Search: The Key(words) to Success
Keywords are an essential component of pay-per-click (PPC) marketing and search engine optimization (SEO). In both, keywords play a vital role in the search engines'—and your customers'—ability to find you online.
Keywords represent how your customers view your products, services and brand; which is why, when developing a keyword list, it's important to put yourself in your customers' shoes. Think about the language they would use to describe your business, which may differ from the vocabulary you would use to describe it yourself.
The key to good keyword discovery is to look outside of your current site and marketing materials, and begin to look at your product through the eyes of your customers.
A well-maintained keyword list requires an evolving set of terms relevant to your website. Targeting the right keywords is the first step to driving more qualified customers to the most relevant pages on your site.
How should you go about creating a well-maintained keyword list? These best practices will help you develop a results-driven keyword discovery strategy:
1. Brainstorm Top Keywords
The first step in developing a keyword list for your website is to brainstorm the keywords and phrases (50 to 100) that are most relevant to your business.
Start with the most obvious brand terms—the name of your business and the products you sell—and begin to add terms that describe your core product offerings. Keep in mind that these terms shouldn't necessarily describe what you do, but rather should be geared toward what your target customers are looking for.
If you need a little help getting started, take a look at your analytics package. You should be able to see what terms are currently bringing users to your site.
Review your Web logs. What terms are visitors searching for after they reach your site?
Also, check out your competitors' websites. Take a look at their meta tags and which primary keywords they target.
2. Organize Keyword Lists
After you've built your keyword list, group the words thematically. These themes can be based on the products or services you offer, the markets you serve, or stages of the buying cycle as shown in Exhibit 1 (see mediaplayer at right).
Creating a hierarchy of keywords by organizing phrases into groupings—"primary," "secondary," "tertiary," etc.—will help prioritize which phrases are more important to your campaign, and will result in a targeted, focused keyword list.
Also, take into account that all search queries are not equal, but they are all important. Customers, whether they are individuals or other businesses, often conduct a series of queries before actually purchasing a product.
Search queries are commonly broken down into three categories:
- Informational queries searching for information;
- Navigational queries searching for a specific site or page; and
- Transactional queries searching with the intent to purchase.
Although informational or navigational queries may not directly lead to a purchase, both may lead to a return visit to your site later on in the purchasing cycle. It's important to have a diverse keyword set and target individual site pages to rank for different types of queries.
3. Expand Keyword Lists
When you have a well-organized list of core keywords, it's time to expand each group to maximize relevant traffic to your site.
There are several free and paid keyword research tools on the Internet that make this process a lot less painful. For both SEO and PPC campaigns, all the search engines and the Google AdWords Keyword Tool are great places to start.
Other tools to help with your keyword expansion project include:
- Webmaster Toolkit: Keyword Research Tool
- Overture Keyword Selector
- Priority Submit
- SEO Book Keyword Tool
- Keyword Discovery
- Good Keywords
Opening the keyword expansion best practices toolkit, the first item marketers will notice is the ability to add plurals. Google's algorithm treats the singular and plural forms of a given word as two different words. Take advantage of this variance by including both singular and plural forms of your keywords in your Google account.
As for jargon keywords and nicknames, to optimize your site it's important to understand how people in your specific industry use search and which keywords they use.
Don't forget misspellings and alternate forms. An easy way to find these is to analyze your site's internal search logs for misspelled searches, including the "not found" list.
Use adjectives. The more specific you can be with your keywords, the more relevant your sponsored listings will appear to users who choose those keywords, and the more likely they'll be to click on your ad.
This is where the use of modifiers comes in. Many people search on generic keywords like "apartment." But a large number of those users are looking for a specific kind of apartment—cheap, luxury, spacious, oceanfront, etc. What are the specific adjectives that apply to your product or service? Add those modifiers to your core keywords, and your list of search keywords could increase exponentially.
4. Prioritize Keywords
Once you have an organized keyword list, sift through it to determine which words are best to include in your campaign based on historical performance data and account objectives.
Keyword selection is a manual process and will require you put yourself in your customer's shoes. Think about concepts like: Would my targeted customer search for this term? Is this keyword in line with my product or service offering? Do my landing pages support this keyword set? And so forth.
Google's Traffic Estimator may help you in this process. It can provide insight into volume and estimated cost-per-click (CPC). Here are a few best practices in prioritizing your keyword list:
- Keep in mind that even if a keyword has a high volume of traffic, that doesn't mean it's a good fit for your business. Don't prioritize just based on which keywords have the most traffic. Look for the keywords that connect with your unique selling proposition for competitive advantage.
- Picking the right keywords for your site is dependent on campaign strategy. If your search engine marketing budget is small, you may not be able to afford higher cost keywords and should perhaps focus on long-tail terms to start.
- For some campaigns, volume is the main objective. If so, you may want to target broader, more general keywords that show higher volume in the traffic estimator.
Creating a keyword list for SEO and PPC campaigns requires you to develop a strategy that fits your campaign's objectives and specifics—budget, trackability, etc. You also have to think like your customers. What language are they using to find you online?
Continuously track your site's traffic to determine which keywords are working and which ones are not. Leverage site analytics to maintain a well-updated keyword list. Remember to delete vague and underperforming keywords. Don't forget to add synonyms, plurals, misspellings and modifiers.
Think ahead. Keep in mind what ad copy you will be using with your new keyword sets and make sure that all of your messaging—from keyword to landing pages—is consistent.
If you do it right, you'll successfully drive more qualified customers to the most relevant pages on your site.