Choosing Keywords

Written by Fraser McCulloch. Last Updated 26th March 2022

Want to get more search engine traffic? Then choose the right keywords for your website.

Step 1: Choose keywords based on life cycle

The keywords you choose will depend on the maturity and domain authority of your website.

For example, if you’re launching a new website, it will take a long time to rank for highly competitive keywords.

And the keyword phrases you choose when you’re growing, stagnant or in decline will be different.

How to choose the RIGHT keywords

Launch – the Spaghetti Strategy

When you are doing keyword research for a brand new website, every keyword will be difficult to rank for because your new website needs to establish authority with Google.

So it would help if you used The Spaghetti Strategy:

  • Pick popular keywords relevant to your target market
  • Create a piece of content for every page to get fast rankings
  • See which pages and keywords stick
  • Look at your current rankings and progressively optimise those keywords using Search Console data

The SEO Spaghetti Strategy is where you research and pick different keywords and topics related to your business, throw up pages to get them ranked, and see which ones stick and get ranked well.
Then you look at your rankings and progressively optimise those keywords using Search Console data.

Growth – choose keywords with high click volume and link intent

For a growing website, your keyword research strategy should be to aim for high monthly search volume and click volume as this strategy will fuel your traffic.

However, you might not have the same domain authority as the strongest competitor in your industry so you should also choose keywords with link intent.

Link intent keywords are those where others in your industry have a history of linking; this strategy will help you boost your domain authority and increase the rankings of more difficult keywords.

Maturity – target any level of competition and commercial intent keywords

A mature website with a strong domain rating and high-quality links should focusing on targeting commercial keywords with buying intent.

Decline – improve existing keyword positions or keyword declines

As the website has matured or is in decline, your strategy should be to look for keywords that dropped out of page 1.

Step 2: Choose a seed keyword (or keyphrase)

Knowing the keyword research process from the previous step, the next step is to start with a seed keyword.

The Boston Matrix of keywords

My rule of thumb has always been to target the easiest to rank keywords with the highest traffic potential.

Write down a list of your services or products and the category of business you operate in.

Google Search Console

I’m not fond of using non-SEO tools such as Keyword Planner or Google Trends to build up keyword lists for a new website.

For growing, mature and declining websites Search Console will display the top 1000 search queries you currently rank for along with impressions (similar to search volume), position and CTR.

For a new website, where you have no keyword data, the best keyword research tool is Ahrefs.

Data Studio Bubble Chart

I’ve created a Data Studio report to reveal keyword searches that a website ranks for on pages 1, 2 and 3.

Simply hover over a large bubble to see the name of the query, impressions and average position.

Choose keywords with the biggest bubble at the bottom of page 1 and the top of page 2.

Use Google Images

Go to Google, enter any one of your focus keyphrases and select the images tab.

Look at how it displays related keywords.

Or let’s say you’re an accountant.

You might have to vary the keyword; start with accountancy and you will find related phrases such as tax, bookkeeping, finance, ledger.

I clicked ledger and found words such as ledger accounting, general ledger, accounts payable, balance sheet, accounts receivable, cash accounting.

Shoulder topics

Another tactic to choose keywords that I like to use before starting any research is to put my target keyword or service into a tool called

You’ll see related terms to your focus keyword using this tool as per the image below.

Don’t choose a search query, choose a page

I have developed a tool to choose a page instead of choosing a keyword.

There is a correlation between average position and average click-through rate for a page.

Choose any page just above the trendline to improve.

Download Guide : How to choose the RIGHT keywords

Step 3: Filter keyword list

Let’s say you generated an initial list of relevant keywords, here are a few filtering techniques to apply in either Ahrefs or Google Sheets.

Buyers journey

You can filter your list of terms by modifiers to determine which stage of the buyer’s journey they fall into.

Problem stage modifiers (at the awareness stage)

You might wish to choose keywords where people have a problem they seek to solve.

So you’d filter your keyword list with these modifiers.

how, what, and, for, with, where, when, for, with, and, issue, fix, improve, increase, reduce, remove, lower, grow

Information stage modifiers

In my research, the types of keywords that occur at the informational search stage are searching for brand, service and product information.

So filter your list with these modifiers to find an informational keyword.

example, guide, learn, tutorial, video, calculator, best, top, bespoke, service, color, colour

Evaluation of alternatives modifiers

Your potential customers might be at the stage of comparing alternative products or services so choosing keywords that contain these modifiers may be the right decision.

review, compare, comparison, vs, versus, alternative, similar, or

Purchase decision stage modifiers

And finally, to find transactional keywords you can filter your keyword list by purchase decision modifiers;

Buy, nearest, cheap, dimensions, size, shop, store, discount, coupon, deal, sale, eBay, Amazon, offer

You can easily filter Ahrefs and any spreadsheet with any of these keyword modifiers.

Filter by cost per click

I’m currently doing keyword research for a home improvement company that’s just starting out online.

When I filter keywords by cost per click I can see search terms that have the greatest commercial value.

The flip side is to find search terms with the lowest cost per click and the highest search volume.

Low competition keywords

In this article, I wrote a guide to find low competition keywords with high search volume.

Targeting low competition or low keyword difficulty search terms is a great SEO strategy for new websites however these search terms tend to have less commercial intent and are further up the funnel.

Use Parent Topic for a topic cluster

Many SEO experts recommend building a topic cluster or hub on your website.

You start with a target keyword and build a bunch of pages all grouped together about the same subject.

I have a keyword hub – 19 pages to teach people about this topic.

Whilst there are many tools on the market, using Ahrefs parent topic filter is the easiest and fastest way to identify and choose keywords to build a cluster or hub.

Long Tail Keywords – Console – Bubble

Earlier I mentioned The Spaghetti Strategy of throwing up pages to a new website then using Search Console to refine those pages.

Search Console is fantastic at identifying long-tail keywords that many popular paid research tools find.

A quick recap on head-tail and long-tail keywords.

The head-tail keyword may be “loft conversion”.

The long tail could be “live in bungalow how much does basic loft conversion cost”.

Choose a keyword where there is potential to earn additional traffic to your website.

Newly discovered, trending or questions people ask

Since people use a search engine to find answers, choosing to target common questions makes sense.

You can find the questions you already rank for in Search Console and in Ahrefs.

Ahrefs have a newly discovered keyword tool; although I seldom use it.

Download Guide : How to choose the RIGHT keywords

Step 4: Identify Search Volume and Search Traffic

I have developed my own tool for choosing keywords and estimating the organic traffic potential.

This tool was built around keywords chosen with Ahrefs.

You export your keyword list and, after importing it into a spreadsheet, the average traffic to the top pages is shown alongside a bar chart.

When you have 500 keyword ideas to choose from you can prioritise simply by looking at the keyword bar chart.

If you have a list of data from Search Console then you will need to calculate the click-through rate by position with the current impressions.

Step 5: Understanding keyword intent and search intent

One of the mistakes I used to make with keyword research was to just find a good keyword with good clicks and low difficulty.

I created the content but it never seemed to rank well.

Was the problem the level of competition or my writing ability?

The core of my keyword strategy is to now fully understand user intent.

Let’s say the keyword you are targeting is “drink cabinet”.

The search intent is obvious; the user looking for a drink cabinet.

User intent is the understanding of the type of content on your page the user wants.

Do they want to buy, are they looking for a custom drink cabinet, are they looking for a list of drink cabinet ideas?

Knowledge of user intent will not only ensure you choose the right keywords but understand what the target customer wants, the correct content format and what written content to produce.

Search the keyword

Eg: dining table and chairs set

What kind of pages do you see ranking?

If you’re not sure, click on a few of the top results.

I see e-commerce category pages

Select the User Intent

Create a spreadsheet to store your keyword.

Create a user intent column with options for each type of intent.

Download Guide : How to choose the RIGHT keywords

Step 6: Select correct content format

One of my friends is a chartered accountant and when I researched opportunities for his website, I simply gave him a click forecast of important keywords and asked him to choose yes or no.

No messing about; a simple yes or no answer then onto producing the content.

Add to Website Plan

Your job is to scroll down the list of keywords and choose Yes or No from the Add to Website Plan for each keyword.

If you are doing this work for a client, then give them editor access to this Click Forecasting Template and the instructions to select Yes or No in the Add to Website Plan column.

To share Click Forecasting Template.

  • Click Share in the top of Google Sheets
  • Click Change underneath Get Link
  • Click the arrow next to Viewer and change to Editor
  • Click Copy Link and Done
  • Then email the link to the client

Write out page titles

After you’ve added the keyword to the website plan you can write out a page title.

It’s not essential at this stage but helps a client understand the page better.

Finalise your list of keywords

You should now have a list of keywords with the Yes option selected in your Add to Website Plan.

Count the Average Traffic for those keywords.

Ideally, that number should be 10 times greater than the 1000 clicks ie: 10,000.

Step 7: Choose pages or posts for target audience / potential customers

Once you’ve chosen pages for your potential customers now you can begin the content creation process and write page titles, description tags and a content outline for each page or blog post.

Give the brief to your writer so you can provide written content to match the user queries.

Yes, this is hard work.

But I believe that choosing the right keywords with these strategies can help you achieve your SEO goals.