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How to Choose What SEO Keywords to Use

Posted on April 16, 2015
by Marcus Fishman

How to Choose What SEO Keywords to Use

When it comes to search engine optimization, most people know that it’s all about keywords and how you use them on your website. Web designers and content writers can tell you where and how to incorporate those keywords in your design, but before that can even happen, you need to know what keywords to use in the first place.

Let’s start by making sure that you understand what exactly keywords are, and then I’ll go over some tips to help you choose the keywords you should optimize for.

What exactly are keywords?

The term “keywords” gets thrown around a lot when people hear about search engine optimization, but do you know what a keyword really is?

Keywords, or keyword phrases, are specific terms that people use on a search engine to help them find a website, service, product, etc. Things like the name of your business are obviously keywords, but so are the services or products that your business sells – basically, anything that people might use to search for your website.

8 easy ways to find keywords

Creating a list of keywords to optimize for isn’t that difficult. What is difficult is finding variations of those keywords that will make your website more competitive in related search engine results.

So what are some of the ways that you can find keywords for your SEO efforts or campaign? Here are some easy ways to come up with a broad keyword list to start working from:

  • Make a list – Start by writing down what it is that you do, i.e., what specific products or services you offer. Add to that list your business name and your location, and you have a good starting point. These are the most basic keywords that you should optimize for.
  • Check out the competition – Take a look at some of the websites of your competitors, especially the ones that rank well in search engine results. You should be able to spot their keywords easily enough. What are some of the keywords they’re using?
  • Ask your past customers – Finding out how people found you in the past is a great way to know how potential customers are searching for you, especially if you can find out what keywords they searched for when they came across your website.
  • Ask outsiders – People looking for a specific product generally know what keywords to search for. But what about the people who don’t know what keywords they would use to search for a particular service or product? Getting their input can be just as valuable as people “in the know”.
  • Internal search results – If you have a search tool on your website, take a look at some of the search phrases that people are typing in. By looking at what people are searching for, you can get an idea of what keywords you could optimize for.
  • By using free research tools – There are plenty of free keyword research tools out there, although I prefer Google’s keyword research tool. You can type in a word and it will give you related keywords that you can sort by search volume, search competition, and more.
  • Include Common misspellings – It might not be a bad idea to include common misspellings of keywords that people often use. Words like “accommodation” are often misspelled, so include some of the common variations that people might use.
  • British vs. American English – There are some words that are spelled differently in the British version of English than the American version of English. “Colour” vs. “color”, “theatre” vs. “theater”, etc. Depending on your market, you might want to take these into account.

Your goal in finding keywords in any of these different ways is to put together as broad a list of keywords as possible. Why do I say that? It’s because now you’re going to take that list and start whittling it down, making some strategic decisions about which of those particular keywords to actually optimize for.

3 criteria for choosing keywords

Choosing keywords is much different, and arguably more difficult, than just finding keywords. You don’t want to optimize for every keyword common to your service or product that you’ve found – in fact, that would be poor SEO strategy, and you probably wouldn’t rank very highly if you did so.

Search engine results today are all about providing the user with the content that most matches the intent of what they’re looking for. You want to choose your keywords accordingly so that they match that intent as best as possible. In order to do that, there are three key properties that you want your keywords to have in order to benefit your optimization efforts the most. You want to choose keywords to optimize for that are:

  • Relevant – Choosing keywords that no one uses will make it very unlikely that anyone will find you. For example, are you optimizing for “accommodation”, which sounds very formal, or would it be better to use “hotel” instead? Think in terms of how people actually speak.
  • Specific – Optimizing for the most general keywords is very difficult, sinceĀ  everyone else is doing the same thing and competing for those keywords. While you should still include general keywords to some degree, if you can find more specific keywords, you might be better off.
  • Local – Make sure that you incorporate your location as one of your main keywords. Search results aim to be as relevant and specific as possible to what someone is looking for, and this will help narrow down the results significantly (depending on where you live).

Only when you’ve gone through your initial list and narrowed it down to the targeted keywords that you want to optimize for are you ready to do something with them. From the web design perspective, there are 9 places to insert keywords on your website, so work with your web designer, web developer, or web content writer to make sure they’re used where they can and/or should be.


How do you find and/or choose keywords that you want to optimize your website for? Share your thoughts about this topic and anything else I’ve mentioned here by leaving a comment below!

About Marcus Fishman

Marcus has been working professionally with websites since 2001, and offers a wide range of website knowledge from his years of experience working with, designing, and building websites. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.