3 Steps for Choosing Keywords on Niche Sites

It’s a new world for niche sites.

Gone are the days when you could start a blog about a topic like “food” or “travel” and expect it to rank well in Google within the first few years – if ever. The internet has been flooded with independent publishers and bloggers, and Google has gotten way better at figuring out who knows their stuff – and who’s full of it.

That’s where niche sites have seen success; bloggers and site owners with specific knowledge have been able to create great sites about those topics, and see quick, big wins with SEO as a result.

Keyword Research

In this post, I’ll cover choosing keywords for your niche site. Not in the technical, here’s-how-you-use-this-tool kind of way, but in a theoretical way. This is how I think about keyword research for my niche sites, and how I choose keywords that help my niche sites rank better and faster.

Every website niche and industry is different, but here are my best general rules for choosing keywords to research.

Step 1. Stay in Your Lane

Choosing Keywords - Stay in Your Lane

Look for keywords in your niche. This should be obvious, but it’s so easy to end up researching keywords outside your niche.

Uncertain what your niche is? Or maybe don’t want to choose one? It’s time to get over that. Having a niche is critical for SEO success.

The best way to determine your niche is to ask: what could I write about with minimal research that my readers would expect if they landed on my site?

In the new era of SEO, your site will only succeed in your niche if you have expertise and authority, and are a trustworthy source (these three concepts are called E-A-T, which I’ll cover in a future post).

So as you brainstorm topics you might write about – aka keywords to research – consider your expertise and authority on the topic. If it is something you feel confident writing about without a ton of research and your readers will think “oh yeah, this article makes a ton of sense based on the brand/other articles this writer has written” then it’s a good contender.

Step 2. Balance Volume and Difficulty

Search Volume & Difficulty.jpg

As you start researching, balance big keyword volume with low difficulty scores. All of the keyword research tools offer metrics for the volume of a keyword and its difficulty.

It’s important to understand what volume the tool is showing. Some use an actual estimate of searches (so a score of 100 would mean 100 people search that keyword each month) and others use a proxy (so a score of 100 out of 1000 means it’s a relatively low volume keyword).

In terms of difficulty scores, you should also take this with a grain of salt. A number of factors – including your DA (or equivalent metric of your site’s authority) and your actual level of expertise on the topic – can affect how accurate the difficulty score is for you and your site specifically.

For example, when I write about Alaska on Valerie & Valise, I can go after higher difficulty keywords because I have a ton of expertise there, despite my “low” DA score. On my soup-focused food blog, I have to go after low-difficulty keywords even after writing on it for a while, and I can’t target anything that’s not soup as my site has no expertise in non-soup foods.

Additionally, most difficulty scores look at the DA of the URLs showing up on the first page of results. Some SEOs advise not targeting any keyword where there are fewer than two results with a lower DA than yours; I find there’s no hard and fast rule – but you need to be realistic about your own expertise and ability to demonstrate that in the quality of your writing.

Pro-Tip: My favorite keyword research tool is Keysearch. It’s the most budget-friendly tool out there with tons of data.

Step 3. Look at Google

Google SERP Page

Once you identify a good contender for a blog post, Google that keyword (or keyphrase). While keyword research tools are helpful, there’s nothing like seeing what the actual results are for that keyword when you Google it (like your prospective reader will).

You want to pay attention to the search “landscape” on the results page, including any SERP features. You’ll also want to pay attention to the types of pages showing up (Are they blogs? Dictionary websites? Product pages?) and the user intent behind the keyword. 

Look at the Google results page to get a sense of what Google thinks readers want. Given that they have tons of data to make their ranking determinations, it’s a safe bet that whatever Google is currently showing is likely what Google will show in the future – and what readers want.

So if you don’t see any blogs on page 1 and you’re planning a blog post, you might want to skip that keyword. See tons of blog posts but they’re all lists of products and you want to write a product review? Maybe that’s a mismatch between keyword and user intent.

Learning to look at Google and understand what it really says is like speaking another language. If you can get good at it, you can improve your success rate with choosing keywords and end up ranking more highly for more keywords. That makes Google happy, it makes your readers happy, and it’ll make you happy too.

Have questions about choosing keywords for your niche sites? Let me know in the comments!

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Valerie has been blogging since 2001, and has been running her oldest travel blog for a decade. You can find her across the internet on her various niche sites, but she started Site School to help fellow bloggers grow and create better content.

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