Choosing Keywords for SEO Relevance

SEO Guide Step 4

SEO Keyword Selection

SEO Keywords: not all keywords are worth the SEO effort to gain rankings, especially if off-target for your content or seldom queried. Your SEO keywords selection process is where you now pick those keywords that are going to give the greatest traffic, and where you have a proper balance of very specific multi-word keywords and shorter phases:

  • Head Terms: generally very short keyword phrases such as “boots”, where there is significant query volume but also great competition.
  • Long-tail Terms: Very specific multi-word phrases such as “waterproof knee-length rubber boots”, where there is less query volume and competition.

So far in this guide you’ve brainstormed a long list of potential keywords. These are topics you believe your website is (or will be) about, so that if people search for them and click through to your site from the search engine results pages (SERPs), those people will be satisfied.

Now what? During this step, you begin to choose the best keywords from your keyword research and turn that jumbled list into an organized set.

You’ll learn how to choose keywords and sort them based on perceived importance using one of our free SEO tools. Then, keeping clearly in mind the subjects (or products or services) your website is about, you’ll identify the best main and supporting keywords to establish SEO relevance for those subjects.

Organize Keywords by Category

Organize keywords by category
Photo by John (CC BY 2.0), modified 

Look at the big picture of what your website offers. Is your content a jumble of loosely related items?

Chances are, your site structure can be improved.

First choose the best keywords that reflect the main categories of content, and then use them to organize your site.

For example, this Bruce Clay Inc. website is about “search marketing,” but within that broad topic are categories for “SEO,” “PPC,” “Content” and so on (as shown in the top navigation).

Your content categories communicate what your website is about to both human and search engine visitors.

Your site’s current categories may or may not be the best way to organize your site content. A website related to dogs, for instance, could be organized by breed, size, fur type or something else.

Based on your site’s goals and content, do keyword research to see how people search. Also look at your top-ranked competitors’ site structures to help you decide.

In your keyword spreadsheet (built previously or while following this SEO guide), start moving rows up and down to group keywords in topical categories. You can separate categories onto different tabs, if that’s easier.

Then begin to sort the keywords in descending order of perceived importance (based on relevance to your site and how often they are searched).

One of our free SEO tools will help you with this in a moment. But first, read on — there are a few essential concepts you need to know.

Understand Head vs. Long-Tail Keywords

Your keyword list likely contains both short and long phrases, and that’s good! Here’s why:

Head Keywords

  • Head terms are also called “broad” or “seed” terms.
  • They are shorter, general terms that have higher search volume.
  • Search engines may not clearly understand the searcher’s intent, and therefore provide a wide mix of different types of results.
  • These broad keywords are hard to rank for and bring in traffic that usually doesn’t convert.
  • Example: A car site should consider “Mustang” and even “Ford Mustang” head terms. These keywords get searched a lot, but the traffic they produce may be untargeted.

Long-Tail Keywords

  • Long-tail keywords are more specific queries, usually three or more words.
  • They’re often phrased as a question, especially coming from voice search.
  • Long-tail keywords have lower search volume, but generally produce more targeted results.
  • Search engines (and the searcher) know the searcher’s intent.
  • Example: Requests like “repair parts for Ford Mustang in L.A.” or “Ford Mustang convertible for sale in Los Angeles” could bring in well-targeted traffic to that car site.

The difference between head and long-tail keywords is easy to understand looking at a graph. The number of searches for each head term is high (shown in blue) compared to each long-tail keyword (shown in green):

longtail keywords graph


Combining Keywords to Expand Your Relevance

In the old days, a webpage that unscrupulously repeated a phrase over and over could actually fool the search engines and rank for that term.

Those days of keyword stuffing are long gone, particularly due to the advent of semantic search.

Google’s complete revamp of its algorithm known as Hummingbird (launched in 2013) set the standard. Bing and other engines have tried to follow suit.

Semantic Search’s Impact on Keywords

Semantic search aims to better understand both the searcher’s intent behind the query AND the context and full meaning of web-based content. These are the two sides of the search engine equation. And the goal is to provide searchers with accurate answers.

Keywords are still a foundation for content. But even more important in a semantic search world is having context to support those keywords.

For instance, that dog website won’t be able to rank for “search engine optimization” even if it creates a 2,000-word page all about it. The site as a whole doesn’t support that subject.

Ranking is about more than choosing the right keywords. With the exception of exact matches of unusual long-tail keyword queries, it’s also about which sites offer the most thorough, well-supported treatment of a subject.

Q: So how can you build “contextual meaning” to support your keywords?

A: Choose keywords and expand content around and about them.

On the page you want to rank for a query (and on other linked pages within the site, to some extent), try to answer all questions a person might have on the subject.

Search engines understand things as entities, not just as isolated strings of characters (“things not strings”). If you want to be considered an expert, your content must talk about many aspects of that entity.

How to Create a Semantic Keyword List

Writing naturally about your keyword subject generally leads to good variation in your keyword usage. But covering your semantic bases helps you rank for potentially high-conversion, long-tail keywords.

These activities will help you expand your keyword list and enhance your content. [Bookmark this page!]

  • Conversational wording: Attach conversational or logical phrases to your keywords, which is how people often search. For research-based queries, try adding “how to …,” “how do I …” or “what is …” in front of the keyword. An ecommerce site needs to combine phrases like “… for sale,” “best price for …” or “discount …” with its product keywords.
  • Reorder words: Consider putting keyword phrases in a different order. This page, for instance, could focus on “combining keywords for SEO” or “SEO keyword combining” equally well.
  • Word stemming: Include multiple forms of the same root keyword, like “write, writer, writes, written, writing” (known as stemming). This will not usually raise a keyword-stuffing red flag with search engines as long as the text reads naturally (more about writing content later).
  • Search suggestions: One of the best ways to find keyword combinations is to start typing your main keywords in a Google or Bing search box. As you type, a drop-down list appears of frequently searched terms with those characters. Use that to find even more keyword variations (if they appropriately describe your content).
  • Related content: In general, the more in-depth you can be on a subject, the more a semantic search engine will consider you a subject matter expert. So include related facts and bits of information about a page’s keyword topic, as appropriate.

Sort Your Keywords

Sort the keywords and phrases within each main category in descending order of their perceived importance (i.e., how likely it is that they will be searched and generate traffic). Just go for a rough organization at this point.

One way to determine the importance of a keyword is to view its search volume. As we said in the previous SEO guide lesson on competitive analysis, search volume shouldn’t be the only reason to select a keyword. But comparing the relative search activity of different keywords does help you prioritize them.

To get a clearer picture of your keyword statistics, try our free Search Engine Optimization/KSP tool.

SEO Tools – Search Engine Optimization/KSP Tool

The search statistics provided by this tool are daily approximations of search engine data. In other words, they are daily averages derived from monthly averages. Use the numbers as proportionate amounts of traffic.

Now that you’ve spent some time choosing the best keywords, combining them and organizing your keyword categories, you probably have a better idea of where your website content may be lacking.

The next few steps in our SEO Guide lead you through creating new content that uses your keywords appropriately. Find out what to consider before writing content.

Need more SEO tips?
See more on Choosing Keywords

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