Optimizing Keywords for Search Engines

New to search engine optimization? Here’s how to get started with selecting the most search engine friendly keywords and phrases that can help visitors find your site.

A longer, more detailed version of this article is
available to Search Engine Watch members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member

When starting any SEO campaign it is tempting to leap straight in and start tweaking meta tags and changing text. However, like any successful marketing strategy, it is vital to ensure that you know your audience and how to reach them.

In the same way traditional advertising agencies survey their demographic audience, search engine marketers must ensure that their SEO campaign targets the correct keywords or search phrases. Target the wrong search phrase and you could end up with great search engine rankings for keywords that have no search requests. A few hours spent ensuring that the correct search phrases are targeted can save months of useless optimization.


When you started your company or developed your products, you no doubt sat down with your friends, relatives and business partners and discussed the needs of your target audience. You would have been foolish to stubbornly press ahead with your products without first testing the market to see if there was a demand.

Likewise, when you start out on your SEO campaign it is important to brainstorm search phrases that are likely to bring qualified visitors to your website. Sit down with your co-workers and business partners and discuss which keywords are relevant to the products and services you offer. Compile an initial list of 5-10 search phrases that you feel best represent your company and which you believe people would type into a search engine when trying to find you.

Expand Your Keyword List

Once you have completed your brainstorming and have compiled your list of 5-10 core keywords, its time to move on and expand that list. A list of 5-10 search phrases will generally not bring the amount of search engine traffic needed to make your website successful. However, that list will be a vital tool when determining which phrases to add to the mix.

At this point, you need to turn to the search engines themselves and research which search phrases are actually being typed into Google, Yahoo, MSN et al. While few search engines will openly tell you which search phrases are the most often searched, there are a couple of very useful tools you can use to expand your list.

The first and most well known, is the Overture Search Term Suggestion Tool. This great little research tool is primarily for the use of Overture PPC users. Take any of your main search phrases and enter them into the suggestion tool. Overture will then spit out all other popular search terms that contain that phrase. In addition, Overture will place the search phrases in order of popularity and give you an idea of the number of searches per month for each phrase across their network.

While this tool can be very useful, especially as it is free to use, it does have some key drawbacks. First, it does not differentiate between singular and plural search phrases. Consequently, “desktop computer” and “desktop computers” are combined together, leaving you to use your own judgment as to which variation is the most popular.

For many search phrases, you can take an educated guess as to which one is likely to be the most searched, but often you will be left without a clue as to whether to target the singular or plural.

Second, the Overture Suggestion Tool does not handle punctuation very well, preferring to ignore it completely. Thus “kids toys”, “kids toys”, “kid-toys” and “kids toy” are all shown as “kid toy”. These variations can be crucial — Google will present a different set of results for each variation.

If you are serious about your SEO campaign, consider a subscription to WordTracker. Starting at just $7 a day, with discounts all the way up to one year of service, WordTracker offers a similar type of research tool as Overture but with many more bells and whistles.

The biggest advantage with WordTracker is that is uses Meta-Crawlers when sourcing search phrase frequencies. This eliminates inflated search phrase frequencies from Overture users checking their own rankings and thus artificially increasing the popularity of certain phrases.

Selecting Your Keywords

By now, you should have an expanded list of search phrases to target, taken from either Overture or WordTracker. Now is the time to start selecting the search phrases that will form the foundation for a successful SEO campaign. Ok, deep breath, were almost there.

When selecting the keywords to target, there are many factors you must take into consideration. You will no doubt have your own unique considerations, but you must also take into account the following:

  • Is the search phrase relevant to your website and the page that you are optimizing?
  • Is there a page within your website that would be particularly suitable for targeting the selected search phrase?
  • How many other websites/web pages would you be competing against?
  • Do you offer competitive pricing for the product or service that relates to the keyword?
  • Will top search engine ranking for the search phrase generate enough revenue for your company?

Arranging Your Keywords

Once you have asked yourself the above questions, it will become easy to narrow down your list to the main search phrases that you wish to target. When doing so, remember that you should not try and target every selected search term on your index page.

Your index (home) page is the most important page of your website and likely to have the best positioning on the search engines, therefore choose 5-10 search phrases to target here and ensure that they are all closely related. Trying to target “desktop computers” and “dvd players” on your index page will get you top rankings for neither.

Focusing your pages with a few selected keywords and phrases asssures that the targeted page is relevant to the selected search phrase. In turn, this will not only increase your chances of obtaining top rankings, but also increase your customer sales conversions by bringing the visitor to the most relevant page.

In Summary

When researching search phrases and targeting keywords for your SEO campaign, it is important to follow the steps above. Research your industry, talk to your potential customers and make use of targeted keywords. Following these steps helps build the foundation for a successful search engine optimization campaign.

A longer, more detailed version of this article is
available to Search Engine Watch members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member

Andy Beal is Vice President of Marketing for Keyword Ranking, specialists in search engine marketing.

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