Learning SEO: Keyword Strategy

Updated: Jan 20

Part 2 of the SEO for Beginners series — in this post I'll show you the importance of keywords.

This is another straightforward concept that's super easy to implement.

In the coming weeks we'll get more in depth, but first let's cover the basics.

Why Do Keywords Matter?

Simple answer: Your user communicates in keywords.

We all rely on searches in our everyday life.

We've gotten used to pulling out our phones whenever we need any sort of information.

Whether we're looking for restaurants, getting directions, or finding a fact to settle an argument with a friend:

The internet makes us much more intelligent than we naturally are.

And we access that intelligence using searches.

In a way, search is the language we’ve developed to interact with the internet.

Keywords make up the basis of this language.

And Google is becoming increasingly fluent everyday.

Put simply, keywords show our intent.

To gain traffic, you need to be familiar with your user's intent.

I recommend starting with your competitors.

Free Insight to What's Already Working

Competitor analysis has never been so easy.

It's never a bad idea to keep a tab on your competition.

But when it comes to SEO, it's 100% necessary.

In this instance, I'm talking about the big competitors who are already having success.

They're constantly giving out free SEO advice, even if they don't know it.

TRY THIS: Ask yourself what you're offering your users, phrase it in terms your user would use, then do a couple searches for that offer.

For example, for my business, I would search "simple digital content strategy" or "content marketing for beginners".

The search engine results page (SERP) that shows up is a playbook for your keyword strategy.

Here's a screenshot of the SERP that came up for my search:

You'll notice on the right I have Chrome extensions to help me further understand keywords.

But even without that, I can learn a lot from a quick glance at this page:

  1. 4 ads showed up. Which tells me this is highly competitive. (Whenever you see more than 2 ads, you can assume you've got some serious competition — it's best to steer clear of this specific grouping of keywords.)

  2. Even after the ads, the top 2 results are coming from SEO giants like Moz and Neil Patel. Another sign I'll need to target something more specific.

  3. There's a trend in the words "guide" and "handbook". This tells me people are interacting most with the sites that offer a complete course or checklist.

So, I modified the search a bit. This time I added the word "tips":

Now, a rich snippet pops up (the box with a numbered list).

And again, "guide" is part of the top result's H1 (the title, which is the blue, clickable text).

Now I know that guides with numbered lists are working well for competitors.

So, I might think about implementing some sort of step by step guide on my site.

Play around with these searches, take notes of the trends, click through to the top results — you'll inevitably absorb what's working for competitors.

This will give you a solid idea of the most popular keywords.

From there, you can use those specific words to create your own long-tail keywords.

What is a long-tail keyword?

For context:

Short-tail keywords are short, specific, & highly competitive (such as "marketing" or "content marketing").

Long-tail keywords are much more specific and therefore less competitive ("content marketing tips for bloggers in 2020")

Chances are, that specific long-tail is still highly competitive, but hopefully you get the idea:

When starting out, add modifiers to the keywords you target to make them as specific to your business as possible.

The best way to map out these long-tail keywords? Seed lists.

What's a seed list?

A seed list is a handful of words or phrases that explain what you do.

For instance, my seed list would look something like this:

  • Content Marketing

  • Digital Strategy

  • Copy Blogging

  • Web Writing

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

  • User Experience (UX) Web Copy

I would then take the seed list and add modifiers.

Modifiers can be both prefixes and suffixes.

SIDE NOTE: When writing this post, I tried getting super specific and explaining the prefix/suffixes thing through text...

And you know how much I hate complex text.

It's a mess.

So I decided to just show you one of my seed lists.

Much easier to understand through an image:

The seeds are short-tail keywords.

The prefixes and suffixes help them become long-tail keywords.

Mix and match these, try searching them, continue to take note of the trends.

What you're trying to find are keywords that satisfy three criteria:

Relevance - Does the keyword accurately describe what I'm offering on my site?

Search Volume - Are there plenty of people searching this specific keyword?

Realistic Difficulty - How hard is going to be to rank better than competitors for this keyword?

You want relevant, high-volume, low competition keywords.

As I mentioned in my link building post, SEO tools like Moz and SEMRush are huge for helping you organize and analyze these things.

But for now, we're keeping it simple:

Search for your industry, see what's working for others, implement that into your strategy.

It's a great idea to focus on questions when thinking of keywords.

Here's why:

Voice Search is Changing the Game

With Siri & Alexa, voice searches have started to dominate, and they're not going to stop.

55% of households in the U.S. are expected to own a smart speaker in 2022.

Despite how you feel about Jeff Bezos having an ear in every household, it's a reality you should consider when optimizing for search engines.

People are searching using their voice.

And if they're anything like my parents, they're using siri to text too.

But boomers aren't the only ones.

The world is trending towards hands-free, smart devices — which means less typing, more speaking.

And how do you interact with virtual assistants like Siri?

You ask her questions.

The days of typing "restaurants + los angeles - mexican" are over.

The majority of searches are done in question format.

Think about the specific questions your users might ask, then create content to answer them, directly.

Which brings me to the most important concept of keyword strategy: design your content with humans in mind.

The Beauty of Google's Hummingbird

Google announced a significant change to its algorithm in 2013: the hummingbird update.

And it changed the world of search forever.

It drastically improved the way Google understands semantics, context, and intent.

At a very basic level: the hummingbird update allowed Google to understand conversation.

Rather than looking for strings of specific keywords and pulling up exact matches, Google now analyzes the context of the search, and pulls up what it thinks we're really wanting.

Here's the best explanation I've seen of this concept:

For example, if a user performs a search for the term "weather", it's much more likely that they are looking for a forecast for their area, not an explanation of the science or history of meteorology. - Dan Shewan

Google now knows this, and pulls up The Weather Channel rather than Webster.

This is huge for search, and actually makes everyone's life easier.

For the everyday user/searcher, it means we get much more accurate results.

Gone are the days of clicking to the second page of search results.

Chances are, Google will find exactly what you're looking for... even if you're my mom using Siri to search in a cryptic, panicked manner.

But it also makes our lives as content creators and web developers easier too.

Hummingbird made search engines think more like humans.

This means we have a lot more freedom to appeal to humans, and not stress (as much) over the technical side of SEO.

At the end of the day, Google wants to see that your site and your content is built for real people.

If you focus on answering the questions your warm blooded, human users have, you'll actually be satisfying search engines.

The best content, written with the user in mind, is naturally optimized.

Keyword strategy is actually user-experience (UX) strategy.

If you're just starting out:

  • Ask yourself what your user wants

  • Analyze your competition

  • Build seed lists

  • Document which keywords you're using

  • Pay attention to what works

  • Adjust from there

Sound simple enough? Questions? Need more clarification on anything? Leave a comment and tell me about your experience with keywords.

As you know, I respond to each and every one of them!

Next week we'll take a deeper look at your content and how you should be formulating it.

See you then!

- Ben

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