How To Choose Keywords for Search Campaigns

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Friday, August 03, 2007

How To Choose Keywords for Search CampaignsChoosing the right keywords for your search engine optimization campaign isn't as easy as it sounds. It's quite the opposite. There are so many details to consider and making even the slightest mistake could cause long-term headaches, and not to mention profits. The keywords you'll want to use will vary depending on the industry you're in and goals you wish to achieve.

How To Choose Keywords for Search Campaigns

Choosing the right keywords for your search engine optimization campaign isn't as easy as it sounds. In fact, it's quite the opposite.. There are so many details to consider and making even the slightest mistake could cause some really long-term headaches, and not to mention profits.

When deciding on which keywords to choose, you may find yourself asking such questions as these: "do I use the singular form of my keyword, the plural form, or does it even matter?", "do I include common misspellings?", "do I use brand-specific keywords or do I stick with more generalized options?", "how many keywords do I optimize per each page?.

These are all in fact very valid questions. However, like most things in the world of search marketing, there are no really easy answers that I can share. The truth is that answers will vary depending on the industry you're in as well as the type of goals you've set out to achieve with your SEO promotion. With that said, I've put together these few tidbits to help you:

Singular versus Plural: When it comes to organic search listings, yes, there is a difference between using the singular form versus the plural form. Run a test search and you'll see first hand how the top listings change for your products and services.

I recommend picking one version of the keyword and sticking to it. If you're targeting general terms like "ford mustangs" or "basketballs" than go with the plural. If you're targeting product specific terms like "2007 ford mustang" or "nike airlift basketball" than the singular version is probably the way to go.

Misspellings: Normally I wouldn't suggest using misspellings in an SEO campaign (instead, I'd recommend adding them to your website's PPC campaign), however, there are a few instances when optimizing for a common misspelling does a lot of good.

I recommend not optimizing for the proper and misspelled keyword variation on the same page. Instead, create a separate page solely for the use of the misspelling. This may be classified as "spamming" or "creating doorway pages" to some; however I see it as helping the bad spellers of the world to find the products, services, and information they're looking for.

Specific versus General: Deciding when to use specific keyword phrases versus general is actually pretty easy. If you're looking to optimize a category or product line page, I would consider using only general keywords... those keywords that best describe all the products within that category. For example, if your website sells athletic shoes, a category page may be "Nike Shoes" or "Adidas shoes". In this case I would optimize these pages respectively for "Nike Shoes", "Nike Running Shoes", "Adidas Shoes", or "Adidas Running Shoes". However, if you're looking to optimize a product specific or service-specific page, I would consider using specific keywords to do so. Following the previous example, I would choose such keywords as "Nike Air Max 360 II SL" or "Adidas Adistar LJ"... as my keywords.

Keywords per Page: Believe it or not, optimizing a page for multiple keywords at once could ultimately lead to a "watered-down" SEO campaign... meaning that you've optimized it for so many terms that the search engines are even confused as to what the page is really about. In most cases, search engines will rank such a page mediocre for each of the terms instead of highly for a few of them.

My recommendation is to pick 2 - 3 keywords per page (choose 4 - 5 for the home page) and go from there. I feel that you'll get a lot more out of your optimization efforts that way than you would if you tried to optimize a single page for 20 or so keywords.

Once you've got a grasp on those ideas, it's time to move on to the actual steps leading to the selecting of keywords. The following are some very simple steps that you can follow to help you in your keyword research efforts:

Phase One: Brainstorming

In this first step of the keyword selection process, you and several other members of your company should sit down and begin pooling together keyword suggestions based solely on everybody's knowledge of the products and services at hand. It's important to note that every suggestion should be included (regardless of how far-off or ridicules they may seem). And, as a great way to obtain the most diverse keyword list possible, members from every department within your company (research, marketing, development, IT, sales, etc) should be invited to participate. Why is this? Well it's quite common for a member of your marketing team to view a product differently than others do... say the sales team or working the line at the warehouse. Everybody's suggestions count!

On a side note, depending on the product or service your company sells, it may also be beneficial to include clients or customers in the brainstorming process as well. Sometimes their insights are just as important as your own

Phase Two: A Popularity Count

The second step in the keyword selection process is to determine which keywords your general audience (those that will be buying your products and services) are using most in their search queries. In doing so, you'll see first-hand which keywords are worth optimizing for, and can proceed in removing those which have few or no searches from your list.

To determine popularity counts for your keywords (the number of times each term was searched for in a recent 30-day span), you'll need to run them through an online database known as a keyword suggestion tool. In addition to a popularity count, these tools may also highlight additional keyword suggestions that you either forgot about or simply didn't think of. In regards to keyword suggestion tools, I recommend using Wordtracker or MSN's Search Funnel tool, but there are certainly plenty of other great tools out there to choose from (many of which are free).

On a side note, to attain a better data sample, one could use a Pay Per Click (PPC) campaign to determine a popularity count simply by monitoring the number of impressions each term receives in a 30-day span. The down fall here though is if you don't already have a PPC account with Google or Yahoo!, you'll need to set one up as well as pay for any clicks that are attributed to those campaigns.

Phase Three: Assigning Keywords

So you've brainstormed in order to create a list of keyword suggestions. Then, using "popularity counts", you've determined which of the keywords on that list were worth keeping and which weren't. Now, the third and final step in the keyword selection process is to assign those remaining keywords to specific pages.

Essentially what you'll be doing here is paring keywords from your revised list and pairing them together with the specific pages of your website. Doing so will determine which keywords will be optimized and on which page. One thing you should keep in mind while assigning keywords is that it is in your company's best interest to assign only those keywords which are relevant to each page. For instance it is best to assign the keyword "Ford Mustang" to the "Ford Mustang page" or "cars" pages, rather than the "Chevy Cavalier" or "Ford Trucks" pages.

And that's that... a simple 3-step process for finding quality keywords for your search engine optimization campaigns.


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  1. Hi,

    For keyword research you can also use these tools:
    Google Free via their AdWords program.
    Overture Free but can have over inflated search counts.
    KeywordDiscovery - Keyword Research Tool like wordtracker - but with lots more features, more keywords and has a free trial.
    By Anonymous nicole on October 17, 2007
  2. In my opinion go for the strong keywords if you really know seo because those keywords make you clients , and make you money:)
    By Anonymous Andrei on March 11, 2011
  3. Andrei, I agree that some keywords are better than others and that SEOs should consider marketing with them. However, at the same time, depending on the industry, my clients may never rank for those terms. I find it best to pick "low-hanging" fruit whenever possible. In other words, I at least try to get them to rank for something.
    By Blogger Karl Ribas on March 29, 2012

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