So, you think keywords don’t matter? Sorry to break it to you, but SEO is still critical. Studies have found that 36.4% of all search users click on the top result on Google, and nearly 60% of traffic goes to the top three web pages. While keyword research is only one component of a comprehensive SEO strategy, it’s a piece your business can’t afford to ignore.

But wait.

Isn’t quality content the most important component of SEO? That’s absolutely correct, and Google’s Matt Cutts has continually emphasized the importance of outstanding web copywriting in interviews. However, think of keywords for SEO as a sneak peek into your prospects’ brains. By determining the phrases that they’re searching for, you can best optimize your blog and web pages to match the language they’re already using. As CopyBlogger’s Brian Clarke points out, “keyword research, at its essence, is market research.” If there’s anything any small business owner or content marketer can use more of, these are insights into their ideal customer.

Forget everything you learned about SEO back in 2008; the rules have changed. The advent of Google’s Panda and Penguin updates in 2011 and 2012 has sparked an entirely new set of best practices. Here are some optimal ways to find and incorporate keywords for SEO:

1. Use a Trustworthy Tool

As companies globally turn to inbound marketing to capture the business of modern consumers, there has been an insurgence of free and paid SEO tools. To find the best keywords, it’s prudent to rely on a major program which draws data directly from Google itself. Google AdWords provides information on how hard it is to rank for keywords, monthly search volume, and geo-targeted search insights. If you’re using a major marketing automation software like Marketo or HubSpot, you can also find the best keywords within the software.

2. Choose Your Difficulty Carefully

To put things simply, the lower the difficulty and the higher the monthly search volume, the better your company’s chances of seeing results. Larry Levenson of Sigma Web Marketing advises aiming for search terms with a difficulty of between 40 and 70 (or 40%-70% if you’re using SEOMoz). To find the best keywords, choose terms with a difficulty below 70, and the highest search volume possible. It’s possible to rank for a term with a difficulty of above 70, but it can take persistent effort and work to increase your site’s authority in the eyes of Google.

3. Pay Attention to Trends

One of the most underrated tools to find the best keywords is Google Trends. It’s not that most keyword graders don’t provide the right insights, it’s just that you can get the right information more efficiently using the tool’s insights. As Samuel Chan points out, it’s easy to track how various terms are trending against each other over time, and even sort by region:

Image Credit: Samuel Chan

Your keyword strategy is sufficient, but not optimal, if you aren’t using Google Trends. Think of data on keyword difficulty and search volume as a snapshot of the present, while Trends can help you forecast and determine the best keywords for SEO for the future.

4. Add Keywords to Your Content Calendar

While no one really knows exactly how Google, Bing and Yahoo categorize and index web content, SEO experts believe that content titles are crucial. In fact, an SEOMoz survey of the 37 most influential SEO experts found that 35 believed titles have more weight than any other on-page component.

When planning out your content for the next month, find the best keywords and build your titles and ideas around keywords for SEO. Not only will this practice allow you to ensure your articles are search engine-friendly, it will ensure you’re covering the topics driving search in your market. Additionally, incorporating data on keyword difficulty and ranking can allow you to keep tabs on how your articles affect your website’s SEO.

5. On-Page Optimization

Simply put, there are three areas which affect how each of your webpages ranks:

  1. Quality of Content
  2. Demand for Content and Social Signals
  3. Inbound Links and Site Authority

Your on-page optimization and work to find the best keywords don’t matter to search engines as much as the inbound links and social media shares your content receives, but it’s still critical. The following infographic demonstrates the anatomy of well-optimized web content:

Image Credit: SEOMoz

In this example, keywords for SEO are used in the following areas:

  • Page Title and URL
  • H1 Tag
  • Meta Description
  • Image Filename and Alt Text
  • Content Body

While no amount of on-page optimization can compensate for low-quality content, viewing the practice of incorporating keywords for SEO throughout your web pages can yield the best results possible.

6. Stop Words

Do you ever feel like Google is ignoring your requests? Actually, there’s a chance that they might be working around certain parts of your query. SEO stop words are common conjunctions and words that are essentially ignored by search engines. They include the following:

  • The
  • And
  • On
  • Of
  • Be
  • Me
  • In

A complete list can be found here.

If you were trying to optimize your content around the keyword “find best keywords” you could use “find the best keywords” throughout your content for more natural content. Stop words are actually great news for your content strategy, because they can be used to modify keywords without weakening your copywriting’s SEO potential. Find the best keywords for your niche, even if they require the use of a few stop words. Use them liberally in your titles and content body with an end goal of writing in a way that appeals to your end user.

Keywords aren’t the enemy of quality content creation, they’re an ROI-driven content marketer’s best friend. When you begin to view keywords for SEO as a market research tool, the relevance and visibility of your content will soar.

Are you currently spending time to find the best keywords as part of your content marketing strategy?

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