How to Choose the Right Target Keywords

This is a guest post written by SEO expert and digital marketing consultant, Frank Ramey. You can learn more from Frank by signing up for his SEO Crash Course at KEC here.


Knowing the right keywords to target on your website is a critical step to search engine optimization. Before you can begin optimizing your website for search, you need to know what to pop up for when your target customer searches on Google.


If you don’t focus on what your target users search for online, the job of getting your website to rank on Google is infinitely harder. The new norm of hyper-competitiveness in every marketplace means you can’t afford to shoot in the dark when it comes to choosing the right target keywords and phrases.


Know Thy Customer

Optimizing your website for search so that you can attract users shares a lot of similarity with direct selling. The main shared connection here is the absolute need to know and understand your target customer.


The best place to start on this journey of discovery is to begin thinking like your customer. Who are they? What do they care about? Why are they looking for a service or product similar to what you offer? Why are they using online search? Why should they care about you?


Once you get into your customer’s mindset, you’ll have a better idea of how they think and the words they would use when looking for solutions like yours.


While digital marketing is a newer industry, classical marketing tools like a buyer persona can help put you into your customer’s shoes. Although it takes a little bit of time, I highly recommend you invest the few minutes it takes to create at least three customer/buyer personas. It’s amazing what it can do to help focus your marketing efforts.

When you know who you’re trying to target, the words they use, and what they care about, you can begin your keyword search in earnest. But where to start?


Keyword Research Tools

Lucky for you, there are a number of tools to help you figure out what keywords and phrases your customers use when they’re in the market for the product or service that you offer.


Tools like Moz’s Keyword Explorer, Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest, and Google Adwords Keyword Planner are great options for your keyword research. With some limitations, these tools will tell you the estimated search volume of your target term and also suggest other related search terms.

One caveat with using Google’s Keyword Planner is that it’s not as accurate as it once was. In 2016, Google modified how they report keyword search volume by giving much wider ranges to general users. The main issue here is that Google shows the same ranges of search volume for terms it deems are similar (but can have grossly different actual search volume). If you want more accurate data from Google, you have to spend about $100/month in Adwords.


There is a workaround here though! Check out Screaming Frog’s post about how to get accurate data from Google’s Keyword Planner. Google has changed around some items since the post went live in 2016, but the overall strategy of the article still works.


What Keywords to Target

Now that you know how to find the keywords and phrases you should target, what do you do with the knowledge? Target the highest volume search terms, right?


Well, yes and no.


Yes, it’s good to target high-volume key search terms since that’s the easiest thing to focus on (and has the most obvious reward). However, you’re not the only organization that’s targeting those high value keywords.


It’s a good idea to take stock of the general competitive landscape of the websites that currently rank in the first 10 spots for those high volume keywords. You can do that by simply Googling the terms (I highly recommend you do that in Incognito mode in your browser though so that you get less biased/personalized results from Google).


What are the types of websites that currently rank for those keywords? Are they small, dinky, relatively unknown websites that seem easy to beat? Good! Or are they heavyweights in your industry? Sites that are authority figures, produce stellar content, or customers love, are extremely difficult to unseat.


Have hope! There are other paths to take to ranking goodness.


Don’t Discount the Long Tail

While it’s tempting to target those high volume search terms (also known as “head” terms), they shouldn’t be your only focus. In fact, almost 70% of search volume actually goes to “long tail” terms.


These are search phrases that typically have less than 500 searches per month (on a national scale). They’re also highly specific and are generally 4-6 words long.

Searchers that use long tail phrases can actually be better for your business. Why is that? Because the long tail searcher is almost always far along in their research are ready to commit to a purchase or action.


They’re either doing some final research or they’ve just not found the right solution for their problem yet. This is the perfect time for them to find your organization and for you to provide their solution.


How Many Target Keywords?

Now, how many keywords should you target? The answer here depends in part on how much and what content you already have on your website. If you have very little content (10 or fewer pages), then it’s likely best to keep your target list around 100 keywords.


There’s no hard and fast rule as to how many keywords to target on a single page, but Rand Fishkin at Moz suggests you keep it to no more than 20 targets. Check out Rand’s tactical SEO article on keyword usage to get a better idea of what’s important for your site.


Use It or Lose It

The main thing you want to do with your newfound list of target keywords/phrases is to use the list to optimize the language on your website pages to rank better in Google search results. Don’t get crazy with overusing the terms on your website (called “keyword stuffing”, which Google can punish).


Keep the target keyword “density” on your pages to about 7-10%. So every 15 – 20 words, naturally use a keyword/phrase.


One simple trick to naturally beefing up your keyword density is to try swapping out pronouns with your keywords. As long as it reads well, you should be in good shape.


Tools like Yoast SEO for WordPress websites can help you monitor your on-page keyword density (the free version of the software only allows you to target one keyword per page though).


It’s Ok to Ask for Help

Doing SEO and Inbound marketing right takes time. Sometimes, a lot of time. The truth is, there is no magic bullet to ranking on the first page of Google. It takes effort, focus, and persistence. While it would be nice if SEO was a “set it and forget it” sort of thing, the truth is, it’s just not.


With that, there are numerous experts in this field, from global digital marketing firms like Distilled in London and SEER Interactive in Philadelphia to local Knoxville SEO consultants like my agency, Enotto. Moz also maintains a very strict directory of SEO providers they’ve vetted.


If you do decide to outsource your SEO efforts, aside from asking for a track record of their accomplishments, the most important thing you should look for is transparency.


If the SEO consultant won’t (or can’t) tell you what they do, how they do it, and fail to keep you updated on their efforts, you need to just walk away from them. If they keep you in the dark and they only tell you “it will take more time,” without providing a clear roadmap to success, then they’re trying to milk you for cash.


There’s no magic or secret to SEO and Inbound marketing. Just heaping doses of research, customer empathy, and hard work. If you want to better understand the mechanics of SEO, I also host a monthly SEO class at the KEC (seats are limited though, so RSVP quickly).


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Frank Ramey is an entrepreneur and digital marketing consultant in Knoxville who helps organizations achieve their individual goals by first understanding their overall goals. With a focus on creating scalable sales engines, Frank enables businesses to do more, with less.

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