Image courtesy of (Stuart Miles)/

Image courtesy of (Stuart Miles)/

To put it bluntly, keywords make the web go ’round. Without them, the internet becomes a scattered mess of an endless array of content. Keywords are like the road maps that lead us to the content we are looking for. From a business perspective, they are the neon signs that guide customers to our front door. Selecting the right ones for your business is therefore one of the most important marketing tasks you’ll ever take on.

While some aspects of keyword selection are intuitive and obvious, most require actual research to back up our assumptions, and it’s important to have the best tools in your arsenal. There is definitely an art to selecting the best keywords for your business. If you’re looking to craft the perfect keyword strategy, heed these warnings and avoid some of the most common pitfalls.

Avoid an Identity Crisis

This may sound obvious, but first and foremost, you need to define who you are as a business, as clearly as possible. If you’re a psychologist looking to expand your practice, you’ll want to drill down into your core expertise (PTSD, couples’ counseling, etc.) or you’ll forever live in generic-ville. Your keyword selection should be based on the fundamental vision of your entire business. Before you set about finding the right SEO terms, get clear on your goals and brand first, and only then should you soldier on.

Skip the Vanity Words

Vanity keywords are general, highly-competitive words or phrases that should be avoided unless you have a monster budget. Say you sell gifts and gadgets via an ecommerce store. Going after the term “gifts” would likely be a losing battle. Instead, you’ll want to identify what makes your business more unique, and focus there. Maybe you sell gifts for expectant moms, or all of your items are earth-friendly and sustainable. Go back to what you’ve identified as your core identity, and start listing the words and phrases that best describe you.

Get Into the Minds of Your Potential Customers

This is the step most folks skip – we all think we know who are customers are, and in fact, they may just surprise you. Before you bank your entire keyword strategy on what you believe are the phrases folks would use to describe you, it’s critical that you validate your assumptions.

The first step is to write a very detailed overview of what you know about your core customers. If you’ve already launched your site, you have data to back this up. If you haven’t yet launched, research your competitors, and find the demographic details based on who you believe you’ll be reaching out to. Be as detailed as possible in your pursuit. Parameters like age range, gender, geographic location, income level, education, likes and dislikes – this is all valuable information as you narrow down your SEO and keyword strategies.

Assessing the Actual Value of a Keyword

Next, as you ponder your potential list of keywords, you need to consider the actual value to your website.

If you create handmade furniture, for example, you’ll need to assess if phrases like “Custom Chairs” or “Custom Couches” have more value to your business. To do this, you first consider what brings you the most revenue.

I once worked with a woman that sold aromatherapy pillows filled with various plant essences. She spent scads of time creating keywords for “Lemongrass Aromatherapy” and “Rose Aromatherapy”, but when we assessed her sales, it turns out 75% of all pillows sold were filled with lavender, and that people generally searched for “lavender products” and related terms. She has since revamped her business to only deal with lavender pillows – and that, in turn, is now her sole keyword strategy. She simplified based on value, and thus substantially boosted her success.

Ask the Right Questions

Now it’s time to assess your strategy based on some targeted questions. If you can’t answer “Yes” to all of the following, you haven’t nailed down the essence of your keywords yet.

  • If a searcher uses the keywords, will they find exactly what they’re looking for on your site?
  • Is the selected keyword directly and clearly relevant to your website?
  • Will a searcher find direct value with a search term on the very first page of your site? Will they be happy with the results they see?
  • Does this result in increased revenue or the overall success of your business?

If you’re finding yourself nodding emphatically, keep on to the home stretch!

The Best Tools to Support Your Research

Now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. You’ve defined your identity and your core customer attributes, you’ve made an educated list of potential keywords – now you need the quantifiable data to verify that folks are actually using your selected words.

The first test is obvious – do a search in Google, and examine the results. Are there lots of paid results? If so, you’ve hit a competitive phrase. If you’ve got the budget to compete with the big dogs, this isn’t a bad thing – obviously these are popular terms. But if you intend to do your keyword magic on a shoestring, opt for results that are mostly organic, but more customized. That’s a healthier strategy for the long-haul.

Finally, you’ll want to access a few keyword tools to see the actual usage rates and data surrounding your keywords. The best ones for the job are Google’s Keyword Planner, Microsoft’s Advertising Intelligence, ‘Google Trends Keyword Demand Prediction, and my personal favorite, Wordtracker’s Free Keyword Demand Tool. Each of these apps will give you the tangible verification you need to see how popular terms are now, how likely they are to maintain that interest, and whether or not they’re viable for your long term growth.

What other keyword tools have you found useful? And what aspect of keyword determination do you find most challenging?