The keywords you choose can make or break your SEO campaign.
If you make wise keyword choices, you will produce content with the potential to attract valuable organic search traffic month after month. If you pick the wrong keywords, your content will attract little or no traffic.
So how do you choose the right keywords for SEO?
Lots of people make this process too complicated, but the reality is that it isn’t the heavy.
This is how it works in four simple steps:
- Find keywords with search traffic potential
- Make sure you are creating content that matches the search intent
- Make sure the keyword has “business potential”
- Make sure you can rank for the keyword
Unless people are really looking for a keyword, there is no point in targeting it. That’s because ranking high for a keyword that no one is looking for is not sending any traffic to you. It just has no traffic potential.
To find what people are looking for, you need a keyword research tool.
Google has a free name Keyword planner. It works pretty simple: you enter a topic and it returns relevant keyword ideas and search volume.
For example, here are some of the ideas and search volumes we have for “dog food”:
Unfortunately, the Google Keyword Planner (GKP) has one big flaw: it only shows search volume ranges, not the actual monthly search volume (unless you run ads).
Some of these areas are huge too. You can see above that some keywords fall into the 10K-100K bucket. This makes it very difficult to know what priorities to set because the range is so wide. The keyword could get 10,000 monthly searches, 40,000, 80,000, 100,000 – you just don’t know.
To get accurate estimates of keyword search volume, you’ll need a third-party tool like Keywords Explorer. This tool works similarly to GKP. You enter a topic / seed keyword and it shows you keyword ideas and monthly search volume.
The difference is that the search volume estimates are much more accurate and you also usually get a lot more ideas than in GKP.
For example, if we enter the seed keyword “dog food” and that Appropriate terms report we receive over 416,000 keyword ideas with search volume and other data:
In general, keywords with a higher search volume have a higher traffic potential. However, if you rank in pole position on some keywords, you will get a lot more traffic than you would imagine given the search volume.
For example, here is the search volume for “best dog food”:
69K. Quite high.
But if you scroll down to the SERP overview and check the estimated traffic on the top ranking page, you can see that the traffic potential of this topic is actually much higher:
The highest ranking page receives an estimated 144,298 monthly visits in organic search. That is more than double the search volume for “best dog food”.
On the other hand, some topics bring in a lot less traffic than you’d expect given the volume of their “head” keywords. For example, the keyword “puppy food” has a search volume of 22,000 …
… but the top ranking page only receives an estimated 7K monthly visits:
So when looking for keywords with traffic potential, never rely on search volume alone. Check how much traffic the highest ranking page is getting, as it can better assess the overall traffic potential of the topic.
By and large, searchers want to do one of three things when they type something into Google:
- To learn something
- To buy something
- Find a specific website
This is known as the search intent (the intent behind the search).
When choosing which keywords to pursue, it is important to only select keywords that allow you to create content that matches the search intent. This is because Google just doesn’t rank the type of content searchers aren’t looking for.
For some keywords, the search intent is evident from the keyword itself. When someone types “how to train a dog” into google, it is clear that they want to learn, not buy. So, you will likely need to create a blog post to rank for that keyword, rather than a page selling your dog training services.
With other keywords, the intent is a little less … obvious.
Take, for example, a keyword like “vegan protein powder”. Does the person looking for it want to buy vegan protein powders, learn more about the best and worst vegan protein powders, or something else?
The best way to find an answer to this question is in the search results.
When we do this, we see that virtually all of the results are blog posts listing the best protein powders. So that’s clear These seekers want to learn, do not buy.
Unless you have a blog, this is probably not a great keyword to try to rank.
Let’s check the search results for another keyword, “dog house”:
In this case, pretty much all of the top results are category pages from well-known ecommerce stores. So that’s clear These seekers are looking for a purchase. Hence, it is unwise to choose this keyword unless you have an ecommerce store that sells kennels and can create an ecommerce category page for this type of product on your website.
Let’s look at the results for another keyword, “chewable dog food”.
This time, all the results come from one brand: Chewy. So that’s clear These searchers are looking for a specific website. Hence, there is probably nothing we can do about this keyword as we are not that brand.
We’re really just scratching the surface of search intent here, so check out the post below for more information.
Recommended literature: Search Intent: Complete Beginner’s Guide
“Business potential ”describes how lucrative the ranking of a keyword is for your company.
If the search intent calls for an ecommerce product or category page, answering the question is pretty straightforward. Just ask yourself if you are selling this product or a variation of it. If the answer is yes, the keyword has business potential.
However, if the search intent calls for a blog post or other informational content, the question is a little tougher. That’s because you need to consider whether you can naturally present your product or service in this content.
For example, at Ahrefs, a keyword like “how to do keyword research” has great business potential because we sell an SEO tool that helps people do keyword research. It’s easy for us to naturally present this tool in a blog post on the subject without being intrusive. (You probably noticed how we did that in this article.)
But a catchphrase like “how to install Google Analytics” is a “low business potential” topic for Ahrefs. The reason for this is that there is no way to present our product in a blog post on the subject. Our toolset cannot help users install Google Analytics. So while the topic appeals to our target audience, its business value is low.
Here is the scale we use to rate blog post business potential:
Remember, choosing keywords with business potential doesn’t mean you have to create your content Sales – and. But on the contrary. You choose keywords with high business potential so that all pitches and mentions of your product or service in your content are actually useful and help your audience solve their problem.
In theory, anyone can rank for any keyword with enough effort.
But in the real world, some keywords will be more difficult to rank than others, especially in the short to medium term. Therefore, you should assess the ranking difficulty of a keyword before deciding whether to pursue it.
The easiest way to compare the relative ranking difficulty of potential keywords is to use a Keyword Difficulty Score. Most SEO tools have this, and ours is aptly referred to as Keyword Difficulty (KD).
You can see the KD score next to all keywords in the Keywords Explorer:
Each SEO tool measures keyword difficulty in its own way. We are based on the number of backlinks to the current top ranking pages. In other words, the higher a keyword’s KD score, the more backlinks you will likely need to rank on Google’s first page.
You can filter by keywords by KD-Score in the Keyword Explorer. So if you only want to see low difficulty keywords, just set the max filter to a low value like 10:
Now it’s important to mention that there are many other factors that affect a keyword’s true ranking difficulty, so you shouldn’t rely solely on keyword difficulty values in SEO tools. These scores are there to give you a quick way to find low-difficulty keywords based on a few criteria. In our case, this is the number of backlinks you would likely need in order to compete.
If you want to learn more about the other factors to consider when looking for low-competition keywords, check out the resource below.
Recommended literature: How to Find Low Competition Keywords for SEO
Choosing keywords for SEO is not the complicated. You’re only looking for keywords that:
- The traffic potential is high.
- The business potential is high.
- You can create content that matches the search intent.
- You actually have a chance of ranking.
It can take a little while to find keywords that fit your needs, but it is definitely doable.
For a complete guide to the keyword research process, see This video or read our beginner’s guide to keyword research. Both explain the basic principles of keyword research and how to do it from start to finish.
Any questions? Ping me on twitter.