How To Rank for Specific Keywords

How To Rank for Specific Keywords

Whenever I start a new web project for a client, I ask them to choose 10-15 desired keywords and/or phrases they would like to rank well for in the search listings.

Since I am in the process of optimizing a few client web sites, I thought it would be fitting to write about how to rank well for specific keywords.

In this article I will show you how I select certain phrases based on search volume, how to check search competition, and then what web sites I use to build links.

Tools to Check Search Volume

Some search terms are not even worth ranking for because they are never searched, but others are searched quite often and have low competition, so they are relatively easy to rank for.

When deciding what search phrases you would like to rank for, there are a few tools that can help determine daily search volume and search competition.

The SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tool shows you the approximate daily search volume for Yahoo, Google, and MSN. Depending on the niche, a phrase that is searched more than 50 times per day is worth trying to rank for.

Check Your Competition

The best way to check competition is to do a search for your desired term and then check out the PR and backlinks of the top 5-10 listings. I recommend using iWebTool’s Free Webmaster Tools to check the PR and the number of backlinks using.

Generally, any search phrase with less than a million results is not super competitive and is relatively easy to rank for (assuming your onsite SEO is on par).

Building Links for Specific Terms

When you are building links, always make sure the anchor text is one of the keywords or phrases you are trying to rank for.

For example, instead of using “Nate Whitehill dot Com” as my anchor text, I would use “Business Development.” Several top commentators on John Chow’s blog use this technique and it definitely helps with SEO.

There are many places to build links. Paying for links using a service such as Text-Link-Ads is ususally the fastest route, but if you are on a budget, here are your main options:

  • Free Article Distribution Sites (i.e.,, Ezine Articles,
  • Free Directories – here is a list of free web directories. Some may require you to become an editor to submit a link.
  • Blogs (i.e., Try appearing in their Top Commentators or ask for a link exchange)
  • On forums that allow you to post links in your signature, make sure you use a keyword-rich link to your site.

There is a fine line between building a large link campaign and link-spam, so make sure thay any link you leave is not out of context on the site and that is under the acceptable terms of use policy according to the web site owner.

Assuming that your onsite keywords are present in the title, META tags, headers tags, and the body of your web site, after you have a solid link campaign, you should eventually start to rank well for your desired search terms or phrases. You can learn more about onpage optimization from my recent SEO case study.

31 thoughts on “How To Rank for Specific Keywords”

  1. I wonder if you have the same problem I have with my clients when I tell them to pick some keywords they want to rank for;

    They all reply with “huh?” 🙂

    1. Haha… yeah… I have to go through my half hour spiel explaining exactly what search engine optimization is. After that, I hand them some reading about SEO and then proceed to answer many questions. Only after that do they have a clue what SEO is…

  2. Great resource Nate! I think too many people get caught up in using only one method of attaining links. There are many ways to get backlinks and we should use them all.

  3. I have a question, Nate.

    If I leave my comment signature using keywords, and I comment on blogs that have removed rel=nofollow, will my search ranking improve for those keywords?

    I’m thinking of changing my signature to include ‘graphic design edinburgh’ which receives over 10 searches per day.

    1. Hi David, as long as the search engines are spidering those blogs, then yes, your search rankings will improve for those keywords. It could take months though because unless a blog owner has a predefined site map, Google rarely re-indexes old blog posts.

    2. Be careful about spamming the name field though. I generally get away with “Blogs for Money” because that’s my site name, but if I was posting as “make money online blogging with affiliate programs and Google Adsense” I’d probably get them deleted.

      Remember, the bloggers are doing you a favour letting you comment get a backlink – don’t abuse it and make their site look like spam 🙂

      Also avoid “FIRST!!” and “me too” comments since it just makes you look like you want backlinks and you might get canned. Try to be on-topic. If you want a few links, try to answer other commenters questions – that way you can leave a few legit comments and get backlinks (like this one!) 🙂

  4. I recommend putting your keywords in boldface or italics and branding your products, too. I run the #1 blog on the Chicago 2016 bid, for example, so I comment on others’ blogs as Chicago 2016 and brand every post about them “Chicago 2016 Update”. I know I’m not the first one to use this approach, but it seems intuitive.

  5. I think the biggest mistake people make with SEO is they don’t invest enough time in keyword research. I usually spend about 40% of my time on research and recommend that my clients use Google Adwords for a month or 2 to get hard data to support keyword phrase selection.

    Lots of clicks may not mean lots of conversions. Nice Blog. Love the design. Very crisp.

  6. I’d also recommend, for building backlinks, having multiple sites of your own. If you run a few sites and update content semi-regularly (e.g. a few blogs where you ramble about other things you’re interested in) you can also use those to point back at the site you’re trying to build up SEO for and, of course, you’ll have full control of the anchor text too 😉

  7. the free article sites i thought werent good, since many folks use them and it is seen as duplicate content. which then leads search engines into only listing the most prominent site for it?

  8. Still now i think article submissions is worthless, we should publish the articles on our websites, not will have to distribute unique content over the web.
    I don’t found article links have much more juice in it.

  9. I must admit that I definitely agree largely with your post. It really has helped me to check the competition, and check out those sites that are currently doing well. Google provides a nice way in which you can see the keywords in the site. Of course, decent SEO takes more than just keywords into account. This is because of the way the Google algorithm works. There are more search engines in the world than Google, but we have to develop for them all.

  10. It always pays to check your high-ranking and cashed up competition. I use a tool at that displays page backlinks with PR and anchor text. By spending 15 minutes or so using that tool you can usually work out what a site is trying to rank for.

  11. If you use the Google keyword suggestion tool, do it from your Adwords account and set up a campaign for the geographic area that you want to cover. T

    his really helps in working out what words people in your target location use rather than the entire world. Americans use optimize and Brits and Auissies use optimise. There’s hundreds of geographic differences like this.

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