Keywords and how they’re used has evolved over the years.

So, do keywords even matter anymore?

If they do, how can I tell if I’m targeting the right ones?

And how can I figure out which I should be targeting?

That’s where keyword optimization comes in. Keyword search optimization is all about researching, evaluating, and selecting the best keywords for your business. While this is in incredibly important step when you first set out to create an SEO strategy, keyword optimization is an ongoing process that needs to be revisited at least a few times per year.

In the post we’re outlining some of the key steps in keyword optimization, including how you can analyze your existing keyword strategy, and how to improve it.

Let’s jump in.

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Why does keyword optimization matter?

In order for SEO to drive meaningful results for your business, you need to be targeting the right keywords.

[bctt tweet=”In order for SEO to drive meaningful results for your business, you need to be targeting the right keywords. ” username=”constantcontent”]

That means not only targeting high-volume keywords that help you build traffic — but also high-intent keywords that help you generate an ROI. In short, keyword optimization will help you:

  • Drive highly relevant traffic
  • Understand your traffic potential
  • Write more effective content

How has keyword optimization changed?

There was once a time when keyword stuffing and other keyword manipulation techniques were considered “optimization”, but over the years Google and other search engines have become more sophisticated.

Today, search engines care more about intent than the actual keyword or how many times it appear on a page. They want to figure out the meaning behind your content and user queries.

[bctt tweet=”Today, search engines care more about intent than the actual keyword or how many times it appear on a page. They want to figure out the meaning behind your content and user queries.” username=”constantcontent”]

The debut of “semantic search,” released with Google’s 2013 Hummingbird update, took the idea of intent-based search results a step further. For example, when a user searches for “cheap coffee in Chicago,” the old, keyword-centric search engines would have returned pages that contained these three keywords, regardless of what each page was actually about.

But, semantic search works differently.

It deciphers the meaning behind the query – the user is looking for inexpensive coffee options located in Chicago – then it looks for websites that meet these criteria, regardless of whether the exact query terms are in their content. Therefore, if your content describes you as an affordable purveyor of coffee, and your location is defined as Chicago, you could snag a top spot in the search results, even if the actual words “cheap,” “coffee” and “Chicago” aren’t anywhere in your content.

In short, the intent of the search matters more than the keywords themselves.

Where you need to keep using keywords

Updates to search algorithms and changes to SEO best practices don’t mean you should abandon keywords altogether. While keyword frequency is no longer a huge influencer on page rank, keyword placement and usage still makes a difference.

Some places you should be sure to include the keyword on a page are:

  • The title
  • A subheading
  • The first 100 words of the article
  • URL
  • Image alt description
  • Meta description

But how do you know you’re using the right keywords?

Are you targeting the right search terms?

An important part of keyword optimization is looking at your existing search terms and determining if there are any gaps or missed opportunities.

For example:

  • Long-tail keywords can incredibly valuable and much easier to rank for.
  • High-intent keywords may have only a couple dozen or hundred searchers per month, ranking highly for those keywords can be an excellent lead generation tool.

Here we’ve outlined 5-steps for evaluating your existing keyword strategy (followed by some tips for choosing the right keywords.)

Step 1: Brainstorming

Before you begin a more thorough investigation, it helps to come up with a list of topics that are important to your customers. Then come up on some keywords that you think your target audience will use when searching for your products and services. This is a really important step that some marketers get wrong. For content marketing to drive meaningful results, it needs to be focused on your customer rather than your business.

For example, a boutique design agency that writes an article on the “latest design trends” is attracting competitors to their site, not customers.

Step 2: Get specific

One of the first things to look for when reviewing your keyword strategy is how specific or targeted they are.

There are two problems with targeting broad keywords:

  • They’re difficult to rank for
  • They don’t deliver to most relevant traffic

For example, you’ll get more qualified leads from a search of “men’s brown leather satchel” than you will from “satchel.”

Also think about using different synonyms that are relevant to your products and services. For example: “men’s brown leather knapsack.”

Step 3: Geographic keywords (when relevant)

Including a geographic element within your keywords can make them even more valuable, especially if you have a physical store or work from an offline location. These more targeted keywords should attract more ready-to-buy leads who are located in your area.

Additionally, localized keywords will have less competition. In a similar way, try to use more targeted language including industry terms and local slang.

Take a look at the number of results for “design agency” vs. “design agency new york” – the latter has 700 million fewer results.

Step 4: Analyze the competition

When you know which keywords your competitors are using, you can focus on different sets of keyword phrases that your competitors are ignoring. This is a great opportunity for your business to rank higher for certain keywords and capture more of the market share.

Step 5: Don’t forget meta tags

Each page on your website should have a unique meta title and meta description. The meta title will be used by Google as the blue link in the results pages. The meta description won’t affect your rankings, but it is usually what Google uses as the description below the meta title. Think of the title and description as an advertisement. They should reflect the target keywords for each web page, but also grab the attention of readers.

When we search for “design agency new york” this is one of the top results. We can see they’ve done a good job of using semantically related keywords (“creative agency” rather than “design”) and have included keywords in both the meta title and description.

Related: How to Write Meta Descriptions That Get Clicked

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How to select top search terms

Next, we’re going to look at how to find high-value keywords you should try to rank for.

The two main types of keywords are broad and long tail.

  • Broad keywords are normally one or two words that apply to a whole industry (e.g. inbound marketing).
  • Long-tail keywords are extended phrases that are more specific to your company (e.g. inbound marketing firm in Springfield).

Long-tail keywords usually bring in more relevant traffic and are easier to rank higher for.

How to research keywords

Keyword research is all about coming up with a variety of phrases that people will use when searching for your business, products, and services. From there, you’re able to build content around these terms.

Here are a few tips for researching keywords:

Start broad
  • Start with the topics you want to rank for.
  • What products or services do you offer?
  • E.g. “inbound marketing software.”
Solve problems
  • What solutions do you offer your prospects?
  • Create a list based on the problems your audience may ask.
  • E.g. “How do I build an email list?”
Common pains
  • Frequently asked questions.
  • Answer potential questions before they are asked.
  • E.g. “How to generate more leads through social media.”
Product based
  • What does your company do?
  • Different people will use different search terms to find your business.
  • What are the alternatives? E.g. “Internet marketing services.”
Buyer journey
  • Think about questions people ask early in the buyer journey
  • Think about questions people ask just before making a purchase
  • Create both top-of-funnel and bottom-of-funnel content
Look at search volume
  • You want to balance search volume with intent.
  • While the word “marketing” might have huge search volume, it won’t generate the most relevant traffic.

When you plug these terms into Google, check out the related search terms at the bottom of the results page for further inspiration.

At the same time, see if your competitors are ranking for certain keyword phrases. It might be a good idea to focus on the phrases they’re ignoring in order to generate more leads from these search terms.

Keyword research tools

There are plenty of keyword research tools to help you generate keyword ideas and identify which ones have less competition.

Google’s Keyword Planner tool is one of the most popular keyword tools, giving you traffic estimates and search volume for keyword phrases you may want to target. Use it to get suggestions for related phrases and to work out the value of keywords. The competition for every keyword phrase varies, so you need to find those that have a reasonably high search volume but less competition.

Choosing the right keywords is an ongoing challenge for every business, but taking the time to do proper research will lead to more success in the long term.

There are many free keyword tools. Sign up to Google AdWords and you can use Google’s Keyword Planner. Here, you can get search volume and traffic estimates for words you’re considering. Use it with Google Trends and you can also see which terms are trending over time.

Wordtracker and Ubersuggest are also free, but if you want more functionality, paid keyword research tools might be the way to go. But don’t just use these tools – listen to social media conversations around your brand to discover popular phrases and frequently asked questions. It’s all part of keyword research.

Selecting the best keywords for SEO is an ongoing process; you’ll need to add more and more keywords to your lists to maintain search engine rankings. Using language that is appropriate to your audience matters, but using synonyms and related terms will also help establish your authority to Google. Keyword research has changed a little, but ultimately the rules are the same: create quality content that is relevant to your audience.

As your content spreads, your link profile will grow and so will your credibility in the eyes of Google.

Page level keyword optimization

To give search engine robots and humans a better understanding of your site, your site architecture also needs to make sense. This means placing keywords in the right place on a web page. Examples of where to place keywords and phrases:

  1. Page title tags. Every page should use unique keyword phrases to increase website relevance.
  2. Description tags. Think about what information your audience is looking for.
  3. In the main body of content. To further enhance the relevance of each page, use a variety of keyword phrases. Since Hummingbird, Google downgrades pages with too many duplicate keywords.
  4. Headings. Every heading should clearly explain the content to follow.
  5. Image and video alt tags. Include keywords so that search engines know what they represent.

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, then check out our post: The Latest Trends of On-Page Optimization