Keyword Research - The Core of Search Engine Marketing

By Gino Cosme on 2005/01/25

It has often been said that the heart of a search marketing campaign rests on the success of your keyword research and the use of the results thereof. Sure, slotting in a word or two for the sake of deceiving a search engine is one way of getting the job done, but in all honestly this is something that is best left for amateurs.

Keywords are the heart of any search marketing campaign because they generate much of the life your online presence requires to sustain itself. They do this by generating traffic to your site. With no traffic, a website is merely an empty byte of unused bandwidth.

Nothing is as fundamentally important as choosing the right keywords for your website. These words will be used to make your site search engine and user friendly in a number of different ways. Briefly, these include:

  • Your online material, be it your website's copy, article contents distributed on the Net, online press releases and marketing newsletters to be archived on your site.
  • The headlines and page titles for your webpages.
  • The text in and around external links pointing to your site.
  • Site domain, directory and file naming.
  • Minor as it may be (but important nonetheless), the contents of alt and meta tags.

Investigating the Unexplored

I am often directed to sites that generate excellent search engine rankings for keywords. Being the cynical person that I am, I usually decide to investigate these sites further.

I make a list of keywords these sites are optimised for. One by one, I enter them into Wordtracker (see below) to see exactly what their search engine data is. Most of these keywords do not appear in the Wordtracker database. This leaves me under the impression that the webmaster tried to think of keywords users were likely to enter into a search engine in the hope of finding their site without conducting any accurate research.

Leave Guessing Games at Home

While the intentions are good, this practise is best left for expanding your researched list of keywords for the sake of themed content. As many website owners have realised, making use of this practise as your core keyword strategy could prove to be disastrous. When it comes to online business success, there is no room for unfounded presumptions.

No Rules. Just Hard Work.

Despite the fact that there are no rules when it comes to search engine optimisation, there are a couple of guidelines that can be followed to keep you on the right track. While each should be taken with a pinch of salt, something should remain in the back of your mind throughout your campaign management: there is no easy way to online success. You need to invest time and effort into your campaign, without which your website will go nowhere on the Internet.

Research Key Phrases and Not Keywords

Research suggests that users are more likely to find what they are looking for when conducting searches using key phrases of two to three words in length.

Key phrases tend to be far less generic than single keywords. "Children's cartoon artist" is more descriptive than the generic keyword "artist". So is "24 hour internet café" when compared to its generic counterpart "café".

The basic difference between the two is that a good key phrase usually narrows a product or service down to an almost precise description, whether referring to its size, shape, colour, location, target market or manufacturer.

Wordtracker Is Only As Good As Its User

Wordtracker, a fee-based keyword research service, is a brilliant tool, but few people know how to effectively use it. People will often use Wordtracker's Exact/Precise Search tool. While this is a handy tool to monitor your keyword research later on in your campaign (more about that later), it's not the best option when researching those unique search phrases that will stand you apart from your competitors.

Comprehensive Search on the other hand presents a wonderful tool to help researchers "think outside the box". By entering a generic word such as "beach", Wordtracker will serve up to 500 different search terms relating to the word "beach". Of course, not all of Wordtracker's suggestions will fit your business, but taking the time to research a broader range of search terms can only stand to your advantage.

Don't Copy Your Competitors. Learn From Them.

Once you've short-listed possible keywords, type them into Google, Yahoo! and MSN. Visit each of the top ranked sites and see which keywords their pages are optimised for. Ask yourself questions like "Why have they ranked highly on this search engine?" and "What makes this website so special?"

Often, just by looking at the page source (view, source in Internet Explorer) will present you with some keywords you might otherwise have overlooked.

After learning a thing or two from your competitors, go back to Wordtracker and repeat the above process until you have a list of quality keywords unique to your business.

Go Local with Google Adwords

If you're looking for what people are searching for locally in specific countries, Google Adwards' keyword suggestion tool can be of assistance. This keyword suggestion tool lets you choose which countries you'd like to research for, much in the same manner as Wordtracker's Comprehensive Search.

While this data is specifically geared towards paid search, it does give an excellent indication as to what country-specific websites should include in their keyword research. While I wouldn't use these key phrases as your primary keywords, I would include them as part of the themed content for your webpage.

Less Competition but Lots of Searches

What makes a "quality keyword", as mentioned above? I like to think that a good keyword is one that receives qualified searches, which are product or service specific, from a fair amount of Internet users without having a lot of competitors (other websites already focussing on the same subject). Once you have a shortlist of possible phrases, the next step is to ask yourself questions such as:

  • Does this keyword relate (directly or indirectly) to my product or service?
  • Do I currently have content pertaining to this keyword?
  • If not, will I be able to write informative (and possible entertaining) copy about this keyword?
  • Will I be able to expand on this content at a later stage?

Above All, Write About Your Key Phrase

How many times have you come across a webpage that is brochure written with keywords "strategically" inserted amongst the text, in an effort to deceive a search engine? I've lost count.

While it may be easy to deceive a search engine with this practise (this is becoming harder to do anyway), deceiving a user is a whole different matter.

As you have learnt, a search phrase is something a user types into a search engine. By default, they are looking for information relating to this key phrase. So, if they type in "flower arrangement information", give them information on flower arrangements. Don't try and include the phrase for search engine rankings only. ("We're a specialist company with years of experience in researching flower arrangement information.") Sounds ridiculous, right? You'd be surprise at how many SEO copywriters do this.

Get your copywriter to write about the key phrase. Give them all the information they are looking for relating to this key phrase. Don't just slot in the keywords into your brochure-like copy for the sake of deceiving search engines. Not only will you eventually get caught by search engines but your business will suffer as a result too.

Remember To Follow Up.

Just like this exciting industry, the behaviour of searchers changes. Data for keywords and phrases changes based on competition and market need. As such, an excellent key phrase could easily become obsolete. Not staying on top of things could result in a decline in your search engine traffic.

Make it a point to check your keyword data on a monthly basis. This should also include viewing your website's log files to see which keywords are generating the most traffic, and from which search engines they are originating from. This information will help you stay ahead of your prospective customers and competitors.