Choose your keywords

December 25, 2017 •

Stop! Before you do anything, you need to know what words you want to rank for. And that means finding out what words your target customers are Googling when they’re looking for products or services like yours.

These are your ‘keywords’. Only when you know them, can you target them. (That’s a fancy word that means use them frequently, and in the right places, on your website, and hopefully get them in some links to your site.)

WHAT IS KEYWORD ANALYSIS?

The process of uncovering the words your target customers are Googling is called ‘keyword analysis’ or ‘keyword research’.

There are quite a few reliable keyword analysis tools out there. You enter a term that you think your target visitors are Googling, and they tell you how many people are actually Googling that term. They use real search data – usually from the previous one or two months.

You want relevant words and phrases that heaps of people are searching for. Obviously it’ll be easier to rank well for keywords that relatively few other sites are targeting, though, and some of these tools will help you there too.

KEYWORD ANALYSIS TOOLS

Everyone has their favorites, and you’ll quickly identify yours. I like three: WordTracker, Google Adwords Keyword Tool, and Google Trends. WordTracker makes great keyword suggestions, but the Google tools are free and easier to use.

Have a play and see what you think.

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*KEI = Keyword Effectiveness Index. It’s a ratio of the number of searches to the number of competing sites. It tells you how difficult a keyword will be to dominate.

^ WordTracker gets its data from a secondary (or ‘meta’) search engine, Dogpile, that pulls results from Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.

KEYWORD ANALYSIS COMPLEXITIES

You’ll find these tools very helpful and very powerful. They’ll give you a great insight into what people are searching for. But they won’t tell you everything. Ultimately, they just provide the raw data. Once you’ve uncovered that raw data, you need to analyze it to make some decisions.

And this is trickier than it sounds. You’ll need to apply all of your knowledge of your business, the benefits you offer your customers, and how prospective customers think and talk about your products and services (which may be entirely different from how actual customers think and talk, and is almost guaranteed to be different from how people in the industry think and talk). You also need to have a good understanding of what your competitors are doing, and why.

And finally, always remember that search engines don’t read as humans do. They’re nowhere near that smart. So sometimes you have to make allowances for them.

Following is a rundown of some issues that quite often have people tearing their hair out.

SEARCHER INTENT

When you’re considering the merits of a particular keyword, you also need to carefully consider the intent of people searching for it. It’s not enough that a word is relevant; it also has to be a word that someone would use when they’re ready (or not far off ready) to buy your product, engage your service, subscribe to your mailing list, or do whatever it is that you want them to do.

I’ll use my own copywriting website as an example. “Copywriting” is more popular than “copywriter”, but I didn’t choose it because I know people Google it when they’re looking for copywriting jobs, copywriting advice, copywriting tips, copywriting articles, etc. When people want to engage the services of a copywriter, they usually Google  “copywriter.”

CAN’T I JUST USE GOOGLE ANALYTICS?

No. Google Analytics will tell you what searches brought your current visitors to your site. It won’t tell you anything about your target visitors. E.g. Let’s say you run a cinema website and the majority of your visitors arrived after Googling “movies”. That doesn’t means you should necessarily target “movies”. What if 10 times that many customers are finding a competing cinema after Googling “cinema”?

SINGLE KEYWORD OR KEYWORD PHRASE?

If you’re a niche business, target niche keyword phrases, not single keywords. Include extra detail, points of difference or your location. For example:

  • “cheap second hand computers” instead of “computers”
  • “small business income tax accountant Sydney” instead of “accountant Sydney”
  • “thai restaurant delivery Highland Park” instead of “restaurant”
  • “small blue widgets” instead of “widgets”

Why? Because:

  1. The more specific the keyword, the fewer websites there will be targeting it. This means you’ll move up the rankings faster, and you’ll find it easier to achieve a high ranking.
  2. The search results for the more generic keywords tend to be dominated by the big multinationals. Search for “computers” and you’ll see there are around 955 million results and the top rankings are dominated by the big authority sites, like Wikipedia, Computer.org, Apple, etc.
  3. Searchers know they’ll find what they want faster, if they’re specific. According to OneStat.com, 58.93% of people search for either a 2-word phrase or a 3 word phrase.
  4. Most people Google generic keywords when they’re researching a purchase and specific keywords when they’re ready to buy. So by targeting a more specific keyword, you’ll attract more qualified traffic.

Of course, if you need to target hotly contested generic keywords, go ahead. But I’d still recommend starting out with a niche phrase that includes your generic term. E.g. It won’t take you long to rank for “small business income tax accountant Sydney”, and this will generate income while you’re waiting for your link profile and site authority to grow enough to rank for “accountant Sydney”.

PLURAL OR SINGULAR?

The simplest answer is to look at what the majority of your target visitors are Googling, and go for that.

But if searches are equally split, think about intent. Maybe people Google “tennis shoe” when they’re deciding whether to buy a tennis shoe or a running shoe. And maybe they Google “tennis shoes” when they’re ready to buy a pair online. As an online shoe shop, you’d choose “tennis shoes”. As a shoe manufacturer, you’d choose “tennis shoe”.

Still no closer to a decision? Consider the number of competing sites. If you sell televisions, you’d be better off targeting “TVs” than “TV”, because then you’re not competing against all the TV stations and TV guides.

If even that doesn’t help (i.e. there’s no statistical, semantic or competitive reason to choose one over the other), then just choose whichever one is easiest to optimize for. Or go with both (that would certainly be the easiest to implement).

Google’s smart enough to index you for both if there’s no good reason not to.

SPLIT, MERGED AND HYPHENATED WORDS

“Copywriter”, “copy writer” or “copy-writer”? Google knows they’re different words so, as always, go with whatever version your target visitors are Googling most.

If there’s no clear distinction, again, consider intent and competition. Failing that, just choose whatever’s easy to optimize for. Google’s smart enough to know that they all refer to the same animal. Search for “copy-writer” and you’ll find plenty of results that contain only “copywriter”. (In fact, Google bolds “copywriter” even when you search for “copy-writer” or “copy writer”.)

RELATED WORDS

All the important search engines use a thesaurus when analyzing your site’s content. Once they identify what your target keywords are, they then check to see if the rest of your content is related to those keywords. (Actually, they use a fancy name for it: “latent semantic indexing (LSI)”, and it’s a lot more complicated than I’ve indicated here. But if you think of it as a thesaurus, you’ll be just fine.)

For example, a naturally evolved site about tennis shoes wouldn’t just contain “tennis” and “shoes”. It would also contain words like “footwear”, “sole”, “foot”, “feet”, “upper”, “inner” and “surface”. And probably “grass”, “clay” and “court”. Possibly even “racquet”, “basketball” or “running”.

If it does, the search engines will deduce that it’s very relevant to people who’re searching for “tennis shoes” (and that it’s less likely to be a cheap spam site that’s just stuffed full of the single term “tennis shoes”). Of course, the corollary of this logic is that if your site has evolved naturally and is actually useful, you won’t need to worry about these issues too much.

BANG FOR BUCK

According to a ClickZ study, most people who make it to your site will have searched for one of a very small sub-set of words. They say that “just 4 percent of all unique search queries made up more than half of all site searches.” So, don’t try and be all things to all people. Pick the words that you think will deliver the most traffic, and – at least in the beginning – focus on them exclusively.

TARGET YOUR SUBURB OR CITY NAME FOR LOCAL TRAFFIC

If local search traffic is important to your business, you should also target your suburb or city.

A NOTE ON WORDTRACKER’S KEI

WordTracker’s KEI is helpful, but don’t base your decision on it alone. A keyword with a good KEI might be completely irrelevant or offer such low traffic that its ROI would be terrible. And one with a bad KEI might be highly relevant with great potential ROI. Indeed, it might be your only sensible choice. Glean whatever value you can from the numbers, then use your discretion.

SUMMARY

  • Find out what words your customers are searching.
  • Don’t base your decision purely on statistics.
  • Consider searcher intent.
  • Use keyword phrases in competitive fields (not single keywords).
  • Develop a long term keyword strategy that will increase your ranking for hotly contested single keywords even as you target your keyword phrase.
  • Make your decision about singular v plural & hyphenated words based on searchers not search engines.
  • Related words enhance your optimization and generally make their way into your copy naturally.
  • Focus exclusively on bang for buck in the beginning.
  • Target your suburb or city name if local traffic is important.
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