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How to Pick an SEO Keyword

My SEO background is variable, to say the least. I did not get a degree in digital marketing, and I only recently learned what a meta tag is. So why should you listen to me when I tell you how to pick an SEO keyword?

I am not an SEO guru, but I’m good at ranking SEO keywords because I understand what Google wants, and I know how I can give Google what it wants. I ranked accidentally for years because I was just writing quality articles. I worked backward until I understood how I was doing it. By the end of this post, you will too.

An SEO keyword is a narrow topic you structure your blog around. Your keyword is what signals to a search engine what your post is about. Anything can be a keyword. “Shoes” is a keyword. “How to pick an SEO keyword” is a keyword.

In the past, picking an SEO keyword (and all of SEO) was a complex process involving a lot of tools. Happily, tides are changing. Google has always been about trying to match the right reader with the content that fits their needs. In the past, it used a formula to determine this, which people learned and exploited. Now, it’s just looking for good writing that answers the question.

It doesn’t do this because it’s a morally good company or anything like that; that’s literally just how it makes money. The more you use their service, the more money they make from placing ads on their service. People got sick of being tricked by bad-quality, but good ”SEO-ified” articles, so they used Google less. In response, Google improved its algorithm.

I like to think of SEO keywords less like a game to “win,” and more like gentle indicators to help Google figure out what your article is about, and how to direct the right reader to it. Now, more than ever, if you want to rank, your job is simple. It’s just about writing something good that will answer your reader’s question. (SEO comes down to more than just picking the right SEO keyword – backlinks, post optimization, and, yes, meta descriptions and the like matter, but picking the keyword is an important place to start.)

This tutorial will walk you through how to pick an SEO keyword that will rank on Google, but more importantly, will answer your reader’s questions or needs. As Google’s algorithm becomes more advanced and complex, the two become the same thing. To win at SEO, you have to deeply understand your reader.

The short answer? You can pick an SEO keyword in 3 steps:

  1. Start with your reader’s needs.
  2. Make a shortlist of potential keywords.
  3. Analyze the shortlist for traffic, competition, and fit.

Ready for the long answer? Let’s jump in.

Start with your reader before choosing a keyword

Want to know how to pick an SEO keyword? Don’t start with any tools or SEO keyword generators. Start by considering your reader and the problems you could solve for them.

This may feel too broad, but this is where we must begin. How can you pick an SEO keyword if you don’t know your reader?

My process is simple: I look for areas where I have the knowledge, where I am interested, and where I can provide value. I write about this process in my blog post here.

Let’s say I have a blog about cats. I know a lot about cats, Maine Coons especially because I have two of my own. I am deeply interested in my cats because I’m a cat lady and my obsession with my cats is a personality trait at this point. And finally, I know I can offer value to readers because I know the problems that plague me, and I know how to solve them.

I can think of tons of topics that fit under my trifecta of knowledge, interest, and value. Hopefully, you’ve thought of a few yourself. That’s what you need to know how to pick an SEO keyword.

Now I come back to my reader. Envision someone you know in real life who might be interested in this kind of content that you’ve been brainstorming. For example, I think of my friend Lea, who is a cat owner herself. She recently had a problem where her indoor-only cat got out. This might be a good topic to cover, and I could come at it from a couple of different directions:

  • How to ensure your indoor cat is fully stimulated and entertained
  • How to make sure you find your cat if it escapes
  • A discussion of whether cats should be indoor or outdoor

To pick an SEO keyword, look for where you offer value and where your reader has a problem. The place where they meet? That’s where your SEO keyword lives.

Make a shortlist of potential keywords

When it comes to knowing how to pick an SEO keyword, it comes down to three factors. The right keyword is three things:

  1. Competitive – You should stand a chance of ranking for any SEO keyword you pick.
  2. High-traffic – When you rank, that should result in some traffic to your site. (“High” is relative here – most competitive keywords are fairly low traffic, but they’re still worth targeting.)
  3. Valuable to your brand – Not only must you rank, but that has to accomplish something for your overall brand, too. It’s no good ranking for a competitive, high-traffic keyword unless it impacts your bottom line!

At this point, you don’t have a keyword. You have a list of topics. Now comes the fun part of looking for the best, most optimized way to pick an SEO keyword that stands the best chance of ranking.

Let’s pick one of our topics from above to try to find an SEO keyword: How to ensure your indoor cat is fully stimulated and entertained.

At this point, I go back to my reader. I think of Lea. She’s just rescued her kitty from the big bad outdoors, and she wants to make sure her cat is 100% happy indoors and doesn’t keep trying to escape. What does she type into the search bar?

Maybe something like:

  • Entertain cat indoors
  • How to keep indoor cat entertained
  • Stimulate indoor cat

Now it’s time to gauge the traffic and competition for each of the keywords. Let’s get into how to understand the traffic value of an SEO Keyword by using an analysis tool.

Analyze the SEO keywords list

Let’s start with Google’s tool: the Google keyword planner. I like it because it’s free and it has a ton of info. But it’s not exactly the right tool because it’s for advertisers who pay to have ads at the top of keywords, not bloggers who want to rank organically. So, take everything you learn with a pinch of salt.

You can put a bunch of keywords in at the same time to compare them:

It looks less promising for keywords 1 and 3, but don’t lose hope. If you want to know how to pick an SEO keyword, it’s worth knowing that Google often underestimates traffic.

Next, I go to my search engine of preference, which is Google.

Now, it’s important to know that part of how Google decides which blog post to surface is based on domain authority and age. Google loves new, fresh content. Google also loves to promote trusted sources. How does it decide if a source is trustworthy? By looking at how many people link back to that website, or domain.

Scoping out the competition before you pick an SEO keyword is good. It lets you see how good a chance you stand. You stand a pretty good chance of ranking if your content is stronger than the top results for your particular chosen keyword.

Final thoughts on selecting the right keyword to rank for

Here are the key takeaways:

  1. The right keyword is competitive – you can rank on it.
  2. It’s got traffic – that ranking is worth something to you.
  3. And it’s relevant to your brand – only target readers land on your post, not randomers.

I came up with this process to teach writers how to write high-quality blog posts that still stand a decent chance of ranking on Google. By the end of this tutorial on how to pick an SEO keyword, you should:

  • Understand how Google works
  • Have a list of keywords you could use in the future
  • Know which free keyword research tools you can rely on
  • Be able to generate SEO keywords at your leisure

And most importantly, of course, you should know how to pick an SEO keyword. Next up? Write the post!

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