How to decide on keywords for SEO

Deciding on keywords for SEO can be difficult. When it comes to search volume it’s commonly thought that bigger is better, so there’s a tendency for the uninitiated to develop a keyword strategy that is built up of broad, high-volume keywords that apply to the 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. If you follow this guide, you’ll identify a much simpler route to attract qualified prospective clients to your site than competing with everyone else for “Buy + Product +your location”.

Before we continue let’s look at why people chase the high-volume keywords in the first place and end their keyword strategy satisfied that they have the volume they will need to hit income forecasts – and why they get it wrong. Then we’ll cover how to choose the best keywords for SEO and how to decide which ones are worth your time and SEO budget.

The easy road

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 10,000 organic impressions a month and you’re a lazy researcher, it will be much easier to find 10 keywords with a forecast 1000 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 perhaps forget about competing on those super-competitive keywords all together. We’ve recently successfully launched a cyber security company, some of their target keywords are dominated by well-established and well-funded companies like Microsoft and Cisco, they’re a start-up and don’t have Cisco and Microsoft-sized budgets so we found another way.

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).

How to find keywords for SEO that are going to achieve your goals

When researching and deciding upon keywords for SEO don’t chase the volume of searches, chase the actions you want. You’re going to have to apply a bit of guesswork to estimate the following for each keyword:

  • How long will it take to earn it?
  • How long will it take to keep it?
  • What click-through-rate (CTR) do you expect?
  • What visitor to goal conversion rate do you expect?

If you forecast this information you can strategically choose your battles. As you run your campaign you can update your forecasts, hone your ability to forecast and in future you’ll be even better at deciding which keywords are worth your time and resource and which are not.

For example, we worked for an SaaS brand that provided restaurant software. You would imagine a good target SEO keyword would be “restaurant software” that has a monthly forecast of 140 searches in the UK. You don’t need a calculator to know that ‘restaurant analytics software” with 40 searches a month in the UK is less than a third of the volume. A seasoned SEO professional would look at this differently.

How an SEO professional decides on keywords for SEO

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 are 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 coming from media websites. You won’t beat the Google algorithm that’s decided a user needs information instead of a supplier for a search like that. Try it for other searches too “plumbers in Leicester” after the map results but before you see the websites of the plumbers themselves, you’ll see directories and review sites for plumbers in Leicester. You can compete against media websites for this keyword if you want to, or you can try and stand out on the comparison and review sites that already occupy those ranks and will continue to do so until they are beaten by another media or review site.

Before you decide you will target a keyword using SEO, identify which types of websites occupy the top ranks, and whether you are the right kind of website to compete for that term in that search vertical. If you’re not right for it consider other keywords and other search verticals, or settling for lower down page one, page two or page three of the all rankings.

We work with a restaurant group. Restaurants along with hotels were one of the first industries where directories took over most keywords in search engines, however people choose a restaurant on a range of factors, but nearly always by location. They use maps to determine a location and SEO can be performed with the objective of getting the top rank on map search, directories don’t have a physical location and can’t compete on the map – maybe your business can. 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.

Keyword difficulty is really important because it lets you know what you’ll need to do to achieve the objective (and maintain it afterwards). 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 compare.

Once we have this information, we know how long it will take to earn and what we can expect from it. Now we can make decisions between keywords:

Keyword A vs keyword B

Keyword A: 300 searches per month, six hours work to achieve it. We know this keyword is very generic and is likely to have its top ranks occupied by media and directories.  We know top of page one is out of bounds, so we forecast CTR at 1.3%.

Keyword B: 135 searches a month, three hours work to achieve it. We know this keyword is more specific, applied directly to one of our USPs and as a result of being more specific, Google has decided the user needs a supplier, not advice. This makes us confident in a better CTR and we forecast 2.8%.

The results of keywords A vs keyword B

Keyword A forecast:  300 searches with CTR of 1.3% = 3.9 visitors from keyword per month for six hours work.

Keyword B forecast: 140 searches with a CTR of 2.8% = 3.92 visitors per month on forecast for 3 hours work.

Now it’s quite easy to see that for half the work, we can get the same number of visitors but more qualified ones, as keyword B is looking for a feature that is one of this brand’s USPs. If the amount of work required and the number of visitors is the same, we may want to apply our forecast web visitor to lead goal rate to reach keywords, so we can determine which keyword we expect has the best chance of attracting visitors that will become clients.

Patch tip: Don’t be put off this method if you work in an industry that has a large market and targets keywords with volumes ten times greater than the example above. Those examples are from a B2B SaaS brand which by its nature has a smaller market, lower number of sales but higher price tag and long-term client relationships. Every industry has different search volumes, sales cycles and behavioural patterns but this approach will help you decide which keywords to pursue whatever your industry and whatever those search volumes are.

If you want more advice on how to choose the best keywords for SEO get in touch.

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