Great content is essential for a successful website, but if you write posts on subjects nobody searches for, you’ll never get any real search engine traffic.
That’s why a smart search engine optimization strategy begins with choosing the best keywords. There’s no point being on page one for a search term nobody uses.
The best keyword phrases have two essential qualities:
1. The significant number of monthly searches
Meaning there are plenty of potential search engine visitors.
2. Low competition
Indicating there aren’t so many existing results that it will be difficult or impossible to rank highly for the term.
Many people struggle with getting traffic to their site because they haven’t researched their keywords correctly. Instead, they just guess.
But here’s an example of how guessing can lead you astray. Take these three keyword phrases:
All are popular search terms, but the one with the largest search volume has over sixteen times more people using it each month than the next most popular.
Which one is it?
I don’t know about you, but my guess would be “cooking”. But at the time of writing, these were the actual numbers of people searching for each term every month on Google.
cooking recipes 49,500
cooking games 2,240,000
That’s why it’s important to spend time researching keywords. It’s often hard to guess what the most popular search terms are. Guessing incorrectly means you waste time and energy targeting keywords that have low search volume and so never bring you many visitors, even if you rank highly for them.
Your secret keyword tool
There are a number of keyword research tools, but the most accurate and easy to use is the Google Keyword Planner.
Important: You may have seen out-of-date guides recommend a different tool called the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. The Keyword Planner replaces the AdWords Tool, which is no longer available.
The Keyword Planner is a free tool designed to help advertisers choose keywords when buying ads on AdSense, Google’s advertising network. You can use the same information to discover the best keywords to target in your niche. Not just keywords you think people use, but the ones they really do.
You’ll find the Keyword Planner at:
Because the Keyword Planner is only available to log in users, you’ll need to create an AdWords account to use it. It’s free and you can use the same account as the one you may already have for other Google services likes Gmail and AdSense. You don’t have to actually have to spend money on an ad campaign to use the planner.
Note: In some countries, Google now has two types of AdWords accounts: AdWords and AdWords Express. The keyword planner is only available with a full AdWords account, it’s not accessible from an AdWords Express account. If you need help with creating an AdWords account take a look at this link:
Alternatively, if you prefer not to use the Google Keyword Planner, try the Keyword Tool from SEOBook.com. For a free account, which also includes a ton of useful reports and tutorials, go here:
It’s not identical to Google’s keyword tool, but it’s very similar.
Using the Keyword Planner
When the Keyword Planner opens, you’ll see a screen with a number of choices. Choose the option that says, Search for new keyword and ad group ideas, then type the keywords you want to check in the box labeled Your product or service.
There are a lot of other options on the page, but there’s only one that you need to edit. Click the panel that says Keyword Options.
Then set Only show ideas closely related to my search terms to On.
This setting will stop the suggestions list from becoming too large and unfocused to be useful. To generate your keyword suggestion list, click the Get ideas button. On the results page, you’ll notice two tabs: Ad group ideas and Keyword ideas. For our purposes, Ad group ideas aren’t too helpful, so click the Keyword ideas tab.
You’ll see your keyword phrase at the top, with the second table under it listing similar keywords. By default, this table is ordered alphabetically by keyword, which makes it harder to see which keywords have the most traffic. Clicking the Avg. monthly searches heading reorders the table so that it shows keywords by search volume from highest to lowest.
You now have a list of search phrases related to your keyword with the most popular searches at the top.
If your keyword search isn’t turning up enough results to be useful, or you want to try a different search term, click the Modify Search button and change the keywords to Your product or service.
What the keyword table tells you
Once you know how to read it, the second table can tell you exactly which keywords will be the most profitable in a particular niche.
For keyword research, the only columns we need to consider are Avg. monthly searches and Suggested bid.
Avg. monthly searches
This column lists the average number of Google searches for each keyword every month, based on the preceding twelve months of data. A dash (-) instead of a number indicates “insufficient data”, meaning there are so few searches each month there’s no sense concentrating on that keyword.
This is useful if you’re running AdSense or other advertising on your site, doing affiliate marketing, or selling your own product. Keywords with high suggested bids indicate a phrase where the user is said to have “commercial intent”.
These are phrases used by people who are further along the buying process than the average user. They’re typically only one or two steps away from buying a product, which is why advertisers will pay more to reach them – they’re easier to make a sale from.
For example, at the time of writing, “phone” has a much lower Suggested bid than the phrase “cell phone plans”. The second phrase is a money keyword (with “commercial intent”) because it’s clear the user is only a step or two from buying a specific product, in this case a cell phone plan.
When you successfully rank for phrases like these, you bring in visitors ready to click ads, affiliate links or buy products. If you’re running AdSense, you also attract advertisers paying the kind of payments you see listed under Suggested bid.
Putting it all together: Creating a list of the most profitable keywords in your niche
For each potential keyword, we need to know three things:
1. Are there enough people searching for the phrase to generate a worthwhile amount of traffic?
2. How easy will it be to compete with the pages already being listed in search results for that keyword?
3. Is it a “money” keyword? Imagine you have a blog about arts and crafts and you’re looking for post ideas about scrapbooking. It’s a popular subject, but how popular? Running the keyword through the Keyword Planner gives you the search volume but you also need to know how many pages Google already has listed for that term. The fewer there are, the easier it will be for your page to appear near the top of Google results for that phrase. The Keyword Planner doesn’t include this information, so you’ll need to do a Google search and note the number of results listed at the top of the page.
Below is the combined information from Keyword Planner and Google search results for scrapbooking. Include is the Suggested bid, a guide to how much AdWords advertisers need to pay for their ads to appear for that term.
Avg. monthly searches: 165,000
Suggested bid: $0.41
Google Results: 44,800,000
Avg. monthly searches: 14,800
Suggested bid: $0.88
Google Results: 33,400,000
Avg. monthly searches: 14,800
Suggested bid: $0.61
Google Results: 13,200,000
Avg. monthly searches: 12,100
Suggested bid: $1.58
Google Results: 14,200,000
Avg. monthly searches: 4,400
Suggested bid: $0.46
Google Results: 43,200,000
Avg. monthly searches: 4,400
Suggested bid: $0.49
Google Results: 4,510,000
It’s clear that scrapbooking is a good term for SEO. The main keyword, scrapbooking, is popular (165,000 searches per month) but the number of search results (44,800,000) is not that high.
In other words, there are lots of people searching for the term but not that much competition from other websites. That’s exactly the kind of keyword we’re looking for.
How Search Volume translates visitor numbers
As a rough guide, the top result on page one for any search query will get monthly visits equal to around 40% of the search volume listed in the Keyword Planner, while the tenth result on page one will get around 2% of the volume. Here’s how every position from 1 to 10 stacks up: 1 – 36.4%
2 – 12.5%
3 – 9.5%
4 – 7.9%
5 – 6.1%
6 – 4.1%
7 – 3.8%
8 – 3.5%
9 – 3.0%
10 – 2.2% [source: searchenginewatch.com]
For the term scrapbooking, that translates to around 66,000 visits for the first results and 3,300 visits per month for the tenth result. That means even sites on the second page of results for this keyword should be getting a couple of thousand clicks a month. To sum up, look for keywords that relate to your niche and have at least two of the following qualities:
1. High search volume
2. Low competition
3. High Suggested bid
If you find a keyword with all three, you’ve definitely found a “money phrase”.
Targeting Long Tail Keywords for Increased Traffic
A long tail keyword is a phrase of three or more words which is related to your main keywords but has less traffic associated with it.
Why would you want to target phrases with less traffic?
Most content creators go for the big, obvious one and two keyword phrases and ignore these longer search phrases. Thankfully, less competition means fewer pages in the results, making it easier for you to rank highly.
Take a look at the Google Keyword Planner and you’ll see that many long tail keywords attract a good amount of traffic.
For example, at the time of writing, photography has 450,000 monthly searches with over one and a half billion search results, making it an impossibly difficult keyword to target successfully.
However, the long tail phrase tilt-shift photography has a respectable 10,000 searches a month but only three million pages in the results. That means a good, in-depth post on the subject with only a handful of links to it should rank well for that term.
When considering your overall keyword strategy, don’t forget long-tail keywords. For many established websites (including the sites I run) the combined number of visits from long-tail keywords is greater than those generated by the main keywords.
That’s not surprising, given that long tail keywords account for 70% of all search engine queries. But there’s another benefit to creating content with the long tail in mind; those queries tend to be used by people about to buy. Someone searching for phones is just browsing, while someone searching for Apple iPhone best price probably has their credit card out already.
That means if you’re selling products or doing affiliate marketing you should definitely be targeting long tail keywords. If you’re generating revenue with AdSense, you’ll often find visitors who find your site via long tail searches are more likely to click ads as they continue searching for the best deal.
Even if you’re not monetizing your site in this way, the long tail can provide your site with a lot of targeted, motivated readers – the kind that share your links and sign up for your email updates.