Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Importance of Keyword Research in Search Engine Optimization

I see it all too often - aesthetically appealing and well designed websites that are generating no traffic, and as a result, are not realistically serving any purpose. I agree that there are some companies that have chosen not to market online and as a result, their website serves as a reputation and legitimacy tool. For example, someone walks in to your store, you hand them your card (that has your URL on it) on the way out, and they return home to check out your site to make sure you are "legit." On the other hand, if you are attempting to use online marketing as a primary medium to reach potential customers, designing a beautiful website can be all for not unless that website can be found in the search engine results pages (SERPs). The first step to ensure that your site ranks for relevant search queries is conducting sound keyword research.

Keyword research is the process in which a webmaster determines what search queries would be most valuable to rank for in the SERPs. This is a twofold process. The first part is to identify keywords and keyword phrases that people are searching with often. The second part is to identify keywords that people are searching with that will lead to conversions on the website in question. One mistake that webmasters make is assuming that high traffic volume is good traffic volume. I say to any webmaster - ask yourself, "If a lot of people come to my site, does that mean my site is serving its purpose?" Not necessarily, if everyone that visits your site exits after spending 30 seconds on it.

Ideally, as a webmaster, you are trying to generate a high volume of high quality traffic - users that will visit the site and do what it is you want them to do - call you on the phone, fill out a form, or buy something. Without conducting proper keyword research, it is impossible to know what you should try to rank your site for, and in turn highly unlikely that you will generate quality traffic. You may have a great looking site, but if nobody can find it, who will appreciate its beauty?!

One of the great things about Google is that they provide the online community with a free keyword suggestion tool. This tool is a great starting point for the researching process and what I would recommend using prior to exploring other avenues. You can enter in a keyword in to this tool and it will report back the approximate monthly search volume for that keyword. Additionally, the tool will display keywords that are related to what was typed in, providing additional feedback on keywords and keyword phrases that may not have been considered for the campaign. There is one thing that often evades a first time user of Google's keyword suggestion tool, and that is the exact match vs. broad match setting that needs to be adjusted.

Exact Match: when the tool is set to exact match, the approximate monthly search volume reported back will be for that exact keyword or keyword phrase, however it was typed it in. Essentially, when conducting keyword research, the tool should be set to this function.

Broad Match (default): when the tool is set to broad match, the approximate monthly search volume reported back will be for that keyword phrase and any variation of that keyword phrase. For example, if one types in "online seo blogs," the search volume reported would be for "online seo blogs," "seo online blogs," and "blogs online seo." As a result, the numbers are skewed and often misinterpreted.

Any keyword research conducted using this tool can be supplemented by any number of methods. One effective way to generate ideas for valuable keywords is to identify what your competitors are trying to rank for. See what they are using in their title tags, heading tags, and meta description tags within the HTML coding of their web pages. Visit competitors websites and look at how their websites are structured - what are their main categories? What keywords are being targeted on these pages? You can also play around with Google's search bar - type in a keyword that you may be interested in targeting and see what Google suggests.

Often, the keyword suggestion tool will report back that a keyword or keyword phrase does not generate any monthly search volume. However, no reporting tool is perfect, which is why it is important to always take your time to study the online landscape that you are trying to rank in. There may be keywords out there that aren't being used often, but when they are, they lead to conversions every time. Quality of traffic over quantity of traffic - that will be the primary concept to remember, and why conducting effective keyword research is an essential piece of a well rounded SEO campaign.

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