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 google.com and alexa.com, 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 google.com 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 google.com, a few companies show up on Page 1 of about 39 million search results. We want to jot down these sites and research at alexa.com 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: visual.ly, datavisualization.ch, tableausoftware.com, flowingdata.com, sas.com, informationisbeautiful.net, visualization.geblogs.com.
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:
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 Alexa.com
Alexa.com is a California-based subsidiary company of Amazon.com 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 www.datavisualization.ch:
After researching all seven sites at alexa.com, 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.
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.
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.
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:
- Writing for the web is different: Why and how
- 5 tips and a special workflow for effective web writing
- “Inverted pyramid” is still a functioning guide for writing on the web
- Metadata texts: An overlooked part of web writing
- How to SEO: A sample SEO strategy by student in my open online course
- Content ideas for social media: How to pinpoint specific topics using Google autocomplete and Keyword Planner