Keyword Research for SEO
In the first lesson, Introduction to Search Engine Optimization, we learned to optimize web pages for specific terms and phrases by:
- Including keywords in DOMAIN name (if possible).
- Including keywords in URLs (usually possible)
- Including keywords in page TITLES (almost always possible)
- Including keywords in page HEADERS (almost always possible)
- Including an appropriate number of keywords throughout site copy
- Including a sparing number of INTERNAL links to other relevant pages on your own site
- Obtaining EXTERNAL links to your site from other high quality ones (difficult)
The question now becomes – what keywords should you be optimizing pages for?
Obviously, you will want to select keywords and phrases that are both relevant to the business, and that are relevant to the copy on the page and its purpose on the site. But beyond that, you will want to select keywords and phrases which are ones that people actually use to search for the business is offering. In order to find out what those phrases are, you need to do keyword research.
Typically a client will have a specific phrase they want to rank well for. More often than not, this is called a vanity phrase. It might not be the term that their customers actually use to search for their product or service — just the term that the client believes will net them the most popularity/traffic.
Keyword research with Google Insights for Search
A good starting point for basic keyword research is Google Insights for Search. It is a web site, provided by Google, which will show you graphs of trends for various search phrases. In the example above, I tell the story of how the term “independent living” was a vanity phrase that Holiday Retirement desired rankings for. As you can see below, though, the term “independent living” is not the most favored term.
Obviously, “assisted living” is the most popular term in this comparison, but since Holiday Retirement doesn’t offer that service, the next most popular term would be “senior living.”
Ironically, many of Holiday’s competitors have “senior living” in their domain names, which not surprisingly, gives them an advantage in convincing Google of the relevance of their sites to this desirable phrase.
Google Insights for Search is a nice tool for comparing a number of terms you are already aware of, and determining which is more popular (or destined to become more popular based upon a forecast Google provides). How do you get ideas for phrases that you may not have thought of? Google has a site for that also.
The Google AdWords Keyword Tool is a utility that can also be used in basic keyword research. Simply supply a phrase and a web site address, and the tool will scan the site and suggest terms which may be relevant to you. In addition, you will get some insight into monthly searches done on those terms and how stiff the competition is for them.
After making your general keyword selection, you will be presented with numerous rows of related keywords. Not all of these will be relevant. Typically, you would export the data into a spreadsheet (with the option which is provided) and delete terms that aren’t going to be useful to you. In this case, most of the suggestions are for branded keyword phrases (competitors). There are a few though that look promising (highlighted by me in the graphic below)
Select relevant keywords but consider competition
These phrases have sufficient volume to be worth targeting, and are general enough that they could be made to fit into new pages (or applied to current ones) that are relevant. Research like this can give you ideas on new types of pages to write on. Remember, Google will try to rank pages on your web site to any number of phrases people use to search online with.
In some cases, the suggestions from this tool can lead to very specific new keyword phrases that are known as “long tail keyword phrases.” A phrase like “senior living residences in Oregon” is one that will rarely be searched for, but when it is, the person searching is looking for something incredibly specific. This is great for search marketers and SEO because now we can provide that person a page that is incredibly relevant for what they are looking for.
The very nature of their search tells us exactly what information they are looking for.
Long tail terms by themselves provide little search volume, but typically convert very high. People who are searching for “senior living residences in Oregon” are usually further down the research funnel in their search than someone who would just look for “senior living.”
Obviously, investing in a strategy to solely optimize your site around the term “shoes” (as in the example above) will likely be a tough climb. It is a super competitive term with a low probability of conversion, due to its generic nature. Where you want to be is somewhere in the middle, where you can get enough volume to of searches to your site with specific terms that give you a good chance at conversion. Most site’s can’t exist just on long tail terms, but those terms usually bring down offset the high cost of being competitive on those 1 word phrases.
Keyword research is your starting – and sometimes, ending point
Keyword research can help you develop a strategy for optimizing a web site, or even a single web page. It is probably the most time consuming aspect of good SEO work. In many cases, you can sell keyword research as a stand alone product. Many clients in the past have contracted me just to do the research and write up a summary of what they should be doing as they already have the resources to make the actual changes to their web site (TITLES, URLS, HEADERS, LINKS).
So what do you do with this information? It depends on how far the client wants you to go. If they just want a plan, you can usually present the data from your keyword research in presentation format with a summary plan of action. Sometimes, they will want you to go further – by creating what is commonly referred to as a site recipe. Site recipes are typically detailed instructions of the changes that are needed for every page on a site.
Site recipes can be relatively simple, so long as they contain the information needed to optimize a page:
Target phrase: “Senior Residences in Oregon”
Desired URL: http://www.yoursite.com/senior-residences-in-oregon
TITLE: Senior Residences in Oregon | Company Name
Headings: Explore our Senior Residences in Oregon
Headings: Spacious Senior Residences in Oregon
Headings: All-Inclusive Senior Residences in Oregon
Content: (sample web site copy with appropriate keyword density)
Obviously, the content section is where the creative part comes, in which you craft copy that is compelling to read, contains strong call to action and meets the basic requirements of our SEO Best Practices.