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Introduction to Keyword Planning

SEO. Everyone knows they need it, and nobody knows what to do.

Seriously. To a lot of people, SEO seems to border on magic, and self-proclaimed “SEO gurus” take advantage of this, offering to navigate this arcane world on your behalf,  delivering more traffic to your website via incantation.

But SEO isn’t really that complicated or confusing. I mean, it used to be, and we’ve already written about how SEO has changed (and is still changing) in recent years. It turns out that getting the gist of it isn’t that hard. And while offering a complete rundown of how to optimize your website to make it extra tasty to Google’s spiders isn’t feasible in this space, we can definitely talk about one of SEO’s key components: keyword planning.

See what I did there? Key component? Shut up, I’m hilarious.

How to Use Keywords

Once upon a time, all you’d need to do was think up a bunch of search terms and jam them into your website as often as possible, because all AltaVista or Dogpile or whatever did was find matches. Shadier SEO “experts” would actually hide keywords in invisible text on a page. This was mostly used to misdirect traffic to unsafe website by piggybacking off search terms like, I don’t know, “y2k survival” or “will smith wild wild west lyrics.” It was 1999. Cut us some slack.

Nowadays, keywords serve a much more useful function: subject targeting. While it’s still awesome if keywords show up in your copy, Google treats them as topics rather than looking for 1:1 search correspondence. The search engine is smart enough to know what you’re talking about based on the overall content, using keywords to locate more highly-specific pages that serve as a direct answer to the search query. After all, Google wants its search engine to answer questions more than return search results, so let your keyword strategy guide content creation rather than dictate copy.

How to Find Keywords: Think It Through

Ok. So let’s get into the nitty-gritty of it.

Sadly, there’s no machine that will look at your website, cross-reference with Google, and tell you what keywords to use. While it is almost certain to be invented eventually, it’s not here quite yet, so we still have to put the old noggin to work. Lame.

But you can do this! The first thing to do is sit down with a pencil and paper (because apparently it’s 1983) and brainstorm. What search terms do you think people are using when they’re looking for websites like yours? What search terms would you like people to use? Seriously go nuts here. Think of everything from the most boring searches to the weirdest ones you can. You want to build a wide range of terms to research and you honestly never know what will bear fruit.

The thing is to get specific. It might sound awesome to rank for “shirts,” but how useful would it be if your company only makes novelty Hawaiian shirts? Most people who google “shirts” wouldn’t have any interest in your product, so you would have wasted a ton of time and money building up your results – just to be seen by millions of uninterested searchers. So get specific. “Novelty shirts” would be great. “Novelty Hawaiian shirts” would be, too. “Novelty Hawaiian shirts with pictures of Elvis size m” would be fantastic. Those are people with a clear goal and who you can reasonably suspect of being close to purchasing.

These are called long-tail keywords, and you want to own the crap out of them. They’re impossible to predict, but by keeping your webpages tightly focused and informative, Google can absolutely send them your way. You’ll want to work variations of major keyword themes into your copy and metadata as much as you can without sounding like a monster robot from the future here to destroy us all. “NOVELTY HAWAIIAN SHIRTS,” it bellows as it decimates Cincinatti. “MEDIUM SIZE NOVELTY HAWAIIAN SHIRTS ON SALE.”

How to Find Keywords: Computers!

Once you’ve got your initial list of keywords, it’s time to put the pad and pencil down and rejoin the twenty-first century by gluing yourself to a glowing LCD monitor that’s shoving information into your face.

Take your keyword ideas and check out Google’s Adwords Keyword Planner. It’s really built to help people with Adwords accounts bid on keywords they want to show up for. But what that means is that it tells you how much volume a search term is getting and how hard it is to rank for. And it offers you related search terms, so you can find relevant terms you didn’t think of that offer better search traffic. In other words, as in all things, Google Adwords Keyword Planner improves upon our pitiful human brains by offering up a comprehensive well of data at the drop of a hat.

You want to look primarily at monthly searches and difficulty. You want search terms that offer high monthly searches and low competition, but be warned: those stats can be misleading. You also need to determine (again, using your pitiful human brain like a chump) whether a search term is actually a useful search term at all. That means thinking through (uuugh) the relative commercial applicability of the term. Are people googling that search term anywhere on the buyer’s journey? Is it too vague to return meaningful leads?

Piggybacking off the point about long-tail search terms above, you don’t necessarily want to waste a lot of time and energy ranking for high-volume, low competition search terms if they’re far too broad to do you any good.

So yeah. Go through and filter your whole brainstorm list through this process. You’ll find a bunch of your terms probably kind of suck, and that’s okay! You’ll find new, better terms that can net you positive results. After that, it’s just a matter of putting your keyword strategy to work, which means overhauling your website. Or heck, it might just mean blogging a lot more.

Yeah, it can be a lot of work.

But trust me.

If you want higher organic traffic and more-qualified leads who are already on their way down the sales funnel, it’s absolutely 100% worth it.