Friday, April 18, 2008

Keyword Research 101

By Michael Pedone

As a search engine optimization company, has a responsibility to help our clients find the right keyword phrases that will help them improve sales. Unfortunately, there is a widespread misconception that you need highly competitive keyword phrases that get the most traffic to do this. This could not be farther from the truth!

More often than not, and understandably so, clients who hire us for search engine optimization will request very general, non-specific keyword phrases because tools like Overture’s keyword finder tells them that keyword phrase “XYZ” gets the most searches. However, there is a major pitfall with using only this data.

Now you may be thinking, “Oh you’re just another search engine optimization company trying to avoid having to target the hard-to-get keyword phrases," but that is not the case. It is possible to get first-page rankings in the free listing area of the major search engines for competitive keyword phrases, and we have done so numerous times for ourselves and clients.

But although you may have been sold on the idea that top website positioning is the goal, what you really want is for your web site to generate more qualified leads or, better yet, sales.

Quantity vs. quality
Simply trying to get top search engine placement based upon “quantity” (in other words, those keyword phrases being searched on most) may totally miss the mark of your ultimate goal: more sales. Getting targeted website traffic, meaning people who are literally using the search engines as an online yellow pages phone book to find a product or service that will solve their need / pain, is what SEO is really all about. Because only targeted traffic will spend money on what you’re selling.

Take a moment and think about your own search habits for a moment. Let’s say you live in Connecticut and you need a limo. Do you use Google to search for “limo” or “Connecticut limo”?

Sure, the keyword “limo” gets a ton more searches than does the phrase “Connecticut limo," but the fact is even if your SEO company was able to get your site ranked on the first page of Google for the keyword “limo," what are the chances that people using that search term are customers looking for a limo in your area? What are the chances they are your target audience? Do you really want to get Internet leads from people all over the map who you can’t serve, or would you rather be found under a keyword phrase that pre-qualifies your prospects?

This does not mean you shouldn’t go after competitive keyword phrases ever. I believe that if a keyword phrase accurately describes your product or service and would bring you targeted website traffic (buyers, not just shoppers) then by all means optimize for it! But make sure your expectations are realistic and don’t put all your keywords into one basket.

Instead, let’s say you choose an SEO package that includes 20 to 30 keyword phrases. Have a good mix of five or 10 really relevant keyword phrases that are highly competitive, and then make sure the rest of your keyword phrases are ones that will bring targeted website traffic, even if the numbers are low. The payoff will be higher search engine placement across the board, plus your quality and quantity of leads will skyrocket, bringing increased sales along for the ride.

The art of finding the right keyword phrase
OK, so now that you are on board with finding the right phrases and not just the ones that get the most searches, you need to know how to find them.

Simply using a tool like Overture’s word suggestion tool is just not going to cut it. You need to have a clear goal before you even start the hunt for keyword phrases.

There are several fundamentals at play here that even most search engine optimization companies overlook:

One: You need to get in touch with your real market, those who pay your bills. Ask yourself who your customers are and what problems do they have that your product or service solves.

Two: You need to think like your customers and not assume you know what keyword phrases they use to find you. All too often the clients who hire us to handle their optimization are too close to their own situation and they need a little eye-opening Q and A session to get them thinking more like their clients. This goes a long way toward uncovering the right type of phrases...but it is not the end of the road.

One last note before we move on. Depending on your own server logs or stats package to tell you where your customers are coming from is not the right way to determine the keyword phrases to use in your search engine optimization campaign. Why? Because if you were satisfied with the results those keyword phrases were currently bringing you, you wouldn’t be looking to hire or do your own SEO. You need to find the “money phrases” that buyers are using everyday to search for and find companies just like yours. Let’s look at one way of doing just that.

Finding the 'money keyword phrases'
Once the suggestions above are in progress and your juices are flowing, the following method works very well in uncovering keyword phrases that will bring traffic to your site and put money in your pocket.

First, decide what your categories are.

Look at your site and note all the different page groupings and subjects you have in your navigation. Start with general subject headings and move deeper into your site. Here’s an example:

At, we offer “Search Engine Optimization” so our main category would be:

  • Search Engine Optimization

And we have sub categories such as:

  • SEO Services
  • Free Search Engine Optimization Analysis
  • Free SEO Price Quote
  • SEO Articles

Just to name a few. But if you go deeper into the site you see second-level sub categories. For instance, our search engine optimization services page reveals that we offer:

  • Keyword Research
  • Web Site Optimization
  • Search Engine Copywriting
  • Search Engine Registration
  • Link Popularity
  • Web Site Traffic Analysis

So the end result of our category research would look like this:

Main Category:

  • Search Engine Optimization

Sub Categories:

    • SEO Services
    • Free Search Engine Optimization Analysis
    • Free Price Quote
    • SEO Articles

2nd level Sub Categories (Hint: this is where you can really score some homerun traffic)

      • Keyword Research
      • Web Page Optimization
      • Search Engine Copywriting
      • Search Engine Registration
      • Link Popularity
      • Web Site Traffic Analysis

The actual names of these categories and sub categories are what you would use to start your keyword phrase research.

Now you need a good keyword tracking tool so you can enter the title of each category into it and start honing your list of keyword phrases. I use and recommend Wordtracker. I have found that there’s an art to using Wordtracker and we have developed our own methodology for using it in a way that will produce the best keyword phrases for your optimization venture.

Believe it or not, the hardest part is already done. Now that you’ve brainstormed on what your target market is, what problems your product / service solves for them, and determined your website’s categories, you are ready for Wordtracker.

The finish line is not far away at this point and the rewards could be great but you must finish what you started and not cut any corners here. The next section will guide you on how to use Wordtracker like a pro to get the best phrases for your search engine optimization.

Selecting the RIGHT keyword phrases
As with any powerful tool, there is a right way and a few wrong ways to use Wordtracker. We’ll try to prevent the most common mistakes in this section. But first, a few words about how Wordtracker works.

It allows you to enter a keyword phrase (such as one of your category names) and then:

  • It automatically supplies other keyword phrases related to your original phrase. So if I type in “search engine optimization” it will provide me with other related terms being searched for. Check out the example below:

Click here to add all keywords to your basket

Keyword Count Predict Dig
search engine optimization 1045 1067
economical search engine optimization 176 180
search engine optimization company 28 29

  • The other thing Wordtracker does is it tells me how many searches are being done on a particular keyword phrase.

Beware: This is where a crucial mistake is usually made! It’s still too early to choose keyword phrases based on their “search count” (the popularity of a keyword phrase based upon the amount of searches it’s getting).

Why you ask? Because there is still one crucial element missing: the amount of competition for each keyword phrase.

Wordtracker can help you with this, too. If you type in your main keyword category and some of the other additional phrases related to it, Wordtracker will give you a good indication of:

a) How many searches are expected to be done on those phrases on a given search engine like Google, and...

b) The number of competing web pages for a specific keyword phrase already in the database of a given search engine.

This information will become indispensable as you settle on your final list of keyword phrases.

At this stage of the game, many fall into a trap that can completely derail their optimization efforts. That trap is selecting keyword phrases based simply on the number of searches their primary keyword categories are getting.

Chances are most if not all of your category and sub category keyword phrases will be among the most competitive in their class. And yes, I did mention earlier that it’s okay to optimize for highly competitive keyword phrases if your page is all about a specific product or service and those keyword phrases bring the exact type of traffic suited for that page.

But there are probably several primary keyword phrases on your list that may prove to be quite difficult to get first or second page ranking results with.

So to help you make an educated decision on what terms to optimize for, I recommend you enter your category keyword phrases and related phrases one at a time into Wordtracker, regardless of their reported popularity. (All the keyword phrases you select are added to a master “basket” for you to review when you are done).

Once you have this master list, review it without looking at the stats. If you include the stats at this stage, it will probably skew your thinking.

If it helps, move the keyword phrases only to an Excel sheet and organize them alphabetically.

Then simply go through the list and ask yourself, “If a customer found our site with this keyword phrase, would he / she be a buyer?”

Deep six the ones that immediately say “no” to you.

With your new, scaled-down list, go back to Wordtracker and this time examine the words and stats together. (This is where a professional search engine optimization consultant can truly come in handy.)

Now you are faced with the biggie: “Which keyword phrases do I choose for the final cut?”

Fortunately, you now have all the data on the three most important considerations in your hands:

What are the most relevant keyword phrases for this page in order of importance?
What is the popularity of each of these keyword phrases?
How much competition does each of these keyword phrases have?

So, to review...

You have determined that the following keyword phrases would bring targeted web site traffic to your site:

  • ABC
  • ABCD

Keyword phrase “ABC” gets 200 searches a day and has five million web pages already competing with you in this category.

“ABCD” gets 85 searches a day but only has 600,000 competing web pages.

“ABCDE” has 25 searches a day and only 250,000 competing web pages.

So, that’s the complete picture! Now that you’ve completed this tutorial, you’re better equipped to select the right keyword phrases that will sky rocket not only your search engine placement but your sales, too.

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