I’m sure you’ve heard about keywords when it comes to SEO, but do you know how to use them correctly? If used well, keywords can be a very powerful tool for optimising your website for search engines. This guide will outline what exactly keywords are, how to research them, and how and where to use them in your website.
Before we get started, I should point out one thing: Keywords are only part of the bigger SEO picture. You need to make sure you optimise your site in various other ways too, otherwise all your hard work and keyword research won’t make a difference.
You can also read my overall guide to SEO and how to get found on Google.
So, with that in mind, let’s dive into what keywords actually are.
What are Keywords?
Keywords are essentially a word or phrase you can use on your web page to show Google how it’s relevant to a user.
When somebody uses Google to search for something, Google will show the results it believes to be the most relevant to the user’s search query. If you can signal to Google that your page contains relevant information to that person’s search, you’re more likely to appear in those search results.
You can use more than one word and have a key phrase instead. In fact, when people talk about keywords, a lot of the time they’re talking about phrases. A key phrase is also known as a mid-tail or long-tail keyword. I’ll talk about this more later!
Keyword good practice
Another important thing to bear in mind is you should only use one keyword/phrase per page or post. The idea is to make it as clear as possible to Google what that page is about, so focus on that keyword and base your content around it.
However, you still need to make sure your page is user friendly, informative, and engaging. Using a keyword over and over again to the point where it doesn’t make sense is not going to help your SEO. Google’s algorithm is smarter than that, and your readers won’t appreciate it either.
Depending on how many websites there are out there which are similar to yours, keywords can be very competitive. There are a few different strategies you can take when it comes to deciding which words to use to optimise your pages, but the important thing is to do some good keyword research.
How to do Keyword Research
There are some expensive tools and programs out there if you want to get super serious about your keyword research. Tn my opinion that’s really not necessary! With a little common sense, and some free resources I’ll mention later on, a more ‘organic’ approach can work just as well.
Here are my four top tips for keyword research:
- Know your target audience
- Decide whether you’re targeting Local or Global SEO
- Check out the competition
- Find alternative keywords
Know your target audience
Once you have defined your target audience for your business, you need to put yourself in their shoes. What would they search for on Google? Would they understand all the technical terms of the services you offer? Do they have a high budget and they’re looking for a luxury product? Or is affordability important to them? Do they love a freebie? What’s their age bracket, and will they be computer/search engine savvy?
When you’ve considered the kind of things your target audience might search for on Google, you’ll be well on your way to coming up with some keywords and phrases.
Decide whether you’re targeting Local or Global SEO
Local SEO is more useful if you have a physical shop or geographical service area. Your clients/customers are all based in one area, so they will be looking for products or services near them. This can make life a little easier for you in terms of SEO and keywords.
You can use your city or service area as a keyword, or include it in a key phrase. This immediately filters out a lot of websites out there that might offer the same services but they won’t use your keyword. And your target audience will almost certainly be including that word in their searches.
If you don’t have a specific service area, or you only have an online presence and no physical business location, you’re going to have to work a little harder. You’re now competing with the whole of the internet for search rankings and it may take a little more time and effort to boost your SEO.
In this case I would focus on long-tail key words. These are longer, more in depth or detailed phrases, that might match somebody’s search query. The idea is to tap into a niche, and narrow down the amount of web pages being found for that query.
A blog is another great way to include content with long-tail keywords. If you can write blog posts answering commonly searched questions relating to your business, you can use those questions as your key phrases for those blog posts. Even if the people reading those posts aren’t intending to buy your products or services, it’s still generating traffic to your website, which will boost your SEO.
Read more about the advantages of blogging if you’re interested in getting started!
Check out the competition
You can use Google itself to carry out keyword research. Just type in the keyword or phrase you’re considering using, and see what kind of results it brings up. If they’re businesses or websites very similar to your own, that’s great, you’re on the right track.
However, you might find you’re up against some really big players in your industry or area. If you feel that you really can’t compete with them with the search term you used, it might be time to think of something a little more niche. What do you have that they don’t have? If they are much larger organisations than yours, can you use your small size to an advantage? Maybe you can offer a more personalised and bespoke service, in which case, make use of those words!
Is there one service you offer that these big players don’t? You can capitalise on this, and create a page devoted to that service, using it as your keyword for that page.
Find alternative keywords
As I mentioned before, keywords can be extremely competitive! There are likely already a lot of sites with their pages optimised for the keywords you’re considering. So here’s a really important tip:
Sometimes it’s better to use a keyword/phrase that’s a little less searched for, but will give you better results when it’s used as a query.
If you optimise your page around a very popular keyword because you know that people search for it a lot, the chances are that a lot of other websites are doing the same thing. Luckily, there’s a great way to find alternative search queries. When you have a keyword or phrase that you’re considering, plug it into Google and scroll down until you find a section called ‘People also ask’
These are often more mid or long-tail keywords, and can give you some really good ideas for alternatives, based on what people are actually searching for already.
Once you’ve worked out which keywords are going to work best for you, you can start to optimise your copy using one keyword/phrase per page. You may need to restructure your site plan a little bit. For example, if you have three different main services and they’re all on one page, it might be worth instead creating three extra pages, one for each service. Then you can start optimise the wording on each page, using that specific service as a keyword.
If you want to get serious about keyword research, you can use a paid tool. You’ll get much more detailed information with these. There are some really advanced (and expensive) tools like SemRush and Ahrefs, but my favourite is a lighter and more affordable option called Keysearch.
How to use your chosen keywords in each web page
In the second half of this article I’ll discuss the best practices for including your chosen keyword in each page of your website. Please note, I’m now talking about focusing on one page/keyword, rather than your website as a whole.
There are a few important places where you can include your keyword on each page for the highest optimisation. These are:
- Page titles
- First sentence/paragraph
- H2 and H3 headings
- Image titles and alt text
- Page meta description
Your keyword or phrase should always be included in the page title, as this is a clear indication to Google what your page is about. You should also always use an H1 html heading for your title, and make sure it’s the only H1 heading on the page.
Just bear in mind that you want to keep your wording readable for visitors. It’s recommended to include your keyword in the first sentence on the page, but you should prioritise your readers over Google for this one. If it’s starting to feel forced, then you can leave this one out.
H2 and H3 headings
This is fairly self explanatory. Google will scan the HTML of your site and assume that your headings are summing up relevant content. Make sure that’s the case!
Image titles and alt text
This is useful for showing up in a Google image search based on your chosen keywords. Google doesn’t see images, it reads text. Where relevant, make sure your image title matches or includes your keyword!
Page meta description
This is the section of text which gets pulled up in a Google search. It should be a brief summary of your page content, including your keyword.
Be careful with this one, as changing a URL that you’ve had for a while could mess up your SEO rankings, or break links to that page. If you’re creating a new page though, your URL will often automatically be based on your page title, which should include your keyword!
By now you should have a good idea about how to research and use keywords. There are a couple of free tools I use a lot as a web designer/developer, which I’d like to share with you!
Yoast is an SEO plugin for WordPress, and if you have a WordPress website, I’d highly recommend it. As you’re editing your page, it will remind you where to include keywords, and how many is an appropriate amount for the length of text.
It also gives you easy access to the page meta description and URL. It has loads more features for boosting your SEO, so check it out! << That link takes you to their website, but if you want to download the free plugin, you can do so from your WordPress plugin section.
I’ve also written an in depth guide on how to use Yoast. Definitely worth a read if you end up getting the plugin!
Google Search Console
If you already have a website and you’re interested in what people are searching to find it, Google Search Console will tell you! As a web developer, I always submit my clients’ sites to Google Search Console, to check for performance and coverage issues. It’s also a great help when doing keyword research! If you’ve submitted your site to GSC, just navigate to the ‘Performance’ tab. Here you can check the queries people type in that bring up your website in the search results.
How confident are you with keywords?
So this ended up being a pretty in-depth article! I hope by now you have a better understanding of what keywords are and how you can use them to boost your SEO. You might not get it right first time, but if you make careful changes here and there (making sure not to break any URLs) you should start seeing results.
Keywords can often be a trial and error situation, so don’t worry if your SEO doesn’t go through the roof immediately. Remember you’ll have to optimise your site in other ways for it to really have an effect. Here’s that article on SEO I wrote, if you’re interested!