Keyword Research Tutorial
This unit introduces you to keywords and keyword research. Keyword research is a fundamental part of the search engine optimisation process. After completing this unit, you should be able to:
- Understand how keywords work
- Understand the basics of keyword research and competition analysis
- Be able to compile a list of possible keywords for your own products or services
- Understand the basics of integrating keywords into your WebPages
This unit assumes (but does not demand) that you have completed the previous units in this course and that you are comfortable with the concept of how search engines index pages and rank them for relevance.
5.1 What is a keyword?
A keyword is the term that people will type into search engines when looking for your product or services. Consequently, these are the phrases that you want your web pages to rank for in search engine results.
Keywords are usually stringed together to form larger keyword phrases, or keyphrases, of up to 4 or 5 words. When we refer to keywords, we usually mean phrases of this kind:
e.g. ‘search engine optimisation’
Single keywords are either too general or highly competitive. If you type one word into a major search engine, it might return millions of pages. By using a combination of keywords that are relevant and specific to the product you are looking for, you lessen the number of results, and are more likely to locate what you are looking for. Search engine users are aware of this, and tend to use phrases when looking for something on the web.
e.g. If you are looking to buy a used car in the UK, entering the term ‘cars’ into Google will return too many results that are not relevant to what you are looking for. If, on the other hand, you use the phrase ‘used cars uk’, you will return less results and more relevant pages.
5.2 Why keywords are important
In order to succeed in online marketing and gain a higher ranking for your product, it is essential that you choose the right keywords for your products and services. By doing this, you
- Allow customers who are looking for your product to find your web pages in search engine results
- Bring targeted traffic to your site.
- By selecting keywords that are both relevant and specific to your product, you are more likely to convert visits into sales, or attract the right kind of audience.
If, on the other, hand you target the wrong keywords for your product, you run the risk of
- Not being found in search engine results when people search for your product.
- Bringing the ‘wrong’ kind of traffic to your site. By ‘wrong’, I mean search engine users who are not actually looking for your product. This is not likely to turn visits into sales or encourage repeat visits.
5.3 Researching Keywords
Keyword research involves determining the correct keywords for your product or services. These are the words and phrases people are most likely to type into search engines when searching for that product.
5.3.1 When to research keywords?
Ideally, this should be done before you design your website. This is because the correct keywords have to be deployed in the right places of your web pages in order to boost the relevancy of those pages for the desired keywords. Your content, navigation and link structure all has to be built around the proper keywords for your product.
If you design your site prior to working out a keyword strategy, your pages will eventually have to undergo extensive redesign if you want them to rank higher in search engine results. The same goes if you are planning to optimise an existing site.
It is not impossible to optimise your site for keyword relevancy after it has been constructed. After all, this is one of the main tasks that Search Engine Optimisation companies undertake when taking on clients with existing sites. However, this process can be labour-intensive, costly, and may involve undoing a lot of the work already done by your web-designers.
5.3.2 Devising a Keyword Strategy
keyword strategy involves finding the right keywords for the individual
pages on your website and taking account of the competitiveness of
those keywords. We will look at keyword competitiveness analysis in the
next section. For now we will focus on beginning to find the right
keywords for your product.
In order to determine the correct keywords for your products:
- Find terms that people are likely to type into search engines when looking for your product
- Use a keyword research tool
- Check the keywords and keyphrases used by leading competitors’ websites
Finding the keywords people use
In order to find the terms that people use, ask yourself, what words would you type into Google to find your product. Also ask friends and colleagues what terms they would use when searching for your product online. This will allow you to begin compiling a list of possible keywords for your web pages.
5.3.3 Keyword research tools
Keyword research tools are another way to research keywords for your site. Because they access information on the search terms that people actually use, keyword tools can be an invaluable resource when researching keyphrases.
Some keyword research tools are free, while others are commercially available. Try typing ‘keyword research tool’ or ‘keyword suggestion tool’ into Google for a list of available tools.
One of the more popular keyword research tools out there is Wordtracker (http://www.wordtracker.com/). Wordtracker works with a database of the search terms that people have actually used in search engine searches for the last 60 days. By subscribing to their service, you can search this database for keyphrases and suggested alternatives. You can also view the frequency of searches for particular terms over the last 60 days and other data regarding the sites that use those terms.
Search Engine Optimisation professionals frequently use tools like Wordtracker. The benefit of these tools is that they give you a broader survey of the main and alternate phrases people search for than that gained by simply asking friends and colleagues.
While keyword research tools are an extremely useful resource, note that the results returned may not always be one hundred percent relevant for your product. You will have to use your judgement, which can be better informed by using keyword analysis tools in combination with the other techniques outlined in this section of the course.
TASK 1: COMPILING A LIST OF KEYWORDS
Let’s put some of these principles into practice. Over the course of this unit, we will try to construct a list of the possible keywords and phrases for your product/services, which we will add to and edit later on. At this stage you should
- Write down a list of the words that you would type into search engines when looking for that product.
- Ask friends, family and colleagues to do the same.
- Visit www.wordtracker.com and sign up for their free trial. Try out some of the phrases you gathered above, check their popularity as search terms, and note down any suggested alternate search terms that you think might be relevant to your product.
Retain this list for further reference and move on to Competition Analysis
5.3.4 Competition Analysis
In order to employ keywords effectively, you must be aware of the sites you will be competing with for the use of certain keyphrases. Some keyphrases are highly competitive, meaning that you will be less likely to rank in the first page of search engine results for those terms even after optimising your pages.
Your competitors may also have neglected to use a keyphrase that people commonly use when searching for a product. You might be able to exploit this ‘gap’ in the market by employing such a keyword on your own pages.
Therefore, there are two things that help your keyword research:
- Competition analysis
- Competition gap research
We will return to the subject of competition in later units of the course. For now, let us look at the way in which competition impacts upon your selection of keywords.
5.3.5 Checking Competitor’s Websites
To help determine which keywords are right for your product, you should find a few websites that rank highly for that product by search for it in one of the leading search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN).
Once you find some relevant sites, check the Meta information of their pages. This, as you are probably aware, is located in the <head></head> of the document. This can be read by finding the menu in your browser which allows you to view the ‘source’ code of the document (in Internet Explorer, click the ‘View’ menu, then ‘Source’ in the drop- down menu), or by saving the page locally and opening it in a web-editing package like Dreamweaver.
Look at the Meta tag that deals with ‘keywords’. If present, you Here will see a list of the key phrases for which the page is attempting to rank.
Compare the phrases in the ‘keywords’ Meta tag with the terms and phrases in the following areas
- the ‘Title’ of the document
- the ‘description’ Meta tag
- the page copy itself, including headings
- the anchor text for internal links.
If the site is optimised for search engine ranking, then the same keywords or keyphrases are likely to be repeated in all these key areas of the page (we will discuss the process of making your keywords synchronous in this manner at a later stage).
EXAMPLE 1: Here is the HTML code for part of an optimised web page. Assuming for now that this one of your competitor’s sites, check it using the methods above and try to find the keywords that it is attempting to rank for.
<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/loose.dtd">
<title>Search Engine Optimisation Training Course - SEO Training Company</title>
<META name=description content="Search Engine Optimisation Training Course - SEO Training Company">
<META name=keywords content="Search Engine Optimisation Training Course - SEO Training Company">
<meta name="title" content="Search Engine Optimisation Training Course - SEO Training Company">
<link rel=stylesheet href="includes/styles_home.css" type="text/css">
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1">
<div id="contentWrap"><div id="main"><div id="content">
<h1>SEO Training Course - Search Engine Optimisation Training Company </h1>
<p><strong>What is Search Engine Optimisation</strong></p>
<p>Search Engine Optimisation is a logical process involving four distinct stages</p>
<li>Resolving technology issues.</li>
<li>Competitor and Gap Analysis. </li>
<li>Keyword Research and deployment. </li>
<li>Maintenance and Reporting. </li>
<p>The aim is to make a website more visible to its target market via the natural listings of the major search properties. Failing to correctly address all four stages of the SEO process will prejudice the effectiveness of any SEO campaign.</p>
<p><em>A distinction should be made between Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Search Engine Marketing is an umbrella term that covers many disciplines including, but not restricted to, Pay Per Click Management, Bid Management as well as Search Engine Optimisation.</em></p>
<p><strong>Search Engine Optimisation Training</strong><strong> </strong></p>
<p>The objective of this SEO training course is to impart in the student a comprehensive understanding of the principles and methodologies required </p>
Example 1: Search Optimisation Training Web Page
By now, you should have spotted that the term ‘Search Engine Optimisation Training Course - SEO Training Company’ is repeated four times in the <head> of the example document. It appears in the title tag and the META tags dealing with description, keywords, and title. The same phrase also appears in the actual page content as the first heading (<h1>).
Now look at the page content. Notice the recurring use of the phrases ‘search engine optimisation’, ‘SEO’ (an acronym for ‘search engine optimisation’) and ‘training’. This copy is therefore keyword rich.
What then are the keywords for this page? Well we can safely assume that nobody is going to type the whole phrase ‘search engine optimisation training course seo training company’ into Google! Instead, here are some of the keywords that this site could rank for:
search engine optimisation
search engine optimisation training
seo training course
Note that I have put these terms in lowercase because searches are not case sensitive.
We’ll return to this example again later to explain why these keywords have been chosen for this particular page. For now, suffice to say that the keywords combine two highly competitive and popularly searched terms (‘Search Engine Optimisation’, ‘SEO’) with more refined terms that are more relevant to our specific product (‘Training’, ‘Course’).
This is a fairly easy example in some respects, as this site has already been optimised. Now let’s try some of these methods on your competitors sites. Note that this may be a little more difficult, as not all sites that rank highly in search engine results have been optimised, or optimised in the same way. However, by looking at the information in both the <head> and page content of their pages, you should be able to gain some idea about (a) the keywords they are attempting to rank for, and (b) why they were returned as first, second, or third in the search results for the phrase you searched for.
TASK 2: CHECKING COMPETITOR’S SITES
- In Google, Yahoo, and MSN, locate websites that offer the same product or services as your website.
- Check the keywords/keyphrases they use, using the methods outlined above.
- Add this to the list of keywords you compiled earlier.
Once you have finished this, move on to the next section on how to edit a list of candidate keywords.
5.4.1 Editing and revising your keyword list
There are a few things to check when compiling and revising a list of possible keywords. Foremost amongst these are:
- linguistic factors
- are the keywords specific enough?
- level of competition
5.4.2 Linguistic factors
Search engines ‘read’ the keywords on your pages to a certain extent, but they cannot read in the same way as adult humans can. Where we can generally understand what someone means when they spell something incorrectly, use a synonym, or say something ambiguous, search engines are generally stuck with the words on the page. Search engine algorithms can recognise words but they cannot truly ‘understand’ language or think about it in an abstract manner.
For this reason, there are linguistic factors to take into account when editing and revising your list of keywords:
Jargon. Don’t use jargon or ‘specialist’ terms that only people ‘in the business’ are likely to know about, unless that is the market that you are specifically targeting. Instead, use terms that the wider public is likely to use.
- Synonyms and Polysems. Synonyms are two words that have approximately the same meaning within a certain context. For example, ‘second hand motors’ means roughly the same as ‘used cars’ in the context of automobile sales. You may want to add commonly used synonyms for your product (if any exist) to your list of keyphrases. Polysems, by contrast, are words with more than one meaning. If you use a keyword that could also refer to something entirely different from your product, you could direct the wrong kind of traffic to your site.
- Acronyms. Acronyms are abbreviated forms of words. If your product is commonly known by its initials only (e.g. ‘SEO’ for ‘Search Engine Optimisation’), you may want to add its acronym to your keyphrases.
- Plural and singular forms. You will have to use both the plural and singular forms of words if people are likely to search for both (e.g. ‘used car’ as well as ‘used cars’)
- Spelling. Be aware of national differences. In example 1 above, note that ‘search engine optimisation’ uses the UK spelling, whereas the US spelling would be ‘search engine optimization’ with a ‘z’. You may have to take such differences into account if you plan to rank highly in both territories.
however, that many major search engines now offer to correct (and
‘Americanize’) bad spelling in search words, so this is likely to
become increasingly less important as search engines become more
- Capitalisation. Search engines do not carry out case-sensitive searches on your pages, so you do not need to have the same keyphrases in both capitalised and lower-case form.
- Function words. Function words are words like ‘and’, ‘the’, and so forth. These are ‘dead’ words as far as search engines are concerned. Because they are used so often in searches, search engines simply ignore them. For this reason, they should not form part of your keyphrases.
When researching keywords, you should ensure that the keywords you eventually select are specific enough for your product. The more specific your keyphrases are, the more likely you are to bring targeted traffic to your site. If, on the other hand, your keywords are too vague or general, you may end up attracting traffic that is not actually looking for your product or services.
There are ways of making your keyphrase more specific, including:
- Refining your keyphrase by adding another term.
- Adding location to the keyphrase
on, we used the example of ‘cars’ as a keyword. Now, if you plan to
sell used cars online, this keyword is too vague and tells search
engines nothing specific about your product. You can refine your
keyphrase by adding ‘used’ to the keyphrase. Other words can be of
course be added, such as synonyms like ‘second hand’ or even the make
and models of cars that you sell.
However, if you trade within the UK, the phrase ‘used cars’ in itself is unlikely to bring the right potential customers to your site. This is where location becomes useful in making your keyphrases more specific. You can refine your keyphrase by adding ‘UK’ to it. If you trade on a smaller level, you can refine your keyphrase even further by making the location a town or an area.
Remember, the larger the keyphrase, the more specific the results returned in search engines.
5.4.4 Level of Competition
We showed you how to check the keywords on competitors’ sites above. Some of the keyphrases you draw from this source (and some of the ones you come up with on your own) might be highly competitive.
Highly competitive keywords return numerous pages of search engine results and are difficult to rank for.
For example a competitive phrase like ‘mobile phones’ returns a staggering 30,000,000 or so results in Google! Now, if you are a UK trader who sells mobile phone accessories, you are not likely to rank highly for this keyphrase or gain desired visibility through use of this phrase alone.
There are, however, ways of reducing the competition and ensuring some kind of visibility in search engine results
- Refine your keywords in the manner outlined above
- Exploit a gap in search engine marketing
If one of your keyphrases is highly competitive, you may want to refine it by making it more specific to your actual product or by ‘localising’ it in the way outlined above.
For example, the term ‘search engine optimisation’ is a highly competitive term, and will return many pages of results from competitors in the field. To this we could add ‘Search Engine Optimisation Scotland’ to localise our services. In our case we have refined our keyphrase to include ‘Training’, as it is more specific to the actual service we provide. In this way we have combined a highly competitive term with a less competitive factor.
Another way to fight off keyword competition is to find a keyphrase that people commonly use to search for your product but that none of your leading competitors are using in their web pages.
TASK 3: EDITING AND REVISING YOUR KEYPHRASES
By now you should have a list of possible keywords. Now edit and revise your list according to the principles outlined above
- Revise your list according to the linguistic factors outlined above, adding or removing keywords where necessary.
- Revise your list to make keywords specific to your product.
- Check the competitiveness of keyphrases by searching for them on Google and by looking at the PageRank of leading sites for those terms, and edit your list accordingly.
5.5 How to use keywords in your web pages
By now you should have a list of potential keywords for your web site. We will now begin to start looking at how to integrate them into individual pages on that site.
5.5.1 Keyword placement
You should try to place the keyphrases you wish a page to rank for in the following areas of that page:
- Meta information, i.e. keywords and description (NOT case sensitive)
- Page heading
- Page content,
- Anchor text of links.
back at Example 1, and our ‘Search Engine Optimisation Training Web
Page’. In this example we saw how the exact phrase ‘Search Engine
Optimisation Training Course - SEO Training Company’ was repeated word
for word in key areas, that is the title, the Meta information, and the
first heading of the page.
This page is therefore synchronous, as the keyphrases in one crucial part of the page are synchronised with, or mirror, the keyphrases used in other parts of the page. This is boosted by the fact that the page content is keyword rich, and repeats parts of our keyphrases (‘Search Engine Optimisation’, ‘SEO’, ‘Training’, etc.) throughout the first few paragraphs.
One thing this example does not show is that keywords can be used in the anchor text of links. Because the anchor text in links passes relevancy on to the page being linked to, keyphrases for certain pages should also be used in the anchor text of links to those pages. Internal linking and anchor text are covered more fully in later unitss on this course.
In particular, pay attention to the following ‘hotspots’:
- Page Heading. Your page heading should contain your main keyphrases and mirror the exact phrase used in the page title and Meta information
- First Paragraph. Although your entire page copy should be keyword rich, try to place all your main keyphrases in the first paragraph or two of your page copy, as it will be one of the first things to be read by search engines and visitors.
5.5.2 Keyword Spamming
A word of warning: the wrong deployment of keywords on your web pages can cause your site to be penalised by search engines.
‘Spamming’ in this context means an attempt to trick search engines into believing that your page is more relevant for a certain keyphrase - usually by repeating that keyword over and over again.
In the early days of search engines, people tried to fool the search engines into believing that their pages were more relevant for certain terms than they actually were. This was often done by cramming loads of keywords into the Meta keywords tag of the page. Often these keywords were not strictly related to the content of the site.
Search engines have now built in measures to counter such crude attempts at deception. Most search engines will not rate the relevance of pages on the basis of on page factors alone.
The general rule of thumb is that your page content should be keyword rich, but not to the extent that you simply repeat the same phrase on the page a hundred times.
Besides running the risk of being penalised by search engines, keyword spam can put customers and visitors off. Internet users are becoming increasingly sophisticated and generally know when they are being ‘spammed’. Instead of simply repeating a single phrase again and again, give visitors the information they want. This is more likely to create trust and encourage repeat visits.
SEO copywriting is not about spamming. Rather, it involves finding a balance between keyword rich content and the normal demands of internet copy, such as making your page content clear, informative, ‘scanable’, and professional. Your content should contain the keywords you are targeting, but not at the expense of plain English. Try to integrate your keywords into your page copy in a way that still allows that copy to ‘flow’ and impart information in the normal manner.
5.5.3 Where and when to use your keywords
When you research and revise your list of potential keywords, you will probably end up with a fairly long list. Here are some suggestions on how to deploy them.
Firstly, don’t try to make your homepage rank for all your potential keywords (especially if you have numerous potential keyphrases).
If you look back to example 1, you can see how this page has targeted 4 or so main keyphrases on this page. Note also how even these few phrases allow for various combinations of keywords. This allows potential relevance for searches like ‘search engine optimisation training’, ‘seo training’, ‘seo course’, and so forth. Try to integrate your keyphrases in a manner that allows for these kinds of searcher combinations.
There are good reasons why you should not use all your keywords on your main page. This will lessen the keyword density of that page, as you will have to fit more keyphrases into your page content. Focus on the main keyphrases for your product on your main page, and reserve other keywords for other pages.
Later in this course we’ll talk about reinforcing keywords and focusing Page Rank on different pages within your website. For now, we’ll just point out that you should aim to get individual pages ranking for different keyphrases. Remember that search engines rank individual pages on your site rather than your site as a whole.
A good rule is to place the main keyphrases for your product on your main page and other less important keyphrases on your other pages. This can allow those pages to rank for a less competitive term or a keyphrase for a related or subsidiary product or service.
As in most areas of Search Engine Optimisation, there is no magic formula that will automatically give you the winning keywords for your product or services, and finding the right keywords takes time, effort, and a bit of trial and error. However, by following the principles outlined above, you arm yourself with the ability to research keywords in an effective manner and deploy them in a way that exploits their potential.
REFLECT: What do you understand by the following terms?
- Keywords and Keyphrases
- Keyword Relevancy
- Keyword Competition Analysis
- Keyword Placement
- Keyword Density
Once you feel that you satisfactorily understand these terms, move on to the next unit of the course.
07: Keyword research (You Are Here)
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