Art of War: Keyword Edition

February 19th, 2015 by Devin Olsen

So you want to improve your online presence, crush your competitors, and rule the market with an iron fist from the coveted #1 spot on Google? Well, that’s all fine and good, but you may be getting a little ahead of yourself. Before you can dominate Google, you need to know which searches are worth dominating for your business.

This is a simple question that often plagues those new to online marketing, keeps them awake at night, haunts their dreams, and, through perpetual second-guessing and overanalyzing, crushes the enthusiasm that began their quest for Internet marketing supremacy in the first place. What starts as a simple guessing game (“How would I look this up?”) often protracts itself over time into “What is every conceivable combination of words that could possibly describe my business?” Next thing you know, you’re soliciting family members, friends, and random strangers to participate in the game as you compile a list that more and more resembles a schizophrenic fit than viable keywords for site optimization. Let me save you the time, trouble, and expensive psychiatric treatment that is the inevitable result of the aforementioned method and let you in on how to sensibly go about this rudimentary phase of online marketing.

Step One: Think Obvious

ouijaboardforkeywordsimageThink of the most obvious way you would search for your business. This should be simple, to the point, and usually very general. Think, “If I sustained a life-altering injury that rendered me incapable of speech and left me with only a basic grasp of the English language, and I could only communicate through the use of my single working stump arm and a special stump-optimized typewriter, how would I search for my own business?” Great! You should probably have around ten simple and obvious ideas, and most often, these will be the most rife for traffic. In addition to these terms, you should also think, realistically, of where most of your clients reside. If you are a small business or storefront with services offered to those in your immediate area, keep focused on your local region or the nearest metropolitan area if you are in a suburb. If you overreach and try to optimize for every suburb and town within 1,000 miles, you’re not going to do well anywhere. Stay focused, and you will fare much better.

Step Two: All Is Fair in Love and Marketing

kingofgoogleimageTime for some good old-fashioned espionage! Use your simple search terms to pull up some results on Google. These will likely be your competitors showing up, the ones you will eventually need to dethrone in your quest for fame and fortune. Take a gander at their sites and see what key terms they’ve used to optimize their pages. What title shows in the Google results, and what do the headers on their pages say? These can give you some good ideas.

Step Three: Teenage Mutant Ninja Keywords

Gather the keywords you’ve thought up and the ones you have stolen from your enemies— ahem, I mean borrowed from your competitors—and consolidate them into a single list. Now, take your list of areas where your clients reside and combine each keyword with every location. Next, you will need to mutate these amalgamations into a number of different forms. Have one mutation listing keywords first and another reversing the order, add minor variations like using the word “in” before the location, use the plural version of your keywords, include the state in the location, take the state out, use the abbreviation of the state, and so on and so forth until your original list of obvious search terms is now an army of permutations of the originals. For instance, if you were a restaurant in New Orleans, you would take your keyword “restaurant” and geographic term “New Orleans” and end up with the following variations:

  • “restaurant New Orleans”
  • “New Orleans restaurant”
  • “restaurant in New Orleans”
  • “restaurant New Orleans LA”
  • “restaurants New Orleans”
  • “restaurants in New Orleans”
  • etc. etc.

Step 4: The Meat

Enough with the games—it’s time for some cold, hard facts to help guide us. For this, we turn to the invaluable resource provided by Google itself for this purpose: Google AdWords. To create a free account, just pop on over to, and you will have the ability to sidestep random guesses and find out from the source whether your keyword ideas are actually being used. Within the AdWords dashboard is a Keyword Planner section. Within this section, you can select the option to “Get search volume for a list of keywords or group them into ad groups.” This allows you to take your precious list of keywords and all the variations created from the last step and see if anyone has searched for them in the last 12 months. The AdWords dashboard also has the ability to suggest keywords based on your industry. This is another good resource to consult for ideas, but try not to lose focus. It is important to get your initial keyword search completed, and you can always come back and do more research at a later date.

Step 5: Survival of the Fittest

So, you have your list of results, and now it’s just a matter of choosing the very best ones. Your choice will be based on the results from searches in the last year and which ones actually fit your business and service area the best. Finally! You now have the precious search terms to incorporate in your marketing strategy, and you’re ready for phase two of your plan to usurp the top seat of Google search results. You still have a long journey ahead before you can fully decimate the competition, but for the moment, at least you can stride forward knowing your key search terms are sound.