Keyword Research – The Foundation of Your SEO Strategy (Back To the Basics Series)

This is a “back to the basics” style of post related to search engine optimization (SEO). I plan on doing a number of these over the next couple of weeks that will detail the entire SEO process — from laying the foundation with strategic keyword research to effectively monitoring your progress. So if you consider yourself “advanced” in SEO, you might not wish to read any further. My target audience for this post is the “newbie” — in other words, those who are just beginning their education in SEO or at least are fairly new at the practice.

What the heck is search engine optimization (SEO) anyway? Wikipedia describes it as the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via “natural” (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results for targeted keywords.

While improving the volume and quality of traffic earned via organic search results is typically the result of SEO, I’d say a better definition would be the process of improving individual web pages so that their visibility is increased in the organic search results. It should really be called something like “web site optimization to improve organic search visibility” but that is a tad long. Besides, SEO has become the recognized acronym that has stuck for this search marketing tactic which is part art, part science and a whole lot of common sense.

Like any good marketing strategy, SEO needs to have a solid foundation and that foundation is keyword research. If one is going to optimize the pages of their web sites to improve visibility for certain keyword phrases, they have to have a good understanding of what phrases will not only bring traffic, but the right traffic.

Attracting the “Right” Visitor

Most business owners have a good understanding of the words and phrases that best describe the products and/or services they offer. Acquiring this input from them combined with actual data of what searchers are searching for is the beginning process of effective keyword research.

However, there is a bit more science in assembling a list of keyword phrases than what you “think” people search for combined with data on what people “actually” search for. One would think that a good strategy is to target words that generate the most searches, however this is not always the case. The real
question you should ask yourself is “once you get a user to your site, what do you want them do?”

Let’s take a look at a company that manufactures coffee brewing machines. You would think that they’d want to target the word “coffee” because it generates the highest number of queries. However, what is the intention of the person who searches for “coffee?” They could be looking to buy coffee. They could be looking for information on how it is grown. They could even be looking for local coffee houses. However, none of these users may be looking to buy a coffee maker.

This is why it is so important to target phrases that are not only actively being searched for, but ones that will be more likely to bring about a desired action from that user once they land on your site. You target “coffee maker,” gaining good visibility and then the searcher queries that phrase, finds your site, likes what they see and converts into a paying customer. This is the kind of visitor you want to attract. You will only draw them if you are targeting the “right” keywords.

Keyword Research Tools

What about getting actual data on what people are actively searching for? Where does it come from? For the most part, the search engines themselves. And while the engines do not make this data available to just anyone, there are a variety of keyword research tools on the market that do provide such access.

Here is a list of some of the more popular tools — some which are paid services while others are free to use.

- Leading Keyword Research Tools:

  • Keyword Discovery
    Draws on a database of 36 billion search queries from many different search engines around the world. Prices start at $69.95/month or $599.40/year. This is the keyword research tool we use at SearchRank.
  • Wordtracker
    Periodically compiles a database of over 330 million search terms which is updated on a weekly basis. All search terms are collected from the major metacrawlers – Dogpile and Metacrawler. Prices start at $59/month or $329/year.

- Free Online Keyword Research Tools:

  • Google Keyword Tool
    Generates potential keywords for your ad campaign and reports their Google statistics, including search performance and seasonal trends.

- Free Desktop Keyword Suggestion Software:

  • Good Keywords
    Free Windows based desktop software, 500Kb download, digitally signed and safe to install.
  • Keyword Tumble
    A free keyword research marketing tool that takes your existing keyword phrase and generates multiple variations of it, simply by mixing the words in each keyword phrase around.

- Additional Keyword Tools:

  • Keyword Difficulty by SEOmoz.org
    Analyzes the competitive landscape of a particular search term or phrase. This tool issues a percentage score and provides a detailed analysis of the top ranking sites at Google and Yahoo.
  • SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tool
    Offers rough suggested daily search volumes by market for Google, Yahoo!, and MSN. Links the search volumes to the related global search results.

No matter which tool you use, the basic idea is to input keywords and phrase “you think” are relevant to your business model and then allow the tool to show you what people are actually searching for in numbers. While no keyword research tool will show you data on every search conducted throughout the world, you can gain a good indication of which words are more popular than others.

If you happen to be running a PPC campaign such as Google AdWords, this can also provide you good data on what words are popular and even what words are converting well for you. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend replacing the use of keyword research tools with PPC data but rather use PPC data to compliment what the tools reveal to you.

Putting It All Together

One final thing to consider is that your web site will determine how many keywords and phrases you can actually target. In other words, if you create a list of 100 phrases, you have to have the content to support that. As an example, if you have a 5 page web site, there is no way you are going to be able to develop an SEO strategy for 100 keyword phrases.

In most cases, you can effectively target 1-2 keyword phrases per web page. The main reason for this is that you not only want a page to be focused, but in a more practical sense, you are limited by the title tag. Generally, depending on the engine, you have about 64 characters (including spaces) to work with before an
their algorithm will cut off the title. And while you want to use your keyword phrase(s) in the title tag, it is equally important to create titles that include your brand name as well as titles that are intuitive enough to attract click-thrus. Because this tag is the most important on-page element a search engine looks at when deciding how to rank pages, it is essential to get it right.

In light of this, it is easy to see why it is best to assign one keyword phrase for each page. In some cases you can target two, maybe even three. That is also not to say that your pages will not create the scenario of ranking well for multiple keywords simply due to the fact that they are contained in the content, but in actually developing a SEO strategy, it’s best to figure one web page for each keyword phrase.

That wraps it up for keyword research. In the next segment, I will discuss developing the SEO strategy based on your keyword research.

David Wallace

David Wallace, co-founder and CEO of SearchRank, is a recognized expert in the industry of search and social media marketing. Since 1997, David has been involved in developing successful search engine and social media marketing campaigns for large and small businesses. Follow +David Wallace on Google + as well as Twitter.

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