SEO Basics – How to choose the right Keywords

image of light bulb with SEO in filament, text says how to choose the right keywords

How to choose the keywords to get your business ranking on Google

If you want to be found on Google – and you do – you need to make sure your search engine optimisation (SEO) is on point.

For small business owners this can be a daunting prospect – a quick delve into the world of SEO seems to lead to endless rabbit holes of jargon-y tech speak from intimidatingly knowledgeable men who will probably roll their eyes and come up with a scathing remark if you don’t know your schema from your SERP.

Chris O’Dowd in The IT Crowd

As a fellow small business owner (hi!), who’s delved into those very rabbit holes so you don’t have to, I’ve written a short series on the SEO basics that you need to know to get your business ranking on Google.

This is the first in the series, and we’re talking keywords.

What are keywords?

Keywords are the words that people type into Google (or any other search engine) to find solutions for their problems. Keywords can be a word or two long, or they can be a whole phrase or complete question. They can also be called search terms, or search queries.

A broad keyword might be “graphic designer London”, while a more specific, or long-tail keyword could be “How to design my own logo for my business”.

Broad keywords can be tricky to rank for, whereas long-tail keywords can be easier, so depending on your industry you might have to get specific.

Why do keywords matter?

Simply put, they’re how Google knows what you’re talking about. And once Google knows that, it can start showing your content to the people it matters to.

If your business sells garden gnomes, but you don’t mention the words “garden gnomes” anywhere on your website? Google will have a hard time working out that it should show your site to all those garden gnome connoisseurs out there.

How to choose your keywords

Start by brainstorming a whole list of words and phrases that your target audience searches for. Write them all down. These might include:

  • Garden gnomes
  • Hand painted garden gnomes
  • Garden gnome shop in Essex
  • Handmade garden gnomes
  • How to make your own garden gnomes
  • Personalised garden gnomes
  • Garden gnome fishing
  • Buy garden gnomes online
  • Funny garden ornaments

If you’re struggling to think of keywords, try typing your industry or skill into Google and seeing what the auto-complete says, or what the first few entries in the SERP say.

Now, once you have your list of words, phrases and related topics, you can start doing your keyword research.

You probably intuitively know that you’re unlikely to start ranking for “garden gnomes” because it’s such a generic term that competition will be high. But to find out what is worth targeting, you need to use a keyword research tool.

These vary wildly in price, but many offer free versions, like SEMRush’s Keyword Magic, or have free trials, so shop around.

Here you can see that the volume – the average number of searches per month – for the keyword “garden gnomes” is 22,200. That’s a whole lot of people who are interested in those chubby little guys!

So it’s a popular topic, with a lot of interest – worth targeting?

Looking at KD (keyword difficulty), it has a rating of almost 78%. So, there’s a lot of interest, but also a lot of other people who are writing about garden gnomes to compete with.

Now we can see that we were right to begin with, “garden gnomes” is going to be tricky to rank for, but this takes out the guesswork.

Play about with different terms and phrases to come up with the ones in the sweet spot with high interest and lower competitiveness.

(Anyone else a little surprised that almost 3000 people every month search “history of garden gnomes”?!)

Linking Keywords with User Intent

It’s not enough to simply write content including your keywords – you have to think about why a person would search for that term. Then you can group relevant keywords together in a way that makes sense for your site visitors.

For example, if you have readymade garden gnomes to buy on your e-commerce site, but you also offer tutorials or workshops on how to make a garden gnome from scratch, it doesn’t make sense to lump these keywords in with one another.

A person searching “how to make a garden gnome” doesn’t want to be met with a product list of ready made gnomes, but they may be interested in your garden gnome making tools, or a blog post on the best paint for garden ornaments.

Where to use your keywords

Once you’ve chosen your keywords you need to make sure they’re in the right places to help Google understand that your site is where all the best garden gnome content is.

Hopefully it goes without saying that keywords should be included in the body of your content, but they need to go into a few other key areas on each page as well:

Read about alt text, meta descriptions and title tags in the other posts in this series.

Keywords in the URL

Make your URL descriptive and relevant, separating words with a – e.g. the URL for this post is “seo-basics-how-to-choose-keywords”. My keywords are in there, and it’s obvious to humans as well as Google what this post is about.

Headers and Subheaders

Your H1 – the main heading on your page – should contain your main keyword, and the subheaders should contain keywords and relevant synonyms. The H1 is what tells Google the main subject of the post, and the subheaders reinforce the message, as well as making the post easier to read. Remember, you’re writing for humans first, Google second.

Link Text

Link text, or anchor text, tells both humans and Google where a link will take them. If you make your link text something generic like “click here”, there’s nothing to let people know what to expect, or to help with the SEO. Make link text relevant to your keywords without over optimising – Google doesn’t like keyword stuffing.

Image File Names

Give the images on your page relevant names – again, without keyword stuffing. Images on your site have their own URL related to their file name (try clicking on an image on your site so see where it takes you). If your images are all called some variation on IMG.jpg, this is doing nothing for your SEO and is a huge missed opportunity.

A note on Keyword Density – and Keyword Stuffing

You might have heard of keyword density – the number of times a keyword is present on the page. In reality, this is much less of an issue than it’s sometime believed to be, what Google is really looking for is relevance. So yes, make sure you include your keywords – and their synonyms – on the page, but don’t stress about getting the perfect number. Just focus on writing great content that’s relevant and on topic.

And that brings me on top keyword stuffing. This is a throwback from Ye Olden Tymes of SEO (you know, the 90s) when, possibly, just writing the keyword over and over meant you could rank for it. We’ve all seen sites that read something like “Looking for garden gnomes in Essex? We’re the number one manufacturer of Essex garden gnomes! Buy your garden gnomes in Essex here”. Google sees straight through this, and your human readers won’t think much of it either, so just don’t.

I hope you’re as chilled as this guy after reading all that…

I know it’s a lot (and remember, this is very much a whistlestop tour of keywords!) but don’t panic.

Take small steps to address your site’s SEO rather than trying to tackle it all in one go. It’s a marathon, not a sprint!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on SEO, this post, and the history of garden gnomes. Leave me a comment below or:

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