Why keyword research is vital to your position in search engines
And simple tips for choosing the best keywords for your business
Sept 12, 2010 by Steve Cassidy
“I didn’t know I had to do all this keyword research malarkey!” "I know my business niche and I know what my customers want.” Sound familiar? It’s fair to say that in my dealings with many businesses it’s a common admission. But, I do understand why little thought is given to keyword analysis upfront.
Think back to the day you decided to build your website. Knowing the phenomenal sales potential of the web you plough headlong into the website design, copywriting and build. And within weeks – bang, you’re website is live for everyone to see – wow!
But stop a second! Unfortunately, there’s one critical step that many companies forget – drum roll please... yep, you guessed it – keyword research and analysis!
Keywords are the foundations of great search marketing
Build a house on rock and it’ll stand the test of time – use jelly (gut feeling, hunches or preconceptions) and well...
Yes, keyword research is that important. Build your website and pay per click campaigns without doing this crucial first step and you’ll always be on extremely wobbly ground. Anyway, enough about desert, let’s get back to the main course...
Search engine users are now more demanding
When people started using search engines they were cautious. 1 and 2-word search queries were the norm. These days around 33% of ALL searches use 2 keyword combos - 26% are 3 word and 21% 4 or more! Therefore, your keyword and keyphrase selections must be smarter.
Search engines are stupid – use keywords to educate them!
Yep, it’s true. Search engines use logic (search algorithms) to work out what your site is about. Forget leaps of faith or human intuition. If you don’t play the keyword optimisation game they’ll never pay you much, if any, attention. Or worse, your site will be number one in Google for the wrong thing!
Why am I telling you this? Well, keywords (the text used on your site) are the way you make it crystal clear what your site is about. And, keyword research uncovers the keywords your customers really use. It’s scientific –not guesswork based.
My top tips for finding profitable keywords
1 – Know thy customers
My first suggestion is that you call a few recent customers and ask them how they found out about your business. Ask them if they use search engines. Listen closely to the actual language they use – style, slang and jargon.
Then, if they work for a business, have a browse over their website and see what keywords, phrases and topics they use regularly.
It’s worth noting that the keywords used by business people will often be different from those used by students and hobbyists. All groups may use keywords that appear to be relevant, but their intentions don’t always lead to a sale.
2 – Know thy competitors
In assessing what keywords to use you should check out what your competitors are up to. You need to analyse their websites for keywords. Don’t be lazy and rely on the companies you know – remember, they might not have the highest search engine listing.
Instead, use obvious keywords and run searches in Google and Bing. Visit each website in the top 10 – 20 results and look at the keywords they use. Don’t just look at the homepage, look through the sites deeply to get a true picture. And, for each page, don’t forget to look at their meta tags – title, description and keywords.
Note: avoid the temptation to just copy your competitors’ keywords. These should be a guide – don’t assume the ones they use are the best for your business.
3 – Don’t ignore your own web traffic data
One of the best ways to discover great keywords is to look at your own web traffic reports. For small businesses Google Analytics is superb – and it’s free, so no excuses! You should have a thorough trawl through the referring sites report (sites that brought you visitors).
When looking at which sites delivered traffic, pick the top 10-20 and visit their sites. What language, keywords and phrases are used most prominently and often?
However, more powerful still, is the referring keywords report. This lists the actual search terms people typed into a search engine to find your site. You should look to pick out the most common single, 2-word, 3-word and 4 plus keyword combos.
Oh, and if you have a large site which has a search function – have you analysed what people are searching for? Are you even able to track this data? This is a gold mine of keyword ideas – better still, it gives you ideas for products and services you should be selling!
But, there’s a caveat to doing the above keyword analysis. Don’t do it blindly based on traffic volume. Always ask yourself – are these words relevant to my business? And, for bonus points, look at each keyword or phrase in conjunction with the bounce rate (those that leave your site immediately) – this will tell you a lot about their relevancy.
4 - Use both short and long keyword combos
There’s been a lot of discussion about the merits of focussing more attention on the longer keyphrases - 3, 4 or more words. This is called chasing the long-tail. But, in my experience, it’s better to use both short and long-tail at the same time. Why?
Well, our intentions when we search the web vary depending on what it is we are looking for. Picture the last time few times you were online. Sometimes you might be making a repeat purchase and you’ll want to check the lowest price.
Occasionally, you’ll be considering an expensive purchase and you’ll be focussed on research rather than be ready to buy. Or maybe, you’ll be simply looking for the answers to last night’s pub quiz!
So, depending on your customers intentions they will use very different keyword combinations. However, most searchers - no matter their aims – follow a broad pattern.
Every search starts with an interest. Searchers are likely to use just two broad keywords. As the user gathers more information they discount those sites that don’t fit the bill by using longer keyword searches.
So by using both short and long-tail keyword combos you tap into a wider potential audience – those that are data gathering and those that are ready to buy. The trick, after a few months of analysis, is to ensure you match the right words to the right stage of the search process.
5 – Not ALL keywords are equal
One trap you certainly want to avoid is to focus on choosing keywords that are searched for the most. Usually the obvious, high volume keywords are the ones with the greatest competition.
The balance to strike is to pick keywords and phrases with a decent number of searches but lower levels of competition. But how to you do that? Read on...
6 – How do you choose keywords to compete on?
The easiest way is to use keyword tools. There are a multitude of free and paid keyword discovery tools out there. These can help you score and rank your keywords. Wordtracker (paid) and the Google Keyword Tool (free) are examples of two well respected ones, and definitely worth investigating.
However, it’s dangerous to rely on keyword tools 100%. Yes, such tools do give you keyword insights – but what they don’t give you is a true understanding of customer intent. And specifically, whether those words are used in browsing or buying modes as discussed earlier.
Do, do keyword research. And when you make keyword selections, it shouldn’t be about what you think customers are looking for online. Ditch your gut feelings and preconceptions.
Instead, apply a systematic approach that considers every keyword’s popularity, level of competition and intended usage.
I hope you found this article interesting and useful. If you’d like to comment, please email Steve Cassidy.
About the author:
Steve Cassidy is the Founder of SEO 4 SMEs – a London based search marketing consultancy. Its focus is to help small and medium UK business profit from their websites and optimise PPC campaigns. He was one of the first UK marketing professionals to become an Institute of Direct Marketing (IDM) qualified E-Marketer – Cert.EM back in 2001. The majority of his commercial internet marketing expertise was gained whilst working at the informa group plc (a FTSE 150 company).
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