Are you choosing keywords properly?

January 17, 2005

One of the easiest ways to get the search results you want is to keep your keywords in mind when you’re writing content for your small business web site.  How do you know for certain that you’re selecting the right keywords?

Choosing Keywords

What’s a keyword?

In this context, the more correct term is probably “key phrases”, but keyword tends to be the common term.  The idea is to attempt to be sure that when a user types in specific words and phrases at a search engine (most commonly Google, currently), your small business web site is one of the results that they get.

In general, the closer our result is to the first result, the more traffic we’re liable to get for someone searching on that term.  Our position in the results is sometimes referred to as a “SERP”, for “Search Engine Result Position”.

The basics of targeting a keyword

Search engine results point to specific pages in your site, not to your entire site (nor often, to your home page). So regardless of whatever else we may do to try to improve our SERPs for a page, we must first make sure that the content (the copy we write for that page) is appropriate to the term we’re targeting, and more important, that we use that term within that content.

We probably want to use the term several times, but we want to do it naturally (the word of the week is “organically”) within the flow of our writing.

Keyword research techniques

So how do we know what keyword we want to target?  The first thing to do is to put yourself in the mind of the searcher.  What would you type into Google if you were looking for information on the page you are writing?

Choosing initial keywords

  • Write down at least 3 – 5 potential phrases you might use.
  • Go to the search engine and try each of them.  Notice the results you get.
  • Most people tend to refine their selection depending on results, as often the first results aren’t what we expected.  Keep notes on how you refine each term, and what you end up with.
  • Discard any phrases that didn’t work out.

Once we have our initial keywords, we’d like to know how often people actually use them.  There are two tools we can use for this.  The first one is the keyword selector tool at Overture.

Researching keyword popularity

Overture sells “pay per click” advertising on search engines.  As part of their sales tools, they offer a keyword selector tool that is free to use.  Click here to go to the keyword selector tool.

Enter one of your search phrases, and press the “go button” (the “arrow”).  The results will show how many times people searched for that term on Overture last month, along with the results of related terms.

Enter each of your phrases, and see what the results are.  In most cases, we’re looking for the phrases that people actually use the most.  You may want to vary your term a little bit, or try some of the related terms to see if you can find one or several that are popular.  Keep track of your results.

Now, we want to keep that page open and do some other things, so open a new browser window or tab.

Researching keyword difficulty

Now that we know what our popular phrases are, we’d ideally like to find one that is both popular and easy to get.  Some keywords are highly competitive — that doesn’t mean you can’t get good ranking on them with some work, but it does mean that it’s going to be a lot harder.  What we’d really like to find is the “low hanging fruit” that others have missed.

To see how difficult your keywords are, click here to go to the Keyword Difficulty & Top 10 Competition Analysis tool at SEOSurvey.

Enter your first search phrase, and click “calculate difficulty.”  (Ignore the boxes asking you to enter the top 3 Overture bids)

The results contain a lot of information.  For the moment, we’re going to ignore most of it, and skip down to the section marked “Keyword Difficulty Score.”  This gives us a rough idea of how difficult it is to get a good placement for that term (it doesn’t help to be ranked on that term, but to be the 300th entry — someone would have to page through 30 pages of results to find us.)

We probably want to target terms that are no worse than “moderately easy”, and we’d really like some that are “exceptionally easy”.

While you’re at the Keyword Difficulty results, take a moment and scan the Competition Analysis Chart.  This shows Google’s current Top 10 for that keyphrase, and will give you some idea of what you’re up against. The columns labeled “BL” indicate “backlinks”  shown in Yahoo, Google and MSN’s search engines.  If all of the sites for your phrase are showing thousands of backlinks (inbound links) and your site has 30 or 40, then it’s going to be very difficult to show up in that top ten.

The sweet spot is a phrase that gets lots of searches (judging from our Overture results) and yet is easy to get.  That can be difficult to find.

When best isn’t best

If our most popular searches are difficult to rank for, then our best bet might be to turn to secondary terms.  If Overture reports 10,000 searches on  “widget” and 500 searches on “smooth blue widget”, and the Keyword Difficulty tool shows that “widget” is hard to rank on, while “smooth blue widget” is very easy, then we’d probably much rather target “smooth blue widget”.  We’ll get far more traffic as number one or two for 500 searches than we would being number 7,000 for 10,000 searches.

(Remember that these numbers are Overture’s numbers — they tell us numbers relative to searches in the Overture system, which is far smaller than Google — 500 searches last month on Overture might be 20,000 on Google)

Tuning your results

Spend some time going back and forth between Overture and the Keyword Difficulty Tool, until you’ve found some phrases that you can obtain results on, and that will still give you traffic.

Double checking your keywords

Since the law of unintended consequences applies to all of us occasionally, once you’ve tuned your results and have your “best bet” phrases, go out to Google and search on them.  Look at what kind of sites are in the results.  Sometimes a phrase may be popular for a far different reason than the one you’d expect — if many of the results are for a far different industry than yours (for example, sometimes porn stars have names you’d never expect — and that’s probably not the traffic you’re looking for), discard that phrase and start over.

Using your keywords

We’ll discuss optimizing a page for a given keyword in another article, but for now, just pay attention to your phrases as you write your page copy, and attempt to work them into the natural flow of your writing.  If they work well in the title of your page, headings and subheadings, so much the better.

Watching your results

Very few things happen overnight in the world of search engines.  It may take several weeks to several months before you actually see traffic on your keywords.  You can monitor your progress by checking your site statistics.  Sometimes you may have a marginal ranking on a keyword and adding a few additional links pointing into your site can suddenly pole-vault you to the top ten.

Once you’ve begun receiving traffic on that keyword, watch and see how well that traffic converts to actual prospects and sales.  Sometimes, there can be quite a bit of difference in conversion between two similar phrases.

Please note that poor conversions (or even poor ranking) does not mean you should go back and change your page content (you might go from “poor” to “none”).  Instead, keep notes on what you’ve learned, and use it when writing the copy for a new additional page on that subject.

Some other keyword tools worth using

123Promotion has an Overture Keyword Tool that blends the results from Overture with suggestions from Wordtracker (a subscription keyword suggestion tool) and shows estimates of traffic projection over time.  It’s a little more complex than the real Overture tool, but it can often give you insights into other keywords to target.

Hooznet’s Google Autocomplete Suggestion Tool uses Google beta product, “Google Suggest” to show results on specific keyword terms, and various alternative keyword suggestions from Google’s engine.  This can also be a good source of keyword ideas.

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2 Responses to “Are you choosing keywords properly?”

  1. Delores Highsmith on January 25th, 2005 4:42 pm

    Chuck, this is great stuff. Could you also address web sites that are running in frames as opposed to “plain pages”? My website currently runs in frames. However, I have heard that search engines don’t like frames and ignore the sites. Is this true. Should I redo my pages without frames in order for keywords to work? Thanks-sdh

  2. Chuck on January 25th, 2005 5:48 pm

    Hi Delores;

    Thanks for the kind words!

    I tend to cover frames more under “site credibility”, as users tend to get seriously confused by them, but frames can also wreak havoc on search engine traffic as well.

    I glanced through your site, but didn’t find the frames, so I can’t comment on what you’re doing specifically, but I can’t think of very many circumstances where I wouldn’t suggest looking for an alternative instead of using frames, both from the standpoint of getting traffic, and the standpoint of converting that traffic to prospects and sales.


    – Chuck

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