Effective search engine optimization requires one thing above all else, that is keyword research, the process by which a webmaster or an SEO expert chooses which keywords or keyword phrases should be used to build the website.
A website content built with well-researched keywords will be infinitely more successful than a website where keyword research has been neglected. This fact holds even if the website with poor keyword optimization offers a superior product or service than the website with better keyword optimization.
Considering how important keyword research is for proper white hat ethical SEO, here are five important steps that every webmaster should take.
Step 1: Start by Knowing Where You’re At
The first step to finding great keyword phrases that will drive business to your website is to know where you’re starting from.
In other words, you need to know what keywords and keyword phrases your existing web visitors are using to find you.
Hopefully, you already know enough about search engine optimization that your website has Google Analytics tracking code installed in it and you are watching your web stats rise and fall on Google Analytics.
If you don’t know anything about Google Analytics, first take the hour or two it requires to set up Google Analytics on your website and get familiar with the data there.
From your Analytics Dashboard, go to the Traffic Sources Overview page. Near the bottom of this page is a list of keywords visitors are currently using to find your site.
Under “Keywords” is the phrase itself; “Visits” lists how many hits your site generated from that particular keyword phrase; “Pages/Visit” lists the average number of pages visitors looked at after finding your site through that keyword phrase. “Avg. Time on Site” and “% New Visits” should be self-explanatory.
Find the header on this table written as “Bounce Rate”. The Bounce Rate lists the percentage of visitors who clicked on your site after their search, looked at the page, didn’t click any links or enter any information, and left again. In other words, your site acted like rubber for them – they “bounced” right off of it.
From this table, you can start to get a picture of the keywords that are working to bring visitors and keep them, the keywords that are bouncing visitors away, and the keywords you wish were at the top of the list, but instead are on the bottom – or not listed at all.
The list of keywords is just the beginning.
You can also customize your view to see how the performance of Keyword Phrase 1 this month or this year compares to the performance of Keyword Phrase 1 last month or year.
Another option is to set up metrics that show which keyword phrases lead to the most important thing of all and that is the sales.
Spend plenty of time on this step before moving on to subsequent steps.
Step 2: Study the Competition
After you know what’s working and not working for you, find out what’s working for other businesses in your industry.
Competitive research is a crucial element for deciding which keywords you should target.
If your website is fairly new, and you’re competing against well-established websites with lots of traffic, you generally don’t want to target the same keywords they do.
They’ve already established themselves as top-ten Google results for those keyword phrases, and it will likely take years of hard work to dislodge them from the top of the page – if they can be dislodged at all.
Instead, find that “sweet spot” keyword phrase where your competitor is weak, yet the phrase still generates plenty of searches.
Similarly, look for keyword phrases whose top search results include sites such as eHow and ArticleCube. These sites feed on quantity rather than quality.
If a keyword phrase you are researching has these sites, rather than your competition, at the top of the search results, there’s a good chance you can beat out the eHows of the world for the number one spot.
Step 3: Consult the Oracles
Google is totally transparent about search information. The free keyword finder tool, the keyword planner at Google AdWords, is the oracle for keyword and key phrase research.
Begin by typing in one search phrase per line you’re considering for your website.
Google responds by telling you how much advertiser competition there is, how many searches for that phrase are made in your country each month, and how many searches for that phrase are made in the whole world each month.
The free keyword tool makes qualified keyword discovery a cinch.
Below your phrases, the tool lists other relevant phrases. This list shouldn’t be neglected, because Google spiders rank your page based on a combination of the main search phrase on a page, together with supporting phrases that prove the page has relevant information on it.
By optimizing for one keyword phrase and sprinkling in other relevant terms, you increase the likelihood of your search phrase generating traffic.
The AdWords tool isn’t the only Google keyword finder to use. Google Trends is a great way to find out if a search word you’re considering is trending up or down over time.
For example, search phrases that peaked in 2010 and have only gone downhill since are probably not wise ideas.
Google’s Hot Searches or Hot Trends is another search tool that will give you a picture of what’s on the minds of people in your country. You can cash in on their interest by writing a relevant blog post optimized for a keyword phrase that’s currently hot.
For this strategy to work, your blog post has to be timely – you can’t take three days to write a post about a topic that’s hot for just a day or two and expect it to provide a temporary boost to traffic.
Step 4: Narrow Down the List
Once you’ve figured out where you’re at, where your competitors are at, and have brainstormed an initial list of keywords that might work for your site, narrow the list down by engaging in qualitative research around your terms.
You want your final list to include two types of terms: broad terms and narrow terms.
A broad term might be “fruit trees”; a narrow term might be “mid-season plum trees”. While “fruit trees” might reach more searchers, someone who searches on “mid-season plum trees” is the qualified buyer you want. They know exactly what they’re looking for and are more prepared to purchase.
Narrow your list based on the data you collected so that you have a finalized list of ten to twenty keywords. Some of these should be broad terms, but many should be narrow terms.
Step 5: It’s All About Content
Now that you have your keywords chosen, it’s time to implement them, and that means writing content, testing that content, then going back and tweaking.
On any given page, target a maximum of three close match keywords.
If you try to squeeze more keywords in, you run the risk of diluting the keyword density.
The right balance of keywords on a given page is important, because packing in too many of your keywords is a red flag that says “spamming”, and too few keywords keeps your content under Google’s radar.
Generally, aim for a keyword density of 1% – 2%, but keep the writing natural.
If your content is written more for search engines than for humans, both the search engines and your visitors will know it and penalize you for it.
These five steps are essential for successful keyword and phrase research, however, these steps are just the beginning.
Your job isn’t done when you publish new content; you still need to evaluate and re-evaluate how your keywords are doing. In this way, you can continually improve your website’s ranking based on solid data and research.