Part Two: How to Choose the Right Keywords and Key Phrases to Optimize Your Content For

In the first part of this SEO Tips series, I babbled about the good old days of blundering through what we then called optimization and explained how we all tried to fool Google and the other search engines into bestowing top rankings upon our pages.

Those old tricks just don’t work anymore. The search engines are smarter than we are and they see right through it. But we still try to beat them at their own game. Analysts dig into search results, interpret changes in rankings, study the architecture of those pages, and GUESS at what the algorithms might be looking for, or how this update may have changed things.

The trouble is, somehow, these algorithms have remained incredibly stealthy. I always think of Christopher Walken’s character in Blast From the Past (don’t judge me – I like it) explaining how he got lots of construction crews to each build tiny sections of his massive bomb shelter without explaining the whole project to any of them, so no one would know what he was building. I figure Google must be doing something similar, or someone would have spilled the beans by now.

In any event, the fact is that we don’t know. We’re still just guessing.

I found myself preaching at some poor guy recently. He was trying to sell me his content creation services and I was just fed up with the “SEO is a mysterious religious that only the gurus understand” bit. So I let him have it.

“Why can’t we all just write good content??” (I was getting shrill.) “Why can’t we do our key term research, watch the user generated content and keyword tools for trends, and just write to the need? It shouldn’t be this complicated!”

He laughed (nice guy) and said, “yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what Google wishes we’d all do.”

So, once again – not telling you to fire your SEO. But I am strongly suggesting that we all take a long, hard look at our approach. If we are still trying to game Google, we’ve got another thing coming. It’s the good, quality content that is most immune to all of these little tweaks and changes, and that’s what we should all be striving to generate.

At long last, then, here are my…

Top 12 Tips for Great Search Engine Optimized Content, beginning with my advice for choosing your terms:


1. Know the words your consumers use.

All we really want to know is what words users actually use when looking for whatever it is you’re selling. Why guess? User generated content is what we say… what we mean is, the words our customers use when talking about our stuff. It’s one of the reasons reviews are so awesome – they put content on our pages that are literally those words, from the mouths of our customers! Perfection. Keep a finger on the pulse of your industry by watching reviews, comments, articles, anything you can find that helps you understand the current trends in language around your products. Then use a Keyword Tool (like Google’s) to see how popular various terms are. Find some that are on target, fairly specific, and if you’re lucky, don’t have too much competition – and write using them!

2. Don’t use industry lingo!

I once consulted with a vascular surgery company. They told me about a procedure to remove varicose veins and said that no matter how hard they tried, neither their paid nor organic search marketing was getting them anywhere for it. I asked about the terms they were using and they told me what the procedure was called. I don’t even remember what the word is… but they were all about using it surrounded by terms like “surgery” and “procedure.” Were they using the terms that their target consumers would actually search for? Definitely not! No wonder it wasn’t working. (Switching to “varicose vein removal” worked wonders.)

3. Get specific

We call them “long tail” keywords – they’re really phrases, or groups of words which, when put together, represent a meaningful opportunity in search traffic. These are things like “turquoise zebra striped throw blanket.” They’re extremely specific, and will not garner large search volume. However, the more specific (and usually this means the longer) a search phrase is, the easier it is to convert a customer that came to your site on that search. Why? Because it’s so specific, you’re much more likely to have what they’re looking for!

You don’t want ALL the traffic. You want the qualified traffic – the customers who want to buy what you’re selling. So write product names and descriptions carefully, and create supporting content to appeal to every little niche you can think of. Each long tail phrase won’t account for much, but if you’re smart about your approach, you can get a large volume of specific searches working for you and make lots of very particular shoppers happy!

Great (if overly simple) example: I was working with a gourmet food company, a lot of years ago. (No, really – this industry was so young, it wasn’t even on solids yet.) One of the products was a gourmet chili mix. The owner of the company wanted me to optimize (and pay) for the term “chili.” He thought that, to sell that product, I should concentrate all of my effort on the most broad possible term so that I could attract as much traffic as I could… then surely, lots would purchase.

He was very insistent. Hey – I just worked there. We started with paid ads because they give an immediate result (no waiting for the search engines to find your page) and are much easier to directly track. The result, predictably, was LOTS of (expensive) traffic. We got people looking for great chili recipes, people looking for the country and misspelling it, and who knows what else!

A quick adjustment to more specific terms like “gourmet chili mix” and suddenly we saw much less traffic, insanely higher conversion rates, and more sales. Keep it specific and relevant and get the right traffic.

4. Use those terms judiciously

Once you’ve picked your terms, write to them. Speak in a way that seeks to educate. Use the terms in the title and meta tags (just once is plenty, really). Put them on your pages, preferably within an H1 or at least H-something tag, as well as throughout the copy. Beef them up with similar and related terms. Use them in text links. Link out to related content and back in again as appropriate.

5. Monitor your key terms and general topics

Language evolves. Trends come in and out of vogue. If your audience was once doing Atkins and cutting carbs, they’d now going Paleo and trying to eat like cavemen. I promise, it’s the same audience. Stay current, and adjust your content to do the same.


We’ll stop here for this installment. Now that you understand how to choose your keywords and key terms, tune in next time as we dig into numbers 6-12 in my list of tips for writing great, search engine optimized content!

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