Picking SEO Keywords: An Expert’s Guide

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Without SEO, publishing content online is like sending a rocket to space without a destination.

If you don’t tell that rocket which direction to head (the moon or Mars?), you’re stuck crossing your fingers and hoping things work out. That’s not good marketing. Good marketing comes with predictability, data, and then some crossed fingers.

And that’s the perfect way to describe search engine optimization, SEO, in 2022. 

SEO is part of the search engine algorithm: 

Input = Keywords

Output = Content

For every keyword, there are thousands of pages of search results and plenty of content to choose from (outputs). But, page 1,000 isn’t nearly as useful as page 1. Even page 2 of search results can feel like no man’s land. 

That’s why marketers care about SEO. Because all search engine pages are not equal. The power of ranking top 3 on page 1 of a search engine beats out ranking first on page 2 by 100x (honestly, maybe even 1,000x). 

How do you land a coveted spot on page 1 of the search results?

By picking the right SEO keywords through these three steps.

3 Steps SEO Experts Use to Pick Keywords

SEO has been around long enough that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. A new, innovative, never-before-seen SEO strategy that takes you months to implement and even longer to see results is the opposite of what SEO experts are doing.

The SEO experts writing high-quality content, landing on page 1 for relevant searches, and seeing results from their content are the ones following this tried-and-true SEO strategy.

#1: Ideate Keywords

There are two types of advertising: interruption-based and intent-based. Interruption-based advertising is an ad on your social media newsfeed. It’s the ads between paragraphs on the news article you’re trying to read. It’s a search engine ad strategically placed before the organic results. This isn’t your focus in organic SEO marketing, but this IS your focus in paid SEO advertising.

In SEO marketing, you’re focused on intent-based advertising. When somebody chooses to search for an answer to their question—that’s intent-based advertising. A search for “olive green cotton blanket” is an example of intent-based advertising. 

And the search engine results are a mix of interruption (paid ads) and intent-based advertising (organic results).

When you’re ideating keywords for your products and brand, you’re looking at intent-based words. These are the words somebody needs to use to find your products or brand. For DigitalMarketer, these are words like:

  • Digital marketing training
  • Digital marketing help
  • Content marketing training
  • Copywriting training

These keywords correlate directly to our products. They teach people how to be great digital marketers, either for their own company, their full-time marketing role, marketing consultancy, or their agency clients.

Your customer avatar asks specific questions and uses certain words to describe to search engines what content they want output. Use these questions to make a list of 20+ keywords you could rank for:

  1. What questions do your customers ask surrounding your products or brand?
  2. What single words would your customers use to describe your product or brand?
  3. What phrases would your customers use to describe your product or brand?

These questions will give you a page full of keywords and keyword phrases (several words used in a search query) that you want to rank for.

Once you have those keywords, go to AnswerThePublic.com and automatically generate a list of questions people have asked search engines related to those keywords. See if there are any other keywords or keyword phrases you missed—and take notes of the questions people are asking. Those questions will be the topics of your content.

For example, if we see people asking “how to pick SEO keywords,” our team knows that content on picking SEO keywords is a great addition to our online library. You don’t want to chase every keyword that looks like a great piece of content, though. 

First, you need to research the best keywords to see which are worth spending your time on.

#2: Research the Best Keywords

With your list of keywords and keyword phrases (which should be looooooooong by now), you’re set up to figure out which keywords to put your focus on. Unlike your pets, you’re allowed to play favorites here. You don’t want to choose keywords that are highly saturated and difficult to rank for. You also want to avoid the keywords that will only capture a minuscule part of your audience (at least, at first). 

Time to bring in more help from our robot friends. Research the best keywords with tools like Google Keyword Planner, SEMRush, Ahrefs, and seriously, there are so many other awesome SEO tools out there.

Here’s what keyword research for “running shoes” looks like in SEMRush:

A few things to take note of to compare your keywords/phrases and see which are the best option:

  • Volume is key to understanding if this keyword is worth creating content on or if it’s better to choose something with a higher search volume.
  • The keyword difficulty score shows you how hard it will be to organically rank for that keyword (good luck on getting on page 1 for running shoes!).
  • Use Keyword Variations to figure out if there are other keywords you can try to rank for that are similar but less competitive.

You can also use tools like Google Trends to see which times of the year certain searches spike. For example, the keyword phrase “plants for desk” had its highest search volume between July 27th and July 3rd. From October to the end of November, it has the lowest search volume.

This data can tell you what time is the best to push interruption-based search paid ads—and if there’s specific content you can create around the seasons or months where you see these spikes.

Once you know which keywords you’re going all-in on, it’s time for a quick chat with your finance team.

#3: Check Bid Estimates (For Paid Advertising)

If you’re not putting money behind your SEO strategy and aiming to get organic traffic through high-ranking content, skip to the next section. If you’re looking to put your ad budget towards SEO, keep reading. 

Once you’ve narrowed down the keywords to prioritize based on factors like search volume and difficulty score, it’s time to run your keywords through their last filter: cost. Every keyword comes at a different cost to win the ad auction. The ad auction is how Google determines which ad trying to rank for the same keyword wins an ad placement depending on the user. 

It’s based on 3 factors:

  1. Your Bid: This is your maximum budget for an ad click. 
  2. Ad Quality: Google won’t show your ad to everybody searching for your keyword—they’ll show it to the people most likely to click based on past behavior and data they have on the user.
  3. Extensions and Ad Formats: Google likes when you use extensions, like phone number and other links, as well as the other ad formats you’ve chosen and can boost you in the auction for a lower price.

Understanding how the auction works is necessary to figuring out how much you can afford to spend on ads and what your expected ROI should be. For example, in the SEMRush example for the search “running shoes” the cost-per-click is estimated to be $0.84. This tells you that if you want 10 clicks on your ad per day, you need a minimum $8.40 budget. Of course these numbers are a lot smaller than what you’ll really be working with, but this gives you an idea of how to figure out your SEO budget. 

This is why Step 3 is so important. If your SEO budget is $100 per day, you don’t want to splurge on keywords with a cost-per-click of $10 each (unless you’re certain they’ll lead to conversions!). Instead, you want to create a broader strategy that encompasses several keywords and keyword phrases that make up your $100 per day budget. 

You can use Google Keyword Planner to get suggested bid amounts per keyword: 

You have your keywords, researched and ready to go. There’s only one more thing left to do.

What Do You Do After Picking SEO Keywords?

After you’ve chosen your SEO keywords, it’s time to create the content and ads. There are 3 types of content and ads to create:

  1. Top-of-funnel content
  2. Middle-of-funnel content
  3. Bottom-of-funnel content

Top-of-Funnel Content and Ads

When your customer avatar is first introduced to your brand, show them top-of-funnel content (TOFU). Think of this content as the getting to know you phase relationships (professional, family, friends, or even with your pets!). Every relationship goes through a stage of learning more about someone’s goals, values, and challenges. Your customer avatar wants to know who your brand is, what your goals are, and if your values align with theirs. They’re also looking to see if you understand their challenges.

Here’s an example of TOFU at DigitalMarketer: What is Digital Marketing? In this article, we’re introducing the reader to digital marketing which means we’re not trying to turn them into a customer just yet. It’s not the right time. 

And the same applies to paid ads. You’re looking to educate at the top-of-the-funnel. Check out how these productivity apps use the limited amount of space on their ad to educate Google users about their productivity app.

Middle-of-funnel content and ads take things a step further.

Middle-of-Funnel Content and Ads

Middle-of-funnel content (MOFU) and ads are still educating the reader, but they’re *really* hinting at the product. The productivity apps above had to talk about their product in their TOFU content (they didn’t have another choice), but there’s a difference between their TOFU content and their MOFU content.

At the MOFU level, they’re flaunting their features and actively talking about why the competition isn’t the best option. An example of our MOFU content is this Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing. This guide is LONG, and anybody reading it clearly trusts us as their teacher. This content is designed to build a stronger relationship with this lead and get them to give us their email address (so we can send them even more valuable content). 

Notice the “Download as PDF” button? If you click that, a pop-up form appears asking for your First name, last name, email address AND two questions:

  1. Are you an agency or marketing consultant?
  2. Do you manage a sales and/or marketing team?

These two questions help us tag our email subscribers so we know which content, products, and offers are best suited for them. We can build out specific funnels based on their responses and get first-party data that we can continue using in the future (take that iOS 14!).

Bottom-of-Funnel Content and Ads

Bottom-of-funnel content (BOFU) and ads have a direct call-to-action to join, buy, or sign-up. There isn’t any fluff. Think of this as a sales page—there’s only one action to take on that page and it involves contact information or a credit card.

For the search, “mailchimp vs. constant contact vs. sendinblue,” Constant Contact created a BOFU ad. How can you tell?

  • They’re giving you a special offer to sign up now
  • They’re promoting their 60-day full access, free trial
  • Their link extensions are promoting product features

BOFU content cuts straight to the chase. 

Every great SEO strategy involves these 3 types of content. 

You’re Ready to Pick Your SEO Keywords

You don’t have to classify yourself as an expert before you choose your keywords. You finished this article which means—you’re ready. You have the 3 steps to follow:

  1. Ideate Keywords
  2. Research the Best Keywords
  3. Check Bid Estimates (For Paid Advertising)

And you know what to do after you’ve chosen them (create TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU content and ads). The only thing left to do is put what you’ve learned into practice. Remember that every SEO marketer started where you were, unsure how to use the Google ads platform and scared they’ll run through their marketing budget without an ROI.

Just like we’re not telling you to put your entire life savings into Gamestop stock, putting your entire ad budget into your first SEO strategy is the wrong move. Take a percentage of that budget and start testing out ads, seeing their CTR, and how much each keyword or keyword phrase costs.

Build up from there. If you take this route, you’ll feel comfortable enough with your SEO strategy to add another story on top of it, and another in the future, and eventually you’ll have a solid building on your hands. That’s when you’ll look back at yourself reading this article and think—wow, that was just the beginning.

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