SEO Keywords: A How-To Guide for Business

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To put it bluntly, keywords make the web go ’round. Without them, the internet becomes a scattered mess of an endless array of content. Keywords are like the road maps that lead us to the content we are looking for. From a business perspective, they are the neon signs that guide customers to our front door. Selecting the right ones for your business is therefore one of the most important marketing tasks you’ll ever take on.

While some aspects of keyword selection are intuitive and obvious, most require actual research to back up our assumptions, and it’s important to have the best tools in your arsenal. There is definitely an art to selecting the best keywords for your business. If you’re looking to craft the perfect keyword strategy, heed these warnings and avoid some of the most common pitfalls.

Avoid an Identity Crisis

This may sound obvious, but first and foremost, you need to define who you are as a business, as clearly as possible. If you’re a psychologist looking to expand your practice, you’ll want to drill down into your core expertise (PTSD, couples’ counseling, etc.) or you’ll forever live in generic-ville. Your keyword selection should be based on the fundamental vision of your entire business. Before you set about finding the right SEO terms, get clear on your goals and brand first, and only then should you soldier on.

Skip the Vanity Words

Vanity keywords are general, highly-competitive words or phrases that should be avoided unless you have a monster budget. Say you sell gifts and gadgets via an ecommerce store. Going after the term “gifts” would likely be a losing battle. Instead, you’ll want to identify what makes your business more unique, and focus there. Maybe you sell gifts for expectant moms, or all of your items are earth-friendly and sustainable. Go back to what you’ve identified as your core identity, and start listing the words and phrases that best describe you.

Get Into the Minds of Your Potential Customers

This is the step most folks skip – we all think we know who are customers are, and in fact, they may just surprise you. Before you bank your entire keyword strategy on what you believe are the phrases folks would use to describe you, it’s critical that you validate your assumptions.

The first step is to write a very detailed overview of what you know about your core customers. If you’ve already launched your site, you have data to back this up. If you haven’t yet launched, research your competitors, and find the demographic details based on who you believe you’ll be reaching out to. Be as detailed as possible in your pursuit. Parameters like age range, gender, geographic location, income level, education, likes and dislikes – this is all valuable information as you narrow down your SEO and keyword strategies.

Assessing the Actual Value of a Keyword

Next, as you ponder your potential list of keywords, you need to consider the actual value to your website.

If you create handmade furniture, for example, you’ll need to assess if phrases like “Custom Chairs” or “Custom Couches” have more value to your business. To do this, you first consider what brings you the most revenue.

I once worked with a woman that sold aromatherapy pillows filled with various plant essences. She spent scads of time creating keywords for “Lemongrass Aromatherapy” and “Rose Aromatherapy”, but when we assessed her sales, it turns out 75% of all pillows sold were filled with lavender, and that people generally searched for “lavender products” and related terms. She has since revamped her business to only deal with lavender pillows – and that, in turn, is now her sole keyword strategy. She simplified based on value, and thus substantially boosted her success.

Ask the Right Questions

Now it’s time to assess your strategy based on some targeted questions. If you can’t answer “Yes” to all of the following, you haven’t nailed down the essence of your keywords yet.

  • If a searcher uses the keywords, will they find exactly what they’re looking for on your site?
  • Is the selected keyword directly and clearly relevant to your website?
  • Will a searcher find direct value with a search term on the very first page of your site? Will they be happy with the results they see?
  • Does this result in increased revenue or the overall success of your business?

If you’re finding yourself nodding emphatically, keep on to the home stretch!

The Best Tools to Support Your Research

Now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. You’ve defined your identity and your core customer attributes, you’ve made an educated list of potential keywords – now you need the quantifiable data to verify that folks are actually using your selected words.

The first test is obvious – do a search in Google, and examine the results. Are there lots of paid results? If so, you’ve hit a competitive phrase. If you’ve got the budget to compete with the big dogs, this isn’t a bad thing – obviously these are popular terms. But if you intend to do your keyword magic on a shoestring, opt for results that are mostly organic, but more customized. That’s a healthier strategy for the long-haul.

Finally, you’ll want to access a few keyword tools to see the actual usage rates and data surrounding your keywords. The best ones for the job are Google’s Keyword Planner, Microsoft’s Advertising Intelligence, ‘Google Trends Keyword Demand Prediction, and my personal favorite, Wordtracker’s Free Keyword Demand Tool. Each of these apps will give you the tangible verification you need to see how popular terms are now, how likely they are to maintain that interest, and whether or not they’re viable for your long term growth.

What other keyword tools have you found useful? And what aspect of keyword determination do you find most challenging?

About the author


Tina Courtney

Conscious online marketer, web executive, and multi-faceted writer Tina Courtney has been creating and fostering online innovations since 1996. Tina has assisted many clients in maximizing online production and marketing efforts, and is a staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney and JDate, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, influencer marketing, community management, lead generation, and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, and accomplished life coach.  Learn more on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. Visit My Google+ Profile


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  • The selection of the right keywords and content relevant to the content of the website will be able to increase the number of visitors.
    And is also included in the introduction and good understanding of SEO

  • Keyword study is vital to a ppc campaign, get the keyword mix incorrect and you will be spending a fortune. A keyword device is a must!

  • Hi Tina…as always, great article.
    I totally agree with your comment regarding “ultimately knowing your customers” and how they will surprise you with what they “actually” search for. I found this out the hard way after a year of building our site around the “obvious” keywords I thought our customers would search for, only to find out that they really consider us to be more of a “custom” body shop rather than a “collision repair” facility…which, we are, to some extent. After changing our keywords to include things like “custom body work” and “custom paint”, we found that we were winning 85 to 90% of the bids we submitted vs the 50-60% that was our standard previously. These are great numbers, but still not the “type” of work we could be getting if we could break into the standard collision repair grid.

    Consequently, my question is this… Even though we do specialize in custom vehicles, (to some extent), we still need to win the collision repair work bids we submit in order to keep our shop busy!

    In order to change the “stigma” that had surrounded us…(we have several “show winning” cars that the owner of our shop had painted, thus making us very popular with the “show car and custom car & motorcycle” crowd), we decided to use that “popularity & recognition” to let people know that we ALSO “fix cars that have been involved in an accident”, (so you don’t have to own a “show car” to use our services!) That campaign has gained us about a 5% or better increase in “generic” collision repair sales, simply because we were able to cash-in on the “show car” reputation that had surrounded our shop.

    My question is…what is the best way to re-structure a campaign to address the issues I just explained? How can I alert people to the fact that we are not “just” a custom shop, and that, even though we do great custom work, we still offer excellent pricing on standard collision work?

    It was never a problem until we decided to expand the shop, and in order to take on the extra, added expense of a bigger building and more utility expenses, we will need the extra income that we can produce by targeting the smaller, (but very profitable), collision repair work that we were missing due to us targeting the wrong keywords.

    Do you have any suggestions for “increasing our visibility” in that part of our industry, now that we have identified the source of the problem? Our advertising budget is not huge, so I need to make my resources count when attempting to advance our visibility.:)

    Thanks for the great article! I love your column…it’s one of my personal favorites. Keep up the great work…

    -Denise Blackman, Partner / Sr. Editor, LDJ Auto Body & Collision, Gibsonton, FL.

    • SEO is STILL all about the words. the more relevant content you have the more keywords you’ll have naturally (doesn’t hurt to have certain percentages). That and Information architecture – there’s no voodoo, its all very technical see my clients’ BeverlyHills Body and Paint and do at least twice that content and you rank high in the regular market. (the big problem got BH is a strip club called the “Body Shop” nearby…) hope this helps.

    • (corrected) SEO is STILL all about the words. the more relevant content you have the more keywords you’ll have naturally (doesn’t hurt to have certain percentages). That and Information architecture – there’s no voodoo, its all very technical see my clients’ Beverly Hills Body and Paint and do at least that much content (if not more) and you rank high in the regular market. (the big problem for BH is a strip club called the “Body Shop” nearby…) hope this helps.

    • Denise!
      What a joy you are, thank you for reading and reaching out, and for sharing your conundrum!

      As you already know, there is no “easy” answer, but you can diversify your anchor text and promotions to include your collision work and get better traction. In fact, as I’m writing and pondering this, it feels like you’d be best served with social media and marketing promotions to get the word out about your lesser known services, rather than make any changes to an SEO keyword strategy that sounds like it’s doing the job well.
      And I agree with Nick – what about a content marketing strategy that pushes information about your collision work? Within each article you could continue to spread the word about your custom offerings, but this might be a great method to expand your horizons 🙂

  • As a copy writer for the gay adult industry and affiliate business, I can say from experience that one of the most important things to consider are long-tail keywords. It’s also vital to investigate what your competitors are not doing.

    I often include performer names in my work because this is commonly overlooked by affiliates attempting to get attention for their posts, not considering that the actors are one of the biggest selling points to any scene or site.

    Would you try to sell a Hollywood blockbuster movie without mentioning the stars of that movie? Of course not.

    The same goes for product names in mainstream business, just mixing up the title can help. If you’re selling a 42 inch widescreen Sony TV and everyone else is using that title, perhaps it would be better to present it as “Sony widescreen TV – 42 Inch”? Which version of a title is more accurately going to match what a searcher is typing in?

  • SEO is these days more about online promotion and online reputation and not that much about the keywords. Yes KW are still important but if you are doing long-term SEO you need to focus more on a brand building campaign and keeping a good reputation online for the company itself.

  • Great article! It re-enforces the value of keywords that many say is becoming obsolete. I think a ton of value should also be considered in brand building as Damir above has stated.

    You certainly provoked a lot of thinking today, and some second guessing by some. Great way to get a debate going and at the same time, learn something. For me anyway.

  • Without keywords, we’ll continue to get the garbage search results that have become the norm.

    Google (Matt Cutts) keeps telling people keywords are not needed and they no longer count or have any real significance. I couldn’t disagree more. How are the spiders supposed to properly index a site without keywords telling them what the site’s focus is?

    Glad I don’t believe everything I’m told.

    Excellent article that gets to the real meat of things.