Five Fundamental Questions of Keyword Research

Early on in the heyday of SEO blogging, search engine optimization professionals spent a lot of time discussing the importance of keyword research. This is one of the aspects of organic SEO that tends to get overlooked in discussion today because so many professionals learned how to perform the task sometime between 2000-2005.

Keyword research and analysis are fundamental areas of SEO. From the viewpoint of your Web site, ask yourself the following questions.

  1. What do I want to be known for?
  2. What information, products, and services do I offer?
  3. What keywords are my top ten competitors using?
  4. What keyword phrases are people actually using when they search?
  5. What types of actions are taken by people searching for each phrase?

These are excellent SEO starter questions; they are relevant no matter what phase of site creation or redesign you are in. We recommend that SEO strategy and keyword analysis take place prior to finalizing the Information Architecture whenever possible. That is a best practice that obviously isn’t always possible, but it must be stated for the record.

What do I want to be known for?

You need to have this settled from the beginning. Waffling back and forth between branding concepts won’t help you rank for important keywords.

What information, products, and services do I offer?

This is an excellent place to begin compiling a list of potential keyword phrases. You’ll do some keyword refining later on, so go ahead and write down everything that comes to you in this stage.

Let’s say you’re a bowling supply Web site. What bowling products do you offer for sale? Start by listing the products and brand names. For example: Hammer bowling balls and Dexter bowling shoes. These are products you want to sell and phrases that people might use when looking for bowling supplies. Make a list of all relevant terms you can think of.

What keywords are my top ten competitors using?

Cover your bases. Select five competitors you know by reputation. Then use the search phrases you’ve already pinpointed and review the top five search results for each. Combine the five competitors you recognize and the five you just found and begin to view the source code of the site pages. You may find that successful competitors are using phrases and/or terminology you hadn’t considered.

What keyword phrases are people actually using when they search?

To answer this question, you need a keyword research tool. Whether you use Wordtracker, Keyword Discovery, or Wordze, now is the time to use a professional keyword research tool. Membership fees vary, but your search marketing agency should have access to several tools for research and analysis.

Take your initial keyword list and research the popularity and variations available for each term. Proper use of the tool will yield the results you need to get started. You will have certain decisions to make, such as deciding whether to attempt to compete for the more generic and most popular terms or for the less popular but more accurate terms. If you do it yourself, you face the risk of aiming too broad and not ranking well, or aiming too narrow and getting no traffic in return for good rankings.

A good rule of thumb is to evaluate your business in terms of local search. If you have a relatively new Web site (two years old or less), you’ll find it difficult to compete for the broader terms, but what about location specific terms? If you offer services, which areas do you serve? Perhaps you’ll draw a good amount of traffic for Dallas maid service versus maid service. Think of how many people nationwide might be searching for what you have to offer and use your keyword research tool to see if city- or state-specific terms are popular.

What types of actions are taken by people searching for each phrase?

Most companies don’t take the time to consider this aspect, so you will be ahead of the curve if you do. Given the time to research thoroughly, you will find that certain terms are most often searched with one result in mind. Of course, making SEO decisions based on this research is a numbers game. If a greater percentage of users are intending to purchase rather than seeking reviews or information, the phrase is more valuable to you as far as immediate results are concerned. Some phrase orders are more common for researchers versus shoppers, so spending a little extra time to know the attitude of searchers in your industry can be well worth your time.

Of course, the true measure of whether you are focusing on the correct keywords will come down to the bottom line. Check your Web analytics to determine which keywords are driving traffic, sales and/or leads, and then modify your keyword selection as necessary.

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