3 Steps to Keyword Success

People think SEO is magic, but it's really just logic - the right words in the right places, and you WILL rank highly, unless you've chosen a hugely competitive key term to target (which, uh, makes it the 'wrong' words).

But how do you know what keywords to target? Well, there are three very simple steps to take, to hone your broad, short-tail keywords into precise and realistic long-tail key phrases.

1. Google Trends

First up, it's Google Trends - this gives you a place to start, and importantly it can also give you a headstart over your opposition.

Visit Google Trends and type in a broad keyword relating to your website - at this stage it doesn't matter if it's a very competitive term, as you ultimately won't be targeting this keyword in your SEO efforts.

As an example, let's use SEO, and limit the data to results from the UK over the past 12 months.

The graph and regional interest data are often quite interesting, but they're not the useful part for our purposes - that comes at the bottom-right of the page.

The Queries box shows you which search terms are being used by the most people, and if you click through to the Rising list you can also see which terms are currently rising in interest and activity the fastest.

For example, at the time of writing, some of the breakout terms include seo optimization (+70%, and note the US English spelling convention of '-ize' rather than '-ise'), seo expert (+60%) and seo check (+50%).

These would all be fairly easy to incorporate into a well-written and relevant page, but Google Trends allows you to see exactly which words, which word order, and which spellings are being used in the real world, right now.

So you choose a few key phrases from this list, and the hard work of developing a long-tail SEO strategy is done for you, without having to come up with any phrases of your own from scratch.

2. Google Analytics > SEO

Google Analytics is your friend. Free to install and to use, it's a powerful enough analytics platform for most basic to intermediate needs - and it is certainly fully featured enough to help you hone an SEO campaign.

For this part of the process, expand the Acquisition list at the left-hand side of your website's Analytics dashboard (that sounds way more complicated than it actually is - just log in and look for Acquisition, once you have the Analytics tracking code working on your website).

Next expand the Search Engine Optimization list, and click on Queries.

The data here shows you which search queries your website was included in the results for - it's real data, compiled from real people's searches, and although the figures are not 100% accurate, it still gives a good idea of how you're ranking on some real-world key words and phrases.

If you spot a particularly juicy phrase on this list, that's great news - it means, somewhere along the way, you've published some content that Google deems worthy of including in its search results for queries containing that phrase.

But at this stage, it's unlikely that you rank highly for your preferred key phrases - unless you've managed to do some very quick optimisation of your page content, that is.

You really want to be aiming for a ranking in single figures, i.e. in the top nine organic search results for your target phrase, so if this report says your ranking is 10+ you'll probably want to publish some more well-written content containing that target keyword or phrase in the right places.

Over time, as you do this, your ranking should improve on the phrases you target, and believe me, a single well-written page CAN be enough to get you into the top five positions on Google.

Keep checking back to see how well you're doing, and to identify more potential target phrases for future SEO efforts.

3. Google Analytics > Keywords

Finally, once you're confident that you're ranking highly for your target words and phrases, look under Acquisition for the Keywords list, and click on Organic.

At first this may look like the SEO report we were using above, but the key difference is this:
  • The Google Analytics SEO page is based on your inclusion in Google search engine result pages, or SERPs;
  • The Google Analytics Keywords - Organic report is based on search queries which led to an actual clickthrough to your website.
This means that, whereas the SEO page gives you an idea of what people are searching for when they find your website, the Organic page tells you which of those search queries actually drive traffic to your site.

Now you have a dilemma - do you continue to target these performing key phrases, in order to avoid slipping down the rankings, or do you devote your attention to developing more of the other phrases for which you currently don't rank so highly?

My answer would be to do both. Include new phrases chosen from the SEO report in the primary keyword positions on your new pages (near the top and near the left-hand side of your content, basically).

But also include a few mentions of one or more of your performing key phrases from the Organic report - these don't have to be in those prime positions on the page, as you're obviously already ranking for the term, so just mentioning it anywhere should be enough to remind Google that it's still relevant to your website.

And that is it. Trends, Analytics SEO, and Analytics Organic - the three Google reports that can logically develop you from a single competitive short-tail keyword, to first-page rankings on well-performing, real-world, long-tail search queries that your competitors may not yet have discovered.