How Many Keywords Should You Target?

Note: For SEO, keyword and keyword phrase are used interchangeably. A keyword can be just a single word, but it can also be a phrase or combination of 2+ words.
Choosing keywords is an essential stage in the SEO process. Select the wrong ones and, regardless of what you do in terms of on-site optimisation and off-site optimisation, you may never see a return on your investment in SEO. As well as choosing good keywords though, you need to choose the right number of them.

You shouldn’t only target 1 keyword, even if you have a very small budget or think that 1 keyword covers everything that you do or sell. This is a mistake because unless it’s a highly searched for keyword, and if it is then the competition to rank well for it will be fierce and getting your site in the top positions for it very difficult, then ranking for that 1 keyword won’t attract enough visitors to your site.

You also shouldn’t target lots and lots of keywords – 30, 50, 100, etc. – as the more keywords you target, the less resources you can assign to working on each of them, and the harder it becomes to rank well for any of them. Whilst you do ultimately want to rank for many keywords, to start off you need to be focused and realistic, especially if you don’t have a big budget for SEO or lots of time available to create content and promote your site.

So, how many keywords should you target then? The exact number will depend on your budget and your timeframe for results, however, primarily targeting about 5 keywords (each with a monthly search volume of 100+) to start with is recommended for most small businesses. To some businesses, that might not seem a lot, but targeting 5 keywords doesn’t mean that your website will only rank for 5 keywords and get traffic from 5 keywords.

This is because a keyword phrase with the same words in a different order, or with more or less “stop words” (a, the, for, etc.), counts as one keyword. For example, if 1 of your keywords is ‘mortgage advice’, as well as ranking for that exact phrase, it’s highly likely that your site will also naturally rank for ‘advice mortgage’, ‘advice on mortgage’, ‘advice for mortgages’, etc.

Additionally, and using the same example, if you create a good quality, content rich page to target ‘mortgage advice’, you’ll naturally rank for lots of long-tail keywords (strings of 4 or more words) that you’ve used within that content. So, if within the content you write the phrase ’where is the best place to get reliable mortgage advice from’, then your site will probably naturally rank in Google for that keyword phrase too.

Very specific long-tail keyword phrases don’t show up in any keyword research tools, and they may only get searched for once every 2-3 months, but they’re very important because it’s estimated that 40% of searches online consist of phrases made up of 4 or more words. Therefore, although the individual search volumes for very long-tail keywords might seem trivial, the combined total of them is far from it.

So, with a 5 keyword starting point, the scope for rankings and attracting traffic is actually quite wide. You’ll find that a good percentage of traffic to your business’s website will come from searches for keywords that you hadn’t specifically targeted but which you naturally rank for. Those more specific searches tend to convert to sales better as well, because the people searching for them have a clearer idea of what they’re looking for.

When you’re getting good results for your initial keyword selections, you can then divert some attention and resources to targeting new ones. If you take this approach – doing keyword research and selection should be done in stages – you don’t have to wait so long to see results and you have more data to work with (from Google Analytics and Google Search Console) before making decisions on additional keywords.

Further Reading
Copying Content Puts Your SEO Efforts At Risk

Should You Exchange Links With Other Businesses?

Check Where Your Website Is Ranking In Google

Using Keywords On Your Website

2-Minute SEO Guide

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