SEO — search engine optimization — for your website starts with figuring out your keywords. Keywords are words and phrases that people type into a search engine to find the goods and services they need. You have to know what keywords people who are looking for your goods and services search for when they need you. You can have a long list of keywords to work on, but knowing your primary keyword is a good start.
Unfortunately, the word or phrase that you think of as your primary keyword might not really be the right keyword for you at all.
Imagine that you own a gluten-free bakery. You sell baked goods, plus books on living gluten-free and gluten-free products, and you hold classes about the gluten-free lifestyle. If your web team asks you for your primary keyword, you can tell them right away that it’s “gluten-free lifestyle.” That’s the phrase that you and your competitors use most and you like it — it resonates with you and seems especially meaningful.
Is your favorite term a good choice for your primary keyword?
In this example, no, that favorite phrase is not really your website’s primary keyword. Google Trends tells us that there are so few searches for this term that they can’t even come up with any data for us.
On the other hand, we can see that “gluten-free cake” is quite popular. If your hypothetical bakery serves cake, that’s a good keyword to consider.
Notice that “gluten-free diet,” another broad term like “gluten-free lifestyle,” is a much less popular search than “What is gluten?” or “gluten-free near me.” In fact, “What exactly is gluten?” and “What the !@#$ is gluten?” are also popular searches. You can’t pick keywords by what feels likely. You need to know what people actually look for.
How about the competition?
You also can’t pick the best keywords by what your competitors are paying for. In the screenshot below from Google’s Adwords Keyword Planner, we can see some possible keywords sorted by competitiveness. That’s based on how much people are paying for the keyword and how many companies are paying for it.
Notice that some high competition terms have low search volume. “Gluten free shopping,” for example, is very competitive, but there aren’t many searches for the term.
When your competitors are picking their primary keywords by gut feeling, their choices probably won’t be great… just more expensive for you. If lots of companies are fighting for “gluten free shopping,” you can expect to pay a high cost per click for that term, even though it won’t do much for you.
Recognizing the keywords your competitors are working on can help you, though. You can use that information to identify the keywords you can compete for effectively. If there are 27 gluten-free bakeries in your service area, top ranking for “gluten-free bakery” might be a long-term goal for you. “Gluten-free cake,” if your competitors aren’t working on it, could be the term you rank for in the next three months. Once that’s sewn up, you can aim for “gluten-free desserts” and work your way through the list.
Realistic primary keyword choices
If you’re currently showing on page 100 for the keyword you consider your primary keyword, you can work your way up. But that’s probably not your primary keyword. If people are finding your website, they’re probably finding you through some other keywords. Your Adwords account and Google Search Console can tell you what those keywords are. If you’re already showing on the first page (according to the search console) for “gluten free cakes in Northwest Arkansas,” then it makes sense to work yourself up to the top of that page.
Choose keywords where you show on page 2 of the search engine results and work on them. Moving from page 2 to page 1, or from below the fold on page 1 to the top of the page on page 1 will do you a lot more good than moving from page 10 to page 9.
Your primary keyword should be a term you can own, and a term people actually use when they look for the things you offer. Do the research (or let us help you) and find the right keyword to work on. It’s an important choice.