Using the Right Keywords to Conquer the “Word” Wide Web

OK, so it’s technically the World Wide Web, but with so much emphasis on keywords as part of a website’s SEO strategy, I tend to think of the web as a world of words. And it can be overwhelming.You know that keywords are the foundation of performing well in the search engines and driving the right kind of traffic to your site, but where do you start?

Unfortunately, we cannot just hit the “Easy” button and have a magical list of the perfect keywords appear; it takes a good deal of hard work. So turn off that old-school rerun of 90210 (is it just me that gets sucked into them?) and get crackin’. Let’s get into the right frame of mind:

“If you’re not dreaming of keywords at night, you’re not optimizing enough.”

I have to agree with Brad Hill, the author of Building Your Business with Google for Dummies, on this one. This may seem extreme but the truth of the matter is that there is a lot of thought that needs to go into the keyword research of your website.

The Who

Just like any marketing effort your company puts forth, you need to know who your target market is.

Geographic: what area do you service?
who is buying your product?

You should already have a clear idea of what areas you want to target, whether your customers are male or female, young or old, business or consumer, etc. There’s no mystery here. Know who needs your product or service and where these people are. (This should be the easy part, by the way!)

Make a List, Check it Twice

Your next step toward keyword success is making a list of all the terms your customers will use to find you. Get yourself in their shoes and think about what they will type into their search engine box when they are looking for what you’ve got. I should also mention here that this should be a collaborative process, as you may not be thinking of all the possibilities.

You may be thinking of terms that your target would never even think about using as a search query (therefore being useless to optimize your website for). It’s quite possible that you, personally, are not even part of the target market of your company. Quiz the people that are: other people you know, your colleagues, even your current happy customers. Incorporate everyone’s ideas as part of your list.

Narrow it Down

Many of the terms on your list will most likely need to be further qualified. If you’re a gourmet candy company, and one of your specialties is peanut brittle, optimizing your site (or pages within your site) just for “peanut brittle” is something I would advise against. Why? It’s just too generic.

When someone searches for “peanut brittle”, the chances may be pretty slim that they are actually in the market to buy it. They could be looking for recipes on how to make it, they may want to know the history of peanut brittle, or any other 100 reasons for searching on it. So if you try to optimize for just that broad term, you’ll end up with a very low conversion rate. You want people to buy it from you, right?

Try “peanut brittle Berkeley california” or “order peanut brittle online”. Get specific with it. This expansion of the core keywords into phrases of three or more words is also called long tail keywords.

Do the Dirty Work, But You Can Also Get a Little Help from Your Friends

This step is labor-intensive, but it’s also kinda fun. Type each keyword/phrase into each of the three main search engines (Google, Yahoo, and Bing) and make a note of how many results are returned for your search. Look at the top 30 website results. Have they optimized for that keyword? Can you do better?

I realize that this is a lot of work, but it’s great if you’re a little green in the keyword research department because it will help you really understand the results and what you’re working with. But there are also keyword research tools that you can use to help guide you. These tools are your friends, as they will help you further the brainstorming process by giving you additional words based on what other people have searched for and they will also tell you how many searches have been performed using your keywords.

My personal favorite is the Google Keyword Suggestion Tool, but you can also give Keyword Discovery or WordTracker a whirl and use whichever you prefer. Google’s Wonder Wheel is also a cool way to visually see related keywords of search queries in Google.

Narrow it Down (Again!)

Remember when I mentioned that it’s not a good idea to optimize for a generic term like “peanut brittle”? Well, that goes the same for the other end of the spectrum.

Perhaps the candy company sells some whacky types of peanut brittle, like “Grandma’s Purple Moose-Shaped Five Nut Peanut Brittle”. Show of hands, how many people think it’s a good idea to optimize a web page for that phrase? (I hope none of you raised your hand)

It’s WAY too specific. Unless you’ve had a long-term worldwide advertising campaign of McDonald’s magnitude promoting this “special” peanut brittle, hardly anyone would type this phrase into a search engine. You might want to try something like “specialty peanut brittle Berkeley california” instead.

I recommend eliminating any words from your list that generate less than 20 searches per day and taking a good look at the more popular keywords that specifically relate to your business. Hopefully you’re catching on that keyword research is a bit of an art. You’ve got to find that delicate balance between “too generic” and “too specific”.

Put it to the Test

Like I said, keyword research takes time and effort. Once you’ve optimized your site with your final list of keywords, both in your website copy and META data, you’ll need to measure the analytics of who is visiting your site, which pages are most and least popular, and the keywords that are driving people there (along with a myriad of other stats).

You’ll also want to check the position of your keywords in the Big 3 search engines and see how they’re ranking. Some terms may be doing very well, and others may be showing a less than stellar performance. It’s an ongoing process of tweaks and changes in order to try to achieve the best possible results.

Your keywords need constant love and attention. Are some of them not returning the favor? Ditch ’em and do some more discovery of terms that might work better. I cannot emphasize enough that keyword research is not just a one-time task. In fact, you’ll probably end up seeing them in your dreams tonight!