By Mike Murray published January 28, 2013

12 Tips for Keyword Selection to Guide Your Content Marketing SEO

content keyboardSome content marketers play fast and loose with keyword selection for natural search engine rankings. They shirk proper research and analysis, or merely take wild stabs at whether a keyword phrase is worth pursuing in the first place.

If you constantly create internet content without thinking through search engine optimization (SEO) and keywords, you will rank for something (content does resonate with search engine algorithms). Yet, you will consistently run the risk of shortchanging your SEO strategy — and your company’s ability to grab its fair share of relevant search engine traffic — for branding, conversions and more.

Every piece of content on a website or in a blog post isn’t necessarily going to take a company to No. 1 on Google for a keyword phrase that people use 15,000 times a month. But you can get more out of search engine optimization — with just a bit more effort.

To the degree that time and your skills allow, you should consider the following questions and factors that affect content marketing and SEO in every piece of online content you create and distribute. To make the process easy, I’ve created a short checklist that you can reference when thinking through keyword possibilities for your website or blog content.

keyword checklist

Ask yourself the questions in this checklist as you begin your SEO efforts — you can learn a bit more about the details involved in each point below:

1.  Have I mined keyword research resources?
It’s not uncommon to run right to Google for ideas (though your AdWords account provides more in-depth data than this free tool), but Keyword Discovery, WordTracker, and other tools can provide additional insights. I’m partial to SEMrush, which suggests possible keywords that you may have overlooked in your own pages and posts (it analyzes more than 95 million keywords). You can also tune into the words people use at Social Mention. I’ve even checked the index at the back of a book for ideas.

Here are some keyword phrases I found at SEMrush. Within a few minutes, I had an Excel spreadsheet filled with 30,000 keyword ideas from a Fortune 100 company. Despite some high rankings, clearly the company has plenty of opportunities to rank better:

keyword phrases

Even if you find keywords among the data that’s available, you still need to know whether people are really searching for them. Your list might look suitable, but search counts matter. Yes, sometimes you should target a keyword phrase with 1,000 monthly searches. Quite often, you may want something less competitive. I don’t rule out keyword phrases with 50 searches a month, but I also don’t jump at ones with 30,000 searches. If I do go that high, it’s because the keyword phrase is relevant and the website has much going for it, especially in terms of inbound links.

2. Is the keyword phrase relevant?
Does the keyword phrase really match what your business does or whom it targets? Years ago, someone told me he wanted to rank for “e-commerce.” It never occurred to him that this term might be a little broad. In a case like this, he should have considered “e-commerce” as part of a keyword phrase, like “e-commerce solution provider.”

Remember, though, that the keywords you choose must look like a natural part of what you’re writing. Also, keep in mind that spelling can make a difference. “Swing set” may be the preferred term for playground equipment, but many people search for “swingset.” You don’t want to use the “wrong” word and appear like you can’t spell correctly. (Though with something as common as “swing set,” you could probably go with a version on one page and another spelling on a different page.)

3. Are we buying this keyword phrase through paid search?
Paid search, including buying ads on Google, is another source of keyword research that your company may already have on hand. But many companies settle for performance from paid search and skip SEO to their detriment. If you’re buying a keyword for paid search, you ought to make sure it’s also a viable candidate for SEO and content marketing.

For example, a large specialty retailer may invest in the keyword “GE dishwasher.” If it’s working because the paid search conversions are acceptable, then it may also be worth pursuing with SEO.

Conductor, which released “Natural Search Trends of the Fortune 500” in 2010, found that Fortune 500 companies spent $3.4 million a day on paid search with nearly 100,000 keyword phrases. However, only 2 percent of their websites and keywords made it into the first 30 organic (non-paid) results on Google.

Sure, you can buy your way to the top of the paid results, and outstanding natural search engine rankings may not come easily. But if you’re paying for the keywords, that should be a signal that an SEO strategy ought to be considered. It’s not just about ranking so high that you can stop paying for a keyword phrase. Depending on the conversions and ROI goals, maybe you will keep a keyword phrase with both paid and natural search.

4. Am I already ranking for the keyword phrase?
As you start writing, it would be good to know how well you’re ranking for the topic you are covering. Are you in the Top 10, Top 20, Top 30 or all the way out at 199?

You can use tools like Web CEO, BrightEdge, and SEOmoz to get ranking data. (To learn more about tools like these, get the “Enterprise SEO Tools: The Marketer’s Guide,” which explores different platforms that can help you manage, track, and optimize thousands of keywords.)

5. Will my new page adequately mention the keyword phrase?
You can write some incredible content that goes into great detail about a topic with examples and fresh perspectives. But be sure to incorporate your most strategic keyword phrases along the way. You can’t get by with just one reference in the 13th of 15 paragraphs.

Keyword density “rules” have long been debated. But a top priority should always be to look for natural opportunities to mention keywords. If you’re using your target keyword phrase every 150-200 words, you’re probably on track. And don’t sweat it if you use them more often — as long as it doesn’t look like you forced the keyword phrase in where it doesn’t necessarily belong. You can always scale back the references after you check on your rankings (which will also be heavily influenced by the page title, page header, website age, inbound links, and many other factors).

6. How much traffic is my website receiving for the keyword phrase?
As you peer into your own website analytics, you should see a wealth of keyword data. You can dive deep a couple of ways, including analyzing the initial keywords used to reach your website and your internal site search data when they arrive. For example, you might discover that someone searches for “construction loan financing,” but that may prompt you to look at some options like “construction loan requirements” or “how construction loans work.” You may also need to adjust your content strategy to work the new keyword phrases into existing or new pages.

Don’t be discouraged if you find that a keyword phrase isn’t searched that often — it may still hold a lot of value. I look at keyword traffic in light of rankings. For example, a keyword phrase may have only 20 searches a month, but that 20 may rank poorly only because no one gave the keyword a boost with serious SEO. On the other hand, a keyword phrase might rank as #2 on Google and still bring only a couple dozen visitors. But this would be OK if the keywords are a good match for the services or products you sell. You don’t need 1,000 visitors to connect with good prospects.

I keep an eye out for multiple keyword phrases on a web page that rank highly on search engines. You may find that a single page could support “free online checking account” and “free checking accounts online.” However, sometimes you can’t get both phrases to rank among the top three positions (maybe one keyword phrase ranks #7 and the other ranks #14).  You may need a new priority page that focused on just one of the phrases in order to get it to rank better.

7. Am I getting website traffic for similar keywords?
I constantly check website analytics to see what relevant keywords people are searching for that I didn’t even include on my list of the most strategic keyword phrases. Existing and new content created in conjunction with SEO efforts can give life to a wide assortment of related keywords and phrases. For example, I may have originally targeted “laptop computer” for a given piece of content, but the way you write your content may give rise to a number of other keyword phrases like, “buying a laptop computer.” You can take credit for the impact by charting search engine traffic growth for those keywords, page views, and more.

8. Is this keyword phrase (or similar phrases) already converting?
You can track keywords through your website analytics and conversion funnels, including e-commerce (associating keywords with product sales). Some companies gain additional insights with call tracking services like those offered by Mongoose Metrics and Marchex and others. Call tracking technology has many benefits. For example, at a keyword level, when someone uses a keyword phrase on a search engine and then reaches a website, a unique phone number temporarily appears in the content (replacing the regular website phone number). The phone call, which is tied to the keyword phrase, can be tracked and recorded.

9. Are there calls to action on the page?
It is particularly important that you target keyword phrases in your content by including effective calls to action. What is the offer? What does it look like? Is it buried? If you drive traffic through SEO, you don’t want the visitor to have to struggle to figure out what you want him to do as a result of viewing your content. Make it apparent that readers should call a toll-free number, request a demo, download a guide, or request more information, and then make sure you’ve made it easy for them to do it. It’s also critical that you test the placement and colors of forms, phone numbers, and assorted offers. Many people think of SEO only in terms of keywords, but website usability and conversion opportunities can also help ensure that the SEO traffic pays off, rather than be wasted if too many people leave moments after they arrive at a website.

10. Are there related pages that could support an internal link strategy?
You can achieve high rankings for a single page, but your content marketing strategy will get a boost through SEO if you have related pages created to support internal cross-linking. In other words, make sure you create opportunities to cross-link the strategic keywords in the anchor text on several of your pages or posts to improve your odds of higher search engine rankings. And don’t forget to include the targeted keyword phrase within your links (or at least near the link). For example, maybe one page mentions “low cost car insurance” in passing, but those words could be included in the text of a link to another page on your site or blog that goes into more detail about the pros and cons of low cost car insurance policies.

11. How will this keyword phrase choice fit into future content?
Your keyword selection options for SEO and content marketing should be based on planned content for the weeks ahead — not just the content you’re dealing with today. With a content calendar, you can start thinking about keyword possibilities even before someone writes an article, describes a service, or creates a blog post. If you have a primary set of keyword phrases, your content planning strategies should reflect your keyword phrase priorities and deficiencies. For example, if you’re already ranking exceptionally high for “riding lawn mowers,” maybe that doesn’t need your attention; but you may be ranking poorly for “self propelled lawn mower,” and want to create content to address this in the near future — your keyword plans should keep this in mind.

12. Is the keyword phrase in our domain name?
Google in 2012 announced that it would crack down on low quality exact match domains (EMD) for websites that want to rank primarily on the merits of their domains. I’m sure Google wanted to deal with obnoxious domains and small websites (like this pretend domain: seocontentmarketingtipsideasforonlinemarketers.com). However, for respectable websites, the domain name still seems to influence search engine rankings.

Conclusion

I’m sure you will want to weigh some other factors as well before selecting keywords, but the above list gives you a good starting point.

At a minimum, leverage the keyword research tools available to see whether people are actually using the keyword phrase you’re targeting. Inevitably, you’re going to create content that people aren’t searching for at a rate of 10,000 times a month (maybe you’ll need to settle for 100 in some instances when you look at alternative keyword phrases). But any new content can be a good opportunity to include your most strategic set of keyword phrases and cross-link them with your existing content.

What methods work well for you as you select keywords as part of your content strategy?

For more tips on strategies for measuring and improving the success of your content marketing efforts, read CMI’s online how-to guide on Measuring Content Marketing Success.

Cover image via Bigstock.

Author: Mike Murray

Mike Murray has shaped online marketing strategies for hundreds of businesses since 1997, including Fortune 500 companies. A former journalist, he has led SEO studies and spoken at regional and national Internet conferences. Founder of Online Marketing Coach, Mike is passionate about helping clients identify their best opportunities for online marketing success based on their strengths, his advice and industry trends. You can find him at his blog, Online Marketing Matters or on Twitter @mikeonlinecoach.

Other posts by Mike Murray

  • http://www.seobooklab.com/ Ram Babu SEO

    Yes, keyword selection is one the very crucial part, we know how important to use this in our excellent content that solve the queries of our audiences have or may educate them . .!

    • Rajveer Singh Rathore

      Very informative blog for the new persons who are in seo.

  • Debbie Josendale

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for writing such a comprehensive article on keywords and SEO. Finding the best keywords for SEO is a complex process. And the amount of effort required to find great keywords is often misunderstood, but your article does a great job of demonstrating what it takes.

    I love your comment that if you don’t do keyword research and connect that to a content strategy, you will rank for something. But the question is…what and is it relevant to your business?

    We work hard to educate our clients on what it takes to find the right keywords and also that it’s an ongoing process.

    Thanks again for sharing your perspective!

    Debbie

    • http://www.onlinemarketingcoach.com/ Mike Murray

      Thanks Debbie.

      Glad you liked the post.

      I like what you shared about the ongoing process.

      I especially enjoy going through web site analytics to find similar keyword contenders or new opportunities to drive traffic and/or conversions.

      It certainly is an education process with clients.

      I wish you well.

  • http://geniusgeneration.us/ Dwayne Golden Jr

    Some the keyword research tools you used I havent heard of will have to check them out but great post. I’m doing a blog post today based on a lot of keyword research i did last week I’m hoping to see great results.

    • http://www.onlinemarketingcoach.com/ Mike Murray

      I hope you have good success Dwayne. Glad I was able to connect you with some new tools.

      Besides tools, it’s always helpful to ask executives at companies for their ideas and access a few of their customers as well. Good keywords emerge when you develop a profile of the target market. I once worked with a business that distributed industrial floor mats. A purchasing manager may have been in the customer mix (good to know), but we were also interested in the plant manager and others who worked with people who stood on the mats all day. It was helpful to have a sense of who would be using the product.

      I hope you get the results you need.

      –Mike

  • Brian Prows

    great blog and great site. Now if you would only Mobilize your emails.

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      Hi Brian, thanks for the kind words. Can you explain what you mean by mobilizing our emails?

      • Brian Prows

        Regarding your daily emails with links to the blog posts: In order to view the entire email on a mobile smartphone in readable type, you need to narrow the width of your center column to, say, 600 pixels and increase font size, which will make your HTML email readable on a mobile device and PC’s/Macs. Within Mac Mail, for example, it looks like you used 6 point type.
        The reader has to move the entire email column blocks or view in landscape to see the content The right sidebar in the email is completely off the screen of my Samsung Nexus S 4G.
        Notice how your WordPress plugin fully centers the mobile page without any required right or left movement.
        By the way, don’t forget the flash problem on the link above Brandpoint. Video requiring flash doesn’t appear on Android or iOS devices.
        Best,

        Brian

        • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

          Really helpful, Brian. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/johnmihalik John Mihalik

    Great article Mike. Very comprehensive. There are so many factors to take into account and you did a great job explaining them.

    • http://www.onlinemarketingcoach.com/ Mike Murray

      Thanks John.

      It’s a tough task to put them all in motion for each piece of new content. Many sites just concentrate on a finite list of keywords. I’m always trying to find other words worth exploiting. If a web site ranks #12 for a decent keyword, some extra effort may be worthwhile.

      Take care.

  • http://www.feldmancreative.com/ Barry Feldman

    Bravo Mike. This is some seriously strong advice.

  • Ron VanPeursem

    Mike; Thanks for a great post. A lot to keep in mind when creating content, but right on the money. I think we’ll continue to find an important intersection between content marketing and seo. One without the other weakens the effort. Thanks.

  • Robert Calvin

    Really a great post i agree with you keywords plays the most important role in content marketing . you still have some factors to add but i really appreciate you. you have great explanation about topics you mentioned

  • https://www.facebook.com/DakinAssociates Shaun Dakin

    Thank you for a great primer / refresher on this topic.

    Shaun Dakin

  • http://www.jabbrag.com/ nickie snyder

    Nice post, correct selection of keywords helps you to target the niche market, and helps users to identify the right source of information. http://www.jabbrag.com/

  • http://www.interactivecleveland.com/ Sean Hecking

    Good thoughts Mike. It’s important to have one or two keywords in mind for each article or post. Makes the total life of the post last much longer than just a few shorts days or weeks. Blending SEO and social is key.

  • wsierocione

    Hi, thanks for interesting article, but did you try keyword research for your website? You can get free traffic from Google if you find good niche keywords. There are even tools which help you find such “niches”, for example Metrics11