Help! I Don’t Know What Keywords to Rank for…

At BARQAR, we hear pleas like these every week.

And we feel your frustration!

SEO is a moving target, and Google is notoriously secretive about just what keywords and other ranking factors will help you beat out competitors in relevant user searches.

If you don’t know what keywords to rank for, today’s post provides a practical primer (yep, that’s 4 Ps) for keyword selection:

Start with the right goals.

Often, clients come to us obsessed with the notion of ranking number one for a single Google search term. While this is an understandable goal, there are many reasons why ranking high for a single search term isn’t a business panacea. It’s not easy, and often, it’s not the right approach.

So before you even think about keywords, consider what your overall SEO goals should be:

  • Do you need fast results? SEO is a long-term strategy; generating results can take months. But if you need quicker results, you should select lower-competition and higher-volume keywords.
  • Is your audience broad or highly specific? Reaching a narrow audience requires a completely different SEO approach than appealing to a wide one (more on this in a bit).
  • What are your marketing goals? Are you trying to build awareness of your brand, generate conversions (i.e., sales leads or actual product purchases), or something else? The types of keywords you select will logically be impacted by the kind of marketing results you’re trying to achieve.

Determine your core keywords.

Once you’ve defined your goals, decide on a balance between “head” keywords (i.e., short phrases that are better for long-term, traffic-generating strategies) and “long-tail” keywords (i.e., longer, conversational phrases that may have a lower search volume, but which also have less competition – and are ideal for reaching a highly targeted audience).

You’ll need both head and long-tail keywords for the best overall results; the trick is to choose the right mix to achieve your SEO goals.

Conduct keyword research.

While you’ll want to sketch out ideas for terms you think your audience will likely use in their searches, don’t rely solely on instinct:

  • Use a keyword planning tool. As we explain in this earlier post, you can use the Google AdWords Keyword Planner to develop a list of core keywords and phrases.
  • Game the system. Google provides clues on user intent right in its search bar (check out the autocomplete results as you type in a search term) and at the bottom of search results pages (searches related to “your search term”).

Pull all these keywords into a master spreadsheet. Include essential SEO parameters for each term, such as search volume, competition, and relevance, so you can quickly compare, sort and prioritize your keywords.

Grab your hatchet.

Can you rank well for 1,000 keywords from day one? Not unless you have an unlimited budget! So, use the data from your keyword research to narrow your list.

Which terms should make the cut? With your SEO goals in mind, examine the following variables:

  • Search volume: how many times a keyword phrase is searched for. This will help you gauge how much traffic you’ll likely see from a specific query (although volume does fluctuate over time).
  • Competition: how difficult or easy it is to rank well for a keyword string. As we mentioned before, high-volume keywords also tend to be high-competition keywords. You should aim to strike a balance between these two parameters.
  • Relevance: how pertinent a search string is to your core brand, products/services, or a specific page on your site. Even if you find a keyword that’s high-volume and low-competition, you still need to determine how relevant it is to your target audience’s searches. Ask: Is this keyword going to generate the type of traffic you need?
  • Current rankings: how well you currently rank for a keyword. If you already rank well for a term, it could help you generate quick momentum – but only if it’s relevant to both users’ searches and your SEO goals.

Branch out.

Once you’ve established your core list of keywords, broaden it intelligently over time – by complementing the work of modern search algorithms.

Search engines like Google use machine-learning-based on semantics (logic that deals with the meaning of words and phrases). Then, they serve up search results based on what they think people mean when they type queries. So, to rank well in more of your target audience’s searches, go beyond synonyms.

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