Hey there, Ben here! That nerdy redhead Katie talked about yesterday and the other half of Two Wandering Soles. Today I’m going to chat about SEO (search engine optimization) and how this will be the driving force behind your blog and (more importantly) your revenue.
Understanding SEO is so important because you will grow at a much faster rate than you would if you ignore the concept altogether. Optimizing your articles for SEO will give you the opportunity to reach many, many more people and spread your unique experience and knowledge.
In the most rudimentary sense, SEO breaks down to two things. Yep, the whole internet basically revolves around these two topics: keywords and links.
“It can’t be that hard, right? It’s just two things.”
There are thousands of websites, coaches, books, and videos out there trying to break down these two concepts. And damn, they can get pretty complex.
Tomorrow’s lesson is going to be all about how to get quality links back to your site to start gaining authority and traffic. And yes, there are many other pieces to having a robust SEO strategy, but if you understand keywords and links you’ll have a really good start.
Today, I’m going to focus on how you can find the keywords that you can start ranking for. Plus, I’ll break down where to put those keywords on your site in order to give your articles the best chance of skyrocketing to the top of Google searches.
Okay, let’s start with the basics…
What are Keywords?
Keywords are the phrases people put into Google searches to find information, articles or videos.
You probably do this everyday. “things to do in X” ; “how to get from A to B” ; “what do I need to go back-country camping?” ; “why does Donald Duck not wear pants?” ; “happy cat videos”…
When blogging, you want people to come and visit your site and read your articles. One way to get eyeballs on your side is to target specific keywords using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques.
What is SEO?
In the most basic sense, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the method of increasing traffic to your website by creating content with the search engine in mind. There are many things search engines like Google use in determining whether or not to rank your website. Here are just a handful of them:
optimizing site speed
using headings properly
backlinks and inbound links
But for the purpose of today’s lesson, we’re focusing on:
using targeted keywords in your articles
When you know how to select a good keyword and use it properly, you’ll have a much higher change of ranking near the top of search results on Grandpa Google. This is essentially Google’s way of saying you are an expert on that keyword or phrase and deserve for people to find your website.
Okay, let’s get nerdy for a sec…
There are two forms of SEO: On-Page SEO and Off-page SEO.
On-Page SEO is optimizing your site so the correct keywords are in the best places for search engines to find. It also includes using the correct internal linking structure to boost pages so they do better on Search Engine Results Pages (SERP).
Off-Page SEO is obtaining quality backlinks from high ranking sources acting as a signal to Google that your page has street cred and should be higher on SERPs.
SEO is such a broad and complex topic that we can’t cover everything today. But don’t worry; today’s lesson is diving deep into keyword research. We’re teaching you how and where to find keywords that you can rank for, even if you’re just starting out.
Tomorrow, we’ll dive deep into some Off-Page SEO techniques we use to get quality backlinks to our site that can use that same day.
How to find Keywords for Free
If you don’t have any money to spend on your website right now, don’t worry. There are two really good ways to do keyword research without spending a penny!
Here are two tools we like:
Google Keyword Planner
These are both really good tools if you’re just getting started, and we’re going over how to use them below. However, as soon as you have a little bit of cashflow to invest in your website, one of the first things we’d suggest putting your money toward is a paid keyword tool because it offers a lot more information and is, in our opinion, well worth the investment. (More on that below.)
But back to the free tools… I’ll walk you through the process to find keywords that are right for you.
Google Keyword Planner
Google Keyword Planner (GKP) is used within the Google Adsense platform, so the first thing you need to do is create an account and link it to your website. You don’t need to pay anything to get started which is really nice.
Once signed up, it’s time to get started. Enter the portal, go to the top navigation and click Tools (wrench symbol) -> Planning -> Keyword Planner.
Click Find New Keywords and enter the keyword you’re thinking about using for your next article. Let’s use the example “things to do in California” and then click Get Started.
On the results page, first check the top of the page and make sure you are targeting the correct Location and Languages.
The first table you see is sorted by relevance to the keyword you put into the search bar. Below your keyword phrase are other types of wording for you keyword that could work as well. This is kind of a brainstorming session to see other variations of what people search.
But what is the best keyword phrase that will help you rank?
There are two other major columns that help you out in this analysis: Avg. Monthly Searches and Competition. The goal is to find a keyword that has a decent Average Monthly Searches but is low competition of other websites. If you are starting out, aim for keywords with searches of 100-1K or 1K-10K monthly searches with a low competition.
The Average Monthly Searches have different buckets that increase by the power of 10. For example: 10-100, 100-1K, 1K-10K, 10K-100K, etc. This can be a little misleading because there is a major difference between 1K-10K vs 10K-100K monthly searches, even within the same bucket there is a large discrepancy. Because a keyword with 12K monthly searches and 88K monthly searches are completely different, yet they are in the same bucket.
The competition rating is a bit ambiguous too because there are only three categories: Low, Medium and High.
Simply hearing the keyword of “things to do in California”, you know that it will be a very hard keyword phrase to rank for, however, GKP says it is Low competition. But if you actually Google the phrase, you’ll see big players like TripAdvisor, Atlas Obscura, TripSavvy, and Viator, verifying that it will be difficult to rank for.
For this reason, I have a hard time trusting the output Google Keyword Planner gives sometimes, and that is why it’s a free product.
Tip: You can also click on the Grouped Ideas on the sidebar and this will give you even more ideas of keywords that are grouped together or for long tail keywords.
Not all keywords are equal – there are some you will easily rank for because there’s not much competition out there, and for others, like “packing list” there are thousands of other articles written by established bloggers. Someday you might be able to rank, but now it will be tough. You should prioritize writing articles that you can actually rank for!
Especially when starting out you’ll want to target long tail keywords for your articles. Long Tail Keywords (LTK) are phases consisting of 3 or 4 or more keywords that target a specific phrase. The search volume for LTKs is usually low but it will be easier to rank for because the competition is low as well.
Takeaways: Google Keyword Planner
- Use Google Keyword Planner to get more ideas for different Keywords
- Use the Grouped Ideas to find long tail keywords
- Take the data you get from GKP with a grain of salt because they are very misleading and ambiguous because they want you to pay for their ads to gain traffic.
Neil Patel (a very well known SEO Guru) has developed his own free keyword planner called Ubersuggest. It does basically the same thing as GKP but gives you an extra layer of information. For instance, it shows you the search volume down to the hundreds and ranks SEO Difficulty on a numerical basis.
Using that same keyword, “things to do in California”, Ubersuggest shows it has 22,200 monthly searches in the US and has a difficulty of 17 out of a 100, which seems fairly easy for a difficult keyword. Ubersuggest is better than Google Keyword Planner for being more accurate on the monthly searches, but I still don’t trust the SEO difficulty.
Neil Patel has a bunch of other handy tools that are worthwhile to explore, like Keyword Ideas and a Traffic Analyzer which allows you to peek at your competition’s keywords and traffic.
- Ubersuggest is slightly better than GKP because it gives you more accurate search traffic estimate.
- Take caution when trusting the difficulty level on Ubersuggest.
- Neil Patel offers plenty of other tools you can use for keyword research and competitor analysis.
Paid Keyword Research Tools
Both Google Keyword Planner and Ubersuggest are free and and will give you a surface level assessment of how a keyword will do on your site. But for a deeper, more robust way to do keyword research, you’ll need to invest in a paid program. There are lots out there: Ahrefs and SEMrush are both very well-known programs.
However, to this day, we personally use KeySearch for all our keyword research, and we rank for more than 40,000 keywords, so I’d say it’s been a good investment!
Honestly, Ahrefs and SEMrush are both great as well, and offer more in-depth information than KeySearch. We’ve tried both on a trial basis, and we decided to stick to KeySearch because it felt more user-friendly and is more affordable (especially on Black Friday if you van wait until then!). Plus, we found that Ahrefs and SEMrush gave more detailed information than we needed for our own purposes.
Our suggestion would be to do a free trial for a few different keyword research platforms and see which one is most intuitive to you.
How to find keywords using Keysearch
KeySearch is commonly used throughout the blogging world, and it’s super easy to use!
I entered that same keyword phrase “things to do in California” into KeySearch and within seconds it provided the monthly search volume, search trends chart for the last year, and a numerical difficulty score saying the keyword phrase is moderate difficulty with a score of 48 (out of 100).
KeySearch also shows you a breakdown of the first SERP (search engine result page) on Google including Domain Authority (DA), number of backlinks and if the keyword is in the Title, Description, and URL for each of the top ten websites.
This information is helpful when trying to determine which websites your article can “beat” in the rankings.
Just by looking at the SERP, you can tell it would be very difficult to rank for this keyword and unless you have a very high-authority website, I would suggest targeting another phrase.
KeySearch even offers suggested keywords below the SERP table that you can look into. Typically these are long-tail keywords that are worth targeting.
Hold up! What’s a long-tail keyword? It is a longer phrase that makes the keyword more specific. For example: “free things to do in California in the winter” vs. “things to do in California”.
Try taking a different keyword from the suggestions and let KeySearch run the analysis on that phrase.
A good rule of thumb is if the difficulty score is within 5 to 10 points of your website’s DA, then you have a decent chance of ranking, making it a good keyword for you.
It’s not exact science, but the more you use the program and familiarize yourself with what type of keywords you rank for, the more you’ll know which keywords to choose and which to pass on.
We use KeySearch to get the data before writing most of our articles. Also, we should mention that while we mostly use it for keyword research, this program has loads of other tools you can use, like performing competitive analysis, a ranking tracker, backlink checker and Youtube ranking research.
How much is KeySearch?
KeySearch is $17 per month or $169 billed annually ($14.08/month). In our opinion, this tool is completely worthwhile. And just like everything else that we’re recommending in this free course, we actually use this program and love it. And now I can’t imagine blogging without it. Honestly, keyword research becomes addicting. I know it sounds crazy, but trust me… when you see how satisfying it is shoot me a message and let me know you’re a fellow keyword research addict!
Other Keyword programs like Ahrefs and SEMrush have more detailed and have a few more tools that are helpful in maintaining a healthy website, but they do come with the price tag of $99/month which is a bit steep if you’re just starting out.
Where do I put my keywords
Now that you have your keywords and know that you have a chance to rank for them, you’ll want to places those keywords in places that Google searches for them on your site.
How keywords are intended is you won’t have to try to use them. When writing articles, you’ll create your articles naturally, providing good content, and you should write in a way that flows organically.
So don’t over think it too much, and DON’T over use the keywords otherwise Google will notice you’re stuffing the article and will lower your rankings for the phrase.
When starting out, it’s good to know the important spots Google looks for the keywords.
On any article, the three most important places to put keywords are in the Title of the article, in the Meta Description (Excerpt), and in the URL. Think about it, these are the three forms of text that Google shows on the SERP, so they want to make sure the keywords or phrases are in these areas.
For additional SEO boosts, put the keyword (or a long-tail version) in the H2 and H3 text on your site. Try to use the keyword within the first three paragraphs in the article and only 2 or 3 more times throughout the rest of the article where it naturally fits. Don’t stuff the article, because Google is smart and will know what you’re up to, you sneaky, sneaky blogger!
Technical Tip: You can include the keyword in the Alt Text of any images so that your images can rank for the same keyword as well.
There is so much more to SEO, but the techniques outlined above are going to help you get started. By following them, you’ll be miles ahead of other blogging newbies who aren’t paying attention to SEO (that was totally us when we started!).
A word of warning about Keyword Research
If you’re in the very beginning stages of starting your website, I’d encourage you to learn about keyword research (as you just did by reading through this lesson). But please don’t place too much weight on it at first.
As a brand new website, you need to start publishing content, building a presence, growing community, and showing up for several months before expecting to grace the first page of Google. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible, but it should not be your sole focus.
I guess my point is, it’s good to know what keywords are and to do some research into what people are searching for and write with this in mind. But don’t stress out about it right away. Most of the super successful bloggers we know started out writing mostly for fun. When they had the presence and authority, then they took the keyword research more seriously.
If you begin with this knowledge about keywords, you’ll have a leg up on us when we first started, that’s for sure!
SEO Keyword Assignment
Now that you have 3 article titles and outlines (from yesterday’s assignment), we’re going to delve into the nitty gritty.
Choose one article from the 3 you picked and determine what the keywords are you want to target. Try using Google Keyword Planner or Ubersuggest and decide which one you like better using. If you are serious about blogging though, we highly recommend KeySearch.
Ask yourself: What are people searching for? Are those keywords you’re targeting at the right level for your website’s authority? What other long tail keywords can you sprinkle in the article, and where in the article should you place them? Take one step further and write the article keeping keywords in mind. (Rinse and repeat!)
Tomorrow’s Lesson: Guest Posts
We’ve already alluded to the fact that getting backlinks (aka links from another website that points to yours) is a really important factor in showing Google that you have authority.
One of the best ways to boost the authority of your site is to get backlinks from other bloggers in your niche. Tomorrow we are going to talk about how to find the right bloggers to write guest posts for and how you write those guest articles to gain traffic to your site.
Things you should know by now from this course:
- Know WHO your audience is, and know how to write for them (Day 1).
- Understand the structure of articles Google likes (Day 2).
- Have a grasp on basic SEO techniques (Day 3).