Keyword Research for MFTs and Psychotherapists


Keyword research is about finding out what people are searching for.  Like I’ve said before, building a website is like building a business in the middle of the desert.  No matter how flashy and informative you make it, no one will find you.  Keyword research increases your chances of being found by tailoring your site around what people want (i.e., what they are typing into Google).

It will also help you discover untapped niches in your market.  Even if you’re not planning to build a website, keyword research is a great way to do some marketing research before building your practice and finding your specialty.

Basics of Keyword Research for Therapists

Keyword Planner Tool by Google

There are many free and paid tools out there, but I love Google.  And why not get answers straight from the horses mouth?

This free tool allows you to see what people are typing into Google and how many are typing it.  Free answers to what people are needing and how many are out there.

You’ll also figure out how they are searching for it.  For example, if your therapist practice specializes in couples counseling and all over your website you have “couples counseling” this and “couples counseling” that, you might be missing out on a lot of free traffic (i.e., potential clients) if people are searching for “marriage counseling” instead.  Same practice, same specialty, but because you used a different keyword, you’re missing out.

So, unless you’re a really good guesser, this tool is a must for starting a new website or trying to improve your existing one.

You need a free AdWords account to use it.  More on this later…

Search Volume

Pretty straight forward.  It’s the amount of searches performed for a certain word or phrase.  This is usually expressed as an average per month


This is the amount of websites that that compete for a certain keyword on Google’s advertising platform.  That is, they have an ad targeting that certain word or phrase.

AdWords has some useful data for competition and so does Google’s general search (more on this later) and a website called Alexa.

Finding Your Psychotherapy Keyword

Here is a great quick video on the basics of using Google’s keyword tool.

Google changes it’s interface quite often.  So, the only thing that I saw that has changed at the time of writing, related to the above video, is in regard to exact matching.  The tool now automatically searches for exact match, not broad match.  To double check this, hover over the question mark for on the “Avg. Monthly Searches” column.  It should give you a description of what the numbers mean.

So, it’s obvious you are looking for keywords with the most volume.  But, you’ll also notice, most of the time, high volume means high competition (you can see the level of competition in the “competition” column).  Lower volume, usually means less people are after it.

The goal here is to find a keyword that has the following characteristics:

  1. Find a keyword related to your psychotherapy services (hopefully you’ve found a niche, specialty service)
  2. The keyword shows intent on taking action (i.e., picking up the phone or emailing you to make an appointment)
  3. Has a reasonably high level of search traffic
  4. Has a reasonably low level of competition

1. Finding a Keyword Related to Your Psychotherapy Services

This is pretty straight forward, but you do need to think carefully about what the intent is behind the search.  For example, if “I need a therapist” gets tons of volume, it’s tempting to jump on it.  Think about it from every perspective.  Are these searches all for psychotherapy?  Probably not.  Within this number is probably people looking for physical therapy and occupational therapy.  The actual number related to your services is going to be much smaller.  Think about it from all possible angles.

2. The Keyword Shows Intent on Taking Action

If a million people search for “what’s psychotherapy like,” you’ll probably get tons of traffic to your website.  But, is that your goal?

It shouldn’t, because having a high level of traffic to your website, filled with people who are never going to use your services, is just going to slow down your site and cause headaches.  The high number might feel good for a little while, but it will get old fast!

Instead of getting lured in by the high numbers, try to focus on keywords people type when they are ready to take action rather than just seeking out information.

For example, better action phrases than “what’s psychotherapy like” might be “how to find a qualified psychotherapist,” “MFT in San Francisco,” or “depression counselor in San Francisco.”  All of these show more intent on taking action.

Also, when using AdWords, pay close attention to the “Competition” and “Suggested Bid” columns.  These are related to people paying Google to advertise (the quick, easy, but expensive path), not necessarily websites competing to get ranked for free in Google (the harder, more long-term path).

The more competition you see and the higher dollar amount you see, USUALLY means people are seeing results/action from these keywords.

These are most likely quality keywords!

3. Has a Reasonably High Level of Search Traffic

What’s the right number?  I don’t know!  If I saw “Joe Shmoe MFT in San Francisco” had 5 people searching a month, even though it’s VERY low search volume, you know with 100% certainty that they are searching for a MFT named Joe Shmoe in San Francisco.  These searches are very likely to result in phone calls for Joe Shmoe.

So, there is no magic number here.  But the higher the better, as long as your not ignoring all the other characteristics I’m describing here.

4. Has Reasonably Low Competition

What’s the right level?  I don’t know!  But, same thing…the lower the better.

How do I find out the level of competition?  I first start out by seeing how many websites exist that are targeting the keyword.  To do this, pull up  Type in your keyword, and put quotations around it (“keyword”).  The quotation tells Google you are search for website with that EXACT keyword in it.

So, if you type in ‘ “psychotherapy in San Francisco” ‘ into Google, Google is going to show results of websites that have this EXACT phrase in the title of one of their website’s page.  This will tell you how many websites are going after the same keyword you’re after (i.e., your competitors).

You will see the number of results just below the search bar.


The lower the number the better.

In this example there are 17,000 results.  This means there are 17,000 website PAGES with this exact phrase in it.  This sounds like a lot, but this is a relatively low number of pages.  Type in something more broad with quotations around it….say “Computers.”  Right now, I’m seeing 703,000,000 results for that keyword.  No thank you!

If it’s a blog post keyword I’m after, I like to see a very low number, say under 10,000 results as internal pages (i.e., any page other than your homepage) are harder to rank for.  If it’s the entire purpose of my website, then I’ll accept more competition.  But, I would stay under 250,000.  250,000 might take awhile for your homepage to get ranked.

The second element of competition, is not just the number of websites out there, but the strength of the websites that are out there.  I wouldn’t want to be competing against big companies with lots of money, even though there are only 2,000 results.

So, I do just a quick visual of the top 2 pages of Google results.  Who are they?  Are they big companies?  Small companies?  How much content do they have on their website?

I also look at the links.  If the link is their homepage (i.e., opposed to an internal page (i.e.,, it means they have dedicated an entire subject around the keyword and therefore have more strength.

I also look at a tool called Alexa.

Enter the URL of your competition and they will give you a ranking.  The lower the number the stronger they are.  For example, #1 would probably be Google, Facebook, Twitter, or a company related.  BIG HITTERS.  Don’t compete.

Websites in the millions are what you are looking for.  More than a million will be more doable, but still a lot of work to beat.

Play around with the tool.  Type in big companies and small companies.  See how they rank and you’ll get a general feeling about how they rank sites.

So, if the #1 result on Google has an Alexa rank of 1,000,000 and the #2 has a rank of 7,000,000…this is good news.  Low competition, easy to rank for regardless of the search volume.

Patterns in Psychotherapy Keywords

You’ll start to see patterns in your search.  High search volume, low competition, however the keyword is seeking information not action.  Or High volume, high competition, and an action keyword.  This is the majority of what you will find.

Makes sense right?  Everyone is after the action keywords just like you!

Once again, you’re looking for something that suits you.  You’ll see the patterns, but every once in awhile you’ll uncover something that sticks out.  The action keyword that looks like it has reasonable volume and reasonable competition.  Or maybe even high volume and very low competition.  These are what you’re after!

When to do Keyword Research for Your Psychotherapy Website?


Even after your main site is up and fine tuned around the perfect keywords.  Every blog post you write should have a purpose.  It should be centered around helping someone or to draw clients to your practice.  Before you start writing, pull up the keyword tool, type in the subject of the post and search around.  It will not only help you figure out the specific keywords to use, but it may even give you more ideas on what to write about in the future.

In short, keyword research helps you write about something people are looking for rather than just writing content to fill up your website.

Keyword research and writing content around quality keywords, builds roads to your business sitting out in the middle of the desert.  If you keep building your website around a purpose and goal, and you keep blogging with a purpose and goal, that desert will slowly turn into a small city filled with clients.