In-depth Keyword Selection Tutorial

The keywords (and other words) used on your web site are of utmost importance because they are used by search engines (e.g., Google) to index your site. If your web site is indexed for a particular word that a visitor would type into the search engine query box, then your web site will be included in the search engine results page (SERP).

The process of finding just the right keywords for your web site consists of selecting words or combinations of words that will most likely be used by search engines to index your web site. Likewise, those words should also be used by potential customers to find your site through a search engine.

The #1 goal of search engine optimization (SEO) is for a web site to be listed in the top (preferably 10) results of the SERP. In this tutorial, we look more closely at the critical first step: finding the right keywords. Once they are selected, keywords will need to be integrated into the content of your web pages and used in other strategic places like page titles and URLs. In this way, your web site will be indexed under those keywords.

Step1: Building your start-up keyword list

The first thing you need to do during the keyword selection process is come up with a top-level keyword list.

Many different methods can be used to produce that first list of keywords. Some individuals prefer to start with core terms that refer to their specific business or industry. Others prefer to come up with the words that they think a visitor would type into a search engine to locate a particular web site. Both methods are valid and work well.

The key objective here is to think about your business in terms of words, themes, core terms and subject matter. To facilitate the brainstorming process, you could:

  • Write down a description of your website, its purpose and its scope.
  • Read your competitors’ web sites and scan for interesting words or themes.
  • Think about what visitors would be trying to accomplish by visiting your site.
  • Consider which Yahoo categories your site would be listed under.
  • Think about location: is geography important to your business? If so, you’ll want to include the city or region name in some of your keywords.

For example, if your web site sells lighting products, your initial list could include the following keywords:

– ceiling lights
– outdoor lighting
– LED lighting
– deck lighting
– recessed lighting
– bathroom lighting
– modern lighting
– contemporary lighting
– lighting fixtures
– pendant lighting
– battery-powered lighting

Every keyword should be unique and should be no longer than two or three words. By unique, we mean that a keyword or phrase should not include an identical (redundant) keyword or key phrase. For instance, in the above list, “outdoor wall lighting” wouldn’t work because it includes the key phrase “outdoor lighting”, which is already listed.

Stay away from single-word keywords. While they generate the highest search volume, they also lead to the lowest amount of targeted traffic. Statistics indicate that people input more than a single word when conducting a search engine query. Multiple-word queries have the best chance of generating quality, targeted traffic to your site.

Unless you plan on writing new content and adding new products to your web site, use keywords that relate only to your current line of products and services. If you’re unsure about a given keyword, add it; it can always be removed later on. If a keyword is obviously unrelated to anything on your site, eliminate it.

Wrap up the keyword finding process by enlisting the help of a free keywords suggestion tool, like Google’s AdWords Keywords Tool or L3xicon. Fee-based tools like WordTracker and KeyWord Discovery are also available, and are very effective. Online keyword tools will undoubtedly come up with core terms you already have, but they’ll also come up with many that you do not.

Finally, try typing each keyword you’ve come up with into a major search engine like Google. Visit each of the sites listed on the first page of search results. If these sites rank highly with regards to your input keywords, they might also have additional keywords that are worth investigating. These keywords may be located in the web site’s keyword or META description tags and/or page content. When you notice your chosen keywords being also used on competitors’ web sites, it should serve as a confirmation that you have made some good keyword choices.


Step2 : Finding search phrases

The next step in the keyword selection process is finding search phrases. Search phrases differ from the keywords you’ve already chosen for your start-up list: they include one of the chosen keywords or core terms, but as a variation. For example, if one of your keywords is “outdoor lighting”, then “outdoor wall lighting” would qualify as a search phrase.

The best method for finding all possible search phrases, thus obtaining the most comprehensive list possible, is by using tools such as Google AdWords, WordTracker, or Keyword Discovery. Such tools use synonym dictionaries and are best suited for discovering all possible variations of your original keyword(s). For best results, pick every start-up keyword and submit it to the tool. Don’t forget to use singular and plural variations (e.g., “lighting fixture” and “lighting fixtures”) when searching.

Each start-up keyword you input into the tool will return its own unique set of search phrases. Although it is possible for a search to return several hundred variations of a keyword, the average is usually around 150 terms. However, not all of the search phrases generated will be relevant, so don’t waste too much time analyzing every single one. At this point, do a quick phrase cleanup and eliminate the most obvious, nonsensical ones like “peerless lego lighting fixtures” or “outdoor bedroom lighting fixtures”. In other words, get rid of phrases that no one would ever use.

If you get too many search phrases returned – or too few – follow these simple rules In the case where no results are generated, consider eliminating the start-up keyword altogether. For five or fewer results, combine these results with the original start-up keyword to identify additional core terms.

If you obtain over 250 results, you should split your start up keyword. For instance, when the core term “outdoor lighting” is searched, the term “wall” is included repeatedly in its huge list of variations (e.g., “outdoor wall lighting fixture”, “commercial outdoor wall lighting”). Therefore, the keyword “outdoor wall lighting” may be used as a new start-up keyword. Next, you would start the search for the core term “outdoor lighting” again, excluding the word “wall”.


Step3 : Narrowing Down your Chosen Search Phrases

After completing the search for your industry-related search phrases, it’s time to sort them and select the ones that will be the most valuable for your site – then eliminate the rest.

So, what makes a search phrase valuable, you ask? Many different criteria come into play when determining the value of a search phrase. The most important are the competition for that search phrase, its volume of search queries as well as its conversion rate.

Keyword Competition
Competition for a keyword can be simply defined as the total number of web pages already being indexed for a particular keyword. This number can be found on the first line of a SERP. For instance, if you search for “lighting” on Google, the top of the results page indicates that this keyword appears on 138 million different pages. See the screen shot displayed below:

Competition number

The number shown in the above picture – 138,000,000 – is just one of the parameter used to define the competition for a keyword and should only be used as an indicator of keyword use frequency. Many other parameters, as well as on-site and off-site factors, should also be considered when determining the level of competition for a given keyword. However, at this stage in the keyword selection process, keyword competition should not be used directly to narrow down the search phrase list. Instead, keyword size, traffic volume, and conversion rate should be utilized to complete your filtering process.

Traffic Volume
To obtain traffic volume information, you may use the Google AdWords (traffic estimator) tool. This tool provides an approximate number of search queries performed for a given keyword during the most recent month. It also lets you export all the results to a CSV file that can be used and analyzed in an Excel spreadsheet. In fact, if you haven’t already done so, you should keep all of your keywords on a spreadsheet so that they can be easily filtered according to various criteria. In addition to the Google AdWords tool, you can also use WordTracker or the Keyword Discovery tool to get traffic volume information.

After integrating the AdWords Search Volume information into your spreadsheet, sort the data based on the average number of search queries received daily. Keep the keywords that have been actively searched for; it would be pointless to rank highly for keywords that are not frequently used or typed into search engine queries- you would receive no additional traffic to your web site. If it appears that no one is searching for a given term, discard it from your list. Even if your strategy is to use as many keywords as possible – i.e., a long tail keywords strategy – those keywords need to have at least a minimal amount of traffic volume.

What is the minimum acceptable traffic volume? There is no hard and fast rule, but any keyword that receives 80 or fewer searches per day should be eliminated.

When using the Google AdWords tool to obtain traffic volume information, you’ll find three different types of search traffic information being presented: the broad match, the phrase match, and the exact match search traffic (you can find detailed explanations of these terms in our Marketing FAQ). The broad match refers to a match of the given keywords without regard to their order or arrangement. In other words, “outdoor wall lighting” and “outdoor lighting wall” would have the same broad match search traffic volume. The picture below shows an example of the broad match results for the keyword “outdoor lighting” as well as related search phrases for that keyword.

Broad match type example

In case you’re wondering, the “broad match” category should be the base criterion used when narrowing down your search phrases. This is because using the “phrase match” option results in a loss of those users who might type in the keyword phrase a different way. Most likely, someone who types “outdoor wall lighting” is searching for a product similar to that of someone typing “outdoor lighting wall”. These two individuals are just conducting their searches a bit differently. By selecting the broad match option, you are creating the opportunity for the biggest possible traffic gains.

In instances when keyword order is important -such as with a brand name, or a very specific product- the “phrase match” category should be used. This is the only exception to using the “broad match” option.

One final consideration about volume concerns the ratio “Broad Match/Phrase Match”. This ratio gives you a clear indication of how many users are typing in your chosen search phrases in the order you’re most interested in. If the ratio is less than 15%, it means that most people are typing the search phrase in a different way. For optimal results, consider inputting permutations of these words in order to find terms with a ratio of at least 15%.

It may not be easy to let go of an attractive looking keyword, but if research shows more people are typing the words of a key phrase in a different order, you have to give priority to the more popular word combination.

Conversion Rate
Look over your keyword list and highlight the keywords that have the least potential for enhancing your web site’s conversion rate. In essence, good keyword selection involves the selection of words that can attract targeted and purchase-driven traffic. Other keywords are important too, but those that can generate a high conversion rate must be given top priority.

To locate conversion-related keywords, look for those keywords that are the most directly related to the products or services you are trying to sell. Now, if someone performed a search using those specific keywords/key phrases, that person would most likely convert to a buyer if your site had the corresponding product available for sale. So, while ranking highly for keywords that are very general may increase your traffic volume, that traffic won’t be targeted and will result in low conversion rates. Single word keywords are the best example of this problem; they’ll get you visitors, but those visitors will not be interested in what you have to sell. For this reason, single word keywords should usually be avoided.

As you can tell by now, generating traffic volume is not really the primary goal of keyword selection; however, generating quality traffic is. If you’re wondering how you can determine whether a keyword will lead to a high conversion rate, there is a very simple rule you can follow. When considering a particular search phrase, make sure that when someone performs a search query and finds your site that way, your site provides exactly what that search phrase describes.

Broad or general keywords are just as valuable as more specific and targeted ones. The important thing is to pursue a high ranking for targeted keywords first. Once you achieve a respectable ranking for more specific keywords, it will be easier to build up authority for broader terms as well. For instance, if your site ranks high for keywords like “outdoor wall lighting”, “outdoor lighting fixtures”, and “outdoor lighting lamps”, it will become easier for your site to also rank high for broader keywords like “outdoor lighting”.

How do you give priority to a particular keyword in order to boost its rankings first? The answer is to use that keyword more often during your on-site and off-site optimization steps. For more information, please refer to our In-depth SEO On-Site Optimization Tutorial as well as our In-depth SEO Off-Site Optimization Tutorial articles.


Step4 : Organizing your List of Keywords

This organization step prepares your keywords so that they can be integrated into your web pages. Therefore, optimization can also be looked upon as part of your marketing strategy. The idea here is to group your keywords into logical sets so that their future integration into your web site will be more effective.

To begin with, create an inventory of all of your web pages. Disregard items like the product pages, the site’s privacy policy, disclaimers, and other legal documents. Instead, gather your first and second level pages- namely, the pages that make up your main category and subcategories.

After listing all of your pages, create a column in your keyword spreadsheet called “page name” or “page title”. This column will contain your keyword groups. You may now begin assigning search phrases to each of your page names or titles. Each group, also known as a page name, should receive about 10 keywords. The exact number of assigned keywords will depend on the content size of each individual page.

Make sure that all the keywords listed within a group relate to one another. For example, if your group or page name is “Outdoor Lighting”, then the keywords “outdoor wall lighting” and “kitchen wall lighting” would not relate well. However, they could work well together under the group or page title “Wall Lighting”.

The ultimate goal of this entire process is to index your pages under your chosen keywords; therefore, organizing your keywords into groups helps determine which keywords should be used on each specific page. Doing this properly will facilitate proper indexing by the major search engines, increasing your web site’s ranking.

After completing the keyword grouping phase, you will want to select a keyword from the group to be used as the main keyword. Likewise, you will want to maintain and use the other keywords in the content of these pages. The main keyword is usually the word expected to generate the most traffic, or the word that is most closely related to the content theme of the page. This main keyword should definitely be used in the page’s title. Other keywords may be integrated into the content of the page.

When writing content that is based on your chosen keywords, be sure to keep the content flow natural and not “spammy”. Don’t force keyword usage, which is otherwise known as keyword stuffing. If you cannot come up with a reasonable way for using a particular keyword on a page, then try using that keyword on a different page.

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