Marketing & Advertising

SEO 101, Part 3: Keyword Research Planning

Do you think you know how consumers search for your brand and products in Google? If you haven’t done your keyword research, you’re probably wrong. This is the third installment of my “SEO 101” series, following Part 1: What Is SEO? and “Part 2: Benefits of SEO.”

Keyword research is the process of discovering how consumers search for the products you sell. The words they use are keywords that search marketers can use to drive new and repeat customers to a site.

How Do Consumers Describe your Products?

Using prospective customers’ language in the content on your site gives you the opportunity to market to them. The contextual match between what they want and what search engines think you have helps determine if search engines rank your site, or your competitors’.

Using your company’s internal marketing jargon and internal view of your products and brands means that the majority of people who see your site in search results will be internal — i.e., associated with your company.

Using your company’s internal marketing jargon and internal view of your products and brands means that the majority of people who see your site in search results will be internal — i.e., associated with your company.

Your future customers want something when they enter a search query into Google’s or Bing’s search box. Sometimes consumers are extremely specific and use product keywords like “parker pen refill 12757-2,” and other times they’re incredibly vague and search for concepts like “fine writing instruments.”

Marketers presume that because they spend their entire day focused on concepts like “fine writing” that searchers use those words as well. They don’t. At least not in the massive volume that they search for product types like “fountain pen.”

Here’s a case in point. According to the Google Keyword Planner, the phrase “fountain pen” is searched in Google 22,200 times a month on average. “Fine writing” draws 70 searches on average.

If you’re focused on “fine writing” and your site uses primarily “fine writing” keywords for search engine optimization, you may completely miss the opportunity to meet and market to 22,000 potential new customers in organic search results who search for “fountain pens.”

How to Start Keyword Research

The first step to optimizing your site’s content and architecture for the SEO keywords your prospects use is keyword research. This sounds easy because all you have to do is paste some words into a keyword tool, press a button, and keywords come out the other side.

The old adage that developers use applies to keyword research as well: “Garbage in, garbage out.” Methodical planning and preparation of the data that you enter into the keyword research tool will yield superior results in the output. The keyword data will be more complete and will contain more suggestions for keywords that you hadn’t even thought of.

Start by collecting SEO keyword seeds, single words that make up potential SEO keywords. For example, if you think people search for “fountain pen,” you’d break that SEO keyword into two seeds: “fountain” and “pen.” In the next step, we’ll combine these seeds together in different ways to feed into the keyword tool.

Your site’s navigation is a good place to start collecting seeds. Copy and paste the words in your navigation into an Excel spreadsheet. Then go through and separate the phrases so that each cell contains a single word. The nouns and verbs will typically be useful seeds. Adjectives and adverbs will usually be useful as modifying seeds, and everything else is probably extraneous.

For example, if your phrase is “black and blue ink,” “ink” is your main seed – there will be many ink-related SEO keywords. “Black” and “blue” are modifying seeds as we’re only interested in colors as relate to pens. If you use “blue” as a primary seed you’ll get irrelevant keywords back like “blue jeans.” The word “and” is extraneous and can be deleted from the seed list.

Determine Important Keywords

After combing through your own site’s navigation, check the navigation on your competitors’ sites. Check their title tags — they’re probably using the keywords they want to rank for there. Do a couple of Google searches to see which keywords the sites that rank well use. All of these phrases can be broken down into seeds and modifying seeds.

Sort all of your seeds and modifying seeds into two separate lists. You’ll merge the lists together in different ways to generate potential keyword phrases to feed into the keyword research tool.

Why not just feed the original phrases into the tool without bothering to break them down into seeds and recombine them? Because keyword tools are precise. The keyword tool is likely to give you only what you ask for and very close synonyms. If you only feed in the phrases you already use, you’ll get back more of the same phrases you already use. You’ll miss an opportunity to discover new and potentially more valuable phrases that real customers use to find your products.

There are a couple of ways to combine the seeds into new phrases. The keyword tools have a simple combination feature – we’ll cover that in next week’s primer on how to use keyword tools. Merge Words is another option. It’s a site whose only purpose is to accept up to three lists of seeds and output every possible combination of those seeds.

Or you can use Excel’s concatenate formula. I prefer concatenation (i.e., the process of linking words) because it gives me the most flexibility to combine words however I want: A B, B A, A and B, B and A, where to buy B, where to buy A, where to buy A and B, and so on.

For the next installment of this “SEO 101″ series, see “Part 4: Keyword Research Tool Tips.”

Jill Kocher Brown

Jill Kocher Brown

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