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.