This is part 1 of the 2-part series, where we’ll focus on the basic principles of SEO—building a keyword list and analyzing your competitors. In part 2, we’ll look into building SEO-ready web pages with quality content and metadata.
Now that you know why you should invest in SEO, this article will explain how to improve SEO for your website and stand out from the noise. The first step is to build a keyword list that describes your business within your industry, yet stands out from your competition. We will use these keywords to build both the page content and the metadata. The metadata fields are mainly to help search engines catalog your content and to display a summary of your web page.
Building keyword lists is a critical part of your SEO strategy, whether your’ building a new page or maintaining existing ones. In this era of memes and shifting cultural changes, the way we communicate affects how we search for products and services. Updating your pages ensures you’ll rank high on the search engine results page (SERP).
Basics of Building a Keyword List
When visitors use a keyword to search online and clicks on a web page, the search engine rewards the page as useful. Those clicks add up over time and eventually, the page will rank high on the SERP. Our goal is to identify what keywords are working by looking at the competitor’s pages and find creative ways to incorporate them into your content. Creating a keyword list is also helpful to develop topics for blog posts, metadata descriptions, or even digital ads.
When mining for keywords, you can combine them to describe your business or a particular service/product you offer. To move keywords around easily, I recommend using a spreadsheet program like Excel or Google Sheets. A spreadsheet gives you the flexibility to rank keywords or cluster them into topics.
The table below shows a curated list of keywords centered on earning a pharmacy degree online.
|Keyword||Avg. Monthly Searches|
|online pharmd programs||600|
|becoming a pharmacist online||260|
|online pharmacology degree||160|
|online pharmd programs for rph||110|
In this next list, we see keywords related to general searches for pharmacy school. Because the search is broader, there are more monthly searches.
|Keyword||Avg. Monthly Searches|
|pharmacy school requirements||9,800|
|pharmacy school rankings||2,900|
To start mining for new keywords, you’ll need some “seed” keywords for the mining tool to find related search terms. For example, if you start with the term “Italian restaurant,” the keyword tool may list “pasta” or “pizza” as related keywords. You can then use these keywords to develop content to describe your menu or dining experience.
Long-tail keywords are a long string or combination of keywords visitors may search to find a website. These long-tail keywords are also more specific but searched less frequently. However, they may open up the doors for new markets. For example, you may find searches for a Bat mitzvah or gluten-free wedding reception, which you can leverage to capture these new audiences. Occasionally, you may find complete sentences, “where can I find a romantic Italian restaurant that serves seafood?” and answer them directly from your content.
In one of my college website projects, I found keywords associated with “renovation,” which my team wasn’t sure if it was describing the client’s campus infrastructure project or an academic program. After some digging on their traffic data, I found “renovation” was driving traffic to the college’s “real estate certification.” We deduced the visitors were interested in purchasing properties and then renovating them for resale. We then recommended the client to incorporate the terms “renovation” and “flipping homes” as part of their content strategy for the real estate certificate program.
Know Yourself And Your Competitors
As an example of the SEO process, let’s assume you’re working on a website for a high-end Italian seafood restaurant. The goal is to capture a wide audience searching for fine dining. We want to borrow the keywords that allowed your competitors to surface to the top. We’ll start by:
- Identifying top-ranked restaurants with similar food, ambiance, and location.
- Discovering new keywords related to fine dining that you’re not using on your website (a.k.a. keyword gap analysis).
- Evaluating how competitors incorporate those keywords into their content.
- Understanding how to write compelling SERP descriptions.
To find keywords that can help your Italian restaurant, perform a simple Google search for “Italian restaurants near me.” Google should provide you with a list of a wide range of restaurants, from fast-casual to high-end establishments. If you can’t find close matches, try refining your search by adding “romantic Italian dinner restaurant.”
Once you find restaurants similar to yours, look at the key pages to their business—home page, contact us (to make a reservation), and the food menu page. Do a reverse Google search: see if you can “find” these pages again by typing specific keywords from these pages into Google (preferably without branded terms). If those keywords are working, add them to your spreadsheet. Make note if they describe the ambiance, food experience, restaurant features, and any other topic. We can later use them or the topic you identify to mine for additional keywords.
Keyword Gap Analysis
Let’s start the gap analysis by auditing our own website and building a list of keywords. I’ve included a list of free and commercial tools for SEO audits. Then, audit your competitors’ sites and populate them into your spreadsheet as distinct data sets. The idea is to compare your website’s keywords with the competitors, remove repeating keywords from the data sets, and the remaining keywords are the “new” keywords you can incorporate into your website to gain SEO advantage.
If the remaining keywords are not very descriptive, use a keyword mining tool to find related terms. For example, if you explore the keywords “fine dining,” you may get “high-end,” “fancy,” or even “exotic,” which you can consider for your content.
Some keyword mining tools provide additional metrics, such as search volume or relative value. Those metrics are insightful but be careful not to interpret them too strictly. In these situations, perform A/B split tests on your site to determine which keyword works better.
With your keyword spreadsheet, explore how your competitors are writing content on their web pages. You don’t want to copy them verbatim, but you want to understand how those keywords fit within the content. How do they use the terms “calamari” or “candlelight dinner” into their content? You can start out with similar descriptions but use it as a launching pad to pivot into your unique offerings—beautiful location, contemporary interior design, award-winning chef, and so on.
Analyze the voice and tone of the content—is it friendly and casual or formal and business-like? Develop your own writing style and be consistent in your content, whether you’re describing the ambiance or the seasonal ingredients.
Here, we want to focus on how your competitors appear on SERPs. They will give us an idea of how they incorporated keywords into their metadata description and help us write a similar summary that 1) places us within the industry (“fine dining”), and 2) allow us to stand out (“Italian seafood restaurant”).
Search engines today are extremely sophisticated, using advanced algorithms to understand and rank your content. Search engines are also able to deliver results based on your location, device, browsing history, and many other dimensions. Despite all this, search engines are not perfect and we still need to debug our web page’s SERP. Here are some tips:
- Try a different browser, such as Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Microsoft Edge, to name a few.
- Clear your browser’s cache so the history doesn’t influence your search.
- Run searches through your smartphone or tablet device. Websites that are mobile responsive or AMP-friendly (Accelerated Mobile Pages), get a boost in rankings and your pages may appear differently.
- Change your location on your browser to a nearby city. Firefox and Chrome allow you to go inside a developer mode and change your GPS coordinates.
- Run free tools like Yoast to score your content for SEO.
SERP analysis should give you an idea of how to structure your metadata content to make your pages more appealing to both search engines and customers.
After collecting all the intel from your competitors and building a keyword list, we can now move to part 2 of the series and start developing content.