The first and most critical step to an effective SEO campaign is choosing the right keywords to target. Over and over, I consult with business owners who choose keywords that are too competitive, too vague, or too small.
This post is a step toward helping you solve this problem.
Choosing the right keywords is not as complicated as it may seem, and it isn’t by pure black magic that SEO consultants choose the best keywords for your campaign. Here are four things we evaluate to determine the value of a keyword.
Are People Using It?
The first step to effective keyword research is finding the terms your audience is using. This is a natural consideration for anyone doing research; you want to use terms that people are actually searching for. It does you no good to target a keyword no one is using.
When evaluating the volume of a keyword term, be sure you’re looking at the “Exact Match” section of Google’s Keyword Tool. It will give you an estimate that’s closer to the actual search volume around a term, whereas the default broad match will tell you everyone that’s searching for that phrase as well as phrases that are closely related. As a rule of thumb, broad match is good for determining the search volume of a topic, and exact match is good for determining the search volume of a phrase.
Is It Relevant?
Is the term relevant to your product, service or content? While “Los Angeles” may get more traffic than “Lawyers in los angeles county”, you’re wasting a lot of time and effort trying to rank your LA law firm for the city name rather than the longer, more relevant, and more specific phrase.
If you spend your time targeting terms that are only tangentially related to your niche, you’re not attracting the right type of traffic. You may end up getting a few hundred more visits per month if—by some incredible off-chance miracle—you succeed in ranking for the city name alone, but the people coming to your site on those terms probably aren’t looking for a lawyer.
Target terms that are relevant to your niche.
Is It Specific?
Next, you’ve got to decide if the phrase is specific enough to attract qualified traffic. “New Jersey social media marketing” might be relevant and highly searched, but what do you offer social media management services? Or are you a blog on social media marketing? Maybe you offer a social media management toolkit specific to New Jersey business owners. The list could go on.
While a term might be relevant to your industry and it might receive a good deal of searches, it still may not fall in line with what your business is focused on. The result of targeting keywords that aren’t specific is much the same as the problem of relevance; you might get more traffic, but they aren’t the kind you want.
Is It Achievable?
Finally, you’ll want to examine the competition around your desired phrase. If it passes all of the above tests, this is the final frontier; if you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere, kid.
Take a look at the top 10 URLs that are ranking for the terms you want to go after. Use a tool like the Mozbar or the SEOQuake toolbar to examine their backlinks, authority, and page rank. Do the top URLs for your term completely outclass you in these areas? If so, you might want to consider targeting a phrase that is easier to rank for.
So there you go, a basic threshing process for keyword research. Hopefully this will help you when choosing the terms you want to go after.
Have any tips for choosing the right keywords? If you’re a business owner, what else would you want to know about keyword research? If you’re in the SEO industry, what other considerations do you put into your keyword selection?