How to decide on keywords for SEO - the best guide online

How to choose keywords for SEO

We’re an SEO Agency. How to decide on keywords for SEO is a common question our clients ask. This guide explains how to choose SEO keywords and the things you should consider when deciding which keywords to pursue.

This is not a guide to doing SEO keyword research. It’s a guide to choosing the best keywords for SEO. If you’re looking for advice on doing keyword research. Search Engine Journal has one of the best in our opinion.

Using the customer journey to decide on keywords

The easiest keyword to come up with is “buy product/service”. It’s likely there are several companies competing for that keyword. By the time the prospective customer is searching those keywords, there’s a chance they’ve done some research and have a preference for a brand. They’re getting to the end of their journey as a customer.

We recommend choosing keywords that will make your site rank at all stages of the customer journey. You want to come up in searches again and again as your potential customers do their research. We recently worked with an SME email encryption provider. They were competing for organic ranks with Microsoft and Cisco for keywords like “email encryption”. The brand awareness of the majors meant they had little chance of being clicked on for “email encryption”. A high volume and incredibly qualified keyword that demonstrated purchase intent.

During keyword research we found there were thousands of searches every month that were closer to the start of the customer journey. They were much less competitive. They were mostly searches indicating a problem or query our client’s product could solve.

We decided to pursue keywords to reach those internet users searching things like “is email a safe method of communication” or “how to send files securely”. Because they were much less competitive, we achieved the rank at a fraction of the cost. We answered queries, so we overcame the preference for choosing the major brands. Most importantly. The search term indicated the user had a problem that email encryption could solve. We earned their trust by solving a problem. After they visited the site we put them into a remarketing audience to highlight the USPs of our client’s solution.

It doesn’t matter what product or service you provide. There will be a customer journey and there will be a chance for you to rank at all stages of that journey. Ranking for searches at all stages of the customer journey means you become one of those brands that appears again and again during a prospective client’s research.

At Patch, we define the customer journey for our clients’ typical customers. We research the types of problems they face and the emotions they feel. We develop a picture of the different stages and what the prospect is looking for at each stage. Once we know that, it’s easy to develop a keyword plan that includes keywords at all stages of that journey and to choose the best keywords to appeal to the target audience at the stage of the journey they are at.

The template we use is below if you want to download it.

Keyword search volume, competition and qualification

Take into account search volume, competition for your desired rank and how much that keyword qualifies the search engine user as potentially requiring your product or service.

When it comes to search volume it’s easy to think that bigger is better, but it’s not always. There’s a tendency to develop a keyword plan of broad, high-volume keywords that apply to a brand’s products and services. But there are smarter ways to build a keyword strategy based around the actions you are pursuing, not search volumes alone.

High search volume keywords are easier to identify, easier to apply to a business and easier to hit the quota of target impressions during planning. If you know you need 100,000 organic impressions a month, and you’re a lazy researcher, it will be much easier to find 10 keywords with a forecast 10,000 searches a month. A famous Chinese proverb says “the easy road leads nowhere” and it couldn’t be more true for keyword research.

Those high-volume keywords will be the first port of call for 90% of your competition. You’ll all be competing so hard for them, you can expect, at great expense, a life of upward and downward movement in your rankings. If you don’t have the biggest marketing budgets in your industry forget about competing on those super-competitive keywords all together.

A lazy keyword strategy makes your life easier during planning, and sometimes, impossible during delivery (unless of course you have piles of money and a huge marketing team).

Competition and keyword difficulty

Keyword difficulty is important because it lets you know what you need to do to achieve the objective (and maintain it). We use a metric that assesses keyword difficulty, but we also analyse ranking competitors to see how they achieved their rank. Then we use this data to determine how we will achieve the same rank. That research tells us the time and effort required to achieve the goal.

How to choose the best keywords for SEO

Before producing any content or landing pages you should do some research to decide which keywords are the best for your product or service. If you’re using an SEO agency, they should do this for you, but read on if you want to try it yourself.

There’s a free Google Chrome extension named Uber Suggest. It will tell you the search volume and competitive density of a keyword in a particular country when you search it in Google. The competitive density is an indicator of how difficult it is going to be to earn the position.

Uber Suggest will tell you related keywords. You can use it to find keywords that apply to your brand, appeal to your customers and are achievable. The example below is for “Email Encryption”, you’ll notice it suggests “What is email encryption”. It’s less competitive than the seed keyword. With 1300 searches per month in the USA, it is a viable keyword to acquire a reasonable number of visitors that may want email encryption services.

You can use the data to choose the best keywords for your SEO campaign by considering the following:

  • What is the search volume?

– How many people search it?

  • What is the competitive density?

– How difficult it will it be to win it?

  • What is the awareness of other brands that rank for that search and how does your brand compare? What is your target rank?

– This will help you estimate your organic click through rate (how many of those searches will visit your website)

  • What stage of the customer journey is the keyword at?

– You want to cover all stages of the journey like a traditional marketing funnel

  • Forecast visitor to sale rate for this keyword

– You may have data on this in Google Analytics or you may have to do some guess work.

This allows you to choose the best keywords for SEO scientifically using the following information.

  • Search volume
  • Target organic click through rate for this rank
  • Visitor to sale conversion rate for this keyword

You’ll end up with something like this:

  • What is email encryption volume 1300
  • Competitive density 4/10 – page one rank, top four target
  • Organic CTR of 2.2% = 28.6 visitors per month
  • 15% visitor to sale conversion rate = 4.29 sales per month

If you know SEO, you can forecast the time/work it will take to earn a rank for that keyword. You probably know the average sale value for your business as well as the lifetime value of a customer. That allows you to decide cost/time vs return if you earn that keyword.

As you run your campaign you can update your forecasts and hone your ability to forecast accurately. After doing this a while, you’ll get more accurate at forecasting and better at deciding which keywords are worth your time and resource. There is no better way to choose the best keywords for SEO.

The keywords you already rank for could be the best

Before you start keyword research check what your site already ranks for. Google Search Console is a free tool that will tell you what keyword searches your website has appeared in. It also shows what position it ranked at. You can use this information to find keywords that you already rank quite well for and can improve. It’s definitely worth choosing some new keywords but with Search Console you’re going to find some keyword ideas and established ranks you can build on.

Here’s an example of using Search Console

At the time of writing, we rank at #1 on page one for “SEO Tips for wedding venues”. This is one of those keywords that’s higher up the funnel. We assume someone may want tips first and at some point, may decide to hire an agency for the more complex stuff. In Search Console we noticed we were ranking at #7, page one, for “wedding venue SEO” with our tips page. That tips page generated a few thousand impressions per month for “wedding venue SEO” at #7 but it rarely received any clicks. All the clicks came from the #1 rank for “SEO Tips for wedding venues”.

The person searching for tips and the person searching for a service provider are different stages of the journey and have different needs. We decided to pursue “Wedding Venue SEO” with a dedicated landing page. On 10th May 2021 we published a landing page dedicated to selling our SEO services to wedding venues. Our objective is to earn a #1 rank for “Wedding Venue SEO” and to provide a page that matches the query better than the tips page. We hope our better rank, and content better suited to the query, will mean we get more clicks from that search term and hopefully, more wedding venues as SEO clients.

Choose the correct type of keywords for your site

Google’s mission as a search engine is to solve a user’s query in one click/one visit. Broad searches like “restaurant software” imply you’re new to the market and need information, not a supplier. Try it for yourself. Search “restaurant software” and you’ll see how page one is mostly occupied by top, best and review lists published by directory and media websites. Get more specific and add a USP by searching “restaurant software with analytics” and suddenly service providers rank on page one.

It’s not easy, but you can compete against media and directory websites for this type of broad keyword. Or you can compete on more specific organic keywords and buy positions on the comparison and review sites that already occupy the high-volume broad search ranks. The nature of your business may help you to decide the best option.

We work with Congress Centre London. The directory sites in their industry (venue sales) dominate the top ranks. Every time they place a booking at the venue, they take a commission of about 10%. There was a reason for Congress Centre to get up there in the top ranks. Avoiding a 10% commission on one or two major bookings could justify their SEO campaign.

At the time of writing, Congress Centre are #7, page one, in all rankings for “Conference Venue in London”. They are the only non-directory site on page one except for the map pack. The map pack shows individual venues (they also occupy a map pack ranking). In venue sales, it’s so tough for service providers to beat directories that at the time of writing the next conference venues in the rankings for that search term are Senate House at #18 and RIBA at #20. For most conference venues in London, it is easier to join those top-ranking directories.

Before you decide to target a keyword, identify which types of websites occupy the top ranks, and whether you are the right kind of website to compete for that term. If you’re not, consider innovative ways you can compete or choose another keyword.

Choose the right search vertical

Search verticals are the different ways search engines provides search results. A vertical search focuses on a specific segment (or vertical) of online content. On Google they are: All, map, video, news, shopping, hotels, flights, books, finance.

We’ve already explained that broad search results are dominated by media and directories. That’s only in “all rankings” though. Usually there’s a search vertical that’s best for every business and target keyword. Lot of people focus on the “all rankings” and waste their time.

In addition to considering how to choose your SEO keywords, we recommend thinking about search verticals.


An example of choosing the right search vertical for a broad keyword

We work with a restaurant group. The restaurant industry was one of the first where directories occupied top ranks in “all rankings”. People choose restaurants on a range of factors, but nearly always by location. They use maps to determine a location and SEO can achieve top ranks on map search (and at the top of page one in the “all rankings” in the map pack). Directories don’t have a physical restaurant location and can’t compete on the map.

There is always a way to stand out in search engines and to generate qualified visitors for your site. You just have to find the right way.

About Patch

We’re a full-service digital marketing agency based in Kent, United Kingdom. We’ve been in business since 2010 and have a track record of using digital marketing to deliver growth for brands at various stages of their lives.