Keywording 101 for SEO Prowess

Three words:  Search Engine Optimization.  They kind of make you want to grab a bag and start hyperventilating, don’t they?

In the world of viral marketing, social media and Google Adwords, SEO has become another one of the things that you’ve probably had to put on your to-do list.  And, if you’re anything like most of the writers I talk to, you probably have no idea where to start.

I was lucky.  Before I got my book deal, I’d spent five years working as a staff writer for a major media company.  And, since we wrote for the web, I spent hours each week honing my SEO skills.  We actually had a team of SEO gurus on staff that hosted weekly SEO boot camps for us—analyzing every article we wrote for SEO viability and nitpicking every teeny tiny keyword on our site.  So, while viral marketing and blogging were new to me, I had the SEO thing down pat.

And, I have to say, it’s worked for me.  While I spend very little time doing viral marketing on my blog—I’m just not a good twitterer—I get fairly decent traffic—and most of it comes from Google referrals.  I chalk that up to having a strong SEO strategy—and knowing where to focus my SEO time.

Obviously, SEO is a tough nut to crack—and there’s no way I can give you even a tenth of the information you need in one post.  Before you create a viable SEO strategy, you’ll need to decide if SEO is even worth your time (in some cases, it’s not), how you’ll use SEO keywords (there are many, many ways that go way beyond simply keywording a post) and how to create relevancy with your keywords on your site (now that’s complicated).

But, in order to put the horse before the cart, the first thing you need to do is come up with a list of keywords that you want to use on your blog or website.  This list can (and will) become your SEO cheat sheet—you’ll have something to focus on, something to consult whenever you’re writing a post, a start to a strategy.  Here are my tips:

  1. Limit your keywords. I’ve had clients who presented me with a list of 100 keywords and then asked me to help them come up with more.  And, while they have the right idea in that they are focusing on specific words instead of just throwing out a random slew of words as they write a post—they are biting off too big of a chunk.  While the Google and Bing algorithms are super complicated, one important aspect is that they search for relevancy—which means in a nutshell they’ll be crawling your site to see how much information on your site is relevant to a specific keyword or idea. So, unless you’re posting dozens of articles every week that are very specifically focusing on all 100 of your keywords, you’re probably not you’re not creating a sense of relevancy with many of them.  So, choose a short list (my recommendation:  between 5 and 15) of keywords that you can focus on with every post, every page and every idea.  By simplifying, you’ll actually create a bigger reach.
  2. Do your research.  Don’t just guess on which keywords people are searching!  I use both Google Adwords and Google Insights all the time to help my clients (and myself!) find appropriate words to focus on.  They’re pretty straightforward tools so you can probably figure out how to use them to your advantage in less than ten minutes.
  3. Know your competition. Remember how I told you that I used to work for a major media website with huge traffic numbers?  And remember how I said we had an entire SEO team on staff?  Let me give it to you straight:  Unless your last name is Grisham or you have a staff of 40 writers and editors helping you with your blog, you CANNOT compete with major sites like that.  It’s a waste of your time to try.  Case in point:  Me!  My book, The Christian Mama’s Guide to Having a Baby, is a pregnancy guide–but I have never spent even a minute focusing on the keywords “pregnancy,” “pregnancy book” or “pregnancy guide.”  Why?  Have you ever heard of “What do Expect When you’re Expecting“?  Or “Baby Center“?  I could spend hours a week creating relevancy on my site around the word “pregnancy” and only move from page 120,000 to page 50,000 on Google.  And, while moving up 70,000 pages is pretty good, I’m pretty sure no one has ever looked past the first two pages of Google results, so it’s absolutely a waste of my time to focus on “pregnancy.”  Instead, choose words that get a decent number of searches every month (target:  between 1,000-10,000 global monthly searches) and low competition (less than 20% on Adwords) and focus on those.
  4. If you don’t talk about it on your site, don’t use it as a keyword.  I see this mistake all the time… my clients throw out a search keyword based on a theme or idea in their books, but when I pull up their website, I see nothing about that particular idea on their website.  It’s not only poor user experience—if someone Googles “Amish recipes” and then comes to your site and finds nothing about Amish recipes, they’re probably not going to stick around—but it also does nothing to create a sense of relevancy around that keyword, which will hurt your SEO.  This does not, however, mean you need to blog only about the topics in your novels.  For example, author Jody Hedlund has a wonderful blog full of tips and ideas for authors (find it here)—however, her latest novel, The Doctor’s Lady, is about the first woman to pioneer the Oregon Trail.  On her website, Jody has done a great job of creating relevancy surrounding the theme of her book by creating a cool “reader fun” page that’s full of facts, quizzes and more surrounding the historical times in her books.   Similarly, author Rosslyn Elliot, a historical romance author who wrote “Fairer Than Morning” maintains a “History” page on her site that adds relevancy surrounding the historical concepts in her novels.
  5. Cater to groupies.  As fun as it would be to be loved by everyone, it’s just not going to happen.  As a pregnancy author, I can’t appease the natural birthers AND the epidural fanatics.  And you can’t appease everyone either.  So, think about your core audience—the people who ABSOLUTELY love everything you do—and work to appease them both with your site content and your keywords.  For example, my friend Cathy West wrote an amazing historical romance called Yesterday’s Tomorrow that’s set in Vietnam during the war.  And, while her book is great for all sorts of populations, you can bet that Vietnam vets and their families find it especially compelling.  My recommendation for Cathy?  To cater to that population, both by creating contests and posts that appeal to Vietnam vets, but also by focusing her keyword reach on words that appeal to that audience.

NOW:  For a chance to win an hour of SEO consulting from me (via phone or Skype, 30 minutes research, 30 minutes talking), respond to this post and tell me how (or if) you’ve developed an SEO strategy for your blog.  Winner will be chosen at random on October 21st and will be contacted by me via email.

*CONTEST IS CLOSED*  Congrats to WINNER Norma Thurston Holtman.

62 Replies to “Keywording 101 for SEO Prowess”

  1. Hi! This was probably the first blog I’ve read about SEO that I understood! I’ve read others that are over my head and get too technical, therefore losing me in the process. However, you gave us two sites to use to help us find search words for our blogs and I’m going to look at those for mine. I’m excited about that because now I have something concrete to DO to improve my blog!

  2. Erin, this is such a new zone for me! I’ve been blogging since May and will hopefully hire someone to develop a website for me after the first of the year. SEO is not totally foreign – I’m used to seeing the term and hearing people talk about it – but I have no idea how to start doing anything related to it. I have no problem getting books or googling information, but sometimes it helps to have someone who can answer you back or understand when all you can say is “I don’t understand the little icon thingy in the corner…” That would be me! I hope that you can do other posts about this topic. I keep them for reference in the future, but certainly would like to have my own private consultant for an hour. This is a great post and a generous opportunity. Thank you.

    1. Hi Sherry- Glad this helps! SEO can be very overwhelming– especially when you’re just starting off! Good luck!

  3. Erin, yes, I’m one of those who have put SEO? WHAT THE—?? on their to do list. The list I hope will figure out how to complete itself. 🙂 While giving a gentle peek at the length and perilousness of the SEO road ahead, you’ve done a great job introducing us to the journey with a few doable steps. Thank you! These I can do while I coax my little writer brain to make the shift from creating and editing to drawing virtual target circles on me and my website. Awesome, thank you so much for sharing!

    1. Hi Camille- I am SO with you… there are so many days that I just want to throw the whole internet/blog/seo/social media thing aside and JUST write. Unfortunately, they kind of go hand-in-hand these days!

  4. I have to agree with Patricia (above). This is the first article on SEO that I’ve understood. I’m finally convinced that I actually need an SEO strategy. Apparently, I’ve been doing everything wrong when it comes to keywords. Thank you! I’d love to be entered for this prize.

    1. Hi Christie- I’m so glad this makes sense to you. Good luck and I hope this helped a little on your keywording strategy!

  5. Erin, Great post, and one that finally makes SEO a bit easier to understand. (Mind you, I’m not sure I totally understand it, but that just makes it part of a long list). You’ve encouraged me to finally get up my courage and tackle the key word thing. Thanks so much for sharing.

    1. Hi Doc! I’m glad I at least inspired you to tackle it! Yours will be easy because your books have such a unique genre!

  6. Hi Erin,
    Although I’ve taught myself how to blog and am more sophisticated than I used to be I just can’t keep up with all this stuff. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise. So valuable.

    1. Hi Jillian- Glad it helped. I had to teach myself about WordPress when I started writing… I was used to people posting my articles for me so let’s just say that the technicalities surrounding wordpress were a bit intense!

  7. Thanks Erin! It’s amazing how so few words can affect so much when it comes to marketing. You explained it so well.

  8. I’ve dived head first into a lot of the new aspects of marketing, but SEO is something that confuses me to no end. Every time I watch a video or read a post about how to do it, I end up more confused than I started. I’ve somewhat given up on it. I just put tags on my blog posts and that’s it! No idea how to do more than that.

    This post makes me want to try again.

    1. Hi Ruth- It can be a bit overwhelming so I totally understand. But hopefully this will at least get you started on a strategy that will help you try again!

  9. As I am four weeks into a 6 week course on creating a website, and as last Friday was the lesson on SEO which just about made my head explode, this was very timely. I’m still in the very beginner phase and trying to make all the material mesh in my brain so that I can start developing my strategy. I think my biggest problem in thinking about SEO is that I know I’m writing to a smaller niche market, but am still computing how to make that mesh with general search strategies. For example, I’ve had my blog for four years (Arizona Inspiration) low traffic, but if I key in that title, it comes up fairly soon on a Google search. But how many people are going to enter those search terms? Not many.

    The point is, these bite-size lessons on SEO are a great help to those of us whose head is one step from imploding with all this online marketing jazz. 😎

    1. Hi BK- I think focusing on smaller terms and getting yourself to come up sooner is a lot better strategy than focusing on big terms and ending up on page 25,000. I think your strategy sounds perfect… even if the traffic is somewhat low!

  10. Oh My Gosh…I had no clue about SEO and the importance of it. This blog was beyond helpful, Erin and will definitely help in generating more traffic to my blog/website.



  11. Erin, wow! This is a whole world I only vaguely knew about. You’ve opened my eyes – especially with the helpful advice about using specific, yet not necessarily widely-used key words. Thanks so much for this amazing information!

    1. Hi Donna– glad it helped! Yes, smaller keywords that are specific can almost always result in better SEO traffic for smaller sites.

  12. Erin:
    Bookmarking this page.
    Sharing this page.
    You explained things without making the non-techies (like me!) feel completely inept.
    I know I need to learn more … and thanks for what you’ve shared. Your insight on keywords was exactly opposite of what I thought I was supposed to do, but I now understand why.

  13. Okay Erin, being as the only word I recognized in this post was my name…hahaha, kidding. But not really. I have never heard of this before!! I definitely need lessons! When I have time later today I will re-read all this and try to make some sense of it, because you sound like you know what you’re talking about! 🙂

  14. I would love to win that time with you because you made some things plain for me already that I didn’t understand before. Also, I’ve been tracking visitors to my website, and although many of my strategies bring in visitors, they don’t go to the Books page. But almost every time someone comes through a search engine, they instantly go to my books page or end up there. My blog readers do not go to my books page as frequently. It makes me wonder if authors who also review books are attracting readers more than authors like me who blog on their theme. Mine is especially tricky because I write Mennonite fiction which falls under the Amish fiction category and I blog about the Mennonite lifestyle. So my site is about Mennonites but I’m trying to attract Amish fiction readers. I sometimes feel like I’m splashing around in the water but not swimming. That makes me tired.

    1. Hi Dianne– It does sound complicated!! But I bet you’ll come up with something great!

  15. I’m late to the party, but I have to say, thank you! These are the types of subjects that make me want to run and hide, because it’s as if everyone’s speaking a secret language that I have no way of deciphering, but you’ve helped me understand SEO better.

  16. I have to admit, this is the first piece I’ve ever read on SEO — I think I may have been avoiding it like the plague. I *think* I get it (sort of). I’m going to head over to those Google sites you mentioned and see if I can wrap my brain around this keyword concept. Thank you for pointing me in the right direction!

  17. Good post. At The High Calling, we’re shifting from SEM to SEO. The vision that we have been given feels awfully broad sometimes, so it’s hard to come up with good keywords. And even harder to limit the editors and authors who are used to a broad license of what they can write about.

    I suppose, that’s my task as Senior Editor, though, right? Great post.

    1. Hi Marcus! Yes, that’s your job as a senior editor! I’m a managing editor for a website right now and a large part of my task is SEO! Good luck!

  18. Erin,

    This is such great info and I really hope I win!! I might have to consult you anyway because, as a nurse, some things marketing are like a foreign language and SEO is one of them.

  19. It seems that SEO is more art than science. It also seems that what one expert says you must do, another will tell you it will make no difference. What I do know is that SEO changes quickly and what helped last year, may not work this year or might even be detrimental. Sometimes, I just chuck the whole concept and focus on writing valuable content.

    1. Hi Peter- I TOTALLY agree with you that it’s an art… and also agree with you that it’s a always moving target that changes every other day (it seems). I have seen so many changes over the years that I think the thing you said that makes the most sense is to WRITE VALUABLE CONTENT. Because the truth is, that if you’re writing great content that is relevant around a theme, people can’t help but notice you. Nicely put.

  20. I have had a couple of poems and a devotional published on, with more coming in 2012. I am working on my first novel, an inspiriatonal contemporary romance. I have a website at I do not have an SEO plan yet. I need one very much. I do weekly devotionals and occasional poems. I am working on building a platform and getting opportunities to speak to women’s groups, particularly in New Mexico. I really know nothing about SEO, but know I need it if I am going to get any readers for my blog.

  21. Hi Erin, I’ld love to win your contest. I have a SEO strategy without knowing it–until I read your post. I write and blog about the United States Air Force Academy, so USAFA is a very relevant hit for me, as is “Navy Seal,” but I go beyond the straight keyword by answering questions that are in the news, such as “why would a USAFA senior cadet take his life?” and, more recently, when the hurricane was marching up the East coast, “How to interpret hurricane computer models.” It seems to me that if I focus on answering specific questions before the “big sites” get to it, I get many more search hits.

    1. Hi Anne– YES, you sound like you really have something there… especially since you have such a niche audience. Great idea!! Good luck.

  22. My blog comes with some SEO capability because its from the Genesis framework, but currently that’s all I have. I do research keywords when developing articles to be sure to word them according to the way people are seeking information.

  23. Erin,
    I came by here via your post on Rachelle’s blog. You have done an outstanding job of bringing clarity to an area that was just a morass of confusion for me. On Saturday, I’m sharing about blogging and social media with our writers group. I don’t know much at all, but they know less than me – lol. I wanted to address SEO but didn’t know where to start. Now I do thanks to you. I hope it’s ok for me to print your posts as handouts.
    Many thanks,

  24. Hello Erin,

    I’d like to thank you for all the TIPS you gave me. I spent the major part of today writing two articles on my Blogs with information I learned from you. The best advice is how to attract more readers and followers to my site after I’ve gone to all the trouble of Tweeting and helping other authors and writers to get attention and gain numbers. My interests are in writing reviews about books and articles read. I am interested in education, language, psychology of learning, research, literacy, Today, I wrote a Blog on one of my Websites about Norman Rockwell and posted links. Then, I wrote about a GOOGLE website that translated languages and posted links. SEO is clearer now and I will use 15-Tags continually to send out relevant posts.

    I had a great day. Thanks for your help.

    Charlotte Liebel

  25. Erin,
    I’m a casual blogger and I’ve never even thought about keywords to bring people to my posts; however I have noticed that several blogs received many more views than others – all because of Google keyword searches. The royal wedding Disney comparison blog that I did has received a tremendous amount of viewers. All writers like to be read, so I’m game for trying to use keywords to attract readers and followers. Thanks for the tips!

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