One of the foundational elements of any Search Engine Optimisation campaign is the selection of keywords to optimise your webpages for. As such, it is of critical importance to understand a number of factors in order to lay the groundwork for success and to avoid optimising for the wrong keywords.
Keyword Phrases vs Generic Keywords
Search engine users type in keyword phrases in order to return results that will hopefully satisfy the intent of their query. It is important to differentiate between a keyword phrase and a generic keyword. Examples of generic keywords include singular words like “accountant”, “hotels” or “marketing”. A keyword phrase would be something along the lines of “accountant Brisbane”, “luxury hotels” or “marketing conference”. Generic keywords tend to have higher volumes of traffic associated with them but in most cases have a far lower conversion rate than more specific keyword phrases.
Keyword Search Volume
How often is the keyword being searched? There are various free and paid tools available for approximating keyword volume, such as Wordtracker, Wordze and the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. It is important to emphasise that the numbers these tools report are approximate and by no means a concrete measure of how many times a keyword will be searched. Additionally, most of these tools report only on US search volumes and may be a poor representation of the Australian market. A further point to note is the seasonality and/or spikiness (unusual spike in volume due to the term becoming a hot topic) of a given keyword which will skew the reported number of searches.
A keyword phrase with a higher level of competition will be more difficult to rank for. How many other webpages are competing for the keyword phrase you want to optimise for? An easy way to get an overview of this is to search for your keyword phrase on Google. You will notice above the results something along the lines of “Results 1 – 10 of about 343,000 for [KEYWORD PHRASE]. (0.33 seconds)”. This means there are approximately 343,000 pages in Google’s index that are somehow relevant to [KEYWORD PHRASE]. Keep in mind that not all of these pages will be explicitly optimised for [KEYWORD PHRASE]. More often than not the keyword will merely appear on the page or within the anchor text of a link pointing to the page.
You can narrow down the number of real competitors in a number of ways:
- Include the phrase in quotes i.e. “keyword phrase”;
- Use the “intitle:” or “allintitle:” operator – see which pages have the phrase in their title tag;
- Use the “inanchor:” or “allinanchor:” operator – see which pages have links pointing to their site with those keywords as anchor text.
Commercial Intent of Keywords
Consumers will use different language depending on where they are in the buying cycle. Information seekers tend to use broader terms before narrowing their search to more specific keywords as they move closer to making a purchase.
Also, two searchers with different needs may use the same keyword phrase to find what they’re after. Generally, the shorter the keyword phrase, the broader the intent and the greater the potential for ambiguity. Traffic from longer, more specific keyword phrases (commonly referred to as “long tail keywords”) tend to convert better than generic keywords because the visitor has qualified themselves.
Furthermore, some words take on a different meaning through common usage or branding. Take for example the word “caterpillar”, with at least two very distinct meanings, i.e. the larval stage of butterflies and moths, or “the world’s largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, and industrial gas turbines.”
Relevance of Keywords
Just because a keyword has a relatively high volume, low competitiveness and high commercial intent doesn’t mean it has anything to do with the goods and services you sell. Additionally, it may be completely relevant to your business but the content of your website might fail to adequately communicate this.
Striking a Balance
Keyword research, like many aspects of SEO, is a balancing act which requires the researcher to go beyond merely looking at the metrics. In tandem with cold hard numerical analysis, sucessful keyword selection requires an understanding of pyschology, marketing, language patterns and general knowledge in order to discover the right keywords for your business.