Whether you’re starting with a new, fresh-out-of-the-box website, or you’re building onto years of SEO history, it can be difficult to know which keywords to target to reach your goals. As an SEO, I’ve talked to many clients that don’t really know where to start when it comes to keyword strategy. In this article, I’m going to go over a few valuable tips I use that are designed to help you choose a keyword strategy that can yield the strongest potential outcomes and growth over time.
1) Rank for Branded Keywords
The first step of your keyword strategy should be to start ranking for branded keywords, especially if you’re just getting started with SEO or you’re working with a brand new website or company. Branded keywords are any terms that include your company’s name, such as “haircut prices at Sally’s Salon”.
Ranking for branded queries may involve little to no effort since, by default, search results usually show the company’s page at the top. If you are not ranking well for these types of terms, there may be a brand awareness issue that you’ll need to resolve. Some steps to improve rankings for branded keywords include:
- Submitting your business information to Google My Business, Bing, Yelp, and as many other citations as possible
- Enhancing your reputation by building and responding to online reviews
- Being active on social media
- Adding structured data markup to describe your business
- Updating your homepage (it tends to send the strongest brand signals)
- Utilizing paid ads and traditional marketing tactics to spread the word about your company and its products
2) Get the Ball Rolling with Long-Tail Phrases
Once you’ve got branded keyword rankings in the bag, the next step is to focus on long-tail keyword phrases. These are usually less competitive and very specific, but don’t let the lower search volumes scare you. Targeting these terms are great because they drive more qualified traffic to your site than broader terms and build SEO equity.
Local businesses often add locations to keywords and optimize for phrases like “hair salons in Raleigh, NC”. I recommend researching different locality variations. Since search results vary by geographical location, it is beneficial to see what the search results in your target area look like. Here are some free tools that can help with this:
Even if you aren’t a local company, there are other types of long-tail keywords you can utilize. Take advantage of the niche products or services you offer and add quality content to their site pages. Adding descriptive content to these specific topics and pages is a great way to optimize for more long-tail phrases. Companies in common industries can still find ways to differentiate themselves, and their target keywords, from the competition.
For example, Sally’s Hair Salon specializes in bridal updos, and therefore can optimize for long-tail phrases like “wedding hair styling salon” or “bridal-party updo service.”
Full Questions as Keywords
In cases where you are trying to rank nationally and you don’t necessarily offer a niche product or service, you can still consider targeting full-question searches. In fact, full question searches can be an excellent long-tail keyword target for pretty much any type of business. Full question queries like “Do most brides wear their hair up or down?”, often have an answer box rich snippet featured at the top of search results. This prominent location tends to attract a lot of clicks.
Targeting answer box snippets is also a way to optimize for voice search because the answer box is what virtual assistants like Siri and Cortona often reference when they provide an answer. So even though the query “Do most brides wear their hair up or down?” is quite long and probably has a low search volume, it can still help drive qualified traffic to the site.
While you are researching question keywords to target, make sure to keep an eye out for “people also ask” snippets on Google’s result pages. Google’s own data populates the questions in these snippets, so they tend to be great queries to create content around and optimize for.
A blog post is often the most natural place for tangentially related questions or topics that simply require more detailed explanation. If there are a lot of common questions that are directly related to your business, an FAQ page might be best for that type of content.
3) Driving Traffic with Mid-Length Keyword Topics
If your website already has some equity built up and is ranking well for branded and long-tail terms, your next target should be mid-length keywords. These are often the “bread-and-butter” terms that drive traffic to the important product and service pages of the site. If you’ve hired one, an SEO agency will probably spend most of its time on these types of keywords because they are so crucial.
For a hair salon, here are some examples of possible mid-length keywords:
- Professional hair styling
- Men’s hair salon
- Hair color services
- Deep-conditioning treatments
- Special occasion hair salon
For the best results, you should have a separate page to target each of your major service categories. If you notice a keyword topic has a significant search volume, like “professional hair extensions” for example, it would be ideal to create a dedicated page for that topic. This is a better strategy than simply listing “hair extensions” amongst all of your other services on a general services page. Here’s the bottom line: if you want to rank well for a topic, you need dedicated content (or a dedicated page) on that topic.
4) Dominating with Luxury Terms
If your site is already killing it in the search results for long-tail and mid-length keywords, it may be time to consider targeting luxury keywords. Luxury keywords are the nice-to-have terms that are usually very short and broad. They often have the largest search volumes and are attractive targets for business owners.
The downside to these terms is that they are extremely competitive and may not have the correct searcher intent. For example, a luxury term for a hair salon might be “haircuts” or just “hair”. These are very ambiguous terms that are searched for many different reasons. Someone searching “hair” may actually be looking for Hair the musical, rather than a hair salon.
Even though you should proceed with caution when targeting these keywords, they can be very lucrative if done successfully. A good way to tell if and how to optimize for a luxury term is to Google the keyword yourself and analyze the SERP (search engine results page). Are the top ranking pages coming from the same type of business as you? If so, review the top performers to determine how their content differs from yours. This can give you some great insight into what you need to do to improve your visibility.
No matter where you are in the SEO process, it is important to take a step back and make sure you are targeting the best type of keywords for your particular situation. It may be tempting to dive right in and aim for the luxury terms right off the bat, but in certain cases this could result in a lot of wasted time. In these instances, you will have more success taking the long-road and building your visibility one keyword layer at a time.