These should not be guessed. You don’t want to create content for a keyword you’ll never rank for, or have to go back and change content. We need to know WHAT people are searching (keyword research) and whether your site is capable of ranking for it (keyword competition). A little research can easily get you on page 1, and should be done before writing content… writing about ‘how to get out of debt’ vs. ‘how to get out of debt on one income‘ is different.
I wrote a definitive Yoast tutorial that shows you how to configure the ideal settings, verify Google Search Console and fix crawl errors, optimize content (there’s more to it than green lights), and add accelerated mobile pages (AMP). Be sure to check it out when you’re done.
At the end of the day, keywords are just topics. If the topic is being searched a lot and already has strong content in search results, it’s probably competitive (especially if your site has low authority without many backlinks). If two topics are different enough, create a page for each.
1. Keyword Research Tools
1.1. Answer The Public
The coolest keyword research tool is definitely Answer The Public. Search a keyword and it generates a map of keywords being searched in Google Autocomplete. The greener the circle, the more searches that keyword has. It also breaks keywords down into specific categories (questions, prepositions, comparisons). Then it breaks them down even further (below is an example of “question keywords” about “Yoast” and I can see all the whats, hows, wheres, etc).
Question keywords (great way to make sure your content answers people’s questions)…
1.2. Keywords Everywhere
Keywords Everywhere lets you Google any keyword (in Google, YouTube, Amazon, Etsy and other search engines), while showing each keyword’s monthly searches, cost-per-click (CPC) and competition. Combine this with MozBar (the next tool I cover) and it’s a killer combination.
MozBar’s Chrome Extension lets you Google any keyword and see each result’s DA (domain authority) and PA (page authority). Higher numbers = higher competition, and you want to try to compete with websites that have similar domain authority – check yours here. You can increase domain authority by getting more quality links (eg. by creating awesome content).
- Learn your DA using Link Explorer and compete for keywords in your range
- Broad phrases usually have high DA + PA, long-tail phrases have low DA + PA
- Build your DA by getting more links to your site (through awesome content)
- Websites (especially new ones) will have low DA, so target very specific phrases
- You can build PA by improving the content and pointing internal links to the page
Combine Keywords Everywhere with MozBar to see a nice glimpse of your competition…
Avoid Keywords That Show Strong Content
The best opportunities are when you Google a keyword, weak or irrelevant content appears in the top results. Just Google the keyword and skim through the top results to see if people cover the topic extensively. If not, that means it’s the perfect opportunity for you to rank high.
Avoid Competing With Authority Websites
- and so forth…
1.4. Google Autocomplete
Go to google.com and start typing in a keyword to have Google complete the phrase (remember, you’re looking for long-tail phrases usually with 3+ words since those are much less competitive). You can also use an underscore character _ anywhere in the phrase and Google will fill in the blank. You will need to END on the underscore character for that method. If you don’t see the full dropdown menu with all the keywords, try using an Incognito tab.
Try using different variations, like plurals…
Or different word ordering…
Autocomplete works with most search engines including YouTube for video SEO…
- Choose specific (long-tail) phrases which are less competitive
- No need to include “best” and other non-descriptive adjectives
- Synonyms can be targeted on the same page (as secondary keywords)
- Most businesses have multiple keywords per service (I have WordPress SEO Services, WordPress SEO Consulting, WordPress SEO Audit… all of which are different enough that I have a separate page for each and I’m ranked in the top 3 for all them… it works)
- Being more specific can mean choosing Chicago WordPress Designer (instead of Chicago Web Designer) or WordPress SEO Consultant (instead of SEO Consultant)… targeting a geography or a specific type of ‘web design’ is one way to get more specific
1.5. Moz Keyword Explorer
To make sure you don’t miss keywords, use Moz Keyword Explorer. This is similar to Keyword Planner only it’s completely free (you don’t have to sign up for AdWords) plus you can group related keywords so you’re not browsing through the same ones. Start with a broad keyword.
Click on keyword suggestions –> see all suggestions.
Moz Keyword Explorer Tips
- Group related keywords with low lexical similarity (use filter)
- Start with a broad phrase, then look for specific, long-tail phrases
How Many Searches Should My Keywords Have?
Step 1: Check your domain authority in Moz Link Explorer.
Step 2: Use this handy chart by Orbit Media.
But Can I Target More?
If you plan on creating strong content (ideally with 3,000+ words and lots of graphics/videos), you can target keywords with more monthly searches (my WordPress SEO tutorial will help as it has over 100 tips including 20 on content optimization). Use the chart as a general guideline.
1.6. HubShout WebGrader (Competitor Keywords)
HubShout WebGrader shows you:
- All keywords you (and competitors) rank for
- Each website’s estimated traffic value based on CPC
- Top ranked content, domain authority, backlinks, and referring domains
See a full list of keywords you (and competitors rank for)…
1.7. Google Trends
Google Trends tells you whether a keyword is on the rise, or declining. It also filters for finding local keywords and YouTube keywords. This is especially helpful for finding what seasons are busiest, whether your market is declining, and where people are searching these keywords.
Ramen is on the rise!
Better publish that YouTube tutorial on gift wrapping before December :)
1.8. Search Analytics
The Search Analytics feature in Google Search Console (which you can verify with Yoast) tells you your keywords, ranking position, CTR (click-through rate), top ranked pages, and the countries + devices of visitors. I hardly use Google Analytics for SEO – I use Search Analytics.
1.9. Avoid Google Keyword Planner
Google Keyword Planner is designed specifically for AdWords – don’t use it for SEO! The competition is not for organic results. Google Autocomplete, or keyword tools that pull keywords from Autocomplete (like Answer The Public) are better at categorizing keywords and showing you the organic competition. And for the record, no keyword tool is better at estimating a keyword’s competition than Googling the keyword yourself, and analyzing the top results to see what content is already out there – so you know what/who you’re up against.
2. Types Of Keywords
The following sections break down keywords into specific types.
2.1. Long-Tail Keywords
Long-tail keywords are easier to rank for and usually have 3-7+ words in the phrase. They also attract a more targeted visitor. You can even target Chicago WordPress Design instead of Chicago Web Design since that is a more specific type of web design. As you saw in the chart by Orbit Media in section 1.5, websites with low domain authority (DA) should almost always target longer-tail keywords. As you build your DA, you can start targeting broader keywords.
Examples Of When To Get More Specific
- Chicago Painter is competitive, Chicago Interior Painter is better
- Chicago Real Estate is competitive, Chicago Commercial Real Estate is better
- Chicago Computer Repair is competitive, Chicago Macbook Pro Repair is better
- Yoast SEO Plugin is competitive, Yoast SEO Plugin Settings is better
- SEO Consultant is competitive, WordPress SEO Consultant is better
- SiteGround Review is competitive, SiteGround WordPress Hosting Review is better
2.2. Date Keywords
Drive even more traffic by targeting date keywords (mainly for time sensitive content)…
When optimizing content, you should include the date (year) in your page title, SEO title, and meta description. Of course this requires me to keep the tutorial up to date, but this has already driven quite a bit of extra traffic during 2017 as I’m included as a featured snippet.
2.3. Local Keywords (Small Town vs. Large City vs. National)
The larger the area, the more specific your keywords will be, and the more you will have. Smaller towns will have broad keywords while larger cities will have more specific phrases…
Unless you’re targeting a small town and have 1 primary keyword like “Lake Forest Divorce Lawyer” you probably have other keywords you can target (find them using keyword tools).
Small towns have a small number of broad keywords…
Large cities tend to have multiple specific keywords…
National keywords are even more specific, and there’s more of them…
Don’t forget to use Google Trends to see local keywords and their popularity…
Multiple Locations – each location should have it’s own page (sometimes multiple pages) depending on whether multiple keywords are being searched in each area. Each location should also have it’s own citations (online directories like Google My Business, Facebook Page, Yelp, Bing Places…) which is exactly what my WordPress local SEO guide walks you through.
3.4. Blog Post Keywords
Getting traffic to your blog is fine and dandy, but how does this get you clients?
Here’s what I did…
I offer WordPress speed optimization as part of my SEO services. I wanted more of these projects so I learned what phrases people Google when they have a slow WordPress site. I looked at Google Autocomplete for “slow WordPress…” and saw some results. Then I really put myself in my searcher’s position when I Googled “why is wordpress” and saw it completed the phrase with “why is wordpress so slow” with that keyword on top. There are plenty of variations below it in Autocomplete, indicating that keyword has a good amount of searches. It’s also within my competition if you Google the keyword using MozBar. We have a winner!
And so my blog post was born: Why Is WordPress Slow (And 7 Ways To Fix It)
People read my guide, realize they don’t have the technical skill to do everything, and some inquire. Completely coincidental that this happened while I was writing this post (seriously, I haven’t gotten one of these for weeks) but I literally just got this comment 3 hours ago:
Update (2018): That guide is now one of the most popular tutorials on my website!
2.5. Multiple Keywords (Synonyms)
All you have to do is research a synonym of your primary keyword then incorporate both of these in your page title, SEO title, and meta description. This is by FAR the most important part but you can also sprinkle your secondary keyword 1-2 times in your content. You do NOT have to incorporate both as full keywords (exact matches) otherwise your headline will look spammy. Crafting a headline that sounds nice AND includes partial matches is the way to go.
Here’s an example:
Step 1: Research your primary keyword…
Step 2: Research your secondary keyword…
Step 3: Write a headline that incorporates both and still sounds nice…
Step 4: Rank for both keywords…
You can use the same strategy in your meta description and (sparingly) in the content body.
3. Content Optimization
Now that you have your Yoast focus keywords, you can start optimizing content! Including your keyword in “all the right places” is just 1 small part of it, you should really read the content optimization section of my WordPress SEO guide. I promise you will learn a lot.
Remember: Only Target 1 Keyword Per Page (Unless Synonyms)
Only synonyms can be targeted on the same page. This is because Google wants to show the most relevant results so keywords that mean 2 different things should have their own page.
Frequently Asked Questions
🚦 How do you find good focus keywords?
The best keywords have a balance between monthly searches, low competition, and high profitability. You can usually only pick two. For example, if a highly profitable keyword doesn't have a lot of searches but has low competition, go for it.
🚦 How do I learn how competitive a keyword is?
Google the keyword and look at the top results. Do they do a good job at covering the topic? Is it from an authority website? Do they have high domain + page authority (you can check this in MozBar's Chrome Extension)? If yes, that keyword may be too competitive.
🚦 What are the best keyword research tools?
My top 4 keyword research tools are Google Autocomplete, MozBar Chrome extension (for checking competition using each search result's domain and page authority), HubShout WebGrader (for finding competitor keywords), and Keywords Everywhere to learn a keyword's monthly searches and estimated competition.
🚦 How do I learn how many searches a keyword has?
Keywords Everywhere and Ahrefs tell you how many monthly searches a keyword has.
🚦 Should I target broad or specific (long-tail) keywords?
I recommended targeting specific, long-tail keywords 95% of the time. They are much less competitive and bring a more targeted visitor to your site. New websites, or those having trouble with SEO, should always start by targeting specific, long-tail keywords.
🚦 How do I target multiple keywords (synonyms)?
Find 2 keywords that are very similar. These can be synonyms or even date keywords that include the current year if it's a time-sensitive topic. Use the primary keyword in your page title, URL, SEO title, meta description, and a couple times in the content. The secondary keyword should be sprinkled in these areas as a partial match - it does not have to be an exact match!
🚦 What about Google Keyword Planner?
Do not use Google Keyword Planner to research SEO keywords. It's designed specifically for AdWords and the competition is also reflected in Adwords, not organic search results.
See also: My Definitive Guide To Yoast SEO
If you found this post helpful, please share – I would appreciate it. And if you have any questions about Yoast focus keywords or Yoast in general, drop me a line in the comments.