So, you’ve taken our advice and have decided to start blogging but are you targeting the right blog keywords?
Blogging is good for SEO, and good SEO is good for business. Yay you. That was the easy part. Now you have to actually write said blog. Where do you even start?
Start with what you know. A topic relevant to your business that you know, inside and out. One that you are passionate about; that you have things – insightful, interesting things – to say about.
Got that? Good. Now it’s time to move onto your blog keywords: the most important words or concepts you’d like your blog to rank for, the words you think your readers will use when searching online for great articles – like yours is destined to be (we have faith) – on the topic you’re writing about.
Got that? You think so, huh? Sorry, it’s not that easy. Back away from your those keywords you think are perfect… and rethink everything you ever thought you knew about keywords. It’s a whole new algorithm-riddled world out there.
Fortunately, we’re here to guide you through all the key principles of keywords and how to choose the right blog keywords for your articles. Helping you get your blog out to just the right people, in all the right places, one keyword at a time.
What are blog keywords and how do they work?
Let’s start with the obvious question: what are keywords anyway, and how do keywords actually work?
- Words and/or phrases central to your big blog idea, and
- Words and/or phrases (target words) that people use when searching online for information on certain topics.
When you are able to match numbers 1 and 2 your audience will have an easier time finding your content.
For example: think about how you came to be reading our blog right now. Perhaps you Googled ‘how to choose keywords for blogs’. That’s a long-tail keyword (more about those below). Or something shorter, like ‘blog keywords’ or ‘keywords for blogs’. Either way, you used some specific words (aka. keywords) to search for information about something, and our content matched.
Keyword research allows you to find, and choose, the right blog keywords to make this match.
Are keywords still important for SEO?
A decade ago it was common practice to stuff your blog with as many keywords as possible, then just sit back and let the ranking magic happen. Quality was less of a consideration than the right keyword density – a certain percentage of the same keyword per X number of words. It was a dark, dark time for writers who considered their craft and editorial integrity defiled by numbers and percentages. And they were right! Because today, Google and co. will penalise you for that very same keyword stuffing they once rewarded.
Since 2011, Google has released three major algorithm updates, all of which focused on rewarding high-quality content over strategic placement of keywords. (As writers around the world rejoiced.) Panda, Penguin and RankBrain have shown that Google is getting smarter and smarter at recognizing truly valuable, pure-of-intent content that genuinely matches what users are searching for. RankBrain in particular, which uses artificial intelligence and machine-learning to measure user satisfaction with content by looking at users’ interaction with search results, means there can be no more deceiving Google with a bit of savvy keyword placement.
Which leaves many questioning the importance of even using keywords. Are keywords still key? Do they even matter?
Why yes, yes they are, and yes they do. All that’s changed is that Google is forcing us to do better. Write better. We are still being told to use our (key)words. (After all, online users are still searching for information online using specific keywords and phrases, which we need to match.) We’re just being told to use them wisely.
How to choose keywords for blog posts
The key to this wisdom? Common sense. Google. And keyword research. Here, our 3-step process, incorporating all three, for how to choose keywords for your blog posts:
Step 1: Use your common sense
- If you were searching for information about the topic, product or service you’re blogging about, what would you type into Google?
- Brainstorm. Ask your friends, your family, your current customers for phrases or keywords they would use when searching online for your products, services or information related to the blog you’re writing about.
- Take the 5-second test: without thinking about it, write down five words that sum up what your blog is about. And go.
This common sense process will leave you with a list of words and phrases you think potential customers might use to search for content related to your blog topic. You can now use this list as a starting point to dive into a more specific and data-driven approach to choosing your final list of keywords which you’re most likely to rank well for.
Step 2: Use Google
Use the force, ahem, source. When researching and choosing keywords, the most obvious place to start is with Google.
Google receives over 63,000 searches per second, 3.8 million searches per minute, 228 million searches per hour, and 5.6 billion searches per day. On any given day. (SearchEngineLand).
Meanwhile, as of September 2019, Google also has 92.96% of the search engine market share worldwide. (StatCounter)
Given the above stats, it’s safe to say Google knows a thing or two about search activity. Plus, Google is where you want searches for your topic to rank well. In other words, when (re)searching the keywords you want people to use when searching for your topic, head to the source of all searching.
Using your list of keywords and phrases gathered in Step 1, type each of them into Google. You will notice three things:
- As you’re typing your phrase into the Google search field, Google will begin guessing what you’re looking for. Much as you like to think that nobody is a mind-reader, that nobody can understand your unique thought-processes, we’re going to have to disabuse you of that notion: Google totally is and totally can! Google is anticipating what you’re looking for, based on the popularity of past searches, and offering you suggestions. Called ‘Google Suggest’, this list of suggestions can offer you key insights into what your keywords should be: these are the popular phrases used to search for information on your topic.
- Once you’ve typed in your full keyword/phrase, scroll down to the bottom of Google’s SERP and you will see ‘Searches related to [insert your search term here]. Google is offering up, in the internet equivalent of neon lights, other excellent, oft-used keyword terms and phrases related to your topic. (Bonus round: type in some of those related search terms to find their related search terms.)
- Once you’ve typed in your full keyword/phrase, you will also see a ‘People also ask’ section either one or two entries below the first result on the SERP. Hello more neon light keyword suggestions.
Step 3: Use keyword research tools and techniques
While Steps 1 and 2 are certainly a part of keyword research, the tools and techniques we’re referring to in Step 3 are more analytical and data-driven.
SEO Keyword research, the more technical kind, is the process of finding and analyzing actual search terms that people use in search engines. The insights you gather can:
- Help you learn more about your customers overall,
- Inform your content strategy, allowing you to,
- Help you create quality content that actually meets your potential reader’s/customer’s expectations, and
- Inform your bigger picture marketing strategy.
Keyword research involves:
Studying the competition
This can be as simple as making a list of your main competitors – you know who they are – and heading on over to their websites, incognito, to see what keywords they are targeting. You can glean this information just by reading their content, focussing on Title tags, headers, sub-headers and metatags for a quick and easy overview.
Want to go full spy? Use one of the many tools available to dig out your competitors’ keywords in all their fascinating fullness. Two great tools to start with are:
SEMRush ~ SEMRush has a number of free reports that show you the top keywords for the domain you enter. You can search by keyword or URL, and with a bit of clicking around can find an absolute wealth of information including organic keywords, average organic position in the SERP, approximate search volume, the keyword’s difficulty (how hard it will be to rank for that specific keyword), average CPC, trend data over time, and more.
Ahrefs ~ Although Ahrefs is not free, it is an industry-legend when it comes to all things SEO. Their keywords tools are no different. They have three core tools to check keyword rankings: Site Explorer shows every keyword the website or web page in question ranks for; Rank Tracker tracks ranking progress for up to 10,000 keywords over time; and Keywords Explorer unveils useful data about the current top-ranking pages for any keyword.
(Note: Both SEMRush and Ahrefs offer a ton of other keyword related functionality, which we will review below.)
What to do with the info and competitor keywords you find?
- If your competitor is ranking for certain keywords that are on your list, you need to make sure your content does a better job of ranking for those.
- Are your competitors ignoring some of the keywords on your list? Don’t throw them out prematurely! This could be a great opportunity for you to own the SERPs for some different terms related to your topic.
- Are your competitors ranking for keywords that aren’t even on your list? You don’t have to copy them – if it makes sense for your content, then by all means use your competitor’s keyword knowledge to add to your keyword list, but don’t try massage your content to include keywords which just don’t work for you.
Understanding keyword types
It is important to research and study the different keyword types you can choose from.
- Head or seed keywords are usually just 1 or 2 words – these tend to have a high search volume and can be difficult to rank for.
- Body or modifier keywords are 2 to 3 word phrases with a good search volume – the ‘meh’ category of keywords.
- Long tail keywords consist of three to four-word (or more) phrases. These tend to have a low search volume, because they are so specific, but lower search volume isn’t a bad thing. These also yield the most relevant traffic, which means this is where you can really shine in search.
Let’s look at these in practice, using the topic of “keywords”:
A search for “keywords” will yield millions of search results;
A search for “keywords for blogs” will yield hundreds of thousands of results;
A search for “keywords research tools for blogs” will yield the smallest number of results, but results which are the most specific and the most helpful.
Long tail keywords, the longer phrases, add context to search terms, and context adds value.
Understanding searcher intent
To really key in on the keywords which will do the most for you, you need to key in on the keywords which will do the most for your user. In other words, to find keywords that really, really work, you need to understand the intent of the searcher who uses them. Searcher intent can be one of four categories:
- Navigational intent – users search for a particular website.
- Informational intent – users search for the answer to a question.
- Investigational intent – users search for information that may lead to a transaction.
- Transactional intent – users search with the intention of actually buying something.
By tailoring your keyword strategy to what the user actually wants to do (and what you want them to do at the end of reading your content) you can drive the right sort of traffic towards your blog.
Checking for keywords that are already working for you
Instead of trying to invent the wheel, why not build on keywords that are already working for you? Find out which keywords your website is already getting found, and ranked, for.
Your Google Analytics account is a good place for this information. But if GA makes your head spin (don’t worry, you’re not alone) Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool is a really user-friendly place to start! Simply type your website URL into Keyword Explorer, select the country where you audience is based, click the search button, see your top ranking keywords. Not only will you see all the keywords your site is ranking for, but you’ll see the Difficulty and Monthly Search Volume ranges for those keywords. Bonus: this tool also allows you to find ranking keywords for your competitors’ sites.
Using keyword research tools to find new keywords
Still at a loss as to what keywords you think may work for you? There are so many keyword research tools out there to help you. So many. As long as you have a topic in mind, these tools can help you decipher the best keywords for that topic.
Google Keyword Planner ~ Let’s start, as always, with Google. Although this tool was created to serve marketers using Google’s PPC ad platform, you can create an account even if you never plan to create a single ad. Google Keyword Planner lets you evaluate monthly global and local search volumes for keywords, competition levels, and provides you with a ton of keyword ideas. Enter an idea into Keyword Planner, and this powerful tool will return up to 800 suggestions pulled from Google’s (obviously massive) database. It will also give you related keywords, and their search volumes, for your consideration. Flag keywords that have a ton of search volume, as well as those that have very little to no search volume, and make sure those aren’t important players in your list of potential keywords.
Google Trends ~ Sticking with Google, you can check trends and behaviours of your potential keywords over a certain time period. So, for example, one of your keywords may work well over summer, but perform dismally in winter (don’t we all?). In this way you can tailor your keyword usage to certain times when they will work best for you.
KeywordTool.io ~ Think of Keyword Tool as Google Suggest on steroids. This free tool generates up to 750+ long-tail keyword suggestions for every search term you type into the search bar. The best part? You don’t even have to create an account.
Answerthepublic.com ~ The best blogs answer questions already being posed by users online. Answer the Public allows you to find those questions which, in turn, allows you to give exactly the right answers. Answer the Public spits out questions currently being asked online for every topic, providing you with your answer to what pressing questions you need to answer for your public around that topic. You can also then use those questions as the basis for your long-tail keywords.
Ahrefs Keyword Explorer ~ Coming out of the mothership of all things SEO, Ahrefs Keyword Explorer allows you to discover thousands of great keyword ideas, review their search volumne, analyze their ranking difficulty and calculate their traffic potential. Amongst other things.
SEMRush Keyword Magic Tool ~ Aside from their great name (who doesn’t love a magic tool?), the SEMRush Keyword Magic Tool offers up over 2 million keyword ideas (overachiever much?); allows you to segment your keywords by topic using Keyword Grouping; pick the best keywords and save them in Keyword Analyzer; create up to 50 target keyword lists and more. Meanwhile, their Keyword Difficulty tool allows you to find keywords with less competition and estimate keyword difficulty instantly.
Where to Use Keywords in Content
Now that you’ve conducted the research, used the tools, and found a vast array of keyword options, you have to choose. Make the cut. Take your pick.
Then use them.
Without ever resorting to keyword stuffing, there are a few strategic places to use the chosen ones, the keywords you’ve selected to make the grade:
- Page Title: this refers to both the actual title of your blog and the SEO title – the title which shows up in search results as the clickable link.
- Meta Description: this is the description that appears below the clickable link in SERPs. If you don’t use an SEO tool, this will be automatically generated using the first 160 characters of your content, so that’s a good place to use keywords too.
- Sub-headers: these are H1s and H2s within the body of your content.
- URL: your URL is likely one of the first places bots are going to crawl, so this is more for the search engines than your readers (which goes against everything we’ve been saying) but it is still worthy.
- Image alts: this refers to the alternative text you use to describe images in your blog. If your images don’t load, users can still ‘see’ the picture in question by reading the description.
But remember, and we cannot overstate this enough: make your content natural and don’t use keywords where they aren’t an organic fit. Plus, there’s no need to use an exact match keyword all the time – Google understands, and likes, synonyms. The thesaurus is your friend. Use it.
The case against keywords
Finally, there is a case to be made for not focusing on keywords at all.
Don’t write with keywords in mind. Write with the reader in mind. Write with your own passionate interest in a topic in mind. Write with your heart. The end result will be relevant content, quality content, and that is better than any keyword.
Besides, if you write about a topic you know, and love, at the end of it all you’ll likely find that your keywords are in there at the end of it all, without you even thinking about it. And those naturally-come-by keywords are the best keywords of all.