How to Choose the Right Keywords

Posted by on Aug 22 2008

man drowing in keyword choicesI was emailing with a colleague the other day, and she asked, “How do you pick keywords that will help, without drowning against the 40 billion other people who are using those same keywords? And, if you pick ones with less competition, then no one is actually searching them, right?”

Great questions! Here’s how I answered her:

When I teach my 16-hour SEO workshop, we spend about 4 hours on this very topic. It’s an art and a science.

Using some of the SEO tools is helpful, and deeply dissecting your competition’s website is helpful as well (it will tell you whether they’re an “accidental SEO success” or if they’re really skilled at it). Many websites will rank well for a short time, but if they don’t do SEO as a long-term maintenance task, you can jump ahead of them after their rankings start to slip. Learning all the SEO techniques helps you to determine if your arsenal will get you anywhere. Then it’s a stab in the dark.  🙂

I rarely go after “long tail” keywords on my main selling pages. But if the keyword is long tail AND somewhat popular, I’ve been known to write a specific page about that specific topic to draw attention. For instance, if you type in “mastermind group” in Google, my one-page article comes up #1.

But since my main service is small business coaching, I really go after that phrase with wild abandon on my main selling pages. When you type “small business coach” into Google, I come up #1 for that. (I’ve been #1 for that phrase for several years now.)

When we do SEO work for clients, the vast majority of our billable hours is in picking the right keywords. I’d say we typically spend 6-8 hours just picking the correct keywords.

If you ever have a grand passion for learning SEO in a hands-on class, I do teach a 4-week teleclass called SEO For Everyone.

There are so many great SEO techniques, when you use the right combination of them, you can rank high for nearly any keyword except the really, really competitive ones. And even for those, with the right domain name (and other factors that you can’t control…nice to know it’s not 100% in your control, eh?), you can still rank on the first page of results. Part of the problem is knowing whether your competition is beatable or not. Some sites, like the Wall Street Journal, you will never rank above, no matter how hard you try.

Do you use WordTracker or Keyword Discovery (the paid versions) when picking keywords? WT is a dog to use, but both tools can help you wade through a stack of keywords to find out which ones have the best chance of success.

I’d love to tell you there is one, perfect, tried-and-true method for getting it right every single time, but there’s not. There are just a bunch of tools and a bunch of techniques to help sift through the massive information…and then you have to trust your gut instinct, your experience, and your intellect to make final choices and implement them correctly. It’s interesting to note that I find that small business owners usually do quite well in choosing keywords; it’s the implementation part they fail at.

A lot of the skill comes with practice, over and over again, picking keywords. With more experience you get better at the “pattern matching” necessary to make it all work. Consider doing an SEO experiment on a topic that you aren’t emotionally connected with, just to practice without needing to get it perfect. If you like detective work and putting together puzzles, you’ll love SEO!


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