Good Keywords Aren’t Obvious: The One Thing You Should Do Before You Optimize

Search for your keyword before you optimize, or your “good keywords” might be going nowhere




Google’s kind of the king of mixed messages. They tell publishers not to optimize, and to “just write great content” but their team says that yes, in fact, good keywords are great indicators that Google uses to rank you. It makes sense, Google isn’t yet smart enough to rank you intelligently for words you’re not using in your article.

Yesterday, I was online searching for interior design ideas, and one of their top results was a site that was entirely robot-generated. It made no darn sense to the human reader, but apparently it looked great to Google because it beat out several much better articles.

Google’s algorithm is an ongoing work in progress, and in general the key is to write great content, but while Google’s still figuring out what that is, there are a few ways we can take a peek into Google’s brain and see what it likes to rank.


Before I get to the tips on choosing actual good keywords, I’m assuming you’re already using a keyword tool to determine that there’s search volume for the keywords you want to target, and you’re already finding out how many pages you’re competing against before you decide if they’re good keywords. If you think you have some good keywords based on this data, what comes next is what makes or breaks those terms.

02-good-keywords-arent-obvious-the-one-thing-you-should-do-before-you-optimizeThe big word of 2016 is “intent” – what does Google think the intent of the user is when they search for a particular phrase. And this is something publishers should pay very close attention to, because you may be barking up many of the wrong trees without even knowing it. If I had optimized this article for the keyword “best keywords” I would have been competing against a slew of articles about keyword tools, which Google seems to think people want to see when they search for it. See why I changed it, below.

The one thing you should do before optimizing an article: Search for your own keyword and see what comes up.

When local results show up, find a new keyword.

If you’re a car magazine publisher, some good keywords might involve how-to content on fixing your own car. But Google may not agree.

For example, when you Google “replace tires,” the first three results are local businesses. Google decides that someone who is searching for “replace tires” is not looking for how-to advice on how to replace their tires, they want a mechanic. So Google lists local mechanics. The rest of the results, paid and free, are all for national tire brands, not Car and Driver or Autoweek.

Good Keywords Aren't Obvious -- Map image

When images show up, find a new keyword or add a bunch more images to your article.

Another intent is images. Especially in travel, Google may serve up images at the top of search results, indicating they think readers want to see images before articles.

A travel publisher might write an article targeting the phrase “mykonos beaches,” and they’ll be competing against images for the top spot. I could optimize an article for mykonos beaches perfectly and never rank for it if there aren’t at least 10 images in it.

Good Keywords Aren't Obvious -- mykonos


How do I know that? The top-ranking articles below it are photo-packed. The first article doesn’t even use the correct syntax of the keyword, but it has more than 25 images of mykonos with three pages of pagination showing it’s a “resource”. The second listing has 10 images. The third has 18, the fourth has 21 images and the fifth has almost one hundred images surrounded by helpful content. If the fifth one wasn’t on such a weird outdated website, it probably would have been in the first position.

Good Keywords Aren't Obvious -- example

Type your keyword into search and see what else pops up.

Finally, type your keyword into the search bar and see what Google suggests. There’s a pretty good chance that the niche keyword you’re about to target can get even more niche. You get the bonus of targeting your original phrase and an even longer tail phrase.

For example, if you were thinking about writing about “how to fix a boat” you may want to write about “how to fix a boat floor” or “how to fix a boat motor” or tackle all of the nichiest of phrases then write the “how to fix a boat” post and link to all of them inside of it.

Good Keywords Aren't Obvious -- search

03-good-keywords-arent-obvious-the-one-thing-you-should-do-before-you-optimizeAs you can see, Google thinks it knows what people want when they search, and all three examples above prove it. They might not always get it right, but intent is the key to what’s working in search right now.

This all goes back to one new rule you must use before targeting a keyword: Search for it first.

If the ranking articles are very different from what you plan to put together, you may want to choose a new one, or pivot the intent of your article to accommodate what Google wants to list.


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