How to Know What Keywords to Use for SEO

How to Know What Keywords to Use for SEO

Keywords help search engines like Google identify what your content is about and match it accordingly with people searching for those same keywords. To put it another way, keywords are the gateway to your website’s traffic. Therefore it’s imperative that you target and implement your keywords effectively which brings us to today’s topic: how to know what keywords to use for SEO.

Once you have the right words, you need to use them in your content, title, description, metatags, etc. But how do you know which keywords to target?

Good keywords are judged by three different points, so let’s identify each one for how to know what keywords to use for SEO.

How to Know What Keywords to Use for SEO

Search Volume

First and most obviously of the three, search volume refers to the amount of people searching for that keyword phrase in any given month. This can range from hundreds of thousands of people to virtually no one.

Obviously you want to be able to rank for keywords which thousands of people are searching for, but more volume almost always means more competition because other webmasters have the same idea as you.

It’s more difficult to rank for more competitive keywords when you’re first starting out. Once you have a steadier stream of traffic to your site by way of easier keywords, you’ll be able to vie for more competitive keywords.

The minimum amount of search volume that you think is worth targeting is up to you.

If you have a smaller site and you’re just starting out, I recommend going after the lower search volume keywords because any traffic to a new site is worth the effort.

It’s also important to keep in mind that there will be some keywords whose truth worth isn’t measured by volume. By that token, some keywords with just a handful of people searching for them each month can be worth a lot more to you than those which get hundreds if not thousands of searches.

I’ll talk more about that in a moment, but first let’s look at the second point: competition.


Competition is the amount of and more importantly the strength of the web pages which are already ranking for that keyword.

The strength of competition determines who easily you can overtake the current ranking pages in Google. Strength is measured by a number of factors.

While a lot of factors feed into it, 3 major factors dictate the strength of competition, so let’s take a quick look at each now.


The number and quality of other websites linking to the page plays a huge role in determining the strength of that competition.

This makes sense, because Google rightly assumes that if a page is being linked to by a lot of quality, high trafficked websites, that page deserves to rank. If a page has hundreds or even thousands of links pointing to it, it’s likely that you will have a harder time overtaking it for that keyword.

I mentioned that you should stick to lower search volume keywords when you’re starting out because you don’t have much to any traffic to your site.

More traffic to your site means more backlinks because some of the people coming to your site will be webmasters who will link to your content.

Clickthrough Rate

Fortunately, it’s not just about backlinks. Google also uses its own users’ behavior to determine which pages should rank well for any given search term.

For example, if Google sees a lot more people are clicking on the third ranking page than the second ranking page, that demonstrates that the lower ranking page is more well matched for that search term. As such, they will likely move that page which receives more clicks up to a more visible spot.

While higher ranking pages naturally get more clicks due to more visibility (the #1 ranking page receives over 10 times more clicks than the #10 ranking page for any search term), lower ranking pages can outperform them and overtake them by increasing their own clickthrough rate.

You can do this by ensuring that your page’s title and description guarantee the solution to the question behind the intent of the person searching.

Use popular title formats designed to get clicks (like “how to” or “7 ways to”) and clickbait (“this will shock you”) but back it up.

Google oftentimes gives new pages temporary high visible rankings while it determines where that page should rank.

Take advantage of that with a great title and description designed to attract clicks and you might find yourself steadily outranking another page which has a lot more authority than you do.

Your title just has to be better and more suited to the search term than your competition.

On Page SEO

The last major point which measures strength of competition is the on page SEO for that search term. This refers to how effectively a ranking page uses the keyword it’s ranking for on its page.

Some pages rank for search terms they’re not even targeting just by strength of backlinks. Their content may be about similar themes, but it doesn’t serve the intent of the keyword as well as another page might.

As such, those pages may not be as well suited to rank for that search term as your page.

It’s helpful to use free keyword tools to analyze competition and identify whether a ranking page is even using that keyword in its title or meta tags.


I mentioned earlier that search volume isn’t everything. The value of a keyword isn’t measured simply in volume, but the intent behind the search.

A very simplified example is that it would be more valuable to rank for a targeted and clear intent keyword like “how to buy a car online” rather than a more generic “cars”.

A quick search shows that “cars” gets 7.5 million searches a month whereas “how to buy a car online” gets under 2,000.

A search like “cars” can have millions of intents behind it and is too vague to be worth targeting (not to mention the competition leaves it out of reach).

The intent behind “How to buy a car online” on the other hand is clear. These people are ready to purchase a car and want to do it online. Ranking for that keyword can be incredibly lucrative if leveraged properly.

This isn’t the best example, as any phrases with the word “buy” or variations of it will be very competitive.

The point is, while the traffic is a drop in the bucket, the more specific keyword phrase with clearer intent is potentially worth a lot more in many niches.

This is why it’s so essential to think like your customers and think about the intent behind the keywords you’re considering targeting on top of just search volume or competition.

You can find a lot of gems this way rather than just blindly targeting whatever keyword has the most traffic.

Remember to keep in mind volume, competition, and value/intent when you’re doing your keyword research for how to know what keywords to use for SEO to target in your content.

And if you don’t have a keyword tool yet, I did an entire post on the best free keyword tool review where I tried nearly a dozen of the most popular free keyword tools and ranked them.

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