Visibility 101 : Keyword Selection

Keyword selection is arguably the most important part of any SEO strategy. Many SEO companies, however, get it terribly wrong. The most common thing that happens is this: a company hires an SEO firm, the SEO firm selects 20 keywords relevant to the business, and supplies monthly reports showing the ranking increase. A year later… there is no measurable growth in traffic, conversions, or customers. What went wrong? They targeted the wrong keywords.

Thorough keyword research looks at the search volume, relevancy, competition, and intent.

Search Volume

Search volume is the number of times a keyword is searched for by actual search engine users. The leading keyword research tool, Google AdWords keyword tool, specifies a global search volume and a local search volume.

Global search volume is the monthly average number of times a term is searched for globally over 12 months. Local search volume specifies the 12 month average of the number of times a keyword is searched for according to a set location, language, or device. (You can specify each in Google AdWords)


Relevancy refers to whether or not a keyword or phrase pertains to what a business offers. When generating a list of keywords use synonyms and try to think of every possible way people would look for a particular business. The biggest mistake people make when selecting relevant terms is using a term that is common within the industry but isn’t common to the target audience.


Competition is a measure of the number of sites competing for the coveted spots in the SERP. There are a few ways to determine the competition. First, search for the term in Google and note the number of results that come up. The competition for the search query below would be 22 million.

Plastic Surgeon Google SearchFor a more targeted number add the search operator “intitle:” to the keyword. This shows only the sites that use the keyword in the title. It is safe to assume that this represents the number of sites optimizing for a term. There are 136,000 websites that use the term “plastic surgeon” in the title tag.

Plastic Surgeon intitle: Search Query
Search for a keyword with the intitle: to return only results with keyword in the title


Searcher intent is important to consider, as the more targeted your content is to the search engine users original intent the better. The goal of SEO isn’t to just rank for a keyword, but to convert the increased ranking into measurable success. When selecting keywords, consider the intent behind the search term: is this a searcher you want on your site? Intent is extremely more important when selecting content with keywords.

Local or National?

According to recent research, the majority of search engine users don’t add location modifiers to their search terms. Specifically, 75% of the time consumers don’t use a local modifier. When users do add modifiers, it is because they didn’t find what they were looking for with the broader search term.

Google naturally tailors all search results to a person’s location. So when I type in “breast augmentation” from a computer in Beverly Hills, I will see local results mixed with national results. The best national and local SEO strategies focus less on geo-optimzing for every term and more on optimizing the site for root terms, then creating a strong association with the business location through link building, social media, and local directories.

It is very common in local search for business owners to have an ideal keyword, usually their location plus business. For instance a plumber in san diego would want to rank for “plumber san diego” or a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills will want to rank for “plastic surgeon beverly hills” or “plastic surgeon 90210”. The problem, if there isn’t any search volume for the ideal keyword then there won’t be a return on the visibility investment.

There are times when a company will want to rank for low volume, highly relevant terms that bring some other value to the business. Usually, this is part of a branding strategy. In the long run business owners are much happier ranking for fewer keywords that convert better than for hundreds of keywords that can’t be attributed to an increase in business volume.

The number of keywords targeted depends on the goals and size of the website.

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