SEO - How to Find Keywords

We're pretty much at the point where everyone knows what SEO is... which is precisely why anyone attempting to write SEO web content should know how to do it right.

You already know what awkward SEO is and how to fit it into text, and how to figure out your keyword density - but how do we find keywords that land our documents on page 1?

A Note to Newbies...

Sometimes your clients will have their own keyword lists, and sometimes they'll ask for your input - but it's often a combination of both.  No matter what though, part of being a great freelance writer is going above and beyond: always do your own research for each client.  If you find something they may have overlooked, suggest it to them - your clients will love you for it.

How to Find Keywords: Use Your Head, Kid

First, use your common sense.  Since I'm a freelance writer stuck in El Paso, for example, I love it when local clients contact me.  Obviously when I'm writing a document to attract clients, I'm going to use 'freelance writer' or some variation on that, right?

Well, it won't hurt to throw in a locality.  How many people do you think come up when you Google "El Paso freelance writer?"  A big, fat zip.

So my document would include a 3- to 4% keyword density of "El Paso freelance writer."

Same goes for your client's site if they want to market themselves locally (like NY staffing firm, Pinckney tattoo artist)... you get the picture.

How to Find Keywords: "Wax On.  Wax Off." (Mr. Miyagi)

Who better to ask what keywords are best than the source of most things Internet?

Google, that's who.

Check Google's Search-Based Keyword Tool.  They've started using a new version, but I prefer the old one because I'm used to it.

Google is the Mr. Miyagi of the Internet.  So that means you use the keyword tool to find out how many people are searching for a particular term each month.  Check this out: 8200 people per month are searching "turtle bay resort."  If they were your client, you'd also want to note that 3500 are searching for "turtle beach resort," and you'd want to find a way to incorporate that into your text to capture those searchers, as well.  No matter who your client is, use your imagination to come up with keywords relating to their business.

How to Find Keywords: "Competition Helps People Figure it Out." (Bryan McBride)

What are your clients competitors doing?  Are they hot stuff in search results?  Go see what they're doing - and then do it better.

If they've got zero SEO, you'll be all set - it's a cakewalk to beat someone who isn't even trying.  However, if they're doing okay, evaluate what they've got going on.  Are they using their SEO strategically - and is there a way to bring your client better results?

Say your client is a hubcap company and her competition sells the exact same hubcaps as she does.  Who is their site likely to attract?  Are they going for people searching "cheap hubcaps?"  Think about how your client can attract more (and better) buyers; maybe she'd be better off using that keyword plus "buy hubcaps online," "after-market hubcaps" and "hubcaps under $50."

After You Find Keywords

If your client hands you a list of keywords and tells you to run with it, do it; however, if their keywords won't help them in any way, shape or form, let them know (politely, of course).  And don't let them know until you've found better alternatives (which should be right away).
My Story:

I had a client about a year ago who wanted to use 'Microsoft Help Desk' as one of his major keywords.  The problem was:

  • this guy was not the Microsoft Help Desk
  • this guy had no affiliation with the MHD
  • this guy wanted to cheat and use it to snatch traffic that was actually searching for the MHD.

Logically, that doesn't even make sense.  Here's why:

  • You're not going to compete with MHD. 
  • People who are looking for MHD actually want to find it - and this guy's site wasn't about the MHD.  He was selling IT services.
  • That's just shady - it's kind-of sneaky and underhanded.

I told him that was a horrible idea (why would you even want to attract people to your site who have no interest in what you're doing?) and provided alternatives.  He disagreed.

I ended up dumping him.  I didn't want to be involved in that mess (and, as a side note, the guy was shady in general), so I politely told him I couldn't work with him and walked away.

I'm not saying dump your clients if they don't agree.  Dumping clients is a whole 'nother post I don't have time for today... but I am saying you've got to go above and beyond to find what's going to work best for your clients; that's how you become a valuable asset rather than someone they grudgingly have to pay.

Ok, I'm Done.

There are dozens of other ways to find effective keywords, but these will get you started.  Once you've been at it a while, this stuff will become second nature and you can dream up keywords in your sleep.

How do you find SEO keywords?  Do you tell your clients if their keywords are useless?

Follow me on Twitter, join me on Facebook or subscribe to this blog via e-mail.

© Angie Papple Johnston, 2010; if you are reading this anywhere but on, it's stolen.

Creative Commons License

Freelance Writing Tips by Angie Papple Johnston is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at

"Find the Way" image courtesy of Lusi at