Our thanks to Rose Jenkins, JB Media Institute alumnae, for this guest post on choosing the right keywords.

4 Tips for Choosing the Right Keywords

How do you know which keywords will unlock the doors to increased search traffic? When people want to find something, they go to Google or another search engine and type in a few words about what they’re looking for. You want those keywords to lead to your website if they’re looking for what you have to offer. To make that happen, you need to optimize your site using the right target search terms.

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Your target keywords must meet four criteria — significant search volume, high relevance, strong conversion value, and reasonable competition. If any of these are missing, your SEO is likely to fizzle. So, it’s important to make sure your target search terms have what it takes to bring the people you want to reach to your website, including:

  1. Search volume: There’s no point in optimizing for terms that no one is searching for. Do your research to find keywords that get a significant amount of searches.
  2. Relevance: Your target keywords should be a great match for what you offer. Your goal is to connect with the people who are looking for you.
  3. Conversion value: Choose terms that are likely to lead to actual results — such as sales or engagement — not just curious browsing.
  4. Competition: Be realistic. Target keywords that you can reasonably hope to rank for at the top of Google results once you’ve optimized your website.

Doing Your Homework: Keyword Research

Choosing the right keywords can be a daunting task! If you’ve done your research, you probably have hundreds of potential keywords to choose from, accompanied by mind-boggling amounts of data. (And if you skipped keyword research, then your target keywords are just a wish list. While you’re at it, ask for a pony!)

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First, zero in on the important data. Fortunately, you can get this information for free using Google’s Keyword Planner. The most important keyword data for your organic search strategy are the monthly search volume and the competition score. If you’re working on a Google Ads strategy, the suggested bid for ad space is important, as well.

  • Monthly search volume is the average number of times people search for a keyword phrase every month. (The example below uses monthly search volumes in the U.S., but you can set it to the geography of your choice.)
  •  Competition score gauges how much competition there is for Google ad space for this term, from 0 (lowest) to 1 (highest). Note: competition for Google ads isn’t necessarily the same as competition for organic search. Supplement the competition score by Googling the keyword phrase. Are there already pages full of high-quality results — or do you think you could take them?
  • Suggested bid is an estimate of how much you would need to pay, on a cost-per-click basis, for Google ads for this term.

Once you have this data, you’re ready to select your target keywords, so you can connect with the people who are looking for you!

A Keyword Selection Example

A blacksmith shop in North Carolina does a significant amount of its business selling hand-forged iron knives made from railroad spikes. Frequently, customers buy these knives in sets as wedding favors for groomsmen. The blacksmith shop commissioned keyword research to find the best SEO search terms to use to grow their business.

Here’s a sampling of data on potential search terms from their keyword research. From this list, which terms do you think match all four criteria: search volume, relevance, conversion value, and competition?


While it may seem tempting to target the terms with the highest search volumes — “gifts for men” and “groomsmen gifts” — these terms are so broad that the shop’s website isn’t likely to rank anywhere near the top of Google results. A site with a broader selection of gifts for men or groomsmen would be more relevant. And the competition for those terms is high.

“Iron gifts” is more promising because it’s a close match with their products. “Iron gifts for him” is even more promising since their product line is geared toward men. Although these terms have lower search volumes, they are good SEO targets because they are highly relevant — and have high conversion values. There’s a good chance they will lead to sales.

“How to make a railroad spike knife,” on the other hand, isn’t worth targeting because it’s not likely to lead to sales.

Generally, for priority keywords, choose terms that get at least 30 searches per month. So, “twisted railroad spike knife” would not be a top priority, with only 10 searches per month. (Since the blacksmith shop does make twisted railroad spike knives, it would make sense to use this keyword phrase in that product description.)

A clear winner from this list is “railroad spike knife.” It gets a large amount of search volume — 2,900 searches per month. It’s an exact match for the blacksmiths’ product. And it’s highly likely to lead to sales. Although competition for the term is high, it’s worth the effort to rank for this keyword with a well-optimized site.

Balancing Act

While you should look for keywords that match all four criteria, it’s rare to find one that’s outstanding in every way. Don’t pin all your hopes on discovering some magic phrase that gets huge amounts of searches and describes you exactly, from people ready to spring into action, with no one else targeting it.

In real life, you evaluate all four criteria and choose keywords that, on balance, can lead to SEO success. Like the blacksmith who decided to target a phrase with high competition, you might choose a keyword that is less impressive by one or two criteria if it’s very strong by others.

About the Author:

Rose Jenkins is a freelance writer and online marketing consultant based in Asheville, NC. She is passionate about website strategies that engage new audiences and storytelling that changes outcomes. Rose graduated from the first J.B. Media Institute in 2013 and currently assists J.B. Media with SEO research and strategy. Learn more at rosejconsulting.com.

Want to learn more about choosing the right keywords, SEO strategies, and other keys to digital marketing? The digital marketing training classes available through the JB Media Institute are now available in Asheville and online. Contact us for details on upcoming sessions.