In the past, when I talked with business owners about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), I used to get the glazed-over look within about 30 seconds. I’ve learned that most people don’t care about how the SEO sausage is made, they just want people to be able to find their business website on Google, Bing, or Yahoo.

Nowadays, I spare them most of the gory details of SEO, except for one incredibly important piece. It is paramount that every business owner understands this one primary piece of the SEO puzzle: keyword targeting.

What is keyword targeting?

When someone searches for new shoes, they typically go to their favorite search engine and type in a phrase related to what they’re looking for; as an example, let’s say you’re a jogger on the hunt for new “running shoes.” If a shoe business that specializes in ankle-supporting, subtly stylish, and durable running shoes wants a person like you to find its products, then its website should target the keyword phrase “running shoes.” But if you’re the owner of a shoe business, how do you know what keyword phrase will help lure customers to your website? The process of identifying the best possible keyword to target is called keyword research.

What is keyword research?

According to Moz, the top authority in SEO: “Keyword research is one of the most important, valuable, and high return activities in the search marketing field. Ranking for the right keywords can make or break your website. By researching your market’s keyword demand, you can not only learn which terms and phrases to target with SEO, but also learn more about your customers as a whole.

The process of finding the right keywords isn’t an art or a science. It just takes a little technical knowledge of how search engines work, how people interact with search engines, and an understanding of your business goals (or, in my case, a client’s business goals). With a little persistence and curiosity, anyone can learn the basics of keyword research — but if you keep reading, I’ll give you a head start.

How do you find the right keywords to target?

Thankfully, the work of keyword research is aided by two excellent tools that Google provides. The first tool is Google’s own search page ( Google’s search page provides search suggestions as you type, in real time. This is a useful tool to increase your understanding of how Google perceives the topic you might be targeting. You can see an example of how Google perceives the topic of “running shoes” in the adjacent screenshot — notice how the search terms move from broad and general to hyper-specific.

Google offers suggestions when you search for a keyword.
In this image, you can see Google’s suggested search options for “running shoes”.

The second tool is Google’s Keyword Planner Tool, which is primarily built for pay-per-click advertisers, but is quite helpful in gaining greater insight into the number of searches performed each month for the keywords you’re targeting, receiving further suggestions for related or peripheral keywords, and determining the amount of competition in the search space for that keyword (or, in other words, how many of your competitors are paying to draw results from the same search phrase). Google has provided a great video tutorial on how to use the Keyword Planner Tool. If you have five minutes to spare, I guarantee this video will be worth the watch.

What makes a good keyword target?

The best keyword targets are three words or longer (called a long-tail keyword), specific to the product or service you’re selling, and paired with two dozen related or peripheral keywords (called a keyword group). I’ll use an example to better illustrate this point.

A car dealership wants to sell more new cars. They could target a keyword like “new cars,” but someone typing in “new cars” at might be searching for consumer research on new cars, conducting research on the latest car technology, or just browsing what’s new in the market. A better keyword target would be something like “new Jeep Wrangler” or “new Honda minivan.” Increasing the specificity of the keyword target yields higher quality traffic, higher conversion rates (because you’re offering exactly what customers are looking for), and a clearer idea of how to serve the customers who find their way to your site.

Where should you use your keyword target?

Once you’ve identified your keyword target (and the group of peripheral keywords), it’s time to implement those keywords into your website. Incorporate those keywords into your website copy, HTML structure, URLs, image captions, and all meta content like page titles and descriptions. It’s also worth considering running a low-level pay-per-click campaign based on your keyword target to complement your search engine optimization efforts.

If you find yourself feeling behind the curve on this topic, fear not. Most search engine optimization professionals will walk you through the process of identifying an effective keyword target and even help you implement that strategy on your website. If you don’t know who to call for that guidance, consider getting in touch with us at Wingard Creative. We love helping business owners dominate their online search competition.