top 50 or so keywords (ideally you’ll end up with one to no more than three closely related key phrases for each page on your site) by going through a few iterations. Create another worksheet of the keyword phrases that make the most sense to you along with their respective search volume and competition.  In each iteration, select the keyword phrases that are most relevant to your site. As you narrow the list, eliminate those that don’t make sense to you, have very low search volume, or have very high competition, then use your judgment to prioritize those that are definite keepers. 

G - Google it!

For each of the top keyword phrases you select, check the actual results for them by typing them on the Google search bar and review the results on the first page. Create another column on your spreadsheet labeled "Results" and enter the number of results being displayed for those keywords. Then specifically check which websites are coming up on the first page and note them. 

You can also find out what websites are specifically targeting these keyword phrases in their web pages  by typing the following command on the Google's search bar: allintitle: keyword phrase you want to research.  These sites are your direct competitors in search (note that these aren’t always the same as your real world business competitors). If there are less than 4000 results that show up with those keywords in their title, then you have good chance to compete. Anything over 10,000 will make it difficult to rank highly.  Use this process to fine tune and prioritize your list further.

O - Organize the Final Keyword List to Use to Optimize Your Site

You are now ready to finalize your list so you can optimize your website.  To organize your list,  create a section for each page of your website and select up to three keywords by page.  As you're going through  each page of your website, you may find that you missed some research targeted for a specific page.  If so, go back through the process to find the right keywords for that page .  As a starting point, you may want to optimize just your home page and first-level pages (all of the pages that can be reached with only one click from your home page) first, then circle back and optimize deeper pages on the site later. The more keywords you select, the more work to optimize and analyze.

Once your list is organized by page, you can begin optimizing your site.  Update each page with the selected keywords by integrating them into the content using the 1-2% keyword density rule - which means, if you have a 500-word page, embed your selected keywords between 5-10 times into your content.  Also use them in your meta tags, links and image tags when possible. 

The process for getting to the top in Google's search results can take time depending how competitive your keywords are. There are a number of SEO and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) strategies to use that can help you get there faster, especially as a local business.

As you use your keywords, you can analyze your results through reports to see which ones perform best and the progress you make from month to month. Researching your keywords is not only a process to use to optimize your website, it is an ongoing process to use in all of your online marketing efforts. However, the foundation begins with choosing the right keywords for your website.


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