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How to Choose SEO Keywords: A Recipe for Success

Keyword selection is one of the foundations of your SEO strategy. Choosing your target keywords is basically setting your goal: without defining what keywords you want your school’s site to rank on, you are not aiming for anything specific. On the flip side, don’t get too caught up on any single keyword. You want a portfolio of keywords, both because great traffic can come from many keywords, and also because putting all your eggs in one keyword basket means more volatility in your traffic.

If you’re new to keyword strategy, or it’s been more than a year since your last round of keyword research, it’s time to start the new year off right. Here’s a simplified recipe for coming up with a target keyword list.

Estimated time: 1 – 2 hours


  • An SEO keyword tool or keyword generator. Entry-level tools are available with limited features, such as from Ahrefs, or for very inexpensive cost, such as SpyFu or UberSuggest.
  • A starter list of keywords that people might use to find your school. This could just come from a brainstorm, a quick poll of your students or your staff, or a previous target keyword list.
  • Spreadsheet software, such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.


Step 1
Enter your school’s website into the SEO keyword research tool of your choice. Export the list of keywords that your site already ranks on. Set that list aside.

Step 2
Enter a few of your top competitors’ websites into the SEO research tool—choose schools that you believe have pretty good SEO presence. If your area doesn’t have many competitors, look for some schools in nearby cities and use those, recognizing that you may have to take some of the geographic modifiers (such as city or neighborhood names in keywords) with a grain of salt at the end. Export these lists of keywords those competing schools rank on.

Step 3
Combine all exported lists together into one big spreadsheet.

Step 4
Use the “deduplicate” function on your spreadsheet to get rid of keywords that are duplicative across sites.

Step 5
Sort your list of unique keywords in descending order of estimated monthly traffic, which is typically provided in the export. (Note that estimated monthly traffic is usually nationwide, so you are not likely to rank highly on those keywords across the whole country if your school is in a particular location.)

Step 6
Starting from the top of the list, use your judgment to mark off the keywords on the list that seem indicative of a prospective student. Relevant in this instance means that somebody who is interested in a beauty school program of the kind that your school provides might use it to search or compare schools. Example of a keyword that you would mark off as relevant: “best beauty schools near me.” Example of a keyword that you would discard, at least for the purposes of attracting student leads: “beauty school haircuts.”

Step 7
Plug each marked-off keyword into Google to see if the existing search results seem like ones you want to rank among. The results don’t have to be chock-full of direct competitors; the results just need to corroborate that users are looking for what you think they are looking for. You may want to discard a keyword if the search results seem extremely competitive, with very big-name or well-known brand sites. But Google likes to mix things up sometimes, so don’t assume that you can’t rank among big brands, especially at the local level.

Step 8
Go as far down the keyword list as you’d like to identify relevant keywords. Your limiting factor is resourcing, because each target keyword translates into content that you need to create somewhere on the website to cater to that searcher’s needs or answer questions. You don’t necessarily have to create a new webpage or blog post per keyword, though—oftentimes you can group a few together that have highly similar search intent and can be answered in the same article or piece of web content.

That’s it! Though there are variations and more advanced methods to doing keyword research, this simple set of steps can get you a long way with minimal effort. Once you have your keyword list, your organic traffic content strategy for the year should become clearer. Not only should your web content publishing revolve around the keyword list you just made, but also make sure that you use those keywords prominently in the title tag, headline, and internal link text to those pages.


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