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Mark Jackson

Keyword Research for Search Engine Optimization

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There are so many factors that go into a successful SEO effort that many people don't know where to begin. Yes, you need a search engine friendly Web site, pages filled with well-written copy, "authority" that comes from an aged domain, and plenty of high quality links. But none of this matters if you haven't spent enough time focused on which keywords you want to target, don't understand their worth, and don't understand the competitive landscape associated with trying to rank/get traffic from these keywords.

Today, we'll look at the keyword selection process, some helpful tools, and how to differentiate between keywords with "high search count" versus keywords that you might have a chance of ranking for/getting traffic from, and also looking at what matters most: which keywords will help grow your business.

I recently moderated a panel at Pubcon in Las Vegas on organic keyword selection. I was joined by Carolyn Shelby, Seth Wilde, Eric Papczun, and my Kansas City buddy Craig Paddock. This was a terrific panel, and highlighted several methods that are used to determine the keywords for organic search efforts.

In the Beginning

When you begin your SEO efforts, you may not have a clue about which keywords to target. Maybe you've never participated in paid search (AdWords, Yahoo Search Marketing, etc.) and have no history to fall back upon. In this early stage, you'll need to get some ideas from some of the following methods:

  • Brainstorming: Get people within your company together and develop a list of keywords that they believe are important. These people should include the head of marketing, public relations, customer service, and -- yes -- the CEO. One caution: beware of CEO-ego "fluff" words. We're looking for the words that your customers (prospects) would actually use when searching for your business.
  • Surveys: Why not survey your existing clients to see what keywords they might use? After all, these are the types of people you want to reach.

Next Steps

Now we need to determine the popularity of the keywords you're interested in targeting (how often these keywords are actually searched for) and, more importantly, their relative popularity against whether you have a chance to rank for them or whether they will ever convert into a lead. Wouldn't it be terrible if you worked like crazy to get ranked for a given keyword and then -- thousands of dollars/hours later -- determine that the keyword doesn't convert for you?

Spare yourself the time and save the money. Here are some tips.

  • Paid search campaign: The best keyword research you can do is run a paid search campaign for the keyword that you're interested in targeting. As Paddock said in Las Vegas: "Run an exact match campaign for 24 hours." You'll need to keep yourself in a top position and direct the traffic to a page of your site that is the best match for these keywords, but you'll get some great information from the campaign. You'll see how many impressions/searches were provided from the campaign, what the CTR was for your placements, and what the conversion rate was for the placement. That's keyword research gold.
  • Keyword research tools: Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery are pretty much the standard fare. I also recommend Google's keyword research tool and Google Insights if you need geographic and/or seasonality/trend data on your keywords. Microsoft's adCenter also has a great tool available.

Competitiveness of Keywords

Let's say that your paid search campaigns showed you the light. Now you know which keywords will convert for you and you're ready to rock.

Hold on just a moment. Even with all the similarities of paid search and organic search, there's a major difference when it comes to the competitive landscapes.

With paid search, you might do quite well with a 20-page site that just launched one month ago. With organic search, however, several factors go into whether you have a have a chance to rank/get traffic from these keywords. You can't speak to keyword research for organic SEO programs without discussing SEO competitive analysis.

Here are some additional tips for you and some tools that you might use.

  • Google searches: By using this query (inanchor:"keyword phrase" intitle:"keyword phrase"), you'll see the Web sites which have that targeted keyword in the anchor text (backlinks) pointing to their Web sites and also have this in the title tags of their Web sites. When they have both, there's a very strong likelihood that they're optimizing for these keywords.
  • SEOMoz Keyword Difficulty Tool: This tool seems to give you a view of the competitiveness of various keywords. However, it's only available to premium members. I had never used this tool, nor was I even familiar with it, before hearing Wilde mention this at Pubcon (this is why you should always attend conferences; speaking of which, I'm moderating a panel at Search Engine Strategies in Chicago in December).
  • SEO For FireFox Plug-In: Quick way to search and see the competitive landscape.

Well, now you know where to begin, so I'll let you get to work!

Join us for Search Engine Strategies Chicago December 8-12 at the Chicago Hilton. The only major search marketing conference and expo in the Midwest will be packed with 60-plus sessions, multiple keynotes and Orion Strategy sessions, exhibitors, networking events, and more.


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