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How To Choose Keywords For SEO

Identifying the best keywords you can use in your blog posts and website pages makes a huge difference to how much traffic you get from Google. Many bloggers and small business owners skip over it, guess their keywords, or aren’t sure how to include them effectively without compromising on their writing style.

This blog post takes you through all these things and more – no technical knowledge or paid tools needed. Let’s get started!

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Quick Jump Links:

01. What is a keyword?
02. Free & paid keyword tools
03. Why use keyword tools?
04. Determining keyword competitiveness (& why you should ignore volume for this)
05. Keywords & SEO plugins
06. Keyword stuffing & keyword density (aka how many times to use a keyword in a post)
07. How keyword research fits into your overall SEO strategy
08. Further reading & resource roundup



01. What is a keyword?

A keyword is what someone types in online to search/find what they’re looking for, whether it’s a new bag, a business coach, or help with entertaining their new puppy. All kinds of weird and wonderful things are searched for every nanosecond, and when someone searches for something online, there’s a chance they’ll have your site appear in the results. To increase the chances of that happening, there are a whole bunch of things you can do.

This post is focused on one important aspect of that: keyword research for Google (and works for other traditional search engines too, like Bing).

For the purposes of this post, a “keyword” can be one word or a phrase; you can have short or long keywords. Longer phrases (called “longtail keywords”) are often – but not always – less competitive. To keep things simple, when we refer to “keywords” in this post, it can be one word or a phrase.

Keywords can also tell you more about someone’s intent, so it’s easier to understand what they’re looking for and what content you want to create to meet that need.

For example, someone looking for “apple” could be searching for Apple the company, an apple recipe, information about types of apples, etc. Whereas with someone searching for “buy refurbished apple imac” or “easy homemade apple pie recipe,” it’s easier to understand what they’re after. That’s a very obvious example; often it’s a lot more subtle. For example, is someone searching “apple pie” looking to buy an apple pie, make one, etc. More words often means lower volume, but having better accuracy and targeted visitors is more important than that.

In an ideal world you’ll want your post to rank for a number of keywords because you’ll get more traffic and it’ll save you a lot of time. Sometimes this will happen naturally as search engines understand that your post is ideal for a number of different queries, or you can include other keywords yourself. Until you get the hang of how it works and you’re happy with how you incorporate keywords naturally in your writing, it’s best to keep it simple and stick to one or two per post.



02. Free & paid keyword tools

We ran a quick survey among our customers and discovered that nearly 60% use a keyword tool, whether it’s free, budget, or premium. Yay!
But, 27% just pick keywords based on what they think sounds right for the post/page.

There are tons of different tools out there that do all kinds of things with keywords. If you’re picking just one tool, you’ll want it to show volume and competitiveness as a minimum. There are lots of other tools that will give you inspiration and help you generate keyword ideas in a less formulaic or more creative way. But once you have those ideas, it’s important that you know how good that keyword is likely to be for you (something we cover later in this post).

Here’s a list of some popular keyword tools to give you an idea. Some are free, some are paid, but we’ve tried to cater for all budgets!

No keyword tool is necessarily “right” or perfect, but cross-referencing them can sometimes help in tough areas where you’re getting unlikely results or mixed messaging.

Ubersuggest – Free, but not always very accurate, so common sense/cross-checking can help.

Keysearch – Paid, but budget-friendly. With keyword tools you tend to get what you pay for, so a mid-range option can be a happy medium.

Keywords Everywhere – This has a very affordable credits-based system, so it’s great if you don’t want to be tied into a subscription.

Ahrefs Keyword Generator – You can see 100 results for free; for more you’ll need a paid plan.

SEMRush’s “magic keyword tool” – Limited information for free when you create an account.

Moz’s Link Explorer – If you’re a blogger who uses DA scores, this tool can be useful as you can analyse your/other sites and have DA, spam scores, and other Moz metrics also on the page. You need a (free) account and searches are limited unless you pay premium.

A lot of keyword tools have free trials, so you can have a play without committing (just remember to cancel if they ask for your payment details up front). Another option for cutting costs is to wait for Black Friday sales. Some SEO plugins, like RankMath (the Pro version), also have options for doing keyword research right within them. You want to check what they’re using to power this, e.g. for RankMath it’s Google Trends.

Google Trends – This can be super useful for identifying whether something is growing or declining in popularity (remember the banana bread baking phase of the pandemic?!) So it’s great if you’re looking at short term content, or you already have content on a topic that’s increasing in popularity that you can just tweak a bit. It’s also useful to have data for asking yourself “is x dead?” “is x worth writing about?” – you can see how interest has changed over time for that topic and how popular it is in general. You can also use it for knowing when to post/promote season/year-specific content. Identifying what’s hot right now in Google Trends could help you get into Google Discover, which is where Google makes your content more prominent for a bit in search results and is often a big (but short term) traffic driver for people when it happens.

We suggest skipping over Google’s Ad Planner keyword research tool as the volumes are general ranges rather than being specific. However, Google Search Console is good for seeing keywords you’re aleady ranking for (so you can improve their positions further).

Google Suggest – When you search for something, you’ll see a list of popular related searches either as autocompletes, in the results, or at the bottom of the paghe. Again this is a bit vague and may be very competitive if other people are also trying to rank for things in this way. But, it can give good related insight into what other phrases you could include or what people/Google sees as being related to the topic.

Answer the Public – a less traditional keyword search tool that’s more word than numbers-driven.

When you’re searching, keep an eye out for results from Reddit and similar question/discussion-based websites – those kinds of questions can really help you create a great piece of content with a lot of good info based on what people are naturally searching for. Simply pull a short phrase or question and paste into a keyword tool to see what kinds of results you get and what keywords may work for the post.



03. Why use keyword tools (and what metrics to focus on)

First of all, it’s important to say that no keyword tool is perfect (no automated tool is perfect, period). You’ll likely get different results from different tools, so the important thing to note is whether it seems realistic or not.

If you enter “road trips with babies” and get a search volume of 0, there’s definitely something wrong there, for example. If you use different tools and they have slightly different numbers, don’t worry. It’s not an exact science. You could use a best of three rule, and use three tools to compare if you’re really unsure (you likely only want to do this for keywords you’re really raising an eyebrow at).
The two main reasons you want to use keyword tools, despite them being imperfect, is:

1. Competitiveness

Often, the first word or phrase you think of for your post/page will be super competitive. You think, okay, my post is about travel as a parent, so I’ll just pick “flying with kids.” It sounds logical. It’s a good place to start, so instead of just basing the piece around it, we’ll enter it into Keysearch first. This is where we see that it has a difficulty score of 51, which is red. Now that looks like it could be more difficult than we’d like – we could dig deeper and see if we could rank for it depending on what sites are there currently…or we could look down the list of Keysearch’s related suggestions and find some better options.

This is what Keysearch shows:

flying with kids – Search volume 2900 (an estimate of how many times people search for the keyword in a month), Difficulty score 51 (out of 100, with 1 being easy and 100 being pretty impossible).
traveling with kids – Search volume 5400, Difficulty score 43
flying with toddlers – Search volume 1300, Difficulty score 38.

So as you can see, on average a lot more people search for “traveling with kids,” which also has a lower difficulty score. If you check out the sites ranking top currently, you may decide that it looks a bit too competitive for your site, in which case you could drop the difficulty and pick “flying with toddlers” instead. Or, you could use one as your main keyword in your title and post, and include the other one more sparsely in your post as a secondary keyword, since they’re both closely related to the topic. You have options either way.

So now instead of basing your post around your first idea, you’re adapting it a bit to target keywords that are likely to give you a better chance to rank. Just by guessing, you could write a great post but it never ranks well enough to get good traffic because your main keyword pick is just too competitive.

2. Volume

Similarly to competitiveness, volume is also something you want to check using a keyword tool. If a keyword is low competition and you rank number one for it, that’s only good if people are searching for it (good volume). Otherwise, you’ll get little to no traffic to your site.
This is where a lot of SEO companies can get shady with clients, because they find a low competition, low traffic keyword that sounds plausible and rank the site easily for it. The client is happy, because they can see they’re top in Google for that search term, but in reality it’s useless or next to useless. Anyone can rank a website top for jdkfakdajwddawjkdakjjhnsjks, that doesn’t mean anyone will ever search it or click through to the site.

Related:  What Bloggers Need To Know About Google Core Web Vitals

From what I’m seeing in the survey results, it seems like for some reason, a lot of people are hearing that a low keyword volume is better. This isn’t true at all.

For social media hashtags it can be good to have lower search volumes, as bigger hashtags mean more posts and content moves down very quickly so it’s hard to be seen or be top 9 or whatever. For SEO it’s totally different because website content has a much longer lifespan, and outside of news freshness isn’t a main factor for ranking content (and certainly not in seconds/minutes like social media is!).

The higher volume the keyword has, the better. More people searching for a term = more chance you have of them clicking through to your site. A site ranking number one for a keyword with 5000 volume isn’t going to get 5000 visits a month to their site from that keyword. Realistically, it’s going to be 1600 visits, or even lower. So, the higher the volume, the more interest there is in that keyword, and the bigger chance of grabbing some of those visitors if you rank well.

More interest/volume doesn’t always mean the keyword is more competitive. It really depends on what type of keyword it is and what the user’s intent is. For example, a lot of information and question based keywords have high search volume but lower competition: how to tutorials and things like that. This is because the most competitive keywords are commercial ones with a profit tied to them in the form of a product or service, for example “car insurance” or “wordpress web hosting” – ones where there’s more of an intent to buy something as opposed to finding out information. Information can of course lead to a purchase, but the person in question isn’t as close to buying as someone searching with a clear buying intent keyword.

It’s hugely beneficial if you’re able to rank for multiple keywords over one post, especially as you mention, it means small volume ones can add up to a good number.

If you guess your keywords, you could have a very reasonable guess but for some reason there are few (or even zero) searches for that term. This could be particularly true for regional words and phrases, or it could be simply that another term is more common/popular, or more specific or general than you thought.

If you have a lot of posts you’ve not done keyword research for, leave them for now and give it a go on a new post. You can always go back and revisit old posts one at a time, or not at all – just keep moving forward with what works for you!



04. Determining keyword competitiveness (& why you should ignore volume for this)

Unlike social media, in SEO: The volume of a keyword doesn’t determine its competitiveness.

You can get low competition keywords that are searched 50,000 times a month.
You can get high competition keywords that are searched 500 times a month.
And, you can get everything in between.

Yup, you can often also get high volume keywords that are high competition. But, those are two totally separate metrics; one doesn’t necessarily relate to the other.

Here are a couple of totally random examples from Keysearch (info correct as of writing this post):

hosting services for wordpress
Volume (an estimate of how many times people search for the keyword in a month): 480
CPC: 35.59
Keysearch difficulty score (green is easy, orange medium, red difficult): 57 (red)
Sites ranking top currently: WPBeginner, WordPress .org, PCMag

how to cut spaghetti squash
Volume: 6600
CPC: 0.07
Keysearch difficulty score: 38 (green)
Sites ranking top currently: Teaspoon Of Spice, Cookie & Kate, It’s A Veg World After All

From the info above, you can tell that everything except Volume indicates how competitive the keyword is:

CPC: This is how much you would expect to pay per click if you ran Google ads and someone clicked on your site from the ad in search results. For “hosting services for wordpress,” you’d expect to be paying $35.59 PER CLICK. For “how to cut spaghetti squash” you’d be paying $0.07 per click.
HUGE difference. You’re probably not running ads, but this tells you how much commercial companies are fighting it out to be at the top of the page, and they aren’t going to be spending $35.59 per click unless they’re seeing a big return for their money. Big money = big competition.

Keysearch difficulty scores: Each keyword tool has its own ways of assessing difficulty, but if you’re comparing two keywords in the same tool you should get a good idea of how they compare. Hosting services for wordpress is red, the most difficult; how to cut spaghetti squash is green, the easiest.

Sites ranking top currently: For the WordPress keyword, they’re probably all sites you’ve heard of, that you know have millions of backlinks, tons of great content, managed by large teams of staff, etc. For the Squash keyword, it’s blogs that rank top. Some of them are high authority blogs, but they’re still one person/small team blogs.

If you looked at Volume, you’d reach the conclusion that the Squash keyword is more competitive than the WordPress one, whereas the total opposite is true.

So, why is this?

01. Not all keywords have the same value. The competitiveness is determined by commercial value. Something like “car insurance” is worth a lot more commercially to companies than say “how to catch a squirrel.” (If you have our Navigating SEO course or Navigating Keyword Research book, there’s a whole section/lesson on keyword intent and the different types of keywords for that).

There aren’t going to be many people out there buying ads, SEO services, building backlinks, hiring teams to create content about squirrel catching. Whereas for car insurance, there are whole teams of people for big corp companies whose sole daily job (or lifetime career) it is to track and rank for that keyword.

It is exceptionally hard to rank for truly difficult keywords, which is why some people create burn sites and use black hat methods. Their site may only stay at the top of Google for a week, but they’ll earn thousands per day while that’s the case. That’s their model, they’re expecting Google to trash their site – they’re already setting up one while waiting for the current ones to get burned.

02. Not all sites have the same authority. If you’re targeting keywords that only other bloggers target, or only thin “how to” sites, you have a much better chance. It will usually be easier to outrank 100 blogs like yours than it will be to outrank 1 Wikipedia/WordPress.org/Google page etc. This is because not many bloggers proactively do link building, and if they do it’s often commenting and link swaps with other bloggers – super easy for you to replicate.

For social media, there’s a much closer correlation between volume and competitiveness. A lot of the time this is because things are much more immediate and time-sensitive; you’re likely to disappear from view very quickly using a popular social media hashtag. And anyone can use whatever hashtag they like at any time.

For SEO (outside of news articles), indexing and ranking move much more slowly and the algorithms are much more sophisticated. So volume and competitiveness are two things can be as unrelated as chalk and cheese.

It’s not always the case; you could see high volume keywords with high competitiveness. Most keywords have a degree of competitiveness to them these days. But, the sweet spot to look for is high volume, low competition.

So, to sum up, how you can determine competitiveness comes down to:

  • Competitive value (as shown in your keyword research tool; these aren’t perfect or guaranteed, but they give you something to work with).
    PPC/CPC value (how much it would cost an advertiser to bid/pay for a click in Google Adwords).
  • Which sites are currently ranking top (do they seem like sites like yours, are they super famous, how authoritative are they. Remember, you don’t have to rank number one to see traffic.)

These are all better indicators of competitiveness than volume.

You may also want to factor in seasonal trends, if your content falls in that area. Some keywords will have many more searches at particular times of year or as part of crazes or fads (hello there banana bread). These can often deliver high amounts of traffic in short bursts if you rank well.



05. Keywords & SEO Plugins

In short: SEO plugins have some features you definitely need, some features you definitely don’t, and there’s a LOT more to SEO than they cover.
1. The keyword field is for Yoast/your other SEO plugin’s benefit

Most SEO plugins have a field for you to enter your keyword. This is for the plugin itself so it can check against what you’ve written and report back to you with things that are effectively, “hey, you used this keyword A TON of times. You probably want to tone that down because it’s too much” or “you didn’t use this keyword at all in your title. Are you feeling okay?”

So the keyword field is for your own use, it doesn’t submit to Google or put it in your page code or really have any bearing on anything other than it being for you/your plugin to use. It’s just guidance, and sometimes that guidance is helpful and sometimes it’s way too prescriptive.

So it doesn’t matter if you change your keyword/s there, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t add it/them at all (although if you have other people work on your site you probably want to, so they know what you’re targeting in your posts before they go changing things).

If you have our Navigating SEO course or Keyword Research book, you may want to include your primary keyword in that keyword field, but you don’t have to. It’s more about your own workflow and preferences rather than anything else.
2. You don’t need all the green lights

After entering a keyword, Yoast and other SEO plugins will rate your post against a number of checks and give you a red/amber/green light accordingly. These are all automated checks, and some of them are very eyebrow raising. Some don’t make sense for the context, some are kind of along the right lines but take it to extremes, and some will make your writing sound awful.

Related:  Which Yoast Green Lights You Actually Need (And Why)

You can see which are important, which are meh, and which you really don’t need in this blog post: Which Yoast Green Lights You Actually Need (And Why). While it’s written for Yoast, you can apply the same info for many other plugins, such as RankMath.

If you know which lights are important and which aren’t, and you don’t stress or obsess over them, they can be useful indicators. If you’re the kind of person who’s going to end up writing like a robot that’s been out partying for a week in Vegas, or not having all green lights will make you twitch – turn them off. You can turn off the writing guidance under the Settings for your User in the WordPress Dashboard, and still use all the other (good) features.

A lot of the lights are more about the plugin trying to out-feature its competitors than telling you what Google wants/needs. A green light won’t automatically mean your post ranks well. Red light posts can rank well. What we’re saying here is that there’s not necessarily any correlation between lights and rankings in any way.

The core foundations for ranking well in search engines are keyword research, great content, great backlinks. If you’re interested in finding out more we have a beginner’s post on SEO For Bloggers (applies to all site owners, not just bloggers) or Navigating SEO covers *everything* step by step.
3. You need to do keyword research even if you have an SEO plugin

This is because most SEO plugins just have a field for you to enter your keyword manually, they don’t tell you how competitive or high volume a keyword is (there are some plugins that are exceptions to this, but it’s important to know where they’re drawing their info from, and that you’re second checking to make sure they’re good keywords for you).

This is one of my pet peeves of SEO plugins because it increases the chances that people will guess their keywords rather than research them (they could even just link to a post on doing keyword research or tools or *something* to help people.



06. Keyword stuffing & keyword density (aka how many times to use a keyword in a post)

By far the most asked thing in the survey was how many times to include a keyword in a post and querying keyword stuffing. Let’s start by defining keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing is where you include a keyword so many times in a post it looks unnatural.

If I were keyword stuffing a post about keyword stuffing, you’d notice that I was using the phrase keyword stuffing so much that even just a regular person reading it would know I was trying to target “keyword stuffing”…!

Including your keyword naturally in your post isn’t keyword stuffing (more on this later).
Including your keyword in your title (once!) isn’t keyword stuffing.
Including your keyword in your image ALT text – where it’s relevant – isn’t keyword stuffing. (For more on balancing keywords and accessibility in your image ALT text, see this post: How To Write Great ALT Text Descriptions For Accessibility & SEO)

Including your keyword in other subheadings (H2, H3 etc.) isn’t keyword stuffing BUT you don’t want to stuff them into every single heading or come across as being super repetitive. Remember, you’re writing for people first, search engines second. Value first, always.

So the next question is, how many times do you include your keyword? We cover this in more detail in our Navigating SEO course and Navigating Keyword Research ebook, but the short answer is that it depends how long your post is.

Some people swear by a keyword density percentage, and they have their own views on what that number is, usually somewhere between 1 and 3%. But, there are no hard and fast rules about that at all, because search engines care about how useful/interesting people find your content above anything else. There is no magic number or percentage that will give you good rankings, regardless of what people try to say!

However, thinking about it in terms of percentages can still be useful for you. If your post is 500 words long, by the time you’ve put your keyword in your title and ALT text, you probably don’t want to mention that particular keyword more than a couple of times more in the post itself as it will end up looking unnatural. But, for a 2500 word post, that’s likely not enough as you need to clearly spell out to search engines what your post is about without your keyword getting buried under all the other words you’re using.

If you’re unsure, ask a non-techy friend or relative to read your post and once they’ve finished, ask them what they thought the topic was and if they thought you repeated anything too much. If they say your exact keyword, you probably want to review your post!

Remember that keywords can be contained in other keywords. If you’re targeting the keywords “easy homemade apple pie recipe” and “homemade apple pie”, the number of times you use “easy homemade apple pie recipe” will count to your “homemade apple pie” total as well, because the same phrase appears within it.

Generally, you want to have one primary keyword backed by a bunch of related secondary keywords. This helps make it easier for you to directly target one phrase in areas where you can only have a small number of words (titles, ALT text), but you have other phrases you have a chance of ranking for too, plus search engines will find it easier to understand what your page is about. Google needs to be able to show the right types of answers for a given query, for example if someone is searching a phrase that includes the word “apple,” it needs to figure out whether the searcher is looking for something related to the fruit or the tech company.

Be wary of assuming that your keyword density is the reason you’re not ranking where you want for a post. Ideally you want to build some good, relevant links to your post from other websites, as well as making sure your post has some good internal links to it from your other posts/pages to give it some help. Keyword research and implementation is an important pillar for SEO, but there are plenty of other equally important pillars.

To answer the questions above: yes, you want to include your keyword but no, you don’t want to stuff because otherwise your content isn’t going to be as useful or interesting to your readers. Content quality is THE primary focus for Google, and they will penalize for poor quality content.



07. How keyword research fits into your overall SEO strategy

One of the big reasons why people don’t do keyword research is because they’re concerned it will take the personality out of their writing. It’s a very real concern, and the good news is that no one wants you to do that – not Google, not your audience.

If you have our keyword research book or the Navigating SEO course, there’s a chapter/lesson in each that covers implementing keywords without losing your soul in a lot more detail. For the purposes of this post, the best tip is to not overthink. Even including your researched keywords only a couple of times in your post will help your SEO efforts without you worrying about compromising. And remember, if you have an SEO plugin, you can turn off a lot of the unnecessary green lights and checks, or just not enter your keyword/s in the box at all. As long as you know what your keywords are and use them effectively, it doesn’t matter what’s logged in the plugin.

When you’re creating a new post with the intention of it ranking well in search engines, your strategy may roughly look like this:

1. Decide on a topic to write about.
2. Use a keyword research tool to discover good keywords (covered step by step in the book and course, and roughly covered here in earlier posts).
3. Include your main keyword in your title and post URL, and secondary keywords in your subheadings.
4. Write your post as normal, including any relevant links.
5. Go back, review, look at any places where you could add/remove keywords so they aren’t underused or used excessively (see the keyword stuffing post in this residency, or the info in our course/book).
6. Add meta description, images and ALT text.
7. Publish your post.
8. Promote your post (social media, building links to it, etc.)
If you do things differently or in a different order, that’s fine too! This is just to give you an example of how keywords don’t have to take over your whole process or take the fun/personality out of your writing.

Once you’re used to doing keyword research, it will usually only take you a few minutes, so although it’s not necessarily the most fun task, it doesn’t have to be the most painful. Although batching can help you with a lot of tasks, we don’t advise doing keyword research on too many topics at once (e.g. for six months or a year’s worth of posts) because algorithms, competitiveness, and volume can all change dramatically in that time.



08. Further reading & resource roundup

Blog posts:

If you’re a Lyrical Host customer, we also have a bunch of free downloads in our customer Resource Library.

We also have a very affordable Navigating Keyword Research ebook, which goes into a ton more detail and covers everything you need to know about keywords step-by-step (ideal for bloggers and small digital business owners who DIY everything).

Or if you want even more…

Learn SEO

Want to learn all about SEO?

If you liked this post, you’ll love Navigating SEO! Navigating SEO is a comprehensive text-based course with over 100 lessons, 15 downloads, and plenty of tasks to help you stay on track. It’s designed for bloggers and digital business owners, is very budget-friendly, and you get lifetime, evergreen access. Plus, you can start any time!

Learn more about Navigating SEO


Navigating SEO


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Easy Google Keyword Research Guide

How to choose keywords for SEO

Jenni Brown
Co-founder of Lyrical Host, Jenni has been in the web hosting industry for years and specializes in social media, copywriting, search engine optimization, and email marketing. She loves cats, baking, photography, and gaming.

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