What Choosing Keywords Used to Look Like

When most people think of SEO “keywords,” they picture a long list of words they feel their website is about. Perhaps they imagine those words will be placed in a long list at the bottom of each page. You may even be one of those people! That was indeed how things were done in the very early days of search engines.

But then something happened. Too many people started to lie about the keywords their site should be associated with.

Imagine this: You are selling a book about how to invest in the stock market. You think to yourself, “Golly, everyone could benefit from this information! If only more kinds of people even considered the stock market, my book could help a range of people!” So you decide to figure out what some of the most commonly searched terms in the USA are right now, and find that the most popular topic right now is a specific pop star (Think Justin Bieber or Madonna.) So in your list of keywords on your website about your book on stock market investing, you slip in Justin Bieber, hoping that even though all those people weren’t looking for information on the stock market, a few of those searchers you’ve tricked into visiting your site will decide to stick around, learn something, and maybe order a copy of your book.

You can see how this tactic could be wildly misused, and why search engines would want to crack down on it so they could actually give people the information they were searching for!

Then came the days of smart search engine “spiders,” bots that read every page on your website and make their own decisions about what keywords your site is associated with. Suddenly, long lists of keywords were ignored, and the only thing that mattered was the content of your site. With every passing month, these ‘bots got (and continue to get) smarter about judging how relevant content is for a certain topic — and also about how to judge when someone was trying to trick them into guessing wrong.

With the rise of sophisticated SEO ‘bots, in order to rank higher for certain topics, web marketers had to learn how to write content highly relevant, useful content that strongly suggested certain keywords and topics to these ‘bots.

One “Keyword” Per Page

These days, most SEO is accomplished by choosing a single word or phrase per individual page on your website that you wish that page to “rank for,” and then including that keyword(s) in various places, including in the titles and body copy of that page.

(SEO tip: Whether you’re targeting one word or a whole phrase for a specific page, that target is still referred to as the “keyword”)

That means that if you want to rank well for a lot of different terms, you may need a lot of different pages on your website — this is one reason why blogs are a popular marketing tool, as they can allow a business to constantly publish relevant content that is written for human consumption and benefit, but laced with carefully chosen keywords to make sure that their answer is the one that is chosen when a person types a particular question into Google (or another search engine).

What To Look For In a Keyword

If you are going to spend a great deal of time optimizing a website’s copy in the hope of attracting more visitors, it can help to know how many people search for your prospective term per month (the possible benefit of optimizing for that keyword) AND how many other websites are competing to provide the best response to that search keyword (the competition, and how difficult it will be to obtain your desired rank.) If you are very confident with data and tech, you may wish to investigate the Google Keyword Tool to conduct your own research. Otherwise, please get in touch with us to commission a keyword research report, and a consultation about how to best make use of the information.

When choosing keywords to target, there’s a strong element of strategy. We are looking for:

  1. Directly relevant keywords, that most likely indicate someone who wants to buy (or research) the product that you are specifically offering.
  2. A good balance of search volume vs. competition. The higher the competition, the longer it will take, the more effort it will require, and the higher the investment required to capture that market. This means that sometimes, if you are faced with a keyword that only gets 100 searches a month but for which the competition is extremely low, or a keyword that gets 10,000 searches a month but for which the competition is extremely high, it can make sense to go after the lower volume keyword first – you’ll almost immediately gain the attention of 100 new potential customers per month, whereas to get a portion of that 10,000 might take months and a hard fight.
  3. Keywords that can be easily and naturally worked into existing pages on your site, OR keywords for which it would be easy to create new content (such as an FAQ or blog article.) If you have to shoe-horn your keyword in, you might rank higher in search engines, but your sales materials will be drastically less effective once people arrive on the page and your bounce rate (the number of people who look at one page then leave immediately) may go up.

Related keywords (such as for competing brand names) can be targeted in a second or third round if desired, once you have captured more low hanging fruit. For example, you might choose to create a comparison of your product to its competitors, in an effort to sway people who had only heard of a competing product previously. Just be aware that when someone is searching for a specific brand name rather than a general product or solution, they are more likely to have already made up their minds about their purchase decision, so only a portion of that audience is possible to sway no matter how good your arguments.

In the early days of SEO, it was common to simply include a long list of words that you felt your website was about at the bottom of each page. This tactic is no longer effective, and may even cause your website to be penalized by search engines for “keyword stuffing.” Instead, sophisticated robots crawl the web, reading the content of every individual page and making notes on what they think that page is about so that they can most accurately match a search query with an appropriate answer. If you’re only realistically going to be able to rank for one or two keywords per page, and you have a limited amount of resources to produce those pages, it’s crucial that you pick high quality keywords.