Keywords—the words and phrases customers use when searching online for a product or service—are fundamental for getting a business website seen in search results. Start with these basic best practices for choosing and using the right ones:


1. Make a list of words your customers and prospects are likely to use when searching.

Avoid jargon—for example, use “facial hair removal” over “electrolysis.” Natural, conversational-sounding phrases have also become more important with the rise of voice searches and virtual assistants. (In 2016, 20% of Google mobile searches were done by voice.)


2. Go for long-tail words and phrases.

Broad keywords are widely applicable—for example, “cleaning” or “clothing.” With this type of generic term, you will be competing for eyeballs with many other businesses and may get exposure to consumers who need something very different from what you offer. “Long-tail keywords are keyword phrases that are typically made up of three to five words, such as ‘residential cleaning company’ or ‘red leather handbag,’” says Roumen Todorov, cofounder of 411 Locals, an internet advertising agency based in Las Vegas. “They are more targeted to specific searches and come with less competition.”


3. Consider the prospect’s intent.

Sometimes people search because they want to buy, and sometimes because they want to know. Your keywords should address one or both purposes. “If someone typed the keyword ‘oil change prices’ into a search engine, the results would provide a list of auto centers in his area,” explains Adam Binder, founder of Creative Click Media, a digital marketing agency in Manahawkin, New Jersey. ”Therefore, an auto shop would want to use this keyword for their pricing or services page to satisfy the ‘buy’ intent.

“If the searcher were to use the keyword phrase ‘when to get an oil change,’ he would see a list of results describing ‘how often your car needs an oil change’ or ‘signs that your car needs an oil change.’ So an auto shop would want to use keywords like that on their informational blog page to satisfy the ‘know’ intent.”


4. Consult free online tools.

Google AdWords provides a Keyword Planner that will help you generate ideas and also get data on historical trends and search volume for keywords you’re targeting.’s free service provides suggestions for keywords and long-tail phrases across a variety of platforms. (Information about competitiveness and search volume requires a paid account.)’s Keyword Explorer can tell you how popular the keywords you’re considering are, and how hard it would be to rank well by using them. (Moz also provides a comprehensive beginner’s guide in its SEO Learning Center.)

“As a small business, you don’t want to just bring in more traffic, but rather more quality traffic that is likely to convert.”


5. But remember that you know your customers best.

“Keyword Planner is a good start, but what you’re missing is why those terms are popular,” says Josh Rubin, owner of Post Modern Marketing in Sacramento. “As a small business, you don’t want to just bring in more traffic, but rather more quality traffic that is likely to convert. One way to target your content is to write down the most common questions your customers ask, and then gear your content to answer those questions directly. You’ll naturally begin to use more relevant keywords in that content.


6. Make good use of keywords on your site.

Keywords should be included in your site’s title tag (the words displayed as a search engine result) and meta tags (snippets of content that appear in a page’s code). Where appropriate, work them into your site’s tagline, in your website content, in headlines and in subheads. Use of these keywords must be contextually relevant (not “stuffed” in the text) in order for it to benefit search results.


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