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Despite the algorithmic genius of Google’s search engine and all the sophisticated SEO tactics available to speak with it, keywords remain a fundamental element of ranking a web page. Although there are hundreds of factors that contribute to where a site falls in SERPs, without keywords (or should I say without the right keywords), your site may not show up at all. The following 10 SEO keyword research best practices should help you make proper decisions regarding key terms for your website.

Avoid Broad Terms in SEO Keyword Research

Depending on your brand, industry, goals or your own personal beliefs, there will be broad words that you have to target no matter how competitive they are. In general, though, you should try and avoid broad terms for your targeting. For one thing, broad terms don’t work well in terms of searcher intent (more on that in number 4), but no one uses them. Search engines have been around for a while now, and they have gotten very good at delivering results for people. As such, we know that we can type in a 5- to 10-word query and probably find what we are looking for. If you are looking for a bed for your specific breed of dog, why on earth would you search for “dog bed” when you could search for “cotton dog bed for schnauzer.”

Use More Than One Resource for Traffic Data

There is no shortage of SEO keyword research tools to help you in your efforts to rank your web page. It doesn’t really matter which of the popular ones you use, but what does matter is getting a second opinion. If you are advertising your business, you don’t just go to one ad firm and take what they say as the end-all-be-all of what you should do. No! You talk to a few of them, you feel out the landscape, you ask your friends and then you make a decision. Choosing keywords is not that involved, but you should still collect data from more than one resource before settling on a set of phrases.

Pay Attention to Competitiveness

If you are using a tool like Google’s Keyword Tool, or Traffic Travis or whatever else you are fond of, don’t ignore the competitiveness of a keyword phrase. It is tempting to go with a phrase because you think it is crucial to your brand or your business. If you want to, that’s fine, but don’t break your back trying to rank an important page for a super-competitive term. Choose terms that are mildly competitive. Not only will you not have to work as hard, but you will get more targeted traffic because less competitive terms tend to be those that are more specific.

Think About Your Customers

Ah, now for searcher intent. This is one of my favorite things to talk about because it puts the human element back into the equation. When you are doing SEO on a site or having someone else do it, forgetting that it’s people looking for your site USING a search engine is easy to do. People have a goal in mind when they enter a query into a search engine, and that is to make this tool find content that they are looking for using words. For the most part, we can determine their intent based on the words that they are using. When you do your keyword research, don’t forget about what people might mean when typing in certain phrases. Also remember that it is very difficult to uncover what someone means when they use a one- or two-word phrase. For instance, a person that types in “dog bed” could be looking for images of dog beds, a company called dog bed, doing SEO keyword research on the phrase “dog bed” or even trying to find out if dog bed is one word or not. The truth is, general keyword phrases are not good to try and rank for because even if you show up number one for a one-word phrase, who is to say that your page will be all that relevant to the query? After all, the end goal is to get a visitor to do something on your site, not to show up number one in search.

Think About Your Business

What I mean by this is think about your target market and where it is that you do business. Is it in your local town? Your whole state? Maybe it’s the whole country? Whatever it is, you can target specific terms based on your location because searchers are using specific terms based on where and how you operate. For instance, most pizza places operate within a town or small city. Most consumers know this so, logically, they are going to type in pizza + city name when searching for a local pizza place. If your company is local or does business locally, don’t forget to target local keyword phrases. Typically, keyword + city name is a good one to go after, but also keyword + state (or province or region).

Be Mindful of Legal Issues

This one isn’t as important for SEO as it is for PPC, but you could still find yourself in hot water. If you are a reseller of well-known brands, it’s important to know you are using them correctly. If you start ranking well for a trademarked phrase, it’s likely that whoever owns the trademark will catch on soon. Make sure you have the proper rights if you are using trademarked terms on your website.

Long Tails Catch More Fish

Long tail (or less competitive and generally more specific) keyword phrases are better in terms of converting traffic. This is because they are less competitive and tend to be more specific than more competitive keyword phrases. As such, if you show up in search for a phrase that is very specific and you have optimized your page well, a visitor is much more likely to find your page relevant over others and convert faster.

Don’t Forget Your Variants

Variants are keywords that closely resemble your main target keyword, but aren’t exactly the same. For instance it might be the plural form of the phrase or the terms in a phrase might be rearranged slightly. You should include these variants on the same pages as your target key terms. Also, don’t forget to group them together when doing research. The Google Keyword Tool has a great feature where it groups related terms together for you called ad groups. This tool allows you to configure a search advertising campaign better; however, it also works well for SEO.

Use unconventional methods

As mentioned before, there are a lot of tools out there that give you raw data on how many times a query was used in search or how many websites are using it. Remember that the end goal is to use terms that your buyers/prospects are using in order to be exposed to them in search. There are other ways to get that information than third party SEO tools. For instance, you can check to see what’s trending on Twitter for your niche, you could use Google trends or maybe even research you’ve done offline. For example, you may have done online or offline surveys that uncover what buyers or prospects are thinking.

Don’t Go Crazy

This last one may seem silly, but it’s actually one of the most important SEO keyword research best practices. If you have been doing SEO or online marketing of any kind for a while now, you have probably noticed that there is no shortage of third party tools, software programs, strategies and magic elixers to tell you all about the keyword phrases you have selected for your site. There are measurements and numerical weights and indexes galore. In fact, there is so much information that it is often contradictory. After you’re done Googling “how to do keyword research” you are probably regretting ever having asked a computer the question.

My advice is to not obsess over it too much. Knowing how competitive a keyword phrase is, how tough it will be to rank a page for, whether or not you should use it and/or if it will bring you conversions and profits is more of an art than a science. Sometimes you will have to use words that are impossible to rank for and other times you will be able to rank a page with barely any effort. The important part is that you take as much reasonable data into account as is available and make an educated guess as to what terms you should be using.

Do you follow any best practices of your own for doing SEO keyword research? Have you found any unconventional methods that work well? Let us know by leaving a comment.

About Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher has written 384 post in this blog.


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