SEO: Keyword Research

This is the start of a series on search engine optimization. Right now, I see this series having four parts:

  1. Keyword Research
  2. Creating keyword rich content
  3. Optimizing pages for keywords
  4. Getting back links

Right now we’ll talk about keyword research. This is an often used term these days. If you read forums about search engine optimization, you’ll often hear something like, “You need to do some keyword research.” But usually there aren’t a lot of details on what that means.

So here’s the basic idea: your web site is about a topic. Each of your web pages is about a topic, probably a specialized version of your site’s topic. In the search engine optimization overview post I talked about keywords being what the user types into a search engine to try and find web pages related to the keyword.

So in this context a keyword can be a word or a phrase. Dog training is a keyword, as is make money online. Someone using the keyword dog training probably isn’t looking for information on how to make money online.

Picking keywords is a bit like playing Jeopardy. You have an answer, your web page. You need to figure out what questions people are asking that your web page fits. The obvious keywords aren’t always the best, so you have to be creative here.

Think in terms of a person with a problem. For example, this blog is about making money online. A person might go to Google and type in the keyword, make money online. Most people, though, would type in something like how can I make money online, or how can I make extra money online.

Step 1, then, is to write down all the questions for which your web page is the perfect answer that you can imagine people using. This becomes our list of keywords we’ll use to start researching. These keywords should be as specific as possible.

What we want are keywords for which our web page is always the right answer. These are well targeted keywords. Having well targeted keywords helps to ensure that someone who does come to the web page is going to find what they need.

Step 2 is to use a keyword tool to start getting some insight into which of those keywords are going to get you the most traffic. There are free keyword tools and paid keyword tools. In general, you get the most detailed information out of paid keyword tools, but until you’re making enough money to afford them, it doesn’t make sense to use them.

Here are a few free keyword tools I use:

In general, when you type one of your keywords into a keyword tool, what you get back is the expected search volume you can expect for that keyword, plus suggestions of related keywords along with their expected search volume.

For example, putting dog training into Overture’s tool gets back the following results today:

Notice that the keyword dog training has over five times as many searches for March than the next highest keyword. Many people stop at this point and pick dog training as their keyword because of the search volume.

The problem with this keyword is that it’s too broad. A person who searches for dog training might be looking for information on how to keep their dog from barking, or how to train their dogs to perform tricks, or stop peeing on the rugs, or to attack burglars, etc. The keyword is too broad for our web page to always be the right answer.

By using a more specific keyword, we’ll get less traffic, but well increase the chances that our web page will be the answer to the visitor’s problem. After all, traffic alone doesn’t make us any money. Solving visitor’s problems makes us money. The term conversion rate is used to indicate the percentage of visitors who actually buy something (or otherwise perform an action we feel is valuable). Specific keywords will have higher conversion rates than broad keywords.

The real benefit of a keyword tool is to allow you to see related keywords that have actually been used in searches. Let’s say that our page is about obedience training for dogs, and we see in Overture’s list that dog obedience training has a good number of searches.

Do we just pick that keyword and target it? No, instead let’s put that keyword back into the keyword tool and see what related keywords it has.

A couple of things jump out at me. The first is that there’s a keyword that gets more searches than dog obedience training. That only really helps us if our page is about an obedience school, but it’s something we wouldn’t have known if we’d stopped researching after our first try.

The second thing that jumps out at me is that there are geographically specific searches. When you think about it, this makes sense. Let’s say that we’re running an obedience school for dogs, and we optimize for dog training obedience schools and we get a lot of traffic. But most of that traffic won’t live in the area of our school, so won’t be targeted.

By optimizing for a keyword that includes geographical information, we can help increase our conversion rate by making sure we’re providing an answer for people who can actually take advantage of it.

The ideal keyword for SEO purposes has less than 10,000 pages in Google. This increases your chances of ranking highly for that keyword. To check the number of pages in Google, type the keyword into Google using quotes around it. So to check dog training, I’d type “dog training” into the Google search box.

Ideally, the result of keyword research is two to three highly targeted keywords. The amount of traffic you get might be lower, but your conversion rate should be high.

In the next post, we’ll talk about creating keyword rich content. See you there!

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