This is a guest post by Quinn Hertel.
Building an audience online can be a struggle, even for seasoned bloggers. There’s just so much content on the internet already. How can you make your writing stand out?
It’s not enough to just write good posts and hope for your audience to show up. To grow your readership, you’ve also got to know how to make search engines work for you. Among other things, that means understanding how to find and use good keywords.
But many bloggers feel a little intimidated by this process. If you’ve never used keywords for SEO before, how can you choose the right ones, put them to work, and know whether they’re actually paying off?
If you haven’t started using keywords to your advantage yet, this article is for you.
By the time you’re done reading, you’ll understand the basics of using keywords for SEO, and you’ll probably feel much more confident about devising your own keyword strategy. It’s not as hard as it sounds, so let’s dive right in.
Keywords: What They Are and Why They Matter
Keywords are words or phrases that signal what your blog posts are about. Search engines like Google decide how to classify your pages by crawling your content and picking out the important keywords.
Keywords also help searchers find your blog posts when they type a question or phrase into a search engine.
For instance, suppose you’re writing a blog post about how to wake up early. Think about which queries people might use to find your post in a search engine – maybe “become an early riser” or “wake up without an alarm.”
Search engines match queries to results based, in part, on the keywords contained in a web page or blog post.
So if you use keywords that match or resemble those potential search queries in your post, search engines are more likely to bring searchers to your blog.
Your blog posts probably already contain keywords, even if you didn’t include them on purpose. It’s hard to write about any topic without including a relevant keyword or two.
Optimizing your keywords just involves deciding which ones to target and using them strategically in your writing.
How to Find Potential Keywords
There are dozens or even hundreds of keywords you could target. How can you pick the right ones?
Choosing your keywords can be tricky. It might take some trial and error before you find the ones that pay off for you. But there are some things you can do to simplify the process.
Follow these steps, and by the time you’re finished, you’ll have a solid list of potential keywords to try out.
To start, get a pen and some paper and have a brainstorming session. Think about which terms are central to your blog’s theme.
Put yourself in a searcher’s shoes – if you were looking for a blog like yours, what would you type into Google? Jot down all the keywords that come to mind. Include shorter keywords of just one or two words, as well as entire phrases.
2. Use keyword research tools.
You don’t have to rely entirely on your own imagination to come up with keywords. Once you’ve got some ideas on paper, try out some of these online keyword tools to get more lists of suggestions.
If you have a Google AdWords account, start there. Google’s Keyword Planner tool is one of the most useful keyword resources on the internet because it shows you data from Google itself, which is probably where most of your traffic will come from.
This tool is free, and you don’t actually have to create an AdWords campaign to use it.
Access Google’s keyword planner by signing in to your AdWords account. Click on the three vertical dots at the top right of the screen to pull down a menu of actions. In the far left menu, select Keyword Planner.
Click on “Search for new keywords using a phrase, website, or category.”
Enter one of the keywords from your brainstorming session into the top box.
Hit “Get ideas,” and you’ll get a list of keywords related to your first keyword. Here are some of the top suggestions for “blogging”:
Google tells you how many searches each keyword gets every month and how competitive each keyword is.
They also give you a suggested bid for each keyword, but if you’re not planning on running any AdWords campaigns, you can ignore that bit of information.
If you don’t have an AdWords account, or if you want to try out a variety of tools, Keyword Tool is an excellent alternative to Google’s tool. It’s quick and simple to use – just type in one keyword and the tool generates a list of Google-based suggestions for you.
You can also get lists of keywords to use for YouTube, Bing, Amazon, eBay, and the App Store.
Keyword Tool is a great free resource if you just want to create lists of keywords. If you want to see search volume or cost per click for each keyword, you’ll need to sign up for a pro account (or just go back to Google’s keyword planner).
Finally, scan over your keyword list again. Have you included keywords in the form of questions? Question-based searches (like “how to fix a flat bicycle tire”) are incredibly common, and incorporating similar keywords in your blog posts can get you more traffic.
Answer the Public is an easy-to-use, free tool that generates tons of question-based keyword ideas.
3. Visit forums related to your topic.
To choose effective keywords, pay attention to how other people talk about your topic. Forums like Quora and Reddit are great places to “listen in” on other people’s conversations and find new or trending keywords.
For example, if you go to Quora and type in one of your keywords, you’ll find lots of related questions and discussions that might spark new keyword ideas.
4. Look at what your competitors are doing.
If your competitors seem to be doing well, why not borrow their strategy? If you can find and leverage a few good phrases, it can really pay off in terms of traffic.
If you’re on a budget, check out Webbee’s free SEO spider. You can use the Keyword Intelligence Mode feature of this tool to crawl any website and identify its main keywords.
SpyFu is another tool that lets you check out your competitors’ keywords. To unlock all the results, you’ll need a paid account, but you can get quite a bit of information from the free version alone.
Here’s what the SpyFu dashboard looks like:
Search Volume and Competition
Now that you’ve got a list of keyword ideas, it’s time to start narrowing down the possibilities. It’s a good idea to pick five to ten keywords to target at first.
One of the simplest ways to identify promising keywords is to look at their search volume and competition.
If you target a high-competition keyword that gets millions of searches every month, like “baking” or “starting a blog,” your site will probably get swamped in the sea of results.
It’s hard to rank for common search terms unless your site is big and well-established.
One good strategy is to aim for the middle instead. Target keywords that have a decent amount of search traffic, but low competition. Go back to Google’s trusty keyword planner to research how your keywords stack up to each other.
For instance, a search for “grocery delivery” reveals that the keyword “grocery shopping” gets a lot of traffic – between 10K and 100K searches every month – but doesn’t have much competition. If you ran a grocery delivery service, this keyword might be a good one to target.
Over time, as your blog grows and you earn more backlinks, your domain authority will increase. This means that all your content will carry more weight in search engines. At that point, you can start going after some high-competition keywords.
Be aware, though, that ranking for high-competition keywords is tough, even for established sites. It takes time to make headway in search engines, no matter how long your site has been around.
Long-Tail Keywords: Your Secret Weapon
As you narrow down your keyword list, pay special attention to keywords that have these two qualities:
- They’re highly specific.
- They get less search traffic than similar but more general keywords.
These keywords are called long-tail keywords because they make up the “long tail” of search. If you look at a graph of the most popular search terms, you’ll see that the top 100 terms get a ton of traffic, but that traffic falls off steeply.
In fact, the majority of all searches – about 70% - are for less popular, more specific queries. This graphic from Moz is a great illustration of the long tail of search.
Long-tail keywords don’t get nearly as much traffic as more popular keywords. In fact, most get fewer than 100 searches per month. But don’t be fooled into thinking these keywords aren’t important. Long-tail keywords can be your most effective weapon for reaching the right audience.
Why? There are a couple of reasons. First, long-tail queries are driven by intent.
Someone who types a long-tail query into a search engine probably wants to make a purchase or find a specific piece of information. More general searchers, on the other hand, could just be doing preliminary research or looking things up out of curiosity.
Second, long-tail keywords are far less competitive than common keywords. It’s relatively easy to get your content onto a search engine’s front page if you find the right long-tail keywords to target.
You won’t get thousands of hits a month from this strategy, but if your content is exactly what those niche searchers are looking for, you’ll still build your following.
Essentially, long-tail keywords bring you a slow but steady stream of high-quality traffic.
Google’s keyword planner and the other keyword tools listed above will give you plenty of ideas for long-tail keywords. To generate even more variations, take a few of those long-tail keywords and plug them back into the tool you’re using.
For instance, suppose you’re writing a tutorial on making salsa. Here are some of Google’s suggested keywords based on “make salsa with habanero peppers”:
Try plugging the keyword “Yucatan habanero salsa” back into the tool, and you’ll get even more suggestions like these:
Using Your Keywords
Now you’ve got a list of five to ten keywords to try out. But what’s the best way to use them?
Start by choosing a single keyword to focus on in a blog post. Don’t try to shoehorn all of your keywords into a single piece of content, or your writing will sound forced. Just pick one keyword that naturally fits with your topic.
Incorporate your keyword into your post’s title, preferably at or near the beginning. Page titles carry a lot of weight in search engines compared to all the other content on the page, so you’ll maximize your gains by using your keyword here. If you can, include the keyword in your post’s URL, too.
Try to use your keyword somewhere in your first paragraph. This gives search engines an idea what your post is about. Don’t worry too much about keyword density as you write, though.
Your keyword doesn’t have to make up a certain percentage of your post to be effective. Use it wherever it seems natural and appropriate, and don’t overdo it.
Keep in mind that you can use variations of your keyword to make your writing flow better.
For instance, if your keyword is “home remedies for a sore throat,” it’s fine to use variations like “natural sore throat remedies” or “home remedies for a throat infection.”
If you have images in your post, it’s a good idea to use your keyword in at least one of your alt tags. Your alt tags don’t show up on the page if your images load correctly, but Google’s crawlers can read them in your HTML, and they carry some SEO weight.
Finally, remember that you’re writing for people, not search engines. It’s always better to provide a good user experience than it is to try to game Google. Tricks like keyword stuffing don’t fool search engines anymore, and they could even hurt your rankings.
How to Measure Your Keywords’ Performance over Time
Once you’ve deployed your keywords, you’ll need to keep an eye on them over time. Tracking your keywords will help you know how to adjust your strategy as your blog grows.
If you have the budget for it, you can look into paid tools to track your keywords. SEMrush has a keyword-tracking feature, as does Moz Pro.
While these options make it easy to monitor your keywords, they’re also pricey, with a monthly cost of nearly $100 each.
If you’d prefer to monitor your keywords’ performance on the cheap, you can do it yourself with Google Analytics, although it’s not quite as easy or precise as using a tool.
Take a look at your organic search traffic by going to Acquisition > All traffic > Channels > Organic search. From there, you’ll be able to see which of your pages are getting the most traffic from search engines. You’ll also see some information about how visitors behave after landing on each page.
Note which of your posts are getting the most traffic. That’s a good sign that the keywords you used on those pages are working for you.
Look at the bounce rate, pages per session, and average session duration for each of those pages as well. If some of your posts have a high bounce rate, it’s a sign that people didn’t find what they were looking for there.
On the other hand, if people are staying on your page long enough to read the post – or, better yet, visiting other pages on your site before they leave – it means your keywords are helping you reach the right audience.
Researching keywords and selecting the right ones can be a big job. But with a systematic approach, it’s actually a pretty straightforward process, so there’s no need to feel overwhelmed.
If you get started today, you could be putting your new keyword strategy into practice within a week.
Do you have questions or insights about the process of finding and using keywords? If so, I’d love to hear them! It’s over to you in the comments below.
Guest Author: Quinn Hertel is a digital marketing writer. She specializes in creating content about SEO and blogging for businesses. You can visit her website at quinnhertel.com or follow her on Twitter at @QuinnHertel.