How To Target Keywords for Search Engine Success

How To Target Keywords

The focus of every Search Engine Optimization effort should be to target a specific set of keywords, but how does a small business owner go about deciding which words and phrases to include? We'll outline what it means to have targeted keywords, how to go about getting them, and where to use them, so that you can make sure that your website, and your web content, is optimal.

What are targeted keywords?

Before we get into how to target and use keywords, we should make sure that we all understand just what targeted keywords are. Targeted keywords are specific phrases that you think your potential customers and visitors might use in a search engine hoping to find a site like yours. Targeted keywords are usually going to be phrases, not individual words.

How do we target keywords?

Now that we know what targeted keywords are, how do we come up some?

Initial List

First, start by making a list of all the words and phrases that apply to your business. This list should include services, products, geographic areas served, target markets and industries, and any other phrases you can think of.

Test Searches

Next, put yourself in your customer's shoes and begin to perform actual Google searches on your starter keyword list. Note the results that you get for each phrase. How many results came up? Were the first page results close to what you would be looking for if you were looking for a business like yours? If not, then think about how you would revise the search and note the new search.


You can usually eliminate single words that are vague and not specific to you and your industry. For instance, for The Social Media Hat, a search on "social media" is too vague. We would want to target "social media news" or "social media marketing."

You can also eliminate your business name. Your website should mention your business name often enough that it will automatically be the first result on any searches, without you actually targeting that phrase.

Use singular words only, no plural, and do not use periods or special characters.

You should now have a list of actual search phrases that your potential customers might use.

Competitive Analysis

Next, go back through the list and do another Google search. This time, look at the number of results again, and also note the other businesses and competition that come up for each keyword phrase. Do you get millions of results? Are there pages and pages of competitors listed? If so, you may want to consider leaving this phrase out of your targeted list. That doesn't mean your site won't come up in searches for this phrase, and that you can't use the phrase within your site; it just means we aren't going to target this phrase, in the hope that by targeted other, less-competitive phrases, our efforts might pay off more.

Taking The Social Media Hat as an example again, "social media company" receives over 2 billion results in a Google search, and is flush with other social media marketing companies. To be competitive, we should refine the search further and target a less competitive keyword phrase.

Prioritize and Trim

Once you've refined your keyword phrases, there's one more pass that you need to take. Your total targeted keyword phrase list should be no more than 200 characters long including spaces and commas. (Tip: Open a Microsoft Word document and type in your targeted keywords as a comma separated list like "web design company, website development company, SEO" and then use the Properties feature to get a quick character count.) If your list is more than 200 characters long, then you should prioritize your keyword phrases and eliminate the least important ones until you get the list trimmed down.

Now, you do not need to forget about all the words and phrases that you've eliminated through this process. Feel free to make note of them and use them throughout your site, but it is the final resulting list that should be the focus of all our efforts going forward.

Where do we use targeted keywords?

Back-End Website Code

First, your website designer should find creative ways to insert your keywords into the back-end code that is scanned by search engine spiders. By "creative" we mean accepted methods that are supported by search engines, not hacks and black hat methods that take advantage of temporary loopholes.

For instance, when creating a new website, we may set up extensive Meta Tags including Keywords, Description, Abstract, Creator and more, each presenting opportunities to use some of your keywords. We also recommend good use of image Title and Alt tags, Title tags for hyperlinks and text menus.

Front-End Website Content

More importantly, your content (the text on the pages within your site) needs to be filled with your keywords. There are three main aspects that search engines take into consideration: Frequency, Prominence and Proximity.

Frequency is simply the number of instances for a given work or phrase on a page. The more often it occurs, the higher the frequency. Search engines believe that the more often you use a phrase, the more important it must be and more applicable and appropriate for their user's search.

Prominence is whether or not a keyword is formatted in a way to make it more important on a page. For instance, when you style a word or phrase to be in bold, it's considered to be more important. You should also use the Title Tags (H1, H2, H3) for page titles and section headings within pages.

Proximity is how close the keyword occurs relevant to the top of your website content. Keywords that don't appear until the bottom of the page must not be that important, so you want to make sure to use your targeted keyword phrases as near the top of the page as possible.

Of course, throughout all your content writing and revising, you do not want to exploit techniques. Write for your customers first, and then make small adjustments and tweaks to help your overall SEO effort.

SEO Assistance

If you have questions about your keyword list, or need help implementing and adjusting the back-end programming of your website, please contact us. Small businesses owners should certainly educate themselves about search engines and what it means to implement SEO, but they should also not lose sight of the fact that their focus needs to be on their business, and hiring a professional web design company to assist with onsite search engine optimization is a great investment.

DISCLOSURE: Some links in the article above, and throughout this site, may be affiliate links. While there's no additional cost to you, purchases made via those links may earn me a commission. Only products and services which have been tried and tested are reviewed, and those reviews are always thorough and honest. If you benefited from my review and have a genuine interest in the linked product, your use of the affiliate link is appreciated and allows me to continue writing these kinds of helpful articles.

Mike Allton, Content Marketing Practitioner

Mike is a Content Marketing Practitioner - a title he invented to represent his holistic approach to content marketing that leverages blogging, social media, email marketing and SEO to drive traffic, generate leads, and convert those leads into sales. He is an award-winning Blogger, Speaker, and Author at The Social Media Hat, and Brand Evangelist at Agorapulse (formerly CMO at SiteSell).

As Brand Evangelist, Mike works directly with other social media educators, influencers, agencies and brands to explore and develop profitable relationships with Agorapulse.