How to Pick Keywords

How to Pick Keywords

Figuring out how to pick keywords can feel like a daunting task. Unfortunately there is no magic solution for picking the right ones quickly and easily. Nevertheless, if improving the rankings of your site is…

Figuring out how to pick keywords can feel like a daunting task. Unfortunately there is no magic solution for picking the right ones quickly and easily. Nevertheless, if improving the rankings of your site is a priority for your organization, then forming a keyword strategy is critical to your SEO success. There is certainly a temptation to skip the initial work needed for a comprehensive strategy. Generality in language used and topics covered on your site may offer flexibility for your organization’s staff, but when it comes to building up your sites’ reputation in the eyes of search engines, you need to create a unique, holistic, and clear identity/voice on the internet. That is why it is important that you take the time to step back and look at the big picture and your unique attributes. 

Why is picking keywords important?

Keywords act like a neon sign telling Google what is important about your page. This means that if Google crawls your site, and its algorithm decides the content of your page is relevant to the keywords you picked, then it will index that information and potentially place you higher in search rankings. Just as Google’s crawlers are looking for copy that’s meant for your audience not a search engine, it is also looking for the logical use of keywords in your content.

Side Note: How does Google decide relevancy? Check out the ‘Is Google actually Reading my Copy?’ section of this other article to learn about that.

What is a keyword?

A word or phrase that accurately describe the content of a page or article.

Picking one keyword, or even a couple, won’t satisfy your keyword needs. With the volume f information on today’s web, most people don’t have the ability to rank for just one word. These are called head keywords, and the competition to rank for them is high.  As a result, it’s more reasonable to pick more specific keywords. You can also think of them as ‘keyphrases’. These are known as mid-tail or long-tail keywords. The more specific a selected keyword is, the further down the ‘tail’ it goes. This means less people are competing for search engine rankings for that particular word or phrase.

Smitty the SEO snake represents the diminishing competition, but also the diminishing potential traffic, the longer a keyword gets.
Smitty the SEO snake represents the diminishing competition, but also the diminishing potential traffic, the longer a keyword gets.

Categories of keywords


ex. Ballroom Dancing

• Generic

• Lots of competition trying to rank for this word

• Offers the potential for capturing the most traffic

• May not capture what the page is actually about, which may increase your bounce rate and hurt your rankings

• Most difficult kind of keyword to rank for due to competition

• Good to focus on if you have very little competition in your ‘niche’


ex. Adult Ballroom Dancing Group

• More specific

• Less competition as a result of less people competing for it,

• Garners less traffic than a head word

• Better chance of achieving a useful ranking for this than a head keyword


Advanced Tango Ballroom Dancing Group for people 50+ in [CITY]

• Very specific

• Much less ranking competition

• Has less potential to drive traffic to your site due to the specificity

• Provides a higher conversion rate (getting the person to click/stay on the site/buy something), because you provide an answer to a very specific question for the searcher

• Good to focus on this type of keyword if there is a lot of competition in your business niche

Creating a keyword strategy

Before you begin your research to pick the right keywords for your website think about these aspects of your organization...

This thought leads us to the critical question – do you know who your target audience is? The good news is, most service organizations exist because they serve a need within a certain demographic. However, sometimes this can be broad, which offers flexibility in who can be helped by your services, but no specificity about who to target your services too. Taking the time now, to make sure everyone in your organization is ‘on the same page’ about the details of who is a part of your target audience will help clarify this process of picking the right keywords. A vague target audience results in poor SEO, especially when you are first beginning the work to improve your rankings. Once you have determined your target audience, you will then be ready to create your website profile with clarity.

Throw your perspective out the window and think from the perspective of your target audience.

AFTER filing out your profile sheet, as an exercise, try answering these questions as clearly and concisely as possible:

• If I am a community member that your organization serves, how do you explain your three core competencies? Write each as one sentence, in as simple language as you can, without compromising your message.

• Write a single sentence to identify each core problem you trying to solve with your programming, in ‘non-industry speak’.

• Look at your list and create a list of questions that one of your audience members might use to search for your programs or services, in their language.

Your organization's internal way of talking is not the same as different from your audience.

Now that you have starting point  you can use the Google drop down menu (that appears when doing type something into the google search bar), to investigate how people are searching for some of the ideas you’ve written down. Think of this as inspiration for your list of keywords. Keeping in mind your audience, this process should result in a list of mid tail and long tail keywords relevant to your organization.

Create a list of what people are searching for, that is relevant to you, to help you pick the right keywords.

You can find inspiration for ‘everyday’ phrasing for some of your keyword ideas by searching in google. This can also double as a way to figure out who your keyword competitors are, by following some of the searches you would like to rank for and making note of who shows up. Take that opportunity to notice what they are doing well. We advise you do this work in an ‘incognito window, however, because search engines often retain information about your individual presences and interests, and this may skew your results. 

How to open and incognito window to help you research picking the right keywords

Another way to add to your list is by following a broad search your would like to rank for and looking for Google answer boxes. Click on the various relevant answers to your organization you find in the list, and ask yourself ‘Could we provide a better answer?’ If you think you can, then you just found one of your long-tail keywords.

Use the google search bar to help find the right keywords for your site

Finally, there are many keyword research paid tools to help you find related keywords, but Yoast offers a FREE tool we find quite useful. It offers an expansive list of related search terms based on what you input (drawn from Google) and displays them in a concentrated way on one page, they makes them easy to review and explore. Now it is time to write down your keywords. Use the Keyword List sheet to help keep you organized.

Picking Which Keywords to Pursue

Evaluating your keywords isn’t an exact science, but there are some techniques for making educated decisions. On your Keyword List worksheet you will notice 3 additional columns:

• Traffic Potential

• Conversion Potential

• Chance of Top Three

These three categories should help you gauge which keywords you will end up using.


Open an Incognito Window

Before you begin any research with Google, be sure to open an incognito window. Search engines remember your search history and tend to produce search results the algorithm suggests you would be interested in.  Using an incognito window helps avoid this bias, giving you more anonymity as you search, and offers a glimpse into what other users might see when they look for the keywords you are researching.

Traffic Potential

The Google Trends tool is a good place to start when researching your traffic potential. This tool allows you to compare keywords (usually head keywords) and see the frequency they are used in certain regions. The idea being you can estimate potential traffic, based on the popularity of the results. The downfall is this data is ‘high level’ and when your searches begin to get more specific, you will notice it won’t display any data. If this happens, you’ll have to rely on the foundation laid by your research leading up to creating your keyword list, and use your instincts. Don’t forget to keep track of what you find, your Keyword List worksheet.

Conversion Potential

This unique factor not only needs to be evaluated when picking each keyword, but it should be done in conjunction with what page you would like to apply that keyword to on your site. Conversion is about getting the user to do what YOU want them to and it is an important ranking factor that Google evaluates when crawling the data of your site. You can see the existing data for your site on your Google analytics dashboard. (Note: sometimes Google refers to ‘conversion’ as ‘completion’)

When someone lands on a given page for your site, there is a number of ways they can convert; click throughs, subscribing, donating, buying something, etc. Evaluating whether or not a page has the potential to convert may lie in the keyword you are optimizing for. Long-tail keywords have higher conversion rates because they answer a specific question for the searcher. If the searcher finds what they have been looking for on your site, the chance of them converting is very high!

Look at your list of keywords and ask yourself:

Does this page actually ask for the conversion type you are hoping for, according to that keyword?

ex. If the keyword you are thinking of optimizing for is ‘How to sell your artwork in the Seattle area’, but instead of that instructional information, the page displays an online gallery that encourages people to buy local Seattle artwork, with no information as to how the artist might get involved, that will diminish your conversion rate. This is because half of your audience is finding you by an inapplicable keyword.

Does the page provide compelling content that benefits the users so they are more likely to stay on the page and convert, based on what they searched for?

ex. Someone found your sign-up page through the keyword ‘newsletters about artist opportunities and art jobs. Just placing ‘sign-up now’ in multiple locations on a page does not benefit the user. Maybe a clear  description of the newsletter content they are signing-up for will sway them, or compelling photography. How do you make the user feel comfortable or informed enough to ‘convert’?

Does the page provide easy to read content, that contains your keyword in the first sentence, and is used in a logical way throughout the text?

Keywords can also be an inspiration for a page or article. If you find an opportunity with a pertinent long-tail keyword that you think you can outperform your competition with (by providing better content), create that content! Otherwise, if you find a keyword that applies to a page on your site, determine if a searcher be encouraged to convert in the way that you want them to? If yes, rank that keyword high, if no, rank it low.

Chance of Top Three

This ranking factor is about assessing your competition. In this case, your competition is anyone who is using your same keywords. Contrary to how this term is usually used, the people who are your keyword competitors may not be in your industry at all. It’s all about who shows up when you type your keyword into Google. 

Why is it important to rank in the top for a given keyword?

• About 33% of traffic will click on the first result

• Around 17% will click on the second search result

• 90% of searchers do not look past the first page of results

The exciting part about keyword research lies in finding the niche you can optimize and dominate the search results for. Knowing the above statistics provides the valuable insight that if you don’t see a way to overcome the competitors that show up on the first page for a search result, it isn’t a keyword you should pursue. Be patient with your rankings, they will improve over time. That said, if you find yourself on page 2 or 3 of the results for a keyword, that may not be a good one to put your energy into right now. Remember that your authority and who your competition is will change over time, so you do need to revisit, reconsider and change your keyword strategy regularly. More importantly, every keyword requires research so you can make educated decisions, if you want to have a strategy that will produce results.

Local SEO is different from Global SEO

Most of the organizations we serve are working on behalf of a particular demographic or constituents of an area, whether that be a city, county, or state. This means your SEO should be tailored to that location. Below are some guidelines for focusing on ‘Local SEO’ when it comes to picking your keywords:

Do not use 'Near Me' in your keywords

Use the name of your actual location, or the local term for your area instead.

Google matches your location with searchers.

You will see 'near me' in the drop down menu when you type in a search, but this is a term Google adds, and cannot be optimized for. Adding a location to a keyword can help (ex. Modern Sculpture Gallery Tampa) Google put the puzzle pieces together, even though it goes about this in different ways as well. Make sure the content of the page is actually relevant to a local searcher.

Use synonyms and slight variants in your keywords

With local searches, specificity in long tail keywords can be critical. Local language and terms play a role in whether people find your information, so by researching variations of a keyword, you may find one that resonates more with your audience.

Write about relevant local topics in local language

This reinforces your local identify, but be carful not to go overboard with local terms. You want to balance your content between broad and local - rather than focusing on just local content, look for topics that cater to you target audience interests. This will allow your keyword list to be more diverse. Doing keyword research is a great tool for inspiring content, especially when you find an opportunity to rank.
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Write Local Snippets

As an admin, your Yoast SEO plugin shows you what content shows up in search results for your page. Under the SEO tab, you'll see a section that says 'Meta Data'. This section provides the snippets of what people see when they see your page as a search result in Google. Be sure to include a reference to your location so the searcher knows your content is for someone local.

Add your organization to Goolge My Business

By registering on this site, Google will know 'where you are' as an organization, and can create those links needed for keywords that contain locations to be effective.
Google My Business

In Summary

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the task of doing keyword research, work on it in small amounts. Try picking 10 keywords per week to build towards a collection. There is value in dedicating time to creating a keyword strategy that unifies you and your team’s efforts. This research can inspire your team to clarify your online identity and the importance of a strong online presence has never been more important. Remember that this is not an exact science, and no one knows exactly how Google does what they do. So take advantage of the Yoast plugin and do your best to provide consistency and content clarity through this research. Hopefully Google will recognize your efforts and reward you.