SEO tutorial: Keyword research and placement

SEO techniques for people who don’t have access to commercial keyword tools – how to research keywords using free SEO tools, and place selected keywords in a way that facilitates search engine indexing and ranking.

These search engine optimisation (SEO) tips are what I have compiled for use in digital journalism training; readers of this blog may use them as SEO guide for everyday search optimization work or as basis for a journalism course assignment.

Let’s say we want to write a blog post introducing data visualization, and here is a two-part SEO strategy we will follow:

  • Keyword research: find popular keywords people use when they look for information related to data visualization
  • Keyword placement: embed selected SEO keywords at places where search engines pay more attention to when examining web page contents

Part 1: How to do keyword research

We will research our initial keyword ideas using and, then import the first batch of keywords into Google Keyword Planner for more keyword ideas and detailed search volume stats.

Step 1: Google keywords ideas

We start with for two types of information: (a) companies and organizations that have Page 1 or 2 rankings, (b) similar searches suggested by Google.

When we search “data visualization” at, a few companies show up on Page 1 of about 39 million search results. We want to jot down these sites and research at for the keywords that bring traffic to them. Note that we do not literally choose whatever the top five or ten sites are that rank for “data visualization” – we choose the top sites that are relevant to our search.

There are seven sites we want to research:,,,,,,

In addition, at the bottom of Google search results page, there is an automatically generated list of “Searches related to data visualization,” these are popular searches Google, based on its records, suggests that may be of interest to us:

data visualization - Google Search

In our to-be-written blog post, we want to talk about how to do data visualizations, so several keywords are of interest to us, such as “data visualization tools,” “data visualization techniques,” “data visualization software,” and “data visualization examples.”

Before we settle for any of these keywords, we want to find more keyword ideas and to decide which keywords are more popular than others, i.e., with higher search volumes.

Step 2: Research top sites at is a California-based subsidiary company of which provides commercial web traffic data. Among the free stats Alexa provides, a particular report, “Top keywords from search engines: Which search keywords send traffic to this site?” lists some top keywords that we may borrow for our SEO keyword list.

Let’s research the seven top sites from the previous step for keywords that are not among the Google recommendations. As an illustration, below is a screenshot of the section that shows top keywords for Site Info

After researching all seven sites at, I didn’t see additional keywords that are of close relevance to what we want to write in our data visualization blog post. So, hats off to Google, its “related search list” is really a nice feature.

Step 3: get search volumes using Google Keyword Planner

Google Keyword Planner is a free SEO tool with which we can research keyword ideas, get search volumes for specific keywords, and, if you are a business owner, design and order an online adwords campaign.

(I recommend two video tutorials if you are new to Keyword Planner: account creation and basic keyword research; how to use advanced features)

Now let’s use Keyword Planner to further research the four keywords from previous step: “data visualization tools,” “data visualization techniques,” “data visualization software,” “data visualization examples,” and along with the seed keyword, “data visualization.”

My first impression is that if I need to drop some keywords and focus on those with higher search volumes, then “data visualization techniques” and “data visualization examples” should be removed from our list; the stats show they have significantly lower monthly search volumes – 590 and 480, respectively.

Keyword Planner

What’s more important, is the “keyword ideas” Keyword Planner suggests based on these five keywords. Among the 287 suggested keywords, some are relevant to the topic of our blog post, and come with decent search volumes. For instance, “data analysis,” visualizer, “data analytics,” they each has more than 10,000 searches each month.

So, at this point, we manage to nail down five SEO keywords that we want to target and include in our yet-to-be-written blog post about data visualization. I would also suggest we download the 287 keywords, in the form of an Excel list, and read through them – when writing up the post, you may find some keywords fit nicely in the text flow.

Do we always target those keywords with largest search volumes? It depends. If you are working for a big-name website, then go for those “hot” keywords; chances are your site has a higher page rank and can easily beat existing competitors to rank for that keyword. However, if you are dealing with a small or lesser-known site, then go for keywords that are less competitive, with search volumes under 1,000 or follow an appropriate threshold.

Part 2: How to place SEO keywords

Search engines such as Google and Bing regularly send out little programs called “spider” or “bot” to crawl the Internet, examining and indexing each and every web page – a blog post is one such web page.

When a spider or bot examines contents of a web page, it pays more attention to a few places of the page; as a result, we need to strategically place our targeted SEO keywords at places where the “spiders” are looking more at.

Before we examine those places, remember this – stuffing too many keywords in the texts is something Google will frown upon, and may incur punishment in the form of lowered search ranking. But, obviously, you don’t want to focus on a single keyword, either. While trying to optimize for 100 keywords is not a good idea, between 5 to 10 keywords is a reasonable enough number for SEO optimization.

Of greater importance is the placement of our keywords. Use the following guidelines to place the keywords:

  • Place keyword(s) in article headline and in subheads. A proper written web article should comes in sections and have informational subheads. Our data post headline can be “Data visualization tools, techniques and examples;” and I will break this post into three sections with these three subheads: “free data visualization tools,” “best practices in data visualization techniques” and “data visualization examples.”
  • Place keyword(s) in the first 25 words of your page. The first paragraph is where Google bot looks more at and, chances are, the first paragraph (or part of it) will be displayed in the search results along with the page title.
  • Place keyword(s) in the last 25 words of your page.
  • Bold keyword(s) at least once on your page. You bold selected words in the texts to call readers’ attention to them; in so doing, you are also calling attention from the search engine “spiders.” For our data post, we will boldface all three subheads and maybe a few keywords at the start of a list, if there is one.

When placing keywords, you can use some variations to reduce repetitiveness and make the texts look more “natural” to search engine “spiders”:

  • Singular vs. plural forms of a keyword; for instance, picture and pictures. In the flow of text, I may use variations such as “data visualizations,” “data visualization tool” or “data visualization technique”; but Keyword Planner shows they all have a much lower search volume in comparison with my primary target keywords.
  • Use synonyms or different versions of your keyword. For instance, cars, automobiles and vehicles are similar; motion pictures/movie; pictures/photo. I cannot think of any, so I’ll pass this guideline.
  • Change word order. I offer free online journalism courses and that course schedule page shows on page 1 of Google search results for online journalism courses, journalism courses online, journalism online courses. In the body of the data post, I can write them as “tools for data visualization” and “techniques for data visualization.”
  • Add in relevant keyword modifiers; for instance, if your target keyword is “sushi restaurant,” you can add descriptive or location modifiers such as “best” or “New York.” As I said earlier, I will add “free” and “best practices” in two of the section subheads.

Beyond on-page SEO keyword research and placement

For SEO keywords to work, and work better, your blog post, or online articles in general, should be properly written and formatted following some web writing guidelines. Remember, all these SEO techniques are in vain if a reader finds your article but instantly turns away, seeing chunky texts and hard-to-follow writings.

I highly recommend readers of this post read the posts listed under “related posts,” at the end of this post, for how to properly write for the web.

Other than the above-mentioned places, it is equally important to place keywords in metadata texts for page title and description. Metadata texts are not viewable to visitors, they can only be read and displayed by search engines. See below for the free journalism courses page as it appears on Page 1 of Google search results for the keyword “digital journalism training.” Notice that I didn’t place that keyword on that page, but did place it in the metadata texts.

digital journalism training - Google Search

Also, although keyword research and placement is the first and essential step for search engine ranking, keyword alone does not guarantee your article will rank. As explained in the article Why Don’t I Rank?, there are other factors that influence how Google ranks web pages, e.g., your site needs to be an established authority for the keyword topic.

Lastly, this post you are reading, SEO tutorial: Keyword research and placement, is itself being optimized using keywords I researched following the strategy we just discussed. So, dear readers, can you “reverse engineer” this post, conduct a keyword research, and tell me what SEO keywords you think I’m targeting in this post, and how they are being placed in the texts?

Want to learn more about SEO? Check out these popular books at Amazon:

Related posts:

About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (, a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
This entry was posted in Social media marketing, Writing for the web. Bookmark the permalink.

76 Responses to SEO tutorial: Keyword research and placement

  1. This is a good article. One of the ongoing battles that we face as a web marketing firm is balancing between stuffing keywords so that we rank well, and trying to make the user experience as good as we can. One of the ways that we have done that is by implementing a landing page system, where we have a number of different websites that have domains that are focused on particular keywords. This also helps in optimizing for a few keywords, because if you have several different sites then you can have each of them focus on different keywords, and get a more diverse group of users to your site. It is more of a site-wide promotional technique, but we have seen some good results from it.

    If you would like to read more we have a blog post about it at

  2. Mr. Lin, I found your post very interesting and informative. This will really help me a lot in the future, esp. the website where I can search for web traffic data. Thanks for the tips…

  3. kawser ahmed says:

    This is a the best article of them I have read recently on keyword research. Very practical, effective and focussed. The keywords you have used in my short analysis are “Keyword Research”, “SEO Keyword Research”.

    • Mu Lin says:

      Thanks for the comments. Indeed, when I wrote this post, I was targeting keywords such as keyword research, SEO keyword research and SEO tutorial. At this point, this post ranks on Page 3 of SEO tutorial, and Page 4 of SEO keyword research, but it seems it’s not ranking for keyword research. So, is it how you found this post?

  4. Paul Alix says:

    This is a great post. I found myself doing a few of those but definitely was missing out. I will start applying some those SEO techniques and if there’s a change.

  5. Nice tips for me. I was also looking for this kind of post. For my wordpress blog site I will apply this tips. You can add another seo tools to check the result of Google SERP of any website. I have used many tools to check my site’s health in Google SERP. But it is totally free better than any premium seo tools.

  6. ThomasSwati says:

    Very nice article, i found it very helpful, now i am gonna apply it on my website for its SEO.
    And the keywords you have targeted in this post might be : “Keyword Research Tutorial”, “SEO Tutorial” and may be “SEO Keywords”.

  7. Mr. Lin, this is a good post for keyword research and placements. I personally do some manual analysis first before going to the Google Keyword Planner tool. Additionally I use Ubersuggest to get LSI keywords for my primary keyword. You are absolutely right about using keyword variation. Include keyword naturally on the flow of writing and there should be different variations in terms of singular/plural, modifiers, geo based etc.

  8. MAX says:

    This tutorial really helped me and I am pleased with your skills. I have also subscribed your blog. Now I am expecting more good tutorials from you. 

  9. Usman says:

    Post is very clearly but people think the best topic on initial point then they will get positive response.

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  12. Neeraj says:

    Very good article Mu Lin …Keep sharing ….Very helpful for latest practise

  13. dwayne says:

    I typed In keyword placement and you showed up number two on page one. Good article. Always looking for advice.

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    great tips, thanks! you can also use a new related keyword research tool such as

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    Great Article and informative. Thanks MU LIN for this post.

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