July 07, 2016

SEO Basics: How to Choose the Right Keywords

SEO Marketing: How to Choose Keywords

Have you ever looked at a keyword report before? All those tiny words and numbers, jammed into a long spreadsheet — it's enough to make your head spin.

Keyword research is vital to any effective SEO campaign, and it's also an important underpinning of your content marketing strategy. If you ever want to win the internet, you've got to make sense of that spreadsheet and learn how to choose the right keywords!

Basic SEO Glossary

Before we get started, you'll need to know a few basic terms:

  • Short-tail keyword: A short, broad keyword that gets lots of searches each month, like "inbound marketing" or "blogging tips." 
  • Long-tail keyword: A longer phrase that gets fewer searches but is more specific, such as "inbound marketing for small business" or "blogging tips for doctors." 
  • Search volume: The number of times that people search for a specific keyword, usually per month. (Google's "local" search volume actually refers to search volume nationwide.)
  • Difficulty: This refers to how tough it is to reach the first page of results for a given keyword. The lower the number, the easier it will be to gain page rank. 

"What to Write About": A Keyword Case Study

To illustrate how to choose (or discard) a keyword, we're going to look at one long-tail keyword, "what to write about." If you subscribe to our blog (ahem, you can do that now!), you may recall that we've addressed a few related topics, like Content Marketing: How to Figure Out What to Write About and What to Write About When Writer's Block Strikes. As content marketing pros, we're pretty darn good at coming up with what to write about, and our clients often struggle with that same exercise. So this is a great topic for us to tackle on our blog. 

But should we optimize content for "what to write about"? Let's consider three factors.

What To Look For to Optimize Keywords

1. Search volume

Now let's get down to the numbers. The monthly search volume for "what to write about" is 2,400. That's not too shabby, especially when the keyword relates to what we do as content marketers: after all, we spend a lot of time telling people what to write about. So it would probably make sense to focus on this keyword. 

A word about search volume: There is no golden rule for choosing ideal search volume. Generally, short-tail keywords have higher search volume than long-tail keywords, which are more specific. Ideally, the keywords you choose will have sufficient search volume for lead generation.

Consider this: If 2,400 people search for your chosen keyword each month, only 240 may come to your site. Of those, only another 24 may decide that your website has exactly what they're looking for and convert into leads. Thus, if a keyword only gets a handful of searches, it's probably not a great choice. 

2. Difficulty

According to our beloved HubSpot's keyword tool, the difficulty for "what to write about" is a 12 out of 100. That's pretty darn low, indicating that not very many other people are vying for rank on this keyword. Based solely on difficulty score, this would be an excellent keyword to choose because it's low-hanging fruit. 

Now why would a seemingly great keyword have such low difficulty? It could be that it's such a long-tail keyword that other marketers have overlooked it. Or it could be that it simply doesn't bring the kind of traffic that you're looking for. That's where intent comes in. 

3. Intent

Say that you find a handful of keywords to target on your website. They seem like terrific options: relatively high search volume and low difficulty. But you must think about one more factor: intent.

Are the people who are searching for that keyword looking for what you offer? This might seem impossible to divine. However, you can use a keyword suggestion tool to see what the search engines consider to be "related" terms. 

Here's a sampling of the related keywords that the HubSpot keyword suggestion tool gave us for "what to write about":

  • What to write a sonnet about
  • What to write a book about
  • What to say in a sympathy card
  • Creative writing prompts
  • Journal prompts
  • Short story ideas

Clearly none of these (or any of the other suggestions) relates to our specialties, content marketing and inbound marketing. So maybe "what to write about" isn't such a great keyword after all, if the people who are using it aren't looking for what we offer. 

Matching Your Intent with Vistor's Intent

Matching your intent with visitor intent

We clearly need to rethink this keyword. So what's our intent with this keyword? We want to help people figure out what to blog about, and more specifically, to choose the best topics to blog about. We used the keyword suggestion tool again, instead looking for keywords related to "what to blog about." This gave us a few options like "blog ideas," which we could turn into a post called "How to Come Up With Ten Blog Ideas Now," for instance.

But what about "best blog topics"? That yielded related keywords like "blog post ideas" and "blog ideas," which are pretty relevant to our intentions and offerings. Again, these are general terms, but the people searching for these keywords are probably grappling with a problem we can help them with. They will give us a better match between our own intent and our visitors' intent. 

Three Takeaways

  • Start with the numbers. Look for a confluence of higher search volume and lower difficulty. It's usually not worthwhile to select keywords with search volume so low that a keyword tool doesn't even quantify it, or keywords that are so tough to rank for, you'll never compete with the industry big dogs. 
  • Remember the searcher's intent, along with your own. Overlooking this somewhat subjective aspect of search behavior can lead you to optimize your website for people who are decidedly uninterested in your content, not to mention your products and services.  
  • Don't be afraid to experiment. Your SEO strategy doesn't exist in a vacuum, and search behaviors change over time. Conduct A/B tests with different keyword clusters, pay attention to which blog posts get the most traffic and adapt your strategy as appropriate.
Free Checklist: How to Run an Inbound Marketing Campaign

Kristin Masters

Kristin Masters is a content marketing specialist with almost a decade's experience in SEO and social marketing. A HubSpot maven, Kristin has developed and implemented inbound marketing strategies for a variety of B2B and B2C clients. Kristin graduated from the University of Florida with an ever-useful specialization in 18th-century British literature. She teaches Bikram yoga.