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Choosing keywords for SEO

Why you need to consider the keywords you want to rank for

I turn away many potential clients who want to rank for a word or phrase. Why?

  • Because they think they know what they want to rank for but they don't want to check first if that word or phrase will be of any benefit to them first.
  • Because they haven't taken time to consider other keywords that might be much better.

Now you're probably thinking those are two very sensible checks, why wouldn't anyone want to do them? The simple answer is that these activities involve time and cost and in the excitement to 'just get on and rank' many people lose touch of their senses.

True - I could just take their money and shrug my shoulders when they complain that the ranking they paid $1,000s to achieve "doesn't work" but I prefer happy clients because they are walking, talking advertisements for link2light. In the long term that makes more business sense than grabbing a few bucks now.

You're reading this which means you want to rank and you probably already have some words and phrases (keywords) in your mind. You might even be thinking "If I could only rank for those my website would be a success".

Maybe. But how do you know? Luckily there are ways to test if what you are thinking matches reality in two steps before you waste far more time, resources and cash on SEO.

Steps to choosing the right keywords

Step One: Do internet users search the keywords you have in mind?

Once you have your lists together you need to open an account with Google Ads and use the Keyword Planner - here's the tutorial. Its free, you don't have to start using Google Adwords to access it.

Make sure you have used the 'advanced options' to set the language and geographical location that you are aiming for.

Treat the results with a pinch of salt as they do fluctuate so if one term has 1,000 searches a month and another has 1,100 you can assume that they are the same.

Google's keyword tool will then tell you if anyone, globally or in your chosen location, actually searches for a particular word or phrase. Strike out the keywords that people don't use from your plan and check the alternative ideas that the Keyword Planner proposes (in the Keywords ideas tab - here's the tutorial) to your shortlist.

Remember being number one for a word or phrase that no one ever searches is like placing a billboard in the desert. It may look nice but no one ever sees it.

On the flip side don't just go after high volume searches where the competition is stiff. Google's keyword planner also tells you what the competition is like (High/Medium/Low) and although this is a signal related to Adwords competition it is more often than not also a signal of how many people are trying to rank organically for that particular keyword or phrase.

There is also an estimated cost per click column. Again assume if people are spending the likes of $10 per click then others are also spending heavily on SEO and you will need to consider the limits of your budget.

Don't make the classic mistake of thinking "Wow, 200,000 people a month search that keyword, I'll try and rank for that" unless you have a large budget.

It is better to rank quickly for 10 different keywords that are each searched 100 times a month than to spend a year trying to rank for one keyword that is searched 1,000 times a month.

This principle is often referred to as going for the 'low hanging fruit'. The apples at the top of the tree may be way bigger but they're much harder to get to and, when you look again, you see there are plenty of smaller apples that are just as tasty and three of those would fill you up just fine!

Step Two: Sizing up the competition

There are some searches where the search results are full of big names. They make the internet user think "I know these names, if they don't have my [product/service/information] nobody will.

The easiest example would be with our 'laptops for sale' search from above. Most internet users will find the likes of ebay and Amazon and see the huge choice on offer so why go any further with the search engine?

Carry out searches for the keywords and phrases you have in mind and see who ranks there. Then think to yourself realistically, "Do I have the budget to take on these competitors?" If not, drop the keyword or phrase from your list.

Step Three: Do the keywords have value to you?

This is the often missed step! Just because a particular word or phrase is related to your site and searched often doesn't mean it will do you any good to rank for it.

Too many webmasters spend months working towards higher rankings and when they get there they realise the traffic generated is of no use to them whatsoever. These keywords and phrases are known as trophy terms. You can feel good about ranking for them, they can bring you lots of traffic but you get no benefit from either.

How can this be? Two reasons:

  • The buying cycle
  • The re-search phenomenon
  • Big brands dominate

The buying cycle

Here's how it works:

  1. The internet user searches something like 'laptops for sale' and sifts through the results
  2. The internet user starts to develop a shortlist of laptops they are interested in
  3. The internet user looks for reviews and might post questions in forums further refining their wishlist
  4. The internet user decides he wants a [Model X] laptop and so searches for this

There are opportunities at certain steps here. If you have a content based site then you will want to rank in Steps 1 to 3 and hope they meet your goal to sign up to your newsletter, click an advert, etc.

If you run an ecommerce site then you will want to rank at Step 4, when the buyer is ready to buy.

The buying cycle does not just relate to buying. When an internet user searches something they may go through several iterations before carrying out the search that matters. This brings us onto the re-search phenomenon

The re-search phenomenon

How many times have you searched for something, scrolled down the list of search results and realised that none of them are likely to have the content, product or service you are looking for. Then it dawns on you that perhaps if you searched slightly differently you would have better luck ... and you do.

This is 're-searching'. You search 'red mullet' because you've got some in the fridge and you're hungry and all you get are sites about how interesting a fish the red mullet is. Ah! Maybe search 'red mullet recipes' ... and there you are - you 're-searched' and now you have what you want.

So even if the Google Keyword Planner reports a zillion searches a month are carried out for a particular keyword you don't really know how many of those people who carry out that search actually click on any of the pages that come up or achieve any of the goals those webmasters have.

How to avoid the trophy term trap

So how can you find out if a word or phrase will benefit you beyond an increased ego?

There's a tricky cost/benefit decision to be made here. If the keyword or phrase you have in mind will, after you have considered the competition, be fairly easy to SEO for then get a page to rank and see if it does you any good.

However if the competition looks tough and you can see that you will need to invest heavily (even if it is just your own time you are investing) then it is worth running a test on the value of that keyword or phrase.

  1. Create a Google Analytics account - (Tuturial)
  2. Set up goals in analytics ( Tutorial ) or if your site is ecommerce enable ecommerce ( Tutorial )
  3. Join your Adwords and Anlytics accounts together ( Tutorial )
  4. Create an Adwords campaign that targets the keywords in your plan ( Tutorial ). You might need to create more than one campaign but start small if you are a beginner with Adwords.
  5. Wait until any particular keyword has bought you about 200 visitors and then look to see how many of them achieved your goal.

That's it? Not quite...

Consider what you know - 200 people searched 'keyword X' and came to your site but few achieved your goal. Why?

  • Your advert was poorly worded - Use Google Adwords Quality Score to see if you got your wording wrong (Tutorial). This will also help you later to refine your page title and content.
  • Your site doesn't convert - it may not be a problem with the keyword, it might be a problem with the landing page the visitors arrived on. Is there a clear call to action?
  • Your expectations were too high - in ecommerce the industry rule of thumb is that for every 100 visitors only 1 or 2 will buy - a conversion rate of 1%-2%. If you got 3 sales this keyword is worth pursuing. Conversion rates are generally much, much lower than people expect. If you are displayig adverts go even lower - 1,000 visitors might earn you about 10$ so 200 visitors would have earnt you in the region of $2.
  • Who didn't it work for? - Analytics will tell you for any particular campaign who liked your content and who didn't. Was it mobile users who didn't convert? Were there users from a particular country/location who warmed to your content more than others?
Make sure you understand why a keyword didn't work before discounting it as a trophy term

This may mean further campaigns in Adwords after you have made improvements to your site or identified you audience more accurately.

Choosing the right keywords is the dull part that is often skipped in the excitement of setting up a website. But skip it at your peril.

I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimisation and Online Marketing specialist. I created this site to help others understand that SEO is not a mysterious black art!.

If your a newbie try the Getting Started in SEO page, otherwise feel free to dig around and learn more.

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