My fam­ily and I recently vis­ited a well known beach board­walk on the west coast. While walk­ing the board­walk, tempted by car­ni­val games, fun­nel cakes and cot­ton candy, there was one car­ni­val game that caught my eye. The game was sim­ple: throw a dart at a wall cov­ered in lit­tle star tar­gets, land the dart inside one of the red stars and win a prize.

The dart game looked easy enough, so I exchanged money with the game atten­dant, was handed a dart, and pre­ceded with my pathetic attempt to win a prize for my child. After stand­ing there for a few sec­onds I real­ized that with over a hun­dred tar­gets to choose from, it was dif­fi­cult to decide where to focus my atten­tion. I blindly threw the dart and didn’t come close. Sadly, it took me two more tries before dumb luck allowed me to even­tu­ally con­nect with a star. I begrudg­ingly handed the $.05 prize to my excited son and headed back to the fun­nel cakes.

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Look­ing back I couldn’t help but real­ize how much more dif­fi­cult that car­ni­val game was com­pared to play­ing darts on a stan­dard dart board. Hav­ing a clear tar­get, like a dart board, allows you to bet­ter focus your atten­tion and play with more confidence.

Tar­get­ing the Right Keywords


Tar­get­ing the “right” key­words is the most impor­tant first step to any SEO project. For some, this might seem like a bla­tantly obvi­ous prin­ci­ple, but you’d be sur­prised at how many orga­ni­za­tions have dropped the ball with this crit­i­cal first step.

What are your “money” key­words? Which are your top con­vert­ing key­words from organic search? If you can’t answer these ques­tions, you may be in need of some focused key­word research.

Mov­ing for­ward with SEO before doing com­pre­hen­sive key­word research is like pro­mot­ing a huge Mixed Mar­tial Arts event on The Life­time Chan­nel- you’re wast­ing valu­able resources on the wrong audi­ence. Select­ing the best key­words will allow you to reach the best prospects.

Key­word Mining

  • Inter­nal Min­ing: The first step in this process is a good old fash­ioned brain dump. Brain­storm every pos­si­ble vari­a­tion you can think of — this process is designed to help you define your organization’s inter­nal ter­mi­nol­ogy. It’s impor­tant to avoid the web dur­ing this stage, as you don’t want any out­side influ­ences to impact this inter­nal brain­storm­ing process. I sug­gest you avoid your com­puter entirely and just use a white board or a piece of paper to jot down all your thoughts and ideas. Dur­ing this process it’s often help­ful to group your key­words into log­i­cal cat­e­gories to help your research be more focused as you move through the research process.
  • Com­pet­i­tive Min­ing: Dur­ing this next step you’ll review your top com­peti­tors’ sites to iden­tify addi­tional key­word vari­a­tions. Using tools such as SEO Dig­ger, Com­pete, or Google AdWords Key­word Tool can be very help­ful in min­ing your competitor’s site for key­word data.
  • Search Data Min­ing: Review­ing search engine data is the last step in the research phase. This search engine key­word data pro­vides insight into what com­mon key­word terms users are actu­ally search­ing. Most tools pro­vide esti­mated search vol­ume esti­mates for each key­word, as well as key­word ontology/suggestion func­tions. This process is typ­i­cally the most help­ful in dis­cov­er­ing gaps in your key­word research.

Some of the best research tools include: Google AdWords Key­word Tool, Microsoft adCen­ter Labs, Key­word Dis­cov­ery, and Word­tracker, among others.

A screen­shot of Google AdWords Key­word Tool

Once you’ve mined all of your poten­tial key­words, it’s time for a crit­i­cal review of your key­word list. If you haven’t already done so, you should log­i­cally group or silo your key­words by top­i­cal cat­e­gories. You should also review the list for any unre­lated or neg­a­tive key­words which don’t apply to your busi­ness. Once you’ve final­ized this list it’s time to move on to testing.

Test­ing & Ana­lyz­ing your Keywords:

Sim­ply put, you need to test the effec­tive­ness of your key­words before you begin to opti­mize your pages.

The eas­i­est way to test is to ana­lyze your exist­ing data. Your web ana­lyt­ics data can be a rich source of data regard­ing past key­word per­for­mance from both organic search and paid search. Eval­u­ate the suc­cess of these key­words based on key per­for­mance indi­ca­tors tied to true com­pany objec­tives (i.e. orders, rev­enue, leads, etc…).  Don’t fall into the trap of mea­sur­ing suc­cess by traf­fic alone, as this can often lead to problems.

If you don’t have data to mea­sure past key­word per­for­mance, I highly rec­om­mend you move for­ward with a paid search cam­paign to gather the data you need. This can often be a costly project, but it is well worth the invest­ment. The infor­ma­tion you will gather will help you dis­cover your money key­word terms. With this knowl­edge you can con­fi­dently move for­ward with the opti­miza­tion of your site.

Opti­mize & Monitor:

Now that you’ve final­ized your key­word list through thor­ough dis­cov­ery and analy­sis, it’s time to move for­ward with opti­miza­tion of your site. While you’re work­ing to opti­mize the var­i­ous pages on your site for your “money” phrases, you should also be plan­ning a care­ful strat­egy to accu­rately mea­sure the per­for­mance and these pages and key­words. Closely mon­i­tor­ing the per­for­mance of the pages and key­words will allow you make changes to your plan when needed and be pre­pared to deploy appro­pri­ate resources.  SEO is not a “set it and for­get it” process.  When your per­for­mance is mea­sured, your per­for­mance will improve.

Whether you’re in the process of devel­op­ing new con­tent, launch­ing a new site, or even re-visiting your exist­ing key­word strat­egy, remem­ber to fol­low the steps I’ve out­lined above before mov­ing for­ward. Fol­low­ing these basic key­word research guide­lines will save you valu­able time and resources, help­ing you tar­get the key­words that will drive suc­cess for your business.

13 comments
Justin Lascola
Justin Lascola

Howdy-do, The is a great article the above is mega can someone reply to tell me how to sing up for your newsletter

Sandy Allain
Sandy Allain

Thanks for the great tip! I think even an experienced SEO consultant can learn something from this post. As we become more reliant on our tools, we tend to drift away from the basics that worked well for us and eventually end up frustrated that nothing seems to be working. This was a timely reminder for me!

Mark
Mark

Jordan, I agree with everything you said but would like to add competitive research. Use something like SpyFu to find the "odd-man-out" keyword. You are not looking for a high CPC but instead are looking for something different. What I try to do is find a "buy" word that wasn't in AdWords. Many times you can find something your competitor tested for last year and is buying cheap this year. Focus on old sites in your niche with good SEO.

Best Fuel Efficient SUV
Best Fuel Efficient SUV

This is excellent one post on SEO for keyword selection and optimization. But this post completely telling about text based website.

Video Character
Video Character

Hey Jordan, interesting and very useful post you have here, I better think of fixing mine for the better. I hope it will help me in bringing more to the company.

SEO Specialist
SEO Specialist

Jordan, I enjoyed your keyword mining part, one of the areas often left out of keyword research is the visualization of your sites keyword focus.

Judd Lyon
Judd Lyon

Very succinct post on keyword selection, thanks Jordan. Running a paid search campaign just for confirmation/insight is valuable advice and much cheaper than choosing wrong.

lokesh
lokesh

This is excellent one post on SEO for keyword selection and optimization. But this post completely telling about text based website. But i hope this is the time of "key-phrase"

Jordan LeBaron
Jordan LeBaron

@Greg - Great point on segmenting your keyword lists based on long-tail vs. the head. When speaking with clients regarding the long tail I've found it helpful to explain that the volume is in the head, but the value is in the tail.

Greg Parsons
Greg Parsons

I'd have to agree with what you say above with the exception of adding something in the keyword research phase about choosing a short vs long tail SEO initiative. Many of my clients have found that it's much more profitable in their competitive niches to throw all SEO efforts towards the long tail searches which yield much higher results in the SERPs and comparatively much more traffic and sales. On a test, one client yielded a much higher conversion ratio on the long tail searches, presumably because the surfer had already done initial research on the more generic term for the product and was ready to buy something specific from the company that seemed to dominate the niche for that long tail, specific keyword.

Joel
Joel

I found all the tools you recommended to be very useful, with the exception of the Microsoft adCenter Labs link, which produced an runtime error message when I clicked on it.

Utah SEO
Utah SEO

Jordan, I liked the part about using other metrics for analyzing your keywords such as orders, revenue, and leads other than just focusing on traffic alone. I agree with this completely.