Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a buzzword that’s permeating the world of business. My followers on Twitter are frequently asking me if I’d like them to handle my SEO, and when I log into my Gmail account, I often see “Ads by Google” that are offering me links to SEO services. Clearly, this industry is becoming more and more important . . . and thus more and more competitive. So to ensure that the efforts you put into your SEO campaign are successful, you need to constantly be on top of your game and know the best SEO practices.
The first step in any SEO campaign is to identify the keywords that you want to target. Effective keyword research can make or break a campaign. But how can you ensure that the research you do is effective and a step above the rest?
Think of it this way: Effective SEO keyword research is like writing a great novel. There’s a reason why Stephen King, Dan Brown, and, yes, even Stephenie Meyer have had such incredible success. Whether or not you enjoy their writing, they must be doing something right.
To help prove my case, let’s explore five tips on effective SEO keyword research:
Know your business. You’re the owner of your business, and nobody knows it better than you. You know what you sell, you know what your customers buy, you know which products do well, and you know what types of people your customers are. So target your keywords based on these ideas. Make a list of words or phrases that are important to your business that you can use as a reference point.
But don’t include things that won’t resonate with your clientele. For example, you wouldn’t try to write a story about what it’s like to be caught in a hurricane if you’ve never been in one before. Why? Because it would be hard for you to make that story ring true with your readers.
The same goes for your SEO keywords. If you sell shovels, don’t include keywords about jewelry. Stick to shovels, digging, tools, excavating, gardening, and yardwork as general ideas. We’ll refine them (like a writer does) a bit later.
Revise your keywords. Ask any author: What is the most important part of writing? They will answer: revision. All of the great stories that we have come to love took many revisions to get to the form that you see today. In fact, a lot of authors will say that a work is never truly “finished”; it is simply “polished.”
The same must be true about your keywords. The Internet has been around for a long time now, so there’s a vast number of websites out there. If you’re a new site that’s just starting out or you’re involved in a competitive industry, using vague keywords won’t work because you’re competing against so many other sites. Therefore, you need to shape your keywords to be both relevant and specific. Keywords must be something that a searcher will actually type into Google, but not so specific that your site gets lost in the crowd.
Let’s look at a current author. Stephenie Meyer has written the popular Twilight Saga, which, when boiled down to its core story line, is a vampire romance story. When Meyer started penning this series, she clearly had a lot of buzzwords in her mind that she knew would attract a fan base: “vampire,” “romance,” and “shapeshifter,” just to name a few. If you type any of those words into Google and you’re looking for a vampire romance story like Twilight, you’ll find that nothing all that relevant comes up.
But now try typing in “vampire romance story.” You’ll find a number of sites that offer books that contain vampire love stories, and Google also suggests the keyword “twilight.”
So get specific and find keywords that are not overused. Take your list of general ideas and make them more specific. If you sell chairs, don’t optimize for “chairs.” Try optimizing for “comfortable chairs,” “affordable chairs,” “living room chairs,” “ergonomic chairs,” and so on.
Assess your search volume. Now that you have your revised list of keywords, you need to make sure that people are actually searching for them. In the same way, writers need to know their audiences so that they can write stories that appeal to their fan base. Stephen King, for example, resonates with fans of the horror genre. If he wrote a story about two college students who fall in love on a tropical cruise and live happily ever after, most of Stephen King’s fans would be pushed away. Additionally, if the fans searched for “Stephen King horror story,” the tropical cruise book wouldn’t come up in the search results. (That is, unless during a revised version King had a ghost pirate ship sink the cruise ship and then had the couple fend off a shark attack in open waters.)
Business owners need to know their customer base so that they know which items to market. But how do you know what people are searching for? You can use the Google Keyword Tool to assist you. This tool lets you see how many people are searching for various keyword phrases. It also will assist you by making recommendations of other keywords that are also relevant to your original search term, which is helpful if you’re having a hard time coming up with your own keywords.
Simply take your list of specific keywords, type them into the tool, and see what comes up. The keywords that yield a high number of searches are the ones you want to make note of. If there is a low search volume for a keyword, then you’ll want to ignore it or save it for a later date.
Identify your competition volume. Now that you have a list of keywords that are specific and have a high search volume, you want to identify your competition volume. This is the number of sites that Google also identifies as relevant to your keywords. Knowing your competition volume is the most important part of your keyword research because it will help you know where you should focus your efforts. Writers are told that they should know where their book would appear on a shelf in a bookstore; that way, they’ll know who their direct competition will be. When I finish my zombie epic, you’ll find it somewhere between Clive Barker and Clive Cussler—no pressure there.
The way to determine your competition volume is to take a keyword from your list and type it into Google. Once you get your results, under the keyword that you typed in you’ll see something like “About 10,000,000 results.” That number is your competition volume, which is the number of sites that you’ll be competing against for that search term. The higher the number, the more difficult it will be to rank for that keyword. Therefore, you want to look for keywords that have both a high search volume and a low competition volume. One number that you can use as a reference point for results is six million. Anything over six million, and things starts to get tricky. That number, however, can vary depending on your specific market.
Get feedback from your client. Now that you have your list of highly searched yet noncompetitive keywords that are relevant to your industry, you’re going to want some feedback from others before you move ahead with optimization. Writers constantly need others to take a look at their work. When you invest yourself in a project, it becomes difficult to see the errors. Editors help you identify plot holes, grammatical errors, changes in tense, and all of those other wonderful rules of English.
You must do the same with your keywords, especially if you’re optimizing on behalf of a client. Show your client the keywords that you have identified as being prime ones to target. Not only will the client be able to give their approval, but they’ll be able to spot any errors that may exist.
If you’re the owner of the business, then run your keywords by a co-owner or one of the supervisors on your staff to make sure that they’re seen by another set of eyes. Make sure that the words you’ve decided to focus on will actually be doing something positive for your website.
So now you’re all set. Take your keywords and start implementing them in your SEO campaign. Hopefully—if you follow these tips and all goes well—you’ll end up being the author of the SEO campaign that wins the Pulitzer Prize for best SEO copywriting.
To underscore the importance of revising, with respect to keywords, the number of times this post was revised: 8. [Editor's note: 9]
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