SEO Keyword Search Basics: How Do I Find the Right Words for my Website?

  •    Tim is a freelance business writer. He writes about the business of innovation, comics and genre entertainment on The Full Bleed.

When it comes to growing a web business, relevant traffic precedes revenue. How do you get relevant traffic? A good social media strategy can help. So can smart email marketing. But these are also campaign-driven one offs. Without a sustainable strategy for attracting the right audience with the content you produce—a process known as Search Engine Optimization, or SEO—you'll have a tough time gaining traction.

Finding and using the right keywords are a crucial part of improving your site's SEO profile. Think of them as summary statements that speak to something you offer. Say you're an independent mortgage broker in Idaho. You'd want your site to be filled with keywords that matter to people who live near you who also need a mortgage broker. Get the mix right, and Google will refer leads your way. Need an example? Let's walk through four steps our broker might take to find the right keywords for his site:

1. Describe the offer

Our mortgage broker offers services to help buyers get into homes and owners to refinance their property when doing so would be advantageous. You might even call it a mission statement, but it's also filled with potential keywords: "home buyer" and "refinance," for sure. He's also known for his personal touch and, as a result, gets high ratings on Zillow, Redfin, and related sites.

2. Describe how others would look for the offer

A good starting exercise is to think about how a prospect might search for the type of help you offer. She may start by entering "new homes" or "new homes Boise" or "home loans" and a zip code. While it's certainly possible that she would specifically search for a broker—"mortgage broker Idaho," in this case—it's important to remember that Google tends to be location-aware and will personalize results. Most users know that, and will just search for their need. "Highest-rated mortgage brokers" may be exactly what our broker's prospects are most interested in.

3. Study the audience

Next, it's important for our broker to know how he gets found. Keyword search tools such as Google Search Console can tell our broker what search terms people used to get to the site. Maybe he's being found when people search "mortgage broker Idaho" but not when searching for "buy a home," "home loan," "find a mortgage broker,"or "top-rated mortgage broker." Each of these keywords, or even all of them, may be worth adding to his site's content.

4. Use keyword research tools to find and seize opportunities

To know for sure, our broker has to use tools. Most will show two pieces of key data when highlighting a keyword: volume (i.e., the total number of monthly searches) and some data around the competition when trying to rank for that keyword.

Rank describes the place a result lands when a user searches for a related term using Google. Spots 1-10 are always the first page, and it's where the richest referrals are found. Getting to the first page with a really broad term—"mortgage broker," for example—is likely to be tough thanks to stiff competition from big-budget brands.

But again, if our mortgage broker has won local awards and gets high ratings on Zillow and related sites, including the keywords "top-rated mortgage broker on Zillow" in several pieces of content could bring in prospects who prize reputation because they want to feel safe when applying for a new home loan. Read our review of some of the best keyword search tools before starting your quest for the right mix.

One Job, Multiple Benefits

As you can see, a good keyword search can be fruitful for targeting the right people with a relevant offer. And the work is transferrable to both social media and email marketing since the same disciplines require you know as much as possible about the audience you're targeting.

So, do the work. Describe your offer, figure out how others would look for it, study how your existing audience finds you, look for gaps, and then create new, highly useful content with the right keywords. It'll help you get found by the right people more often.