Search is a major part of the online user experience, on the desktop and particularly on mobile devices. If your business’s website is not on page one of the search results for certain keywords, much of your potential audience may never discover your site to even begin the user experience you’ve worked hard to give them.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is therefore important to your web marketing efforts, as is complementary SEM (Search Engine Marketing) if SEO doesn’t get you the ‘organic’ search rankings you want. Any SEO/SEM exercise needs to target the ‘right’ keywords—but what are the ‘right’ keywords?
SEO and SEM Keyword Considerations
First of all, set aside all the marketing language in your business’s existing materials. You know which words and phrases they are—they’re probably scattered throughout your marketing messages and though they might sound fine in context, they’re in nobody’s everyday vocabulary (unless they’re marketers).
That said, if your business has a particularly well-known tagline, include it in your keywords—you own it and should reap the benefit of searches for it. But that’s pretty much the only exception. There should be no need to target your business’s name unless there are major issues with your website or domain name.
Next, consider your audience. Who are you hoping to attract to your site? What kind of language do they use, specifically when referring to the content on your site? A ‘baby boomer’ businessperson seeking a new phone will obviously use very different language to a teenager looking for sneakers, and this will be reflected in their search criteria.
If you know your audience well, you’re probably already familiar with their language, but maybe you want to reach new people. Where possible, ask salespeople who have already been in touch with that new audience, or refer to successful websites of competitors.
How People Search
Next, consider the different ways people might search in order to find your page. Depending on their goal, their search criteria could include:
- A specific product or brand (yours or a competitor’s), e.g., “iphone 4s” or “skechers sneakers”
- A broad product description, e.g., “smartphones” or “sneakers”
- A qualified product description, e.g., “contract-free smartphones” or “cool sneakers”
- A question (not necessarily a complete phrase), e.g., “what is the best smartphone” or “who wears skechers”
- A phrase that suggests an answer to a question, e.g., “smartphone reviews” or “celebs who wear skechers”
- A problem or suggestion of a problem (that your business could potentially resolve or take advantage of), e.g., “iphone battery drain” or “skechers returns”
Consider Your Content
For the best results, avoid targeting more than two major words or phrases (let’s call these keywords) per page. Remember that you need to cover likely alternatives to those keywords. For instance, your primary keyword might be “android smartphone” but you still need to consider how to target variations such as “android smart phone.” All of these should ideally appear on the page several times, which is hard to achieve without impacting the reading experience. You know when you’re reading a keyword-driven article, full of fluff that is only present to cram in more keywords, and it’s not pleasant.
If you have a long list of important keywords, set up additional landing pages that speak to those other keywords. Ensure your site’s main page for each product is optimized for the product’s primary keyword, and then set up alternate landing pages specifically for other keywords. Don’t be too concerned about how these various landing pages fit into your site’s navigation—you don’t necessarily need to include them all there.
Make each landing page highly relevant to the type of search for which it is optimized. Some sites are optimized for keywords that include “free” (e.g., “free software”) even though there’s no free content on the site, apart perhaps from a limited free trial. Deception is not part of a great user experience, so choose keywords that honestly reflect what you have to offer, and thereby keep new visitors on your site.
By now, you may be thinking, “OK, but which keywords should I target?” Many people begin SEO projects by dreaming up keywords, but it’s important to consider all of the above topics from the outset, because knowing what you’re optimizing and who you’re optimizing for will help you make the best selections.
Another consideration is your competition. If you want to compete with them in search results, you need to optimize for the same keywords they did, right? Well, maybe. But it may be smarter to avoid certain keywords if vast numbers of results are returned for those searches.
If you don’t already have a free Google AdWords account, get one today, even if you have no plans to run Google ads. Google offer many useful tools that allow you to analyze your competition, estimate traffic, generate keyword ideas, and much more. These tools will help you identify frequently sought keywords that present your business with real opportunities, based on real metrics. Did your competition overlook a popular keyword that you can use to your advantage?
Quality, Not Quantity
When reviewing potential keywords, bear in mind that the keywords which are most specific to your content will bring you better-qualified leads. If your product or service offers a unique feature or benefit that many people are searching for, be sure to optimize for the appropriate keywords. Visitors to your site who arrive after seeking something so specific are more likely to purchase, contact you, return, and/or refer others.
Only target very broad searches if you’re confident that your business will easily top the search results, or if you’re prepared to spend a lot of money on SEM ads. If your business sells fashion footwear and you broadly target “boots” (without making your ad highly specific to deter the ‘wrong’ visitors), you may be paying for thousands of clicks from searchers interested in soccer boots, baby boots, the British store Boots—anything but fashionable boots.
Once you have your initial list of keywords, you’ll need to implement them effectively on the appropriate web pages. Remember, it can take months or years to get the search ranking you desire, so don’t expect overnight success. You’ll need to regularly monitor and fine-tune your content and advertising in order to find the recipe for success.
And even if you do reach the top, you can guarantee your competition will do their best to topple you. But constant monitoring and tweaking will absolutely pay dividends if you attract a whole lot of new business to your site. Good luck!