How to choose your SEO keywords in 3 simple steps

Tackling search engine optimization (SEO) for your small business? Then you need to get a handle on the best ways to do your keyword research. 

Think of keywords as your foundation SEO building blocks. Do a good job of laying these blocks, and search engines will find and rank your site—a vital step if you want your audience to know you exist.

The keywords you choose—and how you pick them—are a big deal. Choosing your SEO keywords correctly can help catapult your site to success. Whether you’re new to SEO or have a lot of SEO experience under your belt, here are my three keyword research steps to get you started.

And all you have to remember is ‘GEM’: Gather, Evaluate, and Map.

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Gather your keywords for SEO

Before you do anything, I suggest you install Keywords Everywhere (KE). KE is a browser extension for Firefox and Chrome that lets you see keyword search volumes and competition for sites you’re visiting, as well as the keywords they’re ranking for. A great thing about KE is it lets you “favorite” particular keywords—a very useful option to have during your keyword research journey.

Once you’ve installed KE, you’ll want to think about how people describe your business. They’ll use certain words and phrases for businesses such as yours, which they’ll type into search engines when looking for your products and services.

Your first task is to jot down all the words you know Jo and Joe Public use to describe your industry. Keep these in a spreadsheet, as they’ll be useful later. 

Next, you’ll want to look at Google Search Console (GSC) to broaden your keyword research net. GSC is a dashboard that reveals information about your website, including who your site visitors are and what keywords they used to find you. To access GSC you’ll need to prove to Google that you’re the site owner and authorize it to crawl your pages. But once you’ve done that it’ll integrate with your Google Analytics.

You can now see the keywords associated with each landing page on your website, and how they’re performing in Google searches. You’ll also see the search volume for specific words that you might want to compete for. Using these tools will give you new keyword opportunities.

I used to include checking Answerthepublic as one of my keyword research steps. But now I prefer using SE Ranking to find additional keywords beyond GSC. I prefer SE Ranking’s interface, and it’s far more affordable. 

Another great way to do keyword research is to look at Google Suggestions. You might find the keywords and phrases are quite similar to what you already have, but the slight tweaks in syntax and vernacular are important. After all, this is the language your audience is using. 

Evaluate keyword volume and difficulty

With your big list of keyword possibilities, it’s now time to sort the great opportunities from the average by evaluating their volume and density. This incredibly important step gives you the information you need to ensure your keyword choices stand the best chance of performing and ranking. 

If keyword volume and density are new SEO terms for you, they simply mean how difficult a keyword is to rank for. Generally, the higher the search volume is for a keyword or phrase, the harder it is to rank for that keyword. Why? Well, it’s likely most of your competitors have the same keyword in mind, and are trying to create amazing sales pages and blog content so the search engines rank them highly. 

In a perfect world, you’ll target common words used by your audience but aren’t being sucked up by your competitors.
If everyone’s using it, it’s harder to rank for.

So how can you find these unicorn words that are the perfect balance of high search volume without being too difficult to rank for? 

The difficulty tool in SEMRush is a good start and is invaluable for picking keywords for SEO. Type all the keywords you’ve collected into this tool, and it tells you which ones are good targets and which ones you should avoid by giving them a low, medium, or high grade.

You can get these details for up to 100 search terms at a time, quickly narrowing down your keywords. As a result, you’ll be giving your company the best chance of outranking sites on the first two pages of Google.

Now that you know the ranking difficulty, you can pick keywords with high volume and low difficulty and use them on your website. This method gives you the best chance of ranking. If your site is a bit newer to the scene, pick keywords with a difficulty rating of 30 or less.

Assessing volume when navigating keyword research steps is important. You need to strike a balance between keywords that attract a lot of volume but are highly competitive, and keywords with little to no volume and aren’t competitive at all. The keywords you choose must still be fair game, and you’ll  probably struggle if you try to compete with bigger companies or more generic search terms. 

The minimum amount of traffic I’d want to see for a keyword is 70 searches a month. However, in some circumstances smaller keyword search volumes are acceptable. For example, if you’re targeting a niche audience searching for a very particular item, you’ll have a better chance of answering their specific search query. But this is the exception, not the rule.

Map keywords to existing web pages or new ones

One person’s search intent may be different from another’s, based on what they’re looking for and their location. But it’s impossible to cover all the things people are searching for on one page.

That’s where keyword mapping comes in. Keyword mapping is the process of assigning keywords to different pages on your website. Once you’ve chosen the keyword you want a page to rank for, you need to optimize that page for that keyword. This helps search engines understand the page’s relevance (telling them what the page is about so they know when to return that page in the search results). 

Keyword mapping can also help you with the continuous optimization of your pages. It helps you spot keyword gaps on your site, which can help you pick new keyword opportunities you could rank for.

Got a really big site with lots of pages? Then keyword mapping has another use—stopping you from cannibalizing your keyword efforts. Ideally, you don’t want more than one page to be ranking for the same or similar keywords. If multiple pages are all vying for the same keywords, there’s a risk you’re spreading your traffic thin. Knowing where you have duplicate keyword rankings can help you better focus what you’re saying and what your pages rank for. 

Use a spreadsheet to prepare your keyword map. You’ll need three tabs: one for the list of existing pages on your website, another tab for possible keywords, and another tab for their volume and difficulty. 

You’ll already have your list of possible keywords (by completing the “Gathering” stage), and have assessed their worthiness in terms of volume and competition. Now you need to determine what  keywords are suitable to assign to your pages. 

At this point, I ask: 

  • What keywords do I want to rank for?
  • Can it be assigned to an existing page? (I start with main pages first as opposed to blog pages.) 

Where a keyword doesn’t match a page, I create a new row and identify it as a possible opportunity or a new page coming later.

Your keyword map is now complete. But keep in mind that keyword maps tend to be living documents that are constantly evolving according to your site, your competition, and your ever-changing business.

Barb Davids - SEO Consultant

Barb Davids is an SEO consultant and owner of Compass Digital Strategies. Driven by data and analytics, she works hard to get business-changing results for her clients, such as 256% more website traffic and 22% more leads. Connect with her: Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter
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