The Small Business Guide to Choosing Keyword Phrases

My article on SEO and PPC had a surprising amount of feedback focused on my use of the term KEI (keyword effectiveness index). That’s a great subject to drill down into, so let’s go over some best practices for choosing good keywords to utilize when optimizing your small business Web site.

The keyword effectiveness index is a measure of how popular your keywords are, and how much competition there is for that keyword. Keywords that are searched for more often will have a higher KEI. Keywords that have several sites competing for them in the SERPs will have a lower KEI. The best keywords to target would be those that are searched for often, but are not targeted by many other Web sites. Basically, KEI is a measure of how tough it’s going to be to rank a site for a particular keyword. The higher your KEI, the easier the term will be to rank for, theoretically.

P.J. Fusco explained KEI quite well in a ClickZ article earlier this year: KEIs are designed to help you decide whether you want to optimize for a particular word or phrase based on the level of competing Web pages found for that particular word or phrase.

KEI isn’t a failsafe algorithm. There’s just no way to know every variable, but it’s a good indicator that should be looked at when your optimization efforts are constrained by site size, time, and budget.

One thing we need to clarify: small business doesn’t necessarily mean “small site.” Small businesses can have huge sites if they offer a wide variety of products. The specialty nature of those products makes them a smaller business.

Here are a few questions to ask when you’re choosing keywords:

  1. How large is your site?
  2. What page are you putting that keyword on?
  3. How large is your time/money budget?
  4. Does your site architecture support getting search engines into the dark depths of every category?

The goal of keyword research is to find the most relevant keyword that returns the most searches. If you have a lot of time and money to spend on building links and content for a ton of phrases, KEI becomes less important. Large, well-optimized sites with good relevant content can rank for competitive terms with very little work; whereas smaller sites need a ton of work to rank for very competitive terms because there’s less “relevant content” to back that optimization up.

If you’re serious about ranking, you need to use a good keyword research tool. My company uses Keyword Discovery and supports our research with Wordtracker. Because we’re in travel, which is a very seasonal industry, the length of time included in the data given by Keyword Discovery is more conducive to long-term goals than the 130 days contained in the Wordtracker data.

When we look at keyword research, our first goal is to find the keyword that is most relevant to each page we’re optimizing. We don’t need to look too closely at the search volume unless we’re working on a home page or other very important Web page. Powerful pages can support competitive phrases if the site, links, and content support the keywords.

Occasionally, there’s a tie with regards to relevancy, and a few terms will work well on a page. This is when we start to look more closely at searches and KEI. If the page is buried in the site and won’t get a lot of link love or crawling action, you should go with the keyword with the highest KEI score.

Remember, high KEI means easier rankings. If the content on that page is popular, enjoys a nice link profile, and gets quite a bit of Google crawler action, go for the higher search volume and don’t worry about the KEI score of the keyword. The supporting “cast” is going to help you overcome the high amount of competition for that keyword.

Being realistic about what a page can do is a really important step in choosing the right keyword for that page. As an agency, many of our clients send us great lists of keywords that get zero searches, or are so competitive the client’s site and budget will move them to about the third page of rankings.

If you’re going to optimize a site for a competitive keyword, and not put the work in to support that keyword with good content and related content linking to that page with good anchor text, you’re doomed to rank on page two or three.

Remember, position leads to traffic, which leads to revenue. Ranking page three for a super competitive vanity keyword that gets more than 200 searches a day is less likely to make you money than ranking top five on page one for an extremely relevant keyword that gets 10 searches a day with very little competition.

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