The first step of search engine optimization is to figure out what you’re optimizing for. This means figuring out what people are searching for (also called “keywords”) that you want your website to rank for in search engines like Google.
Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? I want people to find my widget company when they search for “widgets” or maybe when they type in “buy widgets.” On to the third step!
It’s not quite that simple, though. When choosing the keywords you want to use on your site, there are a few important things to keep in mind:
1.) Search Volume: The first thing to think about is how many people (if any) are looking for a certain keyword. The more people who look for a keyword, the more people you might be able to reach. On the other hand, if no one is searching for a keyword, there is no way for searchers to find your content.
2.) Relevance: It’s great if a term is often searched for, but what if it doesn’t have much to do with your prospects? At first, relevance seems simple: if you sell enterprise email marketing automation software, you don’t want to show up for searches like “pet supplies” that have nothing to do with your business.
But what about phrases like “email marketing software”? This may seem like a great way to describe what you do, but if you sell to Fortune 100 companies, most of the people who search for this very competitive term won’t be interested in buying your software (and the folks you do want to reach might never buy your expensive, complex solution based on a simple Google search).
On the other hand, you might think that a keyword like “best enterprise PPC marketing solutions” has nothing to do with your business since you don’t sell PPC marketing software.
But if your prospect is a CMO or marketing director, giving them a helpful resource on evaluating pay-per-click tools could be a great “first touch” and a great way to start a relationship with a potential buyer.
3.) Competition: As with any business opportunity, you need to think about the costs and chances of success when it comes to SEO. For SEO, this means knowing how hard it is to rank for certain terms and how likely it is to rank.
First, you need to know who your potential customers are and what they might be looking for. If you don’t already know who your potential customers are, this is a good place to start, both for your business and SEO.
From there, you need to know:
- What kinds of things do they care about?
- What’s wrong with them?
- What kind of words do they use to talk about what they do, what tools they use, etc.?
Who else do they buy things from? This could mean your competitors, but it could also mean tools that aren’t directly related to your business. For example, if you run an email marketing business, this could mean other enterprise marketing tools.
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll have a “seed list” of possible keywords and domains that you can use to come up with more keyword ideas and get an idea of how popular your keywords are and how much competition there is.
Put the main ways your customers and prospects describe what you do into keyword tools like Google’s keyword tool, Uber Suggest, or WordStream’s keyword tool:
Below is a more complete list of keyword tools, but the main idea is that in this first step, you should use a variety of keyword tools to do a severalearches. You can also use tools like SEM Rush to find out what keywords your competitors are ranking for.
These tools look at thousands of search results and will show you every search term that your competitor has been ranking for on Google recently. Here’s what SEM Rush says about Marketo, a company that does marketing automation:
Again, you don’t have to look at this only for your competitors. You could get ideas for content by looking at similar tools that sell to the same market. You could also look at the major niche publishers who write about your topic (and that your prospects read) and see what keywords bring people to those sites.
Also, if you already have a website, search engines are probably sending you some traffic. If so, you can use some of your keyword data to figure out which terms are getting people to your site (and which you might be able to rank a bit better for).
Google has stopped giving analytics companies a lot of information about what people are searching for. However, you can use SEM Rush (or similar tools like SpyFu) on your own to find out what terms you rank for and how many people search for those terms.
Google also makes a bit more of this data available in their free Google Search Console interface. If you haven’t set up an account yet, this is a very useful SEO tool for both finding search query data and diagnosing different technical SEO issues. Read more about Google Search Console here.
Once Google Search Console is set up, you can log in and go to this link to see the search terms that bring people to your site:
These could be good terms to promote more content and build internal links around (more on each of those later), and they could also be good “seed keywords” to help you think of more great things to target.
Once you’ve taken the time to learn how your prospects talk and what they search for, looked at the keywords driving traffic to your competitors and related sites, and looked at the terms driving traffic to your own, you need to figure out which terms you could on for and where the best opportunities are.
Figuring out how competitive a keyword is can be a pretty difficult task. At the very least, you need to know:
How trustworthy and authoritative other whole sites are that will be competing for the same term (in other words, how many links does the whole site get, and how high quality, trusted, and relevant are those linking sites?)
How well they do match the keyword (do they answer the searcher’s question in a great way)
How popular and reliable each page in that search result is (how many links does the page itself have, and how good, trusted, and relevant are the sites that link to it?)
Backlinko’s in-depth guide or WordStream founder Larry Kim’s competitive index formula can help you learn more about how to figure out how competitive a keyword is (tip number 3).
There are also many tools, most of which cost money, that give keyword difficulty scores:
- Moz Keyword Difficulty and SERP Analysis Tool
- SEMRush Keyword Difficulty Tool