How to Choose Your Keyword Phrase

Target One Phrase Per Page

Google search engine page with search results displayed on a computer monitor
Google search engine page with search results displayed on a computer monitor. Oleksiy Maksymenko/Getty Images

Choosing the keyword phrase you want to optimize for on a Web page can be challenging. There are so many keywords out there and it can be very difficult to choose the right phrase so that you can rank high enough to get noticed. But if you treat each Web page on your site as a new opportunity to optimize for a different phrase (even if it's only slightly different), you can enlarge your net and catch more customers in it.

First Think About Your Possible Keyword Phrases

I like to think of the most generic keyword phrases for my page as possible first. This helps me to find good phrases and keeps my options open. I almost never use the phrases I first come up with, as they are usually too competitive for me to consider for a new website or page. These are just to get started.

So, if I were going to come up with some keyword phrases for an article on 3-day eventing with thoroughbred horses, I might list:

  • horses
  • riding
  • horseback riding
  • 3-day eventing
  • dressage
  • thoroughbreds

Targeting the phrase "horseback riding" is very tempting, as it's a very general description of what the article will be about. But according to Google Keyword Tool, it gets an average search volume of 550,000. This might also make it tempting, but unless I have a year and around $50,000 to spend on optimizing for that phrase, it will be very hard to rank in the top 10.

Continue listing keyword phrases that might work by looking at the article in question. What words are used in the headlines? the title? the links? If the article is already live, run it through a keyword density analyzer to find out what phrases already appear a lot in the document.

Then think about your location.

Does it matter in relation to the page you're trying to optimize for? For example, if my article is just about eventing in general, having locations in my keyword phrase might not matter. But if the article is about an event in Washington State then including the location in my keyword phrase could be critical. If you are planning on building out an entire encyclopedia of an event on Thoroughbreds in the United States, then you should write a page targeting each location specifically. Don't try to target multiple locations with one page.

Finally, look at competitors, what keywords do they use for similar articles? You can run their pages through the keyword density analyzers as well.

Your list should be pretty long now, with both high-level terms that would be hard to optimize for as well as specific phrases that might not get a lot of search traffic.

Choosing Between the Phrases

Once you have a nice long list of potential keyword phrases, you need to decide which one you want to focus on for this page. It can be tempting, as I said above, to pick the most popular keyword phrase and optimize for that. But unless your site already has a Google PageRank of 9 or 10, it will be very hard for you to rank high enough in the results to matter.

A better strategy for most small businesses is to focus on keyword phrases that get some search volume but aren't terribly competitive. So, look at your list, and choose a few of the phrases that appeal to you or that already appear on the page and load them into some keyword research tools like:

Don't forget to test both plural and singular forms of your phrases.

Look for phrases that get at least 100 searches per month, preferably closer to 1000. I decided to test "eventing thoroughbreds" because that's the primary topic of the article, and Google gave me 4 synonyms: thoroughbred eventing, thoroughbred eventer, event thoroughbred, and eventing thoroughbreds. The phrase I thought of was the 2nd least popular. "Thoroughbred eventing" has a global monthly search volume of 170.

This is somewhat low, but it means that I have a much better chance of getting into the top 10 with that targeted phrase. So that's what I've decided to focus the page on.

Don't Forget to Test

Once you've chosen your target phrase, you need to make sure it's on the page in the meta title, meta keywords, meta description, h1, h2, and h3 headlines (and h4-h6, if you have them), the first paragraph of text in the HTML, in link text, in alternate text for images, and scattered throughout the rest of the text on the page.

Then, you post the updated article and wait. I like to wait about a month. Then I start looking for that page in the results of Google. I search for my keyword phrase and see where it ends up in the rankings.

Once you rank well for the lower volume search terms, you can start writing pages to target higher volume phrases.