Search engine keyword research – 5 critical elements

Author -  Bruce Smeaton [Guest]

Keyword research is an awesome thing! It enables you to peer directly into people’s minds.

Being able to take a peek at the words and phrases (i.e. search terms) that people use when searching for things online, is incredibly valuable. Rather than trying to guess what people might enter into a search engine, you get to observe what they actually searched for! And when you then aggregate this you get a revealing picture of what words people most often use when searching for a specific topic, product or service.

Once armed with niche-relevant keyword research, you have the ability to create highly relevant web content that not only provides a solution to the needs of your site visitors, but boosts your credibility as well. It’s all about speaking the language of your audience and satisfying their needs and wants.

And if you get it right, chances are you’ll end up ranking well in the search engines too.

Yet, while keywords are still essential components, search engine algorithms – especially in Google’s case - have evolved to treat the trust and authority of a domain, what others think about the content, and the words they use to describe it in links (i.e. anchor-text) as more of an indication of quality and relevance.

Research shows that almost 85% of the total factors that determine how a web page is ranked in a search engine are based on off-page events. The trust and authority of a domain, the link popularity of a specific page, and the anchor text of incoming links to that page are vital factors for search engine optimisation (SEO).

In a Google-driven world, it may seem rather odd to view search engine traffic as a secondary benefit, but that’s precisely how you should view it. At the end of the day, Google won’t brand your content as being relevant until someone else does first.

In other words, I’m saying that “people need to like your content before Google will!”

If you can reprogram your thinking and take a counterintuitive approach to search engine keyword research, you’ll stand a reasonable chance of formulating a content strategy that’s ‘bang on the mark’ and gets you ranked highly in the search engines.

Here are the five key components of keyword research:

  1. Keyword Research Tools - As limited as it is, Google’s Keyword Selector Tool is often a good place to begin your research. While the stated search volumes are not even close to being accurate for any one keyword or key phrase, the comparative differences between the search volumes for different keywords is often a good guide to relative popularity.

    Paid tools are almost certainly superior to those provided by search engines since the proprietors aren’t motivated to try and sell you paid advertising i.e. Pay-Per-Click advertising.

    Sophisticated tools such as Wordtracker, Keyword Discovery, Keyword Elite 2.0 and Market Samurai are worth every cent in the hands of competent keyword researchers and SEO experts.
  2. Be Specific - All too often I see web content that is riddled with one-word keyword phrases e.g. “property”, “loan”, “furniture”, “cruise”. Not only is it virtually impossible to get a page one ranking on Google for such highly competitive terms, it is also a waste of time even trying! Why?

    Because single-word search terms have very low commercial intent i.e. people typing in single-word search terms are nowhere near the committal stage of the buying cycle; they’re most likely just fishing for general information on the subject.

    For instance, people actually looking to buy something online are hardly likely (if looking to buy a house in Wellington, for example) to simply enter the search term “property”.  They’ll enter in something like “houses for sale wellington” or “property for sale wellington”.

    Therefore, it stands to reason that a Wellington based real estate company wanting to drive qualified, targeted traffic to their website should optimise it for relevant long-tail search terms like the two examples above.
  3. Focus On Highly Searched Terms - Notice I didn’t say “focus on the highest searched terms?” Once again, that’s because the most sought after terms tend to have less commercial intent than slightly lesser, more specific terms.

    As I said earlier, don’t take the reported number of monthly searches provided by any particular tool – especially Google’s keyword tool – as being true and accurate... but rather, pay close attention to relative popularity among various search terms. You want to be sure that enough people use that keyword phrase when thinking of your niche to make it worth your while, especially if it’s one of the primary search terms you want to target your website.

    Having said the above, you still need to be realistic about it all – especially in a very competitive market. It often pays to optimise your website for a keyword combination that inherently involves a more attainable keyword phrase if the shorter, more competitive term is too difficult to rank for e.g. the long-tail keyword phrase “houses for sale wellington” includes the shorter, more competitive keyword phrases “houses wellington” and “houses for sale”.

    NB: Time and time again, I have seen cases where clever SEO guys have optimised a website for a series of long-tail keywords and then Google has shown web pages from the same website high up in its SERPS (search engine results pages) for shorter terms as well.
  4. Relevancy - Whatever you do, make sure that the keywords you’ve chosen are highly relevant to your ultimate goal. If you’re a product seller or service provider, you (or your SEO team) won’t have too much difficulty determining keyword relevancy. However, other goals may warrant more careful consideration e.g. a membership site offering subscriptions to a publication.
  5. Develop Resourceful Content - The single most important element in keyword research is whether or not a particular keyword or keyword phrase can support the creation of web content that is a valuable resource for readers.

    Ask yourself if your chosen keyword can allow for the development of content that:
    • Satisfies the initial needs of your website visitors
    • Acts as the first step in the sales or action cycle
    • Is worth linking to by webmasters from other niche-related sites

Critical elements 1 – 4, while overwhelming for many non-seo savvy website owners, are standard procedures for experienced Search Engine Optimisation experts.

Critical element 5 – the development of resourceful content – is what makes all the difference. And that’s what I will discuss in my next article.

About The Author
Bruce Smeaton is an SEO, Google AdWords specialist and web copywriter. He can be contacted through - Subject = Bruce

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