Search engine optimization… it sounds so intimidating, right?
I know I felt that way when I first started blogging. And to be honest, I’m still a little intimidated by search engine optimization, and I’ve been blogging for over a decade!
But once I saw what learning a little about SEO can do for your traffic (i.e. make you do a cartoon-style double-take because you can’t believe the numbers Google Analytics is showing you)… well, I decided that it might be worth my time to learn a little about how to get more search engine traffic.
Getting more search engine traffic is part art, part science, and part luck!
It’s the “part science” we’re going to talk about in this post. Namely, I’m going to walk you through the very basics of how you can optimize every blog post you write to get more search engine traffic using keyword research.
Now, before I start, let me say this: big companies have entire teams of people dedicated to search engine optimization. It can be a full time job. I don’t want to let that stop you from doing the basics!
Once you get into the groove, you can do simple keyword research in 10-15 minutes, I promise! Then, as you see results, you can devote more and more time to getting more search engine traffic through post optimization. Don’t run away scared right now, though, because you think you don’t have time for it.
We eat the elephant one bite at a time, right?
Without further ado, let’s get started!
If you already know what a keyword is and why it is important to search engine optimization, you can skip over this part and jump to the next section, which will get more into the how-to. But for those of you who are completely new, let me go over it, because you can’t learn how to get more search engine traffic if you don’t understand why keywords matter.
Keyword phrases, which I’m going to shorten just to keywords in this post, are terms that people type into search engines when they are looking for information.
Pretend you are going to buy a new car and want to read some information and reviews. What might you type into Google?
“I’m going to buy a new car and want to read some information and reviews”
Right? Yeah no. No one uses Google that way!
You’re probably type “new car reviews” or “best cars 2016” or even the make/model of a car that caught your eye with the word reviews, like “Toyota Prius reviews.”
Google (and every search engine out there) looks at the keyword you’ve typed and tried to show you the most relevant results. This is called the SERP – Search Engine Results Page.
If you want more search engine traffic, you want to make sure that your blog is at the top of those results for keywords that describe your posts.
Google determines what results they show based on an impossibly complicated algorithm that takes hundreds of things into consideration. Some of these things, you have little to no control over, and again, some people devote their entire careers to search engine optimization because it is so complicated.
But first and foremost, Google looks to see if your post contains the same keywords the person typed into the search bar.
Hey, you can do something about that! And it’s not so complicated!
Back in the day, this meant that people would stuff their posts with keywords (aptly named “keyword stuffing”), even if they weren’t super relevant, and for a while that worked and people got insane amounts of search engine traffic doing this. Google is a lot smarter today, because it figured out that people were manipulating their system. Today, using a keyword too many times is actually a really bad thing!
That said, making sure your post contains keywords that people are searching for… and keywords that Google has determined are related… it matters. Otherwise, Google won’t realize that your post should even be considered, let alone shown to people searching for your information. Your blog can’t get more search engine traffic if your posts are flying under the radar.
Of course, every blog post your write could be optimized for several keywords. Let’s say that you want to post a Toyota Prius review on your car blog. Should you optimize for “Toyota Prius review” or “Toyota Prius information” or “should I buy a Prius” or…. well, there are thousands of possibilities!
So, in the rest of this post, I’m going to show you how to find the right keywords for your post based on the content you’re going to write, and how to use them within your post to get more search engine traffic.
Google’s Keyword Planner Tool
If you actually want your blog post to rank, you must, must, MUST write quality content (which I’m going to talk about next). But you can also get a little help with ranking from Google’s Keyword Planner Tool.
This tool is actually made to be used by people who want to advertise on Google…. but they know that savvy bloggers like you and I use it too to get more search engine traffic. 🙂
Google’s Keyword Planner Tool is 100% free. Yay! You just have to sign into your Google account (just set one up if you don’t have Gmail already, it is completely free as well). However, because this is a tool for advertisers, when you sign up to get it, they ask you to put in your credit card information.
Personally, I don’t like have my credit card information out there! There is a way to get around this step if you don’t want to enter your credit card information either – but if you mess up this step, there’s no going back!
What you need to do is click the link to go to Google Keyword Planner, and sign into your account. Then when you see the welcome screen, click the small link that says “Skip the guided setup.”
Here’s a screenshot to show you where I mean:
IF YOU DON’T SKIP AT THIS POINT, YOU HAVE TO ENTER CREDIT CARD INFORMATION! Yes, I put that in all caps, because seriously, if you don’t choose to skip the setup on this screen, you either have to start over with a new account or you have to enter credit card information.
Once you click “continue” on this screen, there’s no going back.
It’s not the end of the world. Google accounts are free. But it is super annoying to have to start another account to use Keyword Planner or to have to enter credit card information!
Now, there are other keyword tools out there, and some of them are even better than Google’s tool. However, the good ones cost money, sometimes hundreds of dollars per month. If you’re just starting out, you really don’t need those other tools. Google’s Keyword Planner will do just fine. 🙂
Brainstorm Your List of Keywords
Personally, I like to do keyword research when I’m in the middle of writing a post. Some bloggers like to do it before or after, but let me tell you why I like to do it in the middle.
My personal blogging flow is to write out an outline for my post and maybe do an intro and first draft, then do keyword research, then go back through and do some hard-core editing for a final draft, then finally do all the “finishing” work, which includes adding images, links, formatting, etc.
I do my keyword research after I have a rough draft (or at the very least, an outline), because when I’m writing, things change.
A post that starts out about one topic evolves and becomes something else.
If I do my keyword research first, it might not be relevant by the time I’m done with the post, and relevancy is the #1 thing Google cares about.
I also do not want to have a keyword in my head when I’m writing.
Google hates keyword stuffing (adding your keyword too many times just to try to get it to rank), but sometimes when you hear a phrase, it gets stuck in your brain. Then that’s all you want to write.
At least, that’s what happens to me.
On the other hand, if I did my keyword research last, after my draft was already polished, it would be a lot harder to naturally work the phrase into my blog post. You can often tell when a blogger is writing with the goal to rank for a specific keyword. The post sounds… weird. There’s no other way to put it. They’re trying way too hard to fit a keyword into a place where it doesn’t belong.
So, the middle of the writing process works best in my opinion.
(I actually like to chunk my time and write a bunch of blog post drafts at once, then go back and do keyword research later. It’s a great productivity hack if you’re finding it hard to make time for your blog!)
At this point, you want to look at your outline or first draft and come up with a list of keywords that you think would be relevant to people who want to read the post you’re writing.
You have to think in reverse.
Who most needs to read your blog post?
Now, what might those people type into Google?
It’s not an easy answer, but that’s where Keyword Planner is going to come in! At this point, just create a list of at least 10 ideas. More = even better.
Next, it’s time to refine your list.
Refine Your Keyword to Get More Search Engine Traffic
Once you have a list of keywords that make sense for your blog post, it’s time to refine that list to come up with keywords that are actually good for your post if you want more search engine traffic.
All you have to do is copy and paste your entire brainstorm list into Keyword Planner!
Sign into Keyword Planner, then click on “Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category.” This will bring up several fields:
Paste your brainstormed list into that first field, where it says to enter your product or service. Make sure each keyword is on its own line.
(Most people don’t have to worry about anything else on this screen. However, if your website covers adult ideas, you do have to manually turn on that option to see adult ideas, which is under “keyword options.” You may also want to change the targeting if you only care about traffic from a specific country or your blog is written in a language other than English.)
Once you click “Get Ideas,” you’ll get a screen that has two tabs: Ad Group Ideas and Keyword Ideas
Ad Group Ideas comes up by default, but we’re actually going to start by looking at the Keyword Ideas tab.
At the top, you’ll see the keywords that you put into the search box. Below that, you’ll see a bunch of related keywords, which Google has guessed might interest you. This is why you want to input at least ten keywords in your first step, because you’ll get more relevant guesses from Google at this stage.
You can ignore the “competition” and “suggested bid” columns on this page. They might seem relevant, but they are actually just for people who are buying ads.
What you do want to look at on this page are the numbers given for average monthly searches.
The more searches for a keyword, the more search engine traffic you could potentially get if you optimize for that keyword.
However, keywords that have huge search volumes are going to be really competitive for most bloggers, because other bloggers and non-blog websites are already optimizing for them.
Generally, the more popular your blog is already, the more popular keywords you can successfully optimize for. My rule of thumb is to stick to around your daily traffic, give or take 50%.
So, if you give 1000 pageviews per day, you should look for keywords in the 500 – 1500 range. Sometimes you can go higher, if you find a juicy keyword that other people have missed. Sometimes you can go higher if your niche is super specific and there aren’t a lot of other bloggers writing about the same topic. This is just a rule of thumb to help you get started!
Did any of your keywords return with the right amount of search results? If yes, awesome. Add them to your new list. If no… do not despair! That’s what the rest of the list, below your own keywords, is for.
See, you probably were really wrong about what people were searching, and that’s okay. I am very wrong, all the time.
Look at the rest of the keyword list that Google suggests to you. What keywords did you miss when you were brainstorming. Google is going to give you some great ideas!
Ultimately, we are going to whittle down your list and chose just one keyword, but for now it is okay if you have more. I actually recommend having at least 3-5 on your list at this point.
Checking Your Competition
If there are other huge websites ranking well for these keywords, you’re probably not going to dethrone them. So if you want the best chance of getting more search engine traffic with your post, you want to find the least competitive keyword on your list.
There are tons of paid tools that will analyze your competition, but I have to be honest. I think the easiest, fasted, and best way to do it is to simply do a Google search.
Sign out of your Google account, so your results aren’t skewed, then type in your keywords, one by one.
If you see sites like Wikipedia, The Wall Street Journal, Food Network, etc. – whatever are the biggest sites in your niche – you aren’t going to be able to compete. Cross that keyword off your list.
If you see other large-ish blogs, and the search results are going to perfectly answer the searcher’s question, you are also going to find it really hard to compete. Never say never, but you’re going to have to do a lot of work and get a lot of links back to your blog post in order to hit the number one spot of even the top 5. Personally, I usually cross that keyword off my list in this case.
If you see smaller blogs, around the same size as you, and the search results are going to perfectly answer the searcher’s question, you have a chance! It depends how much work you put into it. It’s harder to dethrone a search result that is already performing well, but you can do it if you get some quality links back to your blog post. Check out the post in question. If it has a ton of social shares and comments, cross it off your list. But if not, you might want to consider it.
If you see large blogs, and the search results don’t seem to address the keyword very well, you also have a chance! Google likes really popular sites, but Google also like relevancy. Again, it will take some work, but you can do it.
If you see smaller blogs, and the search results don’t seem to address the keyword very well… you hit the jackpot! These are the very, very, very best keywords. Most of the time, this is the type of keyword you want to be looking for.
You want to narrow down your list to just a single keyword, which will be your main focus.
Uh Oh! All of My Keywords are Super Competitive!
Don’t panic. You have options. 🙂
First, you can go back to the drawing board and test out other keywords from Google. I recommend doing this if you are a bigger because keyword research really takes practice. Soon, you’ll be able to better spot keywords from step one that will be too competitive.
Your other option is to run with one of your keywords anyway, even if you know it probably won’t rank well!
Not every post you write has to bring in a ton of search engine traffic. You’re here reading this because you want more search engine traffic, but I don’t want you to give up on fantastic post ideas because you have some kind of drive to only be successful on search engines. It is incredibly possible to get super popular on social media instead, for example.
And you never know. Google might just decide to rank you, even if you think you don’t have a chance in h-e-double-hockey-sticks. 🙂
Latent Semantic Indexing Keywords
Once you’ve chosen the main keyword that will be the focus of your blog post, you can also do some research to find related keywords – also known as Latent Semantic Indexing keywords, or LSI keywords. Google is super smart, and they know that any high-quality blog post about a certain keyword will also contain related keywords.
So, if your blog post contains related keywords that Google has identified, there’s a better chance you will rank well.
I’ve actually had blog posts rank not only for my original keyword, but also for LSI keywords, which means ever more search engine traffic, woo hoo!
You can find these keywords in two (free) ways.
First, go back to Keyword Planner and punch in the main keyword you’ve decided to use. Now is the time when the default tab, Ad Group Ideas, comes in handy. When your keyword is part of an ad group, you know that Google has identified the other keywords in that group to be related.
Second, look at the search results for that keyword. Scroll to the very bottom of the page and you should see a list of related keywords. These are all potential LSI keywords.
Finishing Your Blog Post
Okay, so now that your keyword research is done, how to you actually optimize your blog post to get more search engine traffic?
Let’s start at the top and work our way down!
- Put the keyword is in the title of your blog post.
- Put the keyword is in the URL. I actually like to make the URL your-website.com/my-keyword-here – a lot of people use their post title, but shortening the permalink to have just your keyword could help you.
- Put the keyword is in the first paragraph or two of your blog post. (I sometimes bend the rule on this one, because it is more important to me that my blog posts sound natural.)
- Sprinkle the keyword throughout the blog post. You don’t want to stuff it in there unnaturally, but you want to use it at least a few times. I usually aim for 0.5% to 1% minimum, but if I fall higher or lower than that, I don’t stress it. You just don’t want it to be in there so much that Google thinks you’re trying to scam the rankings.
- Sprinkle LSI keywords throughout. Don’t aim for a percentage, just add a few in there if they aren’t already. If you wrote a good post about the topic, you’ll probably find that you naturally used LSI keywords already.
- Put the keyword in a header. You should be using <h2> and/or <h3> tags to make headers in your blog posts. You’ll get more search engine traffic if your headers contain keywords and LSI keywords.
Before you end, you should also make sure that your keyword and LSI keywords are in the meta description (I use a plugin called Yoast SEO to make the meta description for my posts) and in the image title and alt descriptions of my posts.
A Few Other Search Engine Traffic Tips
Once you’ve published your post, there are two main factors that will increase your chances of getting ranked by Google.
The first is time. Sad but true, you aren’t going to instantly rank as soon as you hit publish, even if your blog post is perfect!
The second is the number of links pointing to your post. So get out there and share, share, share! Ask other bloggers to link to you on their resource lists, write guest posts that link back to your blog, and promote the link on social media so others will see it.
Don’t forget to link internally. Every blog post you write should link out to at least one other blog post on your website. I try to use the default rule for myself of one internal link per 1000 words, at minimum. Internal links don’t matter to Google as much as external links, but they do matter. I actually wrote an entire post on internal links here if you want to read more.
And that’s pretty much it!
No, seriously, you just learned exactly how you can start getting more search engine traffic on your blog, so pat yourself on the back and go start writing (or check out this post first if you have having a hard time with writing and want to write better blog posts). 🙂
Of course, this isn’t the end of the story. If you want to learn more about search engine optimization at an advanced level, here are a few resources I recommend:
- Moz Blog – Moz actually makes an awesome SEO tool if you can afford it and really want to double down on your search engine traffic. However, even if you don’t want to invest any money right now, this company’s blog is pretty much the best out there for search engine optimization information. HIGHLY recommended, especially if this post was a little to 101-level for you.
- Backlinko – Brian is seriously the go-to guy if you want to get more links to your blog posts, which I definitely recommend, since this is one of the cornerstones of ranking well on search engines. His entire blog is filled with awesome information, but I specifically like The Definitive Guide to Link Building. You can read it online or download the PDF version.
- SEO for Idiots – This is another great post for beginners, but it goes a little broader than my post, which is mostly about keyword research. It’s a great follow-up resource.
Also, I wanted to mention that if you are looking to drive traffic beyond search, a really great resource is 21 Strategies I Used to Increase My Monthly Page Views from 17k to 400k+ in 10 Months – I’m an affiliate for this ebook, and also purchased it myself. It is packed with great advice!
And now, I want to know: What questions do you have about SEO or keyword research specifically? I’d love to answer them, so leave a comment!
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