Choosing the right keyword is something you have to do often, or as an ongoing process. Everyone needs a starting point, but it is also important that the keyword analysis is adapted to the current situation. This is especially true for new SEO projects, where you initially lack information. An example might be that a certain high margin product starts selling well even though you didn’t predict that from the start. In the same way that you can keep your campaigns up to date when you work with sponsored links, you can work with search engine optimization, just not as fast.
That being said, all projects still need a solid foundation, and that is where we start. Google no longer provides good keyword data, some might be found in Webmaster Tools, but the more exact tool in Google Analytics and other analytics tools are dead. Google claims that it’s a concern for user integrity that has made them hide the keywords and phrases used to find the site. There is no longer any keyword data to be found by any analytics tool. Google Analytics chooses to display it as Not Provided. A funny detail is that you get keyword data when you advertise using Google Ads, something we will make use of later in the chapter.
Not Provided, increase since 2013 (this example is from Gardenhome.se)
Luckily, Google offers some other ways of providing keywords, and the keyword planner is a good place to start. The keyword planner has had a number of different names throughout the years, and somewhat different functions. The keyword planner is actually a tool for those who are about to buy ads from Google, but it works just as well for those of us who do search engine optimization.
What the keyword planner does is to provide search volumes, that is, how many people search for certain keywords. It does a lot of other things as well, but when it comes to search engine optimization, it is the search volumes that are of interest. You get to see how many people search for a specific keyword during a month, or a chart for the whole year.
Using the keyword planner
In order to use the keyword planner, you need an Ads account (at least at the time of writing you do – this is a policy that has swung back and forth over the years). You do not need to spend any money on your account, but you need to get one. The easiest solution is to connect it to your regular Google account, if you have one.
There are many ways of figuring out which keywords to look closer at. The one I personally prefer is to add a certain number of keywords that I know fit the site. If it is a web shop, I usually start out by choosing a few for the home page. Here you need to have a broad approach. For a bike shop I would start with ‘Bikes’ and ‘Cycling’. By putting these into the keyword planner, I will not only get information about how many people are searching for these words, I will also get suggestions for other relevant (according to Google) keywords.
Once I have done that, I will get a number of suggestions, and by using those I can search for more, possibly more exact, keywords of interest. Used bikes or bikes online might be a really good fit, if so I enter those and see what comes out. It is important to keep in mind that in this phase, we are gathering information, rather that selecting keywords. You can of course skip the most irrelevant ones. If I sell bikes in Sollefteå, the keyword ‘bikes Norrköping’ might not be the most interesting one to look into.
When you have found a number of keywords that show promising search volumes you can move on to the next page. For a shop, I would start out with the category pages. When working on another type of site, I might move on to the pages in the main menu. For the bike shop, I would then move on to out Mountain Bikes or Road Bikes and perform the same study on those categories.
Choosing Your Keywords
Of course, more factors than volume determine which keyword you should choose. If you sell banking services, there is no reason to optimize for ‘Taco Tuesday’ or ‘Lady Gaga’ even though these are commonly searched for phrases. That might seem obvious, but it is a common beginner mistake to base your keyword selection almost entirely on the number of searches, while ignoring relevance. Relevance is the bread and butter of search engine optimization, so ignoring relevance is a huge mistake.
You need to choose keywords that match your product or service. Preferably, you should choose keywords that describe your service perfectly, if you find some with decent search volumes. In most cases, you have to make do with keywords that are as close as possible to your service. You also need to consider the different words carefully. If we keep using our bike shop as an example, we find that the keyword ‘Bike’ (as of right now) has more searches than the keyword ‘Bikes’. There might not seem to be much of a difference between these two, but think of the intent of the people doing the searching: what are they looking for? It is possible that in both cases, someone is looking to buy a bike. But while the word ‘Bikes’ clearly show that you are looking for the vehicle, ‘Bike’ can actually mean that someone wants to check out the sport. Maybe someone is more interested in news or information about the sport than in buying a bike for their kids? There are more precise examples of this, as for instance the word ‘Downhill’ might mean that you are looking to buy skis, but ‘Downhill skis’ is much clearer.
What we have been looking into is relevance and intent. You need to choose keywords that are relevant to your site and suits the audience who intend to buy from you or someone like you. It can be difficult to know in advance who has the right intentions (and we will get into that a bit more in the next part, since it’s also important to the other aspects of search engine optimization), but a good start is to look into those keywords where people actually tell you straight out that they want to buy from you. There are a lot of searches being done on keywords like ‘Buying a bike’, ‘Cheap bikes’ and similar. This will give you a strong indication that the person using these keywords is interested in buying, so it might be best to start with them.
If you don’t have an unlimited budget or unlimited patience, it might be best to narrow down the selection even further. Sure, ‘bikes’ is a good word if you’re selling bikes, but the competition will be fierce on big keywords. Choosing a longer phrase might be a path forward. ‘Buying bikes online’ will be a much easier to get visitors than using the word ‘bikes’. Most likely, a lot of the people who search for ‘Buying bikes online’ will shop online, since it is so obvious that they are looking for your product. That means optimizing for that phrase is a good idea, provided that the phrase has a large enough search volume.
In order to be able to do a good keyword analysis, the keywords or phrases should always be weighed against your competition and budget. If you have a small budget for search engine optimization, either in terms of time or money, it might make more sense trying to use easier keywords to begin with. Trying to establish yourself where someone has invested a lot of money into maintaining a position might be devasting if you can’t afford it. It is then often easier to take some less competitive positions and more quickly gain profitability, and then move on to the bigger keywords.
If you compare smaller markets like Sweden to larger markets like the USA, there are some differences. In many ways search engine optimization is more complex in Sweden. To begin with, there are fewer searches being made in Sweden, which also means that there are fewer words and phrases being searched. The so-called long tail is a bit shorter in Sweden than in larger countries. This makes the competition for the bigger keywords tougher in each sector.
The fact that the total amount of searches is smaller also causes problems for many Swedish search engine optimizers. It might seem obvious, but you can’t invest as much money into every keyword as you do in Germany or USA. This often means that you work differently in smaller markets like Sweden. You can’t use broad brush strokes, instead you need to focus more on the details. There just isn’t enough profit to be made by using those methods that are the most common in USA. At the same time, it is not as possible to find small Swedish keywords that are as profitable as the small keywords in the US, where the small ones often are as big as our really big keywords.
In many ways, therefore, the competition is tougher in Sweden than in many of the larger countries, not because you invest more but because the pieces of the cake that you are fighting for are smaller. Swedish search engine optimizers are also highly competent, compared to what you find internationally. We are at the forefront in many aspects, despite, or maybe because of, our tougher search result climate.
Google often talks about the searcher’s intent with the search. In their Quality Rater Guidelines, an internal document aimed at those who manually audit websites, they speak about Know, Do, Website and Visit-in-person.
Chris Andersson, The Long Tail (2008) – Read more about long tail
Search Evaluator Quality Guidelines, Google