Search Engine Optimization

How to Use Google to Find the Best Keywords for Your Site

24 Jun , 2008  

Words on a page with Target circled as KeywordPerhaps the most important aspect of optimizing your site for search engine exposure is knowing which keywords to optimize. A large part of search engine optimization work is targetting the right keywords; you’ve got to figure out what people are searching for before you can try and get their queries directed to your website.

A lot of web designers and SEOs (incorrectly) assume that Google and other search engines will return relevant results based on the content of your site; they won’t. For example, if you want to market a web page about web design and you write about certain web design techniques, but you never actually include the keyword “web design” in your content, then the chances of that page ever being returned in a SERP for the query “web design” is extremely slim.

Search engines still want to return pages based on direct keyword queries. For example, a query for “web designer” will return different results than the term “web designers”, so you better take care to include both the singular and plural version of keywords in your content. But what if noone is even searching for the term “web designer?” (yes, I know they are, but go with me on this one for a minute). How do you know what queries are actually popular and getting a large volume of search engine queries?

Perhaps the best tool to use is Google’s Adwords Keyword Tool. You can use this tool to have Google actually analyze the content on your site and have it suggest to you what keywords you should be optimizing. It will also show you some other information you need to know:

  1. What is the volume of each keyword it suggests
  2. What is the amount of competition competing for that keyword (at least in the Google Adwords system, which is a pretty good indicator of competition overall)

So the first thing we want to do is have Google go out and download our web page and analyize it’s content, so it can begin suggesting keywords for us. Go to the Google Keyword Tool, and under the heading “How would you like to generate keyword ideas?” select “Website content (e.g.”.

Google Adwords Tool Website Content

This will then prompt you to enter your website’s URL:

Google Adwords Tool Website URL

Enter your web page URL and click on “Get keyword ideas”. This can be your home page, or any secondary, deep-linked page you want to optimize. Don’t select the option to “Include other pages on my site linked from this URL.” We don’t want Google to suggest keywords for all the content on our website, that would be counter-productive; we want to specifically focus on one page and optimize that.

After about a minute a table will appear with 4 columns: Keyword, Advertiser Competition, Search Volume for the last month, and Average Search Volume. If there are a lot of keywords it will be a long scrolling list, grouped into subcategories. But the important thing to note is that Google has just done all the hard work for you, and selected relevant keywords based on your content! Now all you have to do is pick and choose which ones you want to target and optimize on your web page. Note that in each column are a bunch of gray bar graphs; Google doen’t actually disclose how many searches are being performed, just a relative amount. The more gray, the higher the number.

Google Adwords Tool Display Results

Here’s my advice – the first thing I do is sort the list by Average Search Volume by clicking on the column title. This will display each group of keywords (if you have more than one) in order of descending search volume. This will show the most popular keywords, averaged over the last 12 months, which are getting the most queries by volume. It’s also important to look a the Search Volume for the last month column, because if it’s much lower than the average search volume than your keyword’s popularity may be on a downward trend.

The next column I want to look at is the Advertiser Competition. This specifically displays the number of advertisers bidding on each keyword relative to all keywords across Google. We’re not too concerned with Adwords right now, but you can bet if a lot of people are bidding on a keyword, than there is also going to be some heavy competition to rank for that keyword in search results.

So what you want to look for are keywords with relatively high average search volume, but relatively low competition. You’ll usually find a bunch of 2 and 3 word phrases as keywords which have a good search volume but lower competition. Target those, and compile a list of about a dozen or so.

Now you’ve got some keywords to optimize for web search engine marketing! Of course it’s not over there. You’ve got to do some research by actually conducting queries on those SEO keywords, guaging the amount of volume in the results, review how your competitors are ranking, etc. But that’s a topic for another post …

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5 Responses

  1. Dear Barry,
    The Internet has transformed how we communicate with the public, but there are still many challenges in making information easy to find. Since you cover web design in Your Blog, I thought you might be interested in a study that my nonprofit published this summer about how people find information online. The study covers three groups: non-profit organizations and cities; web designers and firms; and the general public.
    The study was fascinating on a number of levels, and I invite you to read the executive summary or download a PDF of the findings at .
    The survey results sparked ideas about tools we could provide that might make finding information online easier. This fall, we will start beta testing a cool new new navigational tool. I don’t have your email, so if you are interested, you can sign up for our beta here: or to stay abreast of our (very) occasional new projects, you can get our newsletter here:

  2. Rod says:

    Barry, thanks for the clear and practical advice. Everyone knows that keywords are important etc, but I bet when it comes down to it most bloggers are feeling their way around in the dark as far as actually identifying specific ones.

    I tried this technique quite awhile back, and once I’d optimised for the keywords I identified, those pages definitely got a lot more search-engine traffic than before. The only reason I don’t do it more is that it’s time-consuming!

  3. Kalencom says:

    Good article. Using free tools from google avoid me to using expensive external tools. Thanks for sharing :)

  4. Ayush says:

    Google do offer free keyword tool but it doesn’t show the exact figure and also its for Adwords not the real search volume. But yes, it helps in some extent.

  5. Charlie Swiers says:

    I think Google’s indexing algorithms are little bit more advanced than you make out. They can analyse the content of web pages semantically, i.e. they would figure out that a page was about web designers even if you didn’t specifically include that term. They can also do this with mentions on other pages. SEOmoz covered this recently:

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How to Use Google to Find the Best Keywords for Your Site

by Barry Wise time to read: 3 min