Keywords are the central component to all that we do when optimizing web content. Having a sound research strategy makes targeting keywords easier and provides a clear objective for all other SEO efforts. A variety of research methods exist with some being highly technical and others having a more common sense approach. Whether you use one of these approaches, a combination of them or something entirely different, they can provide you with some practical guidance for your web property promotion efforts.
Brainstorm Your Target Market’s Keywords
This may seem like an obvious and easy first step however it is often approached in the wrong way. You may know full well what your products and/or services are but these may not necessarily (and shouldn’t) be the only guide for your keyword choices. Instead, approach it from the user’s perspective. Think about what your customers are looking for when it relates to what you are selling. Are they searching for information about the item or service itself or are they more often looking for somewhere to buy it? How long is the sales process for what you are selling? Do people need a lot of information before buying it or not so much? The answers to these questions will shed light on how people use search as it relates to what you are selling. Using a keyword tool like that provided by Google can help you determine all the variations of words and phrases that searchers are using. Keep in mind that simply generating a list from a tool like this does not constitute keyword research.
Theorize, Experiment, Observe, Repeat
Once you have a list of viable keyword options, you must determine which ones will drive the most value for your website. Say you sell consumer electronics on your website. Are there more conversions produced by “buy mp3 player” or with “ipod 6th gen”? As you may have guessed, it is hard to tell just by looking at the word. First, determine if the word or phrase is relevant to your website. Would searchers be pleased with what they see if they clicked on your site after using one of these terms to find it? Would they think, “bingo, now I’ve found what I need”? Search for the phrase on your own and see which sites are already ranking for it. This will give you an idea of what the search engine deems valuable for that phrase and will also show you your competition.
Another method to determine value is to run a test campaign using a PPC platform such as Adwords. Mainly your goal will be to collect data about the keyword or phrase. Set up your campaign with your keyword and point your ads at the landing page that also has the keyword on it. Look at the data over a couple weeks or over the course of a few hundred clicks. Use the data to determine the phrase’s value. If you are selling a product, you can easily correlate clicks with sales. Set up conversion tracking to see which words resulted in a conversion and which did not. If you are driving traffic to a page that does not result in a direct sale, determine what that action is worth to your business and compare that value against clicks. For instance if you want users to download content in exchange for contact information you might determine what each lead is worth to your business. The basic underlying point here is similar to the age old scientific method of developing a theory, experimenting, observing and modifying until you understand what works.
Tools of the SEO Writing Trade
To get yourself started, there are many tools that can give you insight for your SEO writing. The Google Keyword tool is a good place to start. It gives you search volume as well as ideas for synonymous keyword options you may have missed. The Google Trends tool is another powerful resource to get you information on your target keywords. If Google isn’t your flavor, there is also the Bing Ads Intelligence tool. Word Tracker is another popular tool that can get you the information you need. If you want to dive in a little deeper, paid software programs that dissect keywords are also helpful. Examples of these are WEB CEO or SEO Elite.
Aside from market indicators and relevance of certain keywords to your website, there are also quantitative methods that may shed more light on which keywords are the best for you to be using. Two of the most popular quantitative methods are KEI (Keyword Effectiveness Index) and the R/S or results to searches ratio.
The Keyword Effectiveness Index measures the demand of a particular keyword phrase against the number of web pages that use it in their copy. Demand for any given keyword is further broken down into a daily amount or in other words, the daily global searches for the keyword.
The formula is expressed as ((MS/30)) ^ 2/C where MS represents monthly searches and C represents competition. Monthly searches are first divided by 30 or MS/30. That number is then squared or multiplied by itself and then divided by whatever the competition is.
For example if the monthly global searches for “cell phones” were 30,000 we would divide this number by 30 which would give us 1,000 daily searches. Squaring this number gives us 1,000,000. Say our competition for this phrase is 2 million web pages. 1,000,000/2,000,000 = 0.5 or the KEI ratio for this keyword phrase.
So what the heck does that tell you?
KEI Ratios can be interpreted as such,
< 0.001 = ineffective keyword
0.001-0.010 = A Good Keyword
0.010-0.100+ = A Fantastic Keyword
The results to searches ratio is not as popular as the KEI method however it can still shed light on how competitive a keyword is. For any given keyword phrase you simply take the number of global monthly searches (or local if you are targeting local traffic) and divide it by the number of results returned to you by a search engine for that phrase (searching for non-exact match terms). In general, an R/S ratio of 500 or below with corresponding competition results of a million or less is a good keyword to target. There are however some ambiguities with this method. For example by searching non-exact match phrases, you get tons of results that may not contain the specific phrase but pieces of that phrase. This method (as well as KEI) may also exclude terms that you want to try ranking for anyway because they are a crucial part of your business.
As you can see there are numerous ways to go about selecting and dissecting the keywords and phrases you want to target. Regardless of which route you take, SEO content writers should remember that no matter which keywords they choose, terms should be relevant to the content on the page and to the overall goals of the website. Sometimes in all of our scrambling to achieve high rankings we often forget to write for the user as opposed to robots crawling the web.
Which keyword research methods do you use? Have you had success/failure with tactics mentioned in this post?