“Keyword research” is a term thrown around by many search engine marketers but there is more to this than simply looking at a keyword tool and picking some related keywords. Keyword research is often the most important factor in a successful search engine optimisation (SEO) campaign. Why? Primarily because SEO is a long-term strategy; picking the wrong keywords can result in wasting upwards of 6-12 months and thousands of dollars optimising for keywords that you may never rank for or that will provide very little return on your investment. The right keywords, however, coupled with effective optimisation can mean massive growth for your business!
One of the biggest reasons SEO campaigns fail is because people are targeting the wrong keywords. It is essential for any campaign that the keywords targeted are both achievable and produce results. With this in mind, there are a few things that you must always consider when researching keywords for your SEO campaign.
Who is your target market?
People from different market segments will often use differing search terms when they are looking for a product. For example, the product or service offered on your website could be targeted to young adults in Australia aged 18-30, investors aged 35-50 in Victoria, teenagers aged 14-17 in Sydney, etc.
You may also want to consider who your best customers are – that is, the customers that spend the most and/or stay with you the longest – and what they might search for. For example, someone searching for bulk purchases is more likely to provide a higher profit margin. The search volume may be lower here but it may be easier to achieve top rankings and the returns will be greater for each sale provided.
The most important point here is to make sure that your keywords are focused towards the right people so that when your customers are looking for your, they can find you!
Which stage of the buying process should you target?
Consumers at different stages of the buying process will always use different search terms. People in the early stages of the buying process, for example, are generally researching and will consequently use more generic ‘informational’ search terms. This means that the keyword they use is more for the purpose of finding information on a product or activity, such as reviews, descriptions, images, videos, etc. People in the later stages of the buying process, closer to the actual purchase, will use more specific, ‘transactional’ keywords. For the largest ROI, targeting keywords directly related to the purchase of your products will provide a much higher conversion rate than informational searches.
A good way to identify if a keyword is informational or transactional is to look at the top 10 results for that keyword. If the top 10 results are dominated by your competitors then it is safe to say that it is transactional. If, however, the search results are dominated by pages offering information on the topic (with Wikipedia usually at the top) then it is likely an informational term.
For example, if you look at the search results for the keyword ‘TVs’ the first page is dominated by websites offering information on TVs, not retailers offering TVs for sale. People searching for ’40 inch Samsung LCD TVs’ have likely already done their research and are much more likely to make a purchase.
What are the search volumes for your keywords?
Whatever the keywords you choose, you need to make sure that the potential qualified consumer traffic you can get to your site in return is worth the money you spend. For most businesses, there is no point in targeting a keyword in your SEO campaign simply because it is specific to your product. Logically, if a keyword does not have any search volume, it will not provide any traffic.
In some very niche markets with high margin products (i.e. in the thousands), targeting a keyword with no search volume can pay itself off with one sale. If, however, you are like most businesses you will need to target keywords that have at least some search volume. And since Google dominates 90% of search engine usage in Australia, the best place to look is in the Google AdWords Keyword Tool.
What is your budget?
You don’t always want to target a keyword simply because it has the highest search volume in your industry. High search-volume keywords are often much more generic, more competitive and provide a lower conversion rate than more specific keywords. In most industries, the highest-volume keywords can be extremely difficult to rank for with a low budget.
Look at the competitors that appear on the first page of the search results for a keyword and consider these points:
- How big are the top competitors?
- How much money are they likely spending on marketing to get these results?
- How popular are their websites?
- How large are their websites?
- How many inbound links do they have?
- Do major retailers or government websites dominate the first page?
Considering these points, how long do you think it will take to get to the first page? How successful do you think you will be competing against these websites with your current budget? If you have a large enough budget, it may be feasible to rank on page one with your competitors but this is usually not the case.
It is essential to be realistic with your search engine goals – your goals must match your budget! If you target a keyword that will take years to achieve rankings for or that you are unlikely to rank for at all with your current spend, you will end up wasting whatever budget you have. It is far better to focus on keywords that are more specific and less competitive, but for which you are more likely to rank in the first page of results.
What pages on your website can rank highly?
I cannot emphasize the importance of this point – each keyword you target MUST have a dedicated page on your site that you can optimise for that keyword! If there isn’t, you will never achieve rankings for that keyword. So there is absolutely no reason to target a keyword unless at least one page on your website can rank for that keyword.
It is certainly fine to target 2-3 keywords on a single page if needed, and there will usually be some long-tail rankings achieved as a by-product, but the important thing is to ensure any major keyword you are targeting has a page on your website with text content on the topic. This will ensure that, with the optimisation you do, you are actually able to achieve some rankings for the target keyword.
Common mistakes to avoid
With the massively increasing usage of the internet, many people are trying their hands at SEO but most aren’t aware of everything that is involved in a successful campaign. It is important to learn from the mistakes of others so I thought it would be a good idea to end by outlining some of the biggest mistakes people make in selecting their target keywords:
- When looking at keyword volumes, particularly in Google’s keyword tool, the default setting is to display ‘broad’ match keyword volumes for their AdWords PPC customers. When researching for SEO, make sure that you select “Exact” match from the drop down menu otherwise you will be looking at inaccurate numbers for your campaign.
- Many marketers that are within a business pick keywords for which they think their consumers are searching. While this is a good place to start, you need to be objective and diligent with your research. Consumers do not always think the same way that you might so make sure that the keywords you select are actually keywords that consumers will use.
- Just to re-emphasize my earlier point, many marketers will target a keyword because it is very popular or very specific without any information on their website relating to that keyword. As a rule, if there is no content on your website that at least mentions the keyword you want to target, either create a page or move on to another keyword.
As you can see, a lot of work can go into keyword selection, and rightly so. The selection of keywords you choose to target can make or break your SEO campaign. While the right keywords alone still require effective optimisation to succeed in the search engines, the wrong keywords will render the optimisation almost useless.