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The 2017 Guide to Keyword Research

Are you using keywords correctly in 2017? SEO is different today than even just five years ago. While keywords still play a vital role in determining a site’s position in the search results, exactly how keywords should be used has changed dramatically.

Keywords techniques and strategies from just a few years ago aren’t going to help your site today. Instead, you need to know how keywords fit into current search engine algorithms. Here’s your complete, updated guide to keyword usage in 2017:

Keywords Then and Now

In the world of SEO, keywords are used to identify a site’s purpose. Search engines crawl the content of site looking for the main ideas of each page. Keywords are a bit of a cheat sheet for the search engines. They’re a short, accurate way to sum up the content of a page. Keywords also help form the metadata of a site.

Keywords used to be the cornerstone of SEO. Search engines were heavily influenced by the keywords on a page when determining a site’s ranking in the search results. Unfortunately, internet marketers took advantage of this by spamming sites with keywords in order to quickly increase page ranking. Google and others began shifting focus away from keywords and towards user intent.

Determining Your “Key” Goals

Simply filling your pages with keywords is no longer an effective way to boost your ranking. In fact, spamming keywords will likely lead to site penalties.

So, how should you use keywords? There’s no one answer for every business. Instead, keywords will be incorporated into a larger SEO strategy. An SEO agency will develop a plan after analyzing the following areas:

  • Your existing website including your content, social media presence and backlinks
  • Your budget, available resources and required deadlines
  • Your brand’s current place in the industry and competition

Then you (and your SEO agency) will develop goals for your site. SEO goals are usually very specific. Ultimately, of course, you want to increase sales. But exactly how you increase sales will depend on the specifics of your site and brand.

Plant Seed Keywords

Alright, so you understand how your site is functioning today. And you have a plan for where you want your site to be tomorrow. Now we’re going to use keywords to get you there.

The first step is to identify “seed keywords.” These the primary keywords related to your business and brand.

If you already have a business, your seed keywords will be pretty obvious. For instance, if you sell pool cleaning supplies, your keywords will be “pool cleaning supplies,” “pool cleaning,” and so on.

You’ll want to explore online. What keywords are people using to find similar product and services? Checking out your competition is a great way to identify the keywords used in your niche. Plus, you can cross-reference the keywords used by potential customers with the keywords used by competitors. Using these under-served keywords on your site is a technique called Filling the Content Gap.

Generate Relevant Keywords

Seed keywords are just the start. You’ll also want to create a large list of relevant keywords. Using these keywords helps connect your brand to your niche. There are four ways to find relevant keywords:

1. Keywords Your Site Ranks For Today

Even if your site has never had a professional SEO audit, it likely still ranks for at least a few hundred keywords. You’ll want to know what keywords your site currently ranks for.

Google Search Console provides a Search Analytics report. You (or your SEO agency) can determine the average rank position of the keyword. You can also see how many impressions and clicks those keywords bring.

2. Keywords Your Competition is Ranking For

Your competition is working hard to rank for keywords. Take advantage of their research by determining which keywords they’re ranking for. You can then pick the best keywords to use on your site.

Make sure you correctly identify your competition. Put your seed keywords into a search engine. The businesses on the front page are your competitors.

Scouting your competition is a great way to identify the most important keywords for your industry. Every single website online has the potential to rank for hundreds or even thousands of keywords. Identifying what keywords are actually used to rank in your industry lets you streamline the keyword selection process.

3. Keyword Research Tools

Identifying the keywords by your competition is important. But you also want to identify the unique keywords in your niche. Keyword research software is the solution here.

There are a variety of third-party keyword planners available. You want to stay away from Google Keyword Planner is. GKP is actually for advertisers so their keyword suggestions are often limited.

4. Use Your Industry Knowledge

In most cases, business owners will get the best results by working with a professional SEO Agency. But as a business owner, you’ll still want to be involved in the creation and management of your online presence. After all, nobody knows your business better than you do!

Your insights and knowledge about your customers will be a valuable research for your SEO agency. The better you understand your potential customers, the more effective your marketing efforts will be.

Interact with your potential customers through niche communities and social networks. The goal is to understand the pain point of your customers. What solution does your product or service provide? Why do they choose one type or produce over another?

Keyword Metrics: Solid Proof of What’s Working and What Isn’t

Keywords can be easily identified and inserted into your content. But how do you know if they’re working? Here are the metrics which are used to determine the success of your keywords:

Search Volume

This shows the overall number of times people enter this keyword into a search engine. Basically, this is the demand for the keyword.

Search volume is often expressed as an annual average. Remember, search can be fairly dynamic. Certain terms might only be popular during specific time periods. For instance, the keyword “pumpkin carving tools” will see a surge of interest around Halloween.

Number of Clicks

Search volume is important, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You also want to use keywords which result in clicks. Otherwise, those keywords aren’t helping increase conversions.

Some popular keywords don’t necessarily translate to a lot of additional action. This is often the case with simple, factual information. For example, the search “When is Father’s Day?” returns quite a few results – but the actual day is also prominently displayed in the search results. The information is easily obtained, so there’s no need to click on any other links.

The technical term for info displayed right on the results page is a SERP Feature. A few common examples include:

  • Features Snippets
  • Local Packs
  • Knowledge Cards
  • Top Stories

Comparing Search Volume and Traffic helps you find the keywords with the largest potential to draw customers into the conversion funnel.

Keyword Difficulty

Common keywords can be difficult to rank with. After all, a keyword which is closely tied to a niche will have a lot of competition.

Don’t abandon a keyword simply because of high competition. Some low competition keywords aren’t going to increase traffic. But a highly competitive keyword can sometimes work wonders for your brand.

The trick is to understand the business value of each particular keyword. Some highly competitive keywords are worth the time and expense to develop. You’ll want to augment highly competitive keywords with other SEO strategies such as developing quality backlinks.

Where to Put Keywords on Your Website

Now that you’ve identified the right keywords, the next step is to add them to your web page. Keywords are added in areas visible to the user as well as areas only seen by search engine crawlers. Here are some common places you’ll find keywords:

Main Site Content

This is your homepage, service pages and any source of reoccurring content such as blog posts. Any content which is designed to be read by a customer should include keywords. At the same time, always focus on readability over keyword use. The main goal should always be the reader.

Headlines and Subheadings within Main Content

People searching for information online are more interesting in information than long descriptions. They’ll typically scan your content quickly before deciding to read in-depth. You want the headlines and subheadings on your pages to contain important keywords.

Doing so has two benefits. Search engine crawlers understand the information in your headings provides a nice overview of your page content. Also, readers generally like clear subheadings so they understand the point of the page quickly.

Title Tags

These are the words search engines grab from your site to display in the search results. They’re usually the first words a searcher sees after a query. The most important keywords are included in the title tag. Also, the content of the Title Tag should be optimized to be as clear and engaging.

Image Names and Alt Text

Remember, Google search crawlers can’t see. Instead, they use the content around an image to help determine how it should be categorized.

Image names matter. You’ll want your images to be clearly labeled with logical titles. For instance, Mercedes-Benz.jpg is better than car.jpg. Both are better than something generic such as img-00011.jpg. Include keywords within your image names when both possible and appropriate.

You can use long-tail keywords of three to five words. Separate each word with a hyphen instead of an underscore.

Also, don’t forget about the alt tags. This is the text displayed when your images can’t be. While you want your alt tags to be descriptive, you also want to explain to viewers that an image is temporarily unavailable.

Context is important. Search engines don’t like when unrelated keywords are shoved into an image title or alt text. But as long as the included text is relevant, images are a great place to add some important keywords.


Including keywords in a URL can be tricky, because a brand name isn’t always immediately connected to a product or service. You might want to tweak your URL a bit to include more information. For example, use “” instead of simply just “”

Internet marketing research suggests keeping a URL as short as possible. Fifty to sixty characters are ideal. Avoid going over 80 characters with your URL because you risk being penalized by the search engines.


Can You Do Keyword Research on Your Own?

Yes and no. The basics of finding and using the right keywords aren’t terribly complicated. If you’re even somewhat familiar with search engine optimization strategies, you could probably identify a few major keywords.

That said, most small business owners are going to have the most success working with SEO professionals. First, technical expertise matters. SEO experts will usually have a better understanding of what search engines are looking for and how they work.

Plus, keyword optimization isn’t a one-and-done technique. New keywords will constantly need to be researched, identified and incorporated into new content. Most business owners simply can’t devote the necessary time, so hiring an SEO agency makes the most sense.

Prioritization is Key

Keywords involve a lot of choices. As you analyze the metrics of different keywords, you always want to weigh the potential benefits versus the potential development process. Is a popular keyword worth optimizing to the point where your site will be able to stand out from the crowd? Is a less popular keyword going to bring in enough traffic to be worth optimizing?

Here are some questions to ask before deciding on a keyword:

  • What’s the estimated traffic potential?
  • How popular is the keyword with your competition?
  • Is the keyword more likely to lead to brand awareness or sales?
  • What type of content needs to be created to support this keyword?

You’re not necessarily looking for the keywords which are the easiest to rank. Instead, you want the keywords which will have the best return on investment. Even if you have to create a lot of content and compete against other businesses, some keywords can create a substantial increase in traffic and sales.

Keywords are Important…

…but they’re just one part of a larger optimization campaign. As search engine algorithms change, keywords alone aren’t enough to boost your site ranking. But they are still important.

Identifying and implementing the right keywords helps search engines identify the main purpose of a site. So even though keywords are used in a different way than previously, they’re still vital to a site’s success.

Do you have any questions about how keywords can help increase your traffic and sales? Post them below and we’ll be happy to help!

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