Keyword Research for Search Engine Optimization

Importance of Keyword Research for Search Engine Optimization
Keyword Research is by far the most important aspect in any Search Engine Optimization initiative. This article shall discuss the important aspects of keyword research process. Keyword Phrase Research is a process of selecting the most “optimum performance” keyword phrases that can help visitors find your site. You may have spent days and months on fine-tuning your web pages for a better ranking with the major search engines, yet it will all amount to a big waste if the right keyword phrases are not targeted. It’s like not being able to reach your destination even after running your best race because you started out on the wrong road. Even if you achieve high search engine rankings, you may not get relevant traffic if you select the wrong keywords. Therefore, the foremost step in any SEO campaign is identifying your target audience and researching what keyword phrases they might be searching in the search engines to locate a site like yours.

For any marketing strategy to succeed, it is critical to know your audience and the means to reach them. A certain focus is required which could be location specific, region specific or country specific; it could be business, trade, service, product specific, since we are talking specific audience. For instance, a dentist practicing in a particular town would most likely target people living in the same region, instead of targeting the entire country. Just as a patient searching for a dentist would search for one in his own area. Focus on region would help her get targeted visitors, not just wasted traffic.

Facts, Not Gut Feel
A common pitfall is to start the website optimization exercise with a set of “gut-feel” keyword phrases. Site owners often come up with ‘common sense looking’ key phrases, which though look obvious, may not match with the ones your buyers are using as their search term. Very often, being from within the trade narrows the vision and you tend to assume that trade-specific terms are easily understood and popularly used. Not so. You need to think out of the box. Doing Keyword Research invariably means departing from one’s gut-feel and going by the facts. ‘Facts are sacred’ in website optimization as they provide the exact data of what people are actually searching for, thus saving you from starting on a wild goose chase. As mentioned earlier, targeting the wrong key phrases might get you a good ranking for keywords that have few or no search requests or just get you irrelevant junk traffic. So, how does one get the facts and the data regarding a particular search term? There are several online keyword research tools like Wordtracker and Overture, which offer data pertaining to your search term. Relying on search tools to analyze keyword phrase data helps you to get a grip on your target audience.

Keyword Research Process
Keyword Research process involves the following important steps. These steps can be described as:

» Discovering Keywords

» Analyzing Keywords

» Selecting Keywords

» Deploying Keywords

The Discovering phase should focus on identifying as many keywords as possible that are related to your website and target audience.

The Analysis phase involves adding information about existing competition; PageRank based limitations and potential for ranking.

The Selection process involves objective measurement based shortlisting of keywords keeping the site focus and target audience within the limitations analyzed.

The Deploying phase is about making optimum use of your selected keywords on your website copy, HTML code and tags.

Step 1: Discovering Keyword Phrases

Starting out Keywords
The nature of keyword research tools that help you identify various keywords is such that they need initial starting out keywords. It is important that you identify good 15 starting out keywords, tightly focused on your business. You can brainstorm with your colleagues and clients to identify search phrases that are most likely to get qualified traffic to your site. This brainstorming session is intended at discussing the most relevant keyword phrases to the product or service you offer. An initial list of 15-20 keywords can be compiled at this stage, which can be generic in nature. For wider keyword coverage, you will get better results if you have one or two keywords rather than longer phrases.

Using Wordtracker, Overture to Collect a Corpus of Keywords
Keyword Research tools like Wordtracker and Overture can be used to expand on your initial list of starting out keywords. These tools allow you to find the number of searches being made on a particular term and also look for all related terms that include your search term.
Wordtracker and Overture are the two most widely used services that give you the ability to research and find out what people are actually searching for on the major search engines along with information on how popular a search term was in the last 30 or 60 days.

Wordtracker is a fee-based service that allows you to look up popular keyword phrases. Wordtracker is most popular in SEO industry, as it offers a good search term database and makes searching for keyword related information easy. The database is constantly updated, with the oldest data being removed and replaced with the latest information every week. As of writing this article, Wordtracker offers access to a database size of 324 million entries.

Although Wordtracker is a paid service for regular use, it offers the benefit of one-day free trial, which can be used to complete your keyword research if you are fairly organized.

Competition Search can also be made at Wordtracker for your short-listed terms. Competition Search allows you to ascertain how many web pages exist for these search terms on different search engines. This helps you determine your chances of ranking with a particular search engine for your search term. Ideally, lesser number of pages with a search engine means a better ranking chance for your search term.

Overture Overture Search Term Suggestion tool,although intended to offer keyword popularity information to the PPC (Pay Per Click) advertisers, works fairly well to carry out your keyword research. Enter your main search terms and in response Overture lists out all other popular search terms that contain that particular term or phrase along with the popularity count. Overture lists the search terms in order of their popularity, giving numerical count of past one month. Being a free tool, Overture is quite useful. However, it has a few downsides and its results cannot be totally relied upon. They are good to be used as a guideline. Some of the drawbacks of Overture are listed below:

  1. Overture does not make a distinction between singular and plural search terms. Therefore, it can lead you to assume that a keyword is popular in the singular, though it could actually be the plural you should target.
  2. Related phrases are often collapsed into narrow term listings.
  3. The different variations of a word are stemmed as one.
  4. Mis-spellings and punctuation are either ignored or stemmed resulting in stinted data.

Google Adwords: Keyword Suggestion Tool
Search engines like Google offer some keyword recommendation tools, which can be used as a guide. However, Google does not indicate the popularity count of each search phrase.

Coverage of Keyword Phrases
While selecting your key phrases, make an effort to cover each aspect of your service or product that could be searched on stand-alone basis by the users. Each page on your website could be dealing with a different topic (product or service), therefore; the keywords for each page would be different too, depending on which you should try and place unique and relevant key phrases on each page. For instance, it would not suffice to optimize a dentist’s site only for the terms ‘dentist’ or ‘dental surgeon’, as people are likely to make specific searches on related terms like cosmetic surgery, root canal treatment or RCT, dental crowns, tooth extractions, cavities etc. Hence, it is important that all these keywords are covered.

Step 2: Analyzing Keyword Phrases
The second step is analyzing your keyword phrases. This involves analyzing the competition for the search terms, i.e. how many pages are indexed in a search engine like Google. This gives you an idea of how many pages are competing for the top spot. While most of the time, the optimized sites are ranking high, very often un- Optimized sites show up highly ranked due to the complex nature of the search engine algorithms. It is therefore wise to be conscious of the extent of competition.

The potential for ranking with a particular keyword depends on several factors. The on-page factors address your optimization efforts while the off-page factors like PageRank affect ranking in a major way. While it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the affect and weight of all the factors, your site’s PageRank is an important parameter in keyword analysis. Thumb rule is that the higher your site’s PageRank, the better the chance of ranking with highly competitive keywords. Choose your keywords keeping your site’s PageRank in mind. For more information, read our detailed article on Google PageRank Algorithm

Adding Information and Measuring Competition for Keywords
After you have made your search on Wordtracker or Overture, and short-listed your key phrases, you need to collect information about their competition as described above. Wordtracker offers an in-built tool to find the number of pages for your keywords indexed in Google.
Alternately, you can check the competition for your keywords at: search-engine-keyword-competition.php In order to make this task more organized, we recommend making use of Excel Sheets to feed in all the data you have compiled. This will allow you to make comparisons between various search terms and at the same time, do away with all the unrelated junk terms that are irrelevant to your site and also the ones that exceed your site’s PR requirement.

Step 3: Selection of Keyword Phrases
If you have followed the above process of Discovering and Analyzing keywords, you probably have between 50-100 keyword phrases that qualify as “high-yield” given your site’s current PR range. Sorting out which keywords you’re going to gun for, out of the corpus of keywords you have identified is a crucial task. Selection of keyword phrases pertains to finding the most valuable keyword phrases that most accurately describe specific qualities of your website. Though generic keywords are generally searched more, ranking with generic key phrases often brings mediocre Return on Traffic.

Focused Key Phrases
As you may have realized by now the focused key phrases not only give your site a better chance to rank, it gets highly targeted traffic resulting in higher traffic to sales conversion ratios. Since you have used a process, which ensures that you are working with popular keywords, ranking with any of the short listed keywords assures you of incoming traffic. Amongst the 100 odd keywords you have short-listed, keep your eyes on the ones that have a tight focus on what your site’s offering within the parameters of ranking possibilities and competitiveness.

Final Selection of Keyword Phrases
For making your final selection of 15-20 most relevant keywords, we recommend working in the following method:

  • Eliminate the keywords, which are difficult to rank with considering the chart given for PR vs. Competition.
  • Eliminate very low popularity Keywords where the search traffic for the terms is very low.
  • Out of the balance keywords that qualify for ranking with your site’s current PR, select the most popular keywords, which have the right focus for your site.

Step 4: Deploying Keyword Phrases
After you have made a final selection of 15-20 of your most relevant and important keywords, you need to use them on different parts of your website.
It is not advisable to use all your keywords on all the pages. A good way to use the selected keywords on your site is to divide them into 5-7 groups of keywords. Each group should have closely related keyword-forming themes. Identify various sections/ parts of your website that closely match with the keyword group themes and optimize your pages using these themes. Keywords can be used in several portions/ codes of your web pages. The important aspects are listed below:

  1. Keywords Per Page
    We recommend using your keywords 2-4 times per page. Over-repetition of keywords on a page might be interpreted as spam by the search engines. Make sure you don’t put all your keywords on one page.
  2. Where to use the Keywords?
    Your important keywords can be used in the following: Title Tag : A Title Tag of about 90 characters,inclusive of your most important keywords is good enough. For instance, the Title Tag of this article would be written as “Keyword Research : Techniques for keyword research, keyword analysis & keyword optimization”. Read our detailed article OnTitle Tag Optimization.Meta Description Tag : You should write a Meta Description Tag of about 250 characters with your important keywords. Be careful about over-repetition. For instance, the Description tag of this article would be written as: “Keyword research described: Learn all about keyword research, keyword analysis, keyword optimization and marketing keyword research.” Read our detailed article on Meta Description Tag Optimization.Headlines:Keyword rich headlines and sub-headings placed in <“H1”> and <“strong”> tags, not only give a brief preview of what follows in the body copy, but also pass the most relevant information on the page or the subsequent paragraph. For instance, heading of this article reads: Keyword Research for Search Engine Optimization; followed by a sub-heading: Importance of Keyword Research for Search Engine OptimizationBody Text: Headlines in <“H1”> and <“strong”> Tags followed by keyword rich body text can improve your ranking chances.

    Alt text / Alt Tag: Important keywords can be used in the text that appears when you bring your mouse over an image on a web page.

    Title Attributes: The title attributes, are short descriptions for the hyperlinks telling the users about the content of the landing page. Make use of your important keywords here.

    Anchor Text: The words that appear within the hyperlinked portion of the text are called Anchor Text. Keywords appearing in the Anchor Text have a high relevance weight in Search Engines. Read our detailed article on Anchor Text Optimization.

    File Name: your page’s file name or URL also makes use of the most important keyword. For example, file name for this article reads:

    Table Summary: The table summary in HTML code describes the content of each HTML table in your code. Though not visible to a user, it is important for people with disabilities and text to speech applications. It is an important place to use your keyword phrases.

  3. Copy Changes
    Given below are a few tips for writing keyword rich copy. For detailed information, refer to our article on Search Engine Copywriting. Keeping your keyword phrases in mind, you might need to make certain changes in the copy of your web page. Therefore, instead of just writing (taking the Dentist example)’This procedure involves…’ one should try and include their keywords by writing ‘Root Canal Treatment involves…’It is important to include both the singular and plural versions of your keywords as most search engines return different sets of results for plural and singular forms of the same word.Major search engines like Google are not case sensitive. Therefore, headlines and sub-headings can be written in upper or lower case or a combination of both, as it makes no difference in your search engine rankings.Spelling variations of the same word is another thing you should look out for. Try to include all different forms of the same word that can be spelled differently or commonly mis-spelt. For instance, you can write, ‘ Abscessed Tooth, (commonly mis-spelt as Absessed tooth) is …’, thus smartly covering the mis-spelling without giving the user a feeling that the site owner does not know the correct spellings.
  4. Avoiding Pitfalls
    Don’t get swayed by the Keyword Density formula many SEO experts profess, it’s just over hyped. Though you may find a number of articles written on the importance of keyword density, we don’t think it is mission critical. Write your language naturally while leveraging higher use of the keywords in places where it can be used, like substituting keywords in places of articles like ‘it’, ‘this’, etc.The Title or the Description of your web page should not read like a thesaurus or a collection of keywords, but should be descriptive and enticing enough to make a user click on it and read further. It is important to note that our findings on user behavior have proved that sometimes a site ranking number 5th in Search Engines has drawn more clicks than a poorly titled site ranking number 1 in SERP. For instance, instead of simply writing ‘wisdom tooth extraction’, a title that reads ‘painless wisdom tooth extraction’ which is inclusive of your USP would result in enticing more users to click on your entry.

Place your keywords throughout the page, rather than just at the top, but be very very careful about over-repetition, as search engines would consider that as Spamming.

The whole idea behind the Keyword Research exercise is traffic optimization, not traffic maximization. In a nutshell, a good Keyword Research helps in bringing qualified traffic to your site that leads to high sales conversions, by being focused and targeting specific search terms.