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Keyword Basics

Trying to rank for a single keyword is a tough proposition with very limited potential gain. Your goal should be to rank for many keywords that revolve around a single concept, which will give you a much better return on investment. The more specific your keyword theme for each piece of content, the easier it will be to rank in search engine results. Each of your targeted keyword themes can and should appeal to each of your targeted customer personas.

Let's say you're planning to sell golf equipment. It's likely that each of your target audiences is looking for one or many of the following:

  • Pro golf highlights
  • How to stop slicing
  • Nutrition for athletes
  • How to work on your short game

Each could be addressed on your product pages if the product in question specifically ties into it, or it could be addressed in a dedicated blog post or webpage. Having this type of highly specific content on your store will help draw in your target audience.

Here's an example of how generating niche keyword themes can help you create highly targeted content for each of your customer personas and turn your online store into a conversion machine.

To generate niche content ideas for these keyword themes, you can turn to the same resources you used for conducting market research. On top of that, here are a few additional ways to add to your seed list and begin to organize it into themes.


Look at any and all social media channels related to your product or service. To start, conduct a search with terms on your seed list. You'll learn how your target audience refers to your product or service, what they like or don't like, and popular topics of discussion.


Online forums are like having live focus groups at your fingertips 24 hours a day. The easiest way to find forums used by your target audience is to Google phrases like:

  • “keyword from seed list” + “forums”
  • “keyword from seed list” + “forum”
  • “keyword from seed list” + “board”



You can also use, a search engine for forums. Just search for a specific keyword from your list to find forums where your target audience can likely be found. Because forums tend to be centered around niche topics, you can find some keyword theme gems.

Using Keyword Research Tools

As mentioned in Generating Keyword Ideas, you can choose from a wide range of free and paid online keyword research tools, including:

While you can use any or all of them, our go-to is Google AdWords Keyword Planner. It gives you insight into what users are typing into the undisputed search engine leader. Keep in mind that you'll need to open an account and have a credit card on file to use it — but you don't actually have to launch a campaign and spend money.

Using a keyword research tool will help you find the best keyword options and finalize your keyword strategy. At the end of the process, you'll have a solid, list of vetted keywords to start incorporating into your site so you can increase your search rankings.

Here's how to get started with the AdWords Keyword Planner.

The keyword competition levels in the AdWords tool represent paid search, which doesn't always translate perfectly to organic search. However, it will still give you a good idea of the popularity of your keywords and how hard they might be to rank for.

1. Take the tour: Once you create an account with the Google AdWords Keyword Planner, take a few minutes to follow the guided tour and learn the ins and outs of using the tool. To do this, click on Tools, then Keyword Planner. Then choose “Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category”.

2. Enter your keywords and phrases: After the tour, it's time to enter keywords and phrases from your seed list. You can use the extra targeting and keyword filters to tweak your results. Select a product category that most closely matches your industry. If your business is local, you'll get more relevant suggestions by changing the location to your city or state. Submit your data by clicking “Get ideas”.

3. Vet the average monthly searches: On the next page, you can click between tabs for ad group and keyword ideas to see what keywords are popular for certain ad groups, then get data specific to individual keywords.

Click on Keyword ideas to see the average monthly searches for your inputted keywords and suggested keywords, and how competitive they are.

This is the basic information you'll use to begin building your keyword list. You can use the keyword filters on the left to show only low and medium competition terms and filter out those that would likely be too difficult to rank for.

Filtering out highly competitive keywords doesn't mean you should completely avoid using them on your site. It just means they're not worth focusing on as you build out content. For instance, if you are selling dog supplies, the word “dog” will likely appear throughout your website. That's okay — you just won't be strategically targeting it for ranking.

After filtering, you'll likely be left with something that looks like this:

4. Select keywords: Short tail keywords will typically have the most search volume and competition, while long tail keywords will usually have less. Generally, you'll want to focus on keywords that have a high search volume, but not a lot of competition. Of course, every business is different, and niche markets might not have much search volume at all. That's okay; you can still use the planner to get a good idea of what keywords you may want to incorporate into your site.

5. Add to your keyword list: Once you've settled on your keywords, you can either export them by clicking the “Download” button or manually add them to your themed list. Feel free to make adjustments by adding, removing or prioritizing as needed.

How Keywords Work

A common misconception is that you need to get as much traffic to your website as possible. While you do need visitors, success is actually about attracting the right kind of visitors. It's also not enough to rank highly for keywords like “pottery” or “t-shirt”. These highly common search terms are referred to as "short tail keywords", and only make up around 30% of all searches.

The other 70% of search queries are “long tail keywords”, which are usually longer and more specific. Long tail keywords typically convert better, because they're searched for by people who are ready to buy. A person searching for "t-shirt" might just be killing time online, but someone searching for "best price Star Wars graphic tee" is likely to have their credit card out already.

Consumers using a search engine are typically in one of three modes:

Browsers: These searchers are just exploring — they don't necessarily have a specific goal. They might search for funny cat videos or the history of Japan. They use short, non-descriptive search queries like "cat" or "Japanese history". These searches return hundreds of millions of results, making it hard to compete and be found.

Researchers: Searchers in research mode have a specific topic in mind, and are actively seeking more information on it. This could be someone considering purchasing a camera, and looking up reviews and specifications for a particular model. People in this mode have slightly more specific queries, like "Nikon camera reviews".

Buyers: As an online merchant, this is the mode you want shoppers to be in when they find your products. They are committed to making a purchase, and are performing a search in order to do so. Searchers in this mode are straightforward and detailed with their search queries, like "buy Nikon 16 megapixel digital SLR", "women's white long sleeve cashmere sweater", or "orange bamboo martingale dog collar". These searches return fewer results, meaning it's much more likely for your result to be shown.

Here's the benefit of long tail keywords demonstrated in two photos:

Someone doing research on fashion trends might do a general search for "women's shoes", and will get literally millions of results.

At the same time, someone who has zeroed in on what they want to buy will do a search for "sparkly red pumps size 7", and receive fewer but far more relevant results.

By uncovering the longer, more specific search terms used by people looking to buy, you can optimize your online store's pages to best speak to shoppers and rank with search engines. Here is a simple example of keyword targeting in a product page:

Long Tail Keywords

When adding content to your store, like product titles and descriptions, about us and contact information, you'll want to use keywords that will make your goods or services more easily found by people searching for them.

People who already know what they want to buy use search terms that are longer and more specific than those who are just researching a product or service.

These longer, more specific searches are called long tail keywords. Having long tail keywords mixed in with the content of your site will increase your rank on search engine result pages when people search for the same terms.

For example, someone doing research on fashion trends might do a general search for "women's shoes", and will get literally millions of results. At the same time, someone who has zeroed in on what they want to buy will do a search for "sparkly red pumps size 7", and receive fewer but far more relevant results.

Having your products show up in this shorter, more exclusive list of search results is good because there is less competition than with the generic search, were you'd be less likely to stand out or be found.

A recurring, overarching philosophy when it comes to search engine optimization is to cater to people, your visitors / shoppers, rather than focusing on generating traffic. While getting traffic to your site is generally good, getting the right kind of shopper to find your products is essential to your store’s success.

You'll need to dial in exactly how long your long tail keywords need to be. If they're too short, your content is lost in the millions of results returned. If they're too long, you won't get any traffic because almost nobody is being that specific.

Add long tail keywords to your store's content in a way that best serves and speaks to your shoppers. Do not just throw them on your site without context just to appease search engine crawlers. Search engines, especially Google, have become exceedingly better in the past few years at being able to discern between sites that are actually geared towards shoppers, and sites that are merely pandering to search engines in the hopes of generating traffic.

Think about how searchers phrase their queries, when researching keywords for your product or industry. They may not be as familiar with your market as you are, and might not use or understand industry terminology, slang or buzzwords.


Developing a Keyword Strategy

It all starts with what someone types into a search box.

The words that make up a query are commonly referred to as “keywords,” a foundational element of SEO. Since the ultimate goal of your SEO strategy is to help people who are looking for your business or products, what more logical place to start than optimizing your site to best match shoppers' searches?

Keyword research can prove to be one of the most high return activities, not only in SEO, but in search marketing as a whole. Selecting the right keywords and strategically placing them in key areas of your pages isn't rocket science, but it does take a little time and dedication.

When you're ready, the Guide to Keyword Research will help you uncover your market's keyword demand and develop a keyword strategy that best attracts the right customers. Plus, you'll learn how to track results so you may learn more about your target customers and make improvements.

Value of Keywords

Search engine optimization (SEO) starts with the words that someone types into a search box.

These words that make up a search query are commonly referred to as “keywords,” a foundational element of SEO. Without keywords, there’s no such thing as SEO.

The ultimate goal for your SEO strategy should be to help people who are looking for your business or products find you. And the best way to start is by optimizing your site to match what shoppers are specifically typing into search engines. Keyword research is incredibly valuable because it helps you:

  • Produce the products, services and content web searchers are actively seeking
  • Determine user intent to generate quality traffic and boost revenue
  • Predict shifts in demand and respond to changing market conditions

In the history of marketing, there has never been such a low barrier to entry for understanding the motivations of consumers in virtually any niche.

Things to Avoid

While keyword research can range from the simple to the mind-bogglingly complex, there are some common missteps to avoid:

  • Choosing keywords that are too broad
  • Targeting keywords with too much competition
  • Targeting keywords without enough traffic
  • Targeting keywords that don’t convert
  • Making assumptions as to what keywords your customers are using
  • Trying to rank for one keyword at a time
  • Selecting keywords that don’t represent the contents of a page
  • Trying to overload your content with keywords (keyword stuffing)
  • Hiding keywords on your pages using CSS tricks (like blending them into the background)

One of the biggest misconceptions on this list is that you should try to rank for one keyword at a time. It’s much easier and more profitable to rank for hundreds or even thousands of long tail keywords with the same piece of content. To do this, you’ll need to develop a keyword theme for your business. This will allow you to write more natural content, which aligns with one of the tenets of good SEO:


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