In this instalment of Words that Bite, I continue my guided tour along the rocky road to Search Engine Optimisation, by examining how you can find the most effective keywords for your website.
Keywords are one of the most important elements in any SEO strategy; yet, surprisingly, many businesses don’t pay them much attention, let alone undertake proper keyword research. If you are serious about SEO, you should take the time to develop a systematic keyword strategy.
In the context of SEO, keywords are the words that people type into Google to find whatever they are hunting for online.
Keywords are crucial to any SEO strategy because they are the instruments that direct traffic to your website. They have become even more important as the Google algorithm has evolved to place less weight on elements such as links. Links have been one area where the black hat SEO fiends have been most active, so Google has attempted to remedy this by tweaking the algorithm to pay less attention to links but also to determine that they are high-quality (see How to Avoid Website Headaches: Part 4 for a discussion of the difference between black hat and white hat SEO). By high-quality links, I mean that Google tries to make sure you haven’t done a dodgy deal to get links to your website.
As I pointed out in the previous instalment of Words that Bite, Google’s main aim in life is to please its users. For that reason, its primary concern is to ensure the keywords that users type into its search box deliver the best possible results.
There are two types of keywords:
Short-tail keywords tend to be wide or broad. Let’s take an example from the dog world. The word ‘dachshund’ (as in a dog with short legs and a long body, often referred to colloquially as a ‘sausage dog’) would be an example of a short-tail keyword.
Long-tail keywords tend to be words or phrases. For example, ‘miniature dachshund breeders sydney’ would be an example of a long-tail keyword.
Your main objective with keywords is to find relevant, high-traffic ones that will have less competition from an optimisation perspective.
It can be too ambitious to go after short-tail keywords because, not only is the competition fierce, they won’t necessarily navigate the right kind of traffic to your site.
Long-tail keywords are usually a better option for a business because they are more focused on the particular target market. In short, they are more likely to bring in traffic that you can channel through your sales conversion funnel.
Let’s take another example from the dog world – the hypothetical case of a breeder of Great Danes in Box Hill, in the outer suburbs of Sydney. As with the sausage-dog example, it makes sense for them to focus on a long-tail keyword phrase, rather than a short-tail keyword. This becomes clear if you search the term ‘great dane’ in Google. On page one, you will get hits describing the breed from websites such as Wikipedia, rather than information about breeders. So, a breeder should explore using long-tail keywords such as ‘great dane breeder sydney’. This is more specific and focuses on geography, and is therefore more likely to attract people who live in Sydney and are looking to purchase a Great Dane puppy. There probably isn’t much point in attracting the attention of someone in Alabama who is looking for a very large four-legged friend.
Finding the right keywords for your business can be done in several different ways. However, if you need some guidance to develop a sound keyword strategy, I suggest the following three basic steps:
The first step in finding your keywords is to create a list of all the possible keywords, or keyword phrases, that could relate to your business. I suggest that, at this stage, you jot down any word or phrase that might be a possible search term for your business. Yes, I’m referring to brainstorming.
For example, if you were a person building a website for a business selling pedigree Great Dane puppies in the outer north-western suburbs of Sydney, your brainstorming list might look something like this:
As you undertake this task, you should put yourself in the shoes of a possible purchaser of a Great Dane puppy, rather than those of an expert breeder. This means you should think about the terms that someone who doesn’t know much about Great Danes might use.
So, you might add a few extra terms to your list, such as:
This might help you find potential buyers who had seen these dogs but weren’t familiar with their correct names.
After you’ve finished your initial keyword list, you should review it and create several keyword trees based on your broadest keyword.
This involves taking your central keywords and breaking them down systematically so that you locate all your keyword possibilities. For example, you might reject the keyword ‘dog’ as too broad and decide to focus on the term ‘great dane’.
So, a keyword tree for the term ‘great dane’ might look like this.
Creating a keyword tree is a valuable exercise because, not only does it force you to consider all possible keyword options, it encourages you to be methodical in how you put your keyword list together. Most importantly, it will show you how a keyword strategy revolves around trunks and branches. Long-tail keywords emerge as branches from short-tail keywords (the trunks).
Pick from your keyword trees the keywords that you think are going to be your top search terms.
So, a Great Dane breeder in Box Hill specialising in blue, black and harlequin Great Danes might come up with the following:
Once you have your top keywords or keyword phrases, you need to test them.
A great starting point is the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, a free resource that is an advertiser tool for Google Adwords; you can use this instead of the organic Google search engine results tool.
Unfortunately, the Keyword Tool will soon disappear, to be replaced by the Google Adwords Keyword Planner. To use the Keyword Planner, you will have to create a Google AdWords account, although you don’t have to actually advertise with Google AdWords to use the Keyword Planner.
At the moment, the Adwords Keyword Tool gives statistical figures, based on searches, on local and global search numbers for a given key phrase. It also gives you an idea of the level of competition for a keyword or keyword phrase.
Both the Keyword Tool and the Keyword Planner are useful in testing your keywords, and especially your keyword phrases, and in identifying alternatives you may not have considered. However, they work in slightly different ways and provide slightly different information. Neither is hard to use, but you will need to spend some time familiarising yourself with the way they operate before you use them to check your keywords and come up with new terms.
One important trick involves selecting ‘Exact Search’, rather than ‘Broad Search’, to ensure the search brings up the actual value of your chosen keywords.
Alternatively, you can use one of the paid keyword research tools, such as WordTracker or Market Samurai. However, I advise beginning with either the Google Adwords Keyword Tool while it is still available, or registering with Google, to obtain access to the Google Adwords Keyword Planner. Although neither tool is perfect and both have their quirks, they are a useful place to start your keyword research.
Once you have done your research on your chosen keywords, you should go back to your keyword/keyword phrase list. Use your keyword research to refine your keywords and/or keyword phrases.
You may also be wondering whether you should use singular or plural keywords. After all, someone who is searching for a ‘great dane’ may also be searching for ‘great danes’.
Google does not recognise singular and plural versions of a keyword as the same term, so you need to think about whether having the plural form might help your particular business because it is an area where people could search for either the singular or the plural keyword. For example, in the case of a person looking to buy a Great Dane puppy, it is hard to know whether they would use the singular ‘great dane’ or the plural ‘great danes’ when searching Google. Therefore, it might be wise to include both the singular and the plural in your list of keywords.
Another important point about keyword strategy is that keywords should evolve with your business. In a future instalment of Words that Bite, I will talk about how to monitor your keywords once your website is up and running, and how to check whether they are working to channel potential customers or clients to your business or service. At this stage, however, it is vital that you see your keyword strategy as an ongoing project that will evolve with your business, rather than something that is set in stone as soon as your website goes live.
Finding the keywords that will channel visitors to your website through your sales conversion funnel is one of the most important parts of SEO.
In order to find your keywords you need to make sure that you not only take the appropriate steps to find them, but research whether the keywords you have chosen are the ones your potential clients or customers are going to use when they type a word or phrase into the Google search box.
Once again, much like the rest of the job of creating a website, it is a task that involves taking off your expert’s shoes and putting yourself in your customer’s shoes.
In the next instalment of Words that Bite, I will look at an aspect of SEO that is connected to the question of keywords and keyword research – the slightly controversial topic of competitor research.
Are you too busy running your business to look after your SEO? Would you like someone to look after it for you? If so, call the Pink Rottweiler on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.