Keyword Strategy – SEO’s Most Critical Element – Part 1

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I was recently asked what I feel is the most important element of a search engine optimization campaign. Without hesitation, I said “keyword strategy”. Link building may be regarded as the “holy grail of SEO”, but what do you think fills the cup? Keywords are the fuel for all search engine optimization campaigns.
Far too often, companies choose to target the wrong keywords and end up losing a lot of traffic and money because of it. Many clients want to focus their efforts on achieving top rankings for only a few very generic terms. In doing this, they typically end up spending a lot of time and money to rank well for terms that do not generate qualified traffic and end up having a very low conversion rate.


_(I have decided to split this post into two parts. Today’s post outlines the best places to find keywords for you website. My next post will cover keyword selection tips and where to put the keywords on your site.)_
h3. So, where do you find keywords for your website?
There are lots of different ways to find keywords for your website. In order to compile a good keyword list, I recommend using a combination of the following (with an emphasis placed on keyword suggestion tools):
h3. Use your intuition
What search terms would you use to find your products/services? What search terms would you expect your prospective customers to use? What problems are your prospective customers trying to solve? What problems do your products/services solve?
The answers to these questions are likely a good place to start, but be careful – do not rely on what your company prefers to call things! Before you begin selecting keywords, you need to take time to identify what people are actually using as search terms.
h3. Organize some test groups
Talk to everyone you can think of – your friends, your colleagues, your customers etc. Build searching scenarios and use test groups. Try to brainstorm as many ideas as possible.
h3. Analyze your competitor’s websites
It is always a good idea to analyze the meta tags and page copy of your competitors’ websites. Identify the keywords that they are targeting, but don’t feel that you need to compete with them for every term they have selected. It is often a better idea to try to spot keyword phrases that they have overlooked and you can take advantage of. Another good place to look for keywords is on industry trade group web sites.
h3. Look at search engine suggestions
You can often find relevant keywords by looking at the related search term suggestions on larger search engines like “Yahoo!”:http://search.yahoo.com and “Ask”:http://www.ask.com/, or even some of the smaller search engines such as “Gigablast”:http://www.gigablast.com/ and “Become.com”:http://www.become.com/.
h3. Try out some keyword grouping/clustering tools
These tools will provide you with groups of terms that are related to the keywords you are targeting. They are an excellent place to find keyword variations and modifiers that can help you capture the long tail. Some examples include:
* “Google Sets”:http://labs.google.com/sets – provides you with a set of terms that are related to the keywords that you enter.
* “MSRA search clustering technology”:http://rwsm.directtaps.net/default.aspx (beta) – segregates your search results into related groups. The names of the groups may be good keywords for your site.
* “Vivisimo”:http://vivisimo.com/ – another clustered search technology similar to MSRA. What I like about these search clustering tools is that they help you identify logical groupings of terms that can be used to divide broad content categories on your site into separate, more focused webpages.
* “Quintura Search”:http://www.quintura.com/quinturasearch (free download) – provides you with a visual map of related keywords from top ranked websites.
h3. Use a keyword suggestion tool
There are several good keyword suggestion tools available. Some of the more popular tools like “Wordtracker”:http://www.wordtracker.com and “Keyword Discovery”:http://www.keyworddiscovery.com will cost you, however there are some really good free alternatives that I prefer using, including:
* “SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tool”:http://tools.seobook.com/general/keyword/ – Cross-references Google, Yahoo!, Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery. This tool provides a list of related keywords, estimated search engine traffic on each of the major engines, links to Yahoo! Search Term Suggest and Overture bid prices for each term. The bid prices provide you with an indication of the level of competition for each term – more competitive terms will likely be harder to rank well for.
* “Yahoo! Search Term Suggest Tool”:http://inventory.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion/ – returns a list of related terms and traffic levels based on the previous months Yahoo! searches.
* “Google AdWords Keyword Suggestion Tool”:https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal – In my opinion, this is the best tool available. In addition to providing the search volume and competition level of each term, you can use this tool to crawl any web page and return a list of keywords (grouped by theme) based on page content. This allows you to identify what Google thinks is the “keyword theme” of a given page. Knowing what keywords Google identifies on a given webpage presents you with two valuable applications of this tool. 1) You can use the tool on the top websites in your industry to identify the keywords that they are targeting. 2) You can use the tool on your own web pages to make sure that Google is picking up the keywords that you are optimizing for – if it doesn’t return your keywords, you need to improve your page content.
* “Digital Point’s Keyword Suggestion Tool”:http://www.digitalpoint.com/tools/suggestion/ (free with sign up) – provides related search terms and traffic levels from the free version of Wordtracker and Yahoo! (but with limited searching depth).
Equipped with these tools, you will be able to generate a very large list of keywords relatively quickly. Take time to note the amount of search engine traffic and level of competition for each term. Your goal is to find keyword phrases with high traffic and low competition – yes they still exist and you will often be surprised with what you can find.
h3. Pay attention to web analytics
Web analytics are a great keyword resource that is often overlooked, especially when it comes to site-level search information (if you have a searching option on your site). In addition to studying search engine traffic reports, mine your site-level search data and you will likely find some valuable keywords to add to your list.
h3. Test keywords with PPC advertising campaigns
If you have existing PPC campaigns, monitor your best-performing keywords/keyword phrases and include them in your SEO efforts. Or, try setting up a couple new PPC campaigns and test the waters with different keyword phrases. The great thing about PPC advertising is that you can readily monitor the results. Response to an SEO campaign takes a much longer period of time to measure.
Using these methods you should have no problem generating a large list of keywords in a short period of time. However, putting together your initial keyword list is only the first step in your keyword strategy. Next, you will have to know how to select and group the best keywords from your list and where to position them on your site. I will cover keyword optimization topics in my next post.

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3 thoughts on “Keyword Strategy – SEO’s Most Critical Element – Part 1

  1. Chris Biber

    Here’s another – often overlooked source for keywords:
    Your own web site: Look into the referrer stats for existing search related traffic, and if you have an on-site search tool, capture the searches that visitors conduct on your site. This tells you their information requirements to date…
    Good luck!
    Chris Biber
    SearchingWorks

  2. Kari Freudenberger

    IBP (Internet Business Promoter) is a great tool for determining keyword density for your competitor’s (and your own) sites. By running a page through this application, you can easily see what keywords are being optimized both in the body copy and the other page elements.

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