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What are Keywords?
Keywords are phrases you want your website to be found under. Often corporate climates force people to refer to things using special phrases. Keywords are not about what you call your stuff. Keywords are what the average Joe surfers (or your prospective site visitors) may type in a search box.

Focusing a Keyword
When people tell you to target the word “free” they are out of their minds. The single word is too general and has too much competition. A search at Google shows that the keyword “free” has 1,790,000,000 results. That is over 25% of the web trying to use free as a sales pitch.

But this does not mean that free should not be on your page, you just have to be more focused on keywords that should define the product or idea. Free alone just does not get this done.

Keyword Phrases
If free isn’t a keyword, then what is? Keywords are typically two to five word phrases you expect people to search for to find your website. What would you expect people to type in the browser to find your site? If you were looking for your product, what would you type? What type of problems does your product or service solve? Those answers are likely good keyword phrases.

Keyword Length
A longer search phrase is also associated with better targeting and increased consumer desire. Some people say shorter keyword searchers are shoppers and longer keyword searchers are buyers. As you add various copy to pages you are more likely to appear in search results similar to your keywords which do not exactly match your more general keywords. Most good keyword phrases are generally 2 to 5 words.

Keyword Value Pyramid
One of the most fatal flaws of many SEO campaigns is that people think they need to rank well for one term or a few generic terms and focus all of their energies on that. Generic terms may occassionally convert, but most strong converting search terms are specific.

If you visit SEO forums often you may hear many posts about a San Diego real estate agent no longer ranking for a generic term such as real estate. Since the term is too generic for most of his target market (and his service would not be fitting for most people searching for that term) it makes sense that the search engines would not want to show his site in those search results. As search continues to evolve, it will get better at filtering out untargeted or inappropriate sites.

Targeting generic terms outside of your area it means that you need to use aggressive techniques to try to rank. Problems with being too aggressive.

  • Targeting exceptionally generic terms may not add much value since the leads are not strongly qualified. Paying extra to rank for more generic terms may not be a cost that is justified unless you can resell those leads at a profit.
  • Being exceptionally aggressive raises your risk profile and makes your site more likely to fluctuate in rankings when new search algorithms are rolled out.

Here is a search value pyramid:

Search Value Pyramid

As you can see from the image, the more we target on our specific market the greater value we can extract from our sites. I am not suggesting always trying to use free online texas holdem software download over and over again, but by scattering those various words throughout your copy you may be able to rank for many related phrases.

Where on the Pyramid do I start?
Usually most sites are designed from the top down, starting with a generic concept and working their way down through specific topics. Another way to look at the pyramid concept is to look at where the top of your pyramid should start.

Some people will always start at the top with a term like travel, but in doing that they have to work a long way down to get to the specific categories.

If you start your pyramid with more specific terms at the top your site will have a stronger theme and it will be easier for you to dominate your niche market. As your link popularity spreads from the home page it does not have to go far to reach Honolulu beach wedding packages if your site is about Hawaii weddings or Honolulu.

This does not mean that that most webmasters should make hundreds of 3 to 5 page websites, but it is better to have 100 useful quality pages about Jamaica than to have 1,000 lower quality pages about travel in general.

You have to be able to evaluate how competitive your market is, what resources you have available, and whether you can compete in that market. A large reason many websites fail is being too broad or unfocused. If the top sites in your industry are Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity,, and other well known properties you need to have a large budget, create something fundamentally innovating, or look for a more niche opportunity which you can dominate.

Keyword Density
Keyword density analyzers end up focusing people on something that is not important. This causes some people to write content that looks like a robot wrote it. That type of content will not inspire people to link at it and will not convert well.

In March of 2005 Dr. Garcia, an information retrieval scientist, wrote an article about keyword density.

His conclusion was “this overall ratio [keyword density] tells us nothing about:
1. the relative distance between keywords in documents (proximity)
2. where in a document the terms occur (distribution)
3. the co-citation frequency between terms (co-occurrence)
4. the main theme, topic, and sub-topics (on-topic issues) of the documents

Thus, keyword density is divorced from content quality, semantics and relevancy.

Finding Keywords
There are many different ways to find keywords for your website. Some good keyword ideas are:

  • Words people would search for to find your product
  • Data mine your site level search information if you have a site level search product.
  • Problems your prospective customers may be trying to solve with your product or service (even if they do not know you exist)
  • Keyword tags on competitors websites
  • Visible page copy on competitors websites
  • Related search suggestions on large search engines (such as Teoma or Yahoo!)
  • Related term suggestion at smaller engines such as Gigablast, Vivisimo, and Snap
  • Keyword groupings via tools such as Google Sets
  • Lexical FreeNet “” helps find related terms and ideas.
  • Tag Cloud “” free Folksonomy tool showing related terms. If your product name or brand are related to other common terms in your market, then you are doing a good job working your brand into the semantic language.
  • Keyword suggestion tools

Keyword Selection Tips
The goal of keywords is to choose terms that will bring well targeted traffic to your web site. Each page on your site can be targeted for a few different keyword phrases. Typically I like to just do about 1 to 2 primary and 2 to 3 secondary phrases.

Overlapping Keyword Phrases
It makes sense to optimize the same page for keyword phrases that share some of the same keywords. A page that ranks well for search engine marketing should easily be able to rank well for professional search engine marketing or search engine marketing services.

Only Use a Few Keyword Phrases per Page
A note of caution is that you can not optimize a page for 20 different keywords. As you add more keywords to the mix, you lessen the keyword density and change the focus of the page. The page can start to sound robot created if you are optimized for too many terms. Remember that converting eyeballs is what matters. People are not likely to link to or buy from a page that reads like rubbish.

Misspelled Keywords
You usually do not want to use misspelled keywords in your body copy or page title as they will look somewhat unprofessional. It can however help you to add misspelled keywords to the meta keywords tag (which is explained in further detail in the meta keywords section).

Some sites use “Did you mean”¦? pages, focusing the page title and heading tag on the misspelled versions of the keyword and then underneath it say “often times internet searchers searching for xxx misspell the word as bla or bla.? If you are looking for xxx you are in the right place. Learn more about our bla bla bla”¦

Search spelling correction will get more sophisticated over time. Search engines want to correct for misspellings in the search results pages before the users get to your site. A search engine product manager who wish to remain anonymous stated that misspellings can flag pages for relevancy reviews and usually misspellings for SEO are not recommended for most websites.

If you are using throw away domains in competitive environments then misspellings might help you get some targeted traffic without using as much effort. Also if you have a community driven site it will naturally include many misspellings from various bad spelling authors.

Plural Keyword Versions
Some search engines do use stemming, but usually the search results for singular and plural search phrases are different. It is recommended that you optimize for common versions of your popular keywords, while also using other versions of the words throughout your copy.

Capitalized Keywords
Most major search engines are not case sensitive. Cars is usually the same thing as cars.

Hyphenated Keywords
Most search engines treat hyphens as a space. E-mail is different than email. If a word is split in half by a hyphen then you should check to see which version is used more frequently and optimize for whatever versions are commonly searched for.

If one version of a term is more commonly searched for but is hypercompetitive it may make sense to optimize for the less competitive term first.

If a hyphen is sometimes placed between two words then using either version (with or without a hyphen) will cause your page to rank better for both versions.

Localized Keyword Research
People use different terminology in different countries. In the US we want taxi cabs. In London they look for a car hire. Make sure if you are not from the country of your target market you know what common words they use to describe the products or services you are promoting there.

Common Keyword Problems
There are a few common problems with keyword selection.

  • Some people use their internal corporate catch phrases versus focusing on what people actually search for.
  • Sometimes words have a more commonly used different meaning which elevates the estimated traffic and competition level without actually bringing in any more sales. This especially holds true for acronyms (examples: pics, cams).
  • Some people use really generic words that are not very relevant and are extremely competitive. Optimizing my site for “search engine” would be a good example of this. Lots of competition to attain traffic disinterested with my services.

Keyword Selection is a Balancing Act:
You want the words to be descriptive enough for you to qualify the person and describe your product. You also want the search term to be general enough to be something that is frequently searched for. The definition of frequently changes depending upon industry and the value of a lead, but common sense should help guide you in finding what keywords are the right ones to target. Sales usually are far more important than just the quantity of traffic you get. The power of keywords is in their targeting.

Sure you can list well for a really long search term that is only present on your site, but you want it to be something your prospects are searching for. On the flip side of the coin it is usually hard to list for a single word such as “outsourcing”. Selecting keywords is a balancing act. Most good keywords are between 2 to 5 words long.

Use your home page to target your primary keyword and use the other pages to target other keyword phrases. The keyword phrases targeted on each page should also be terms that describe the contents of that page and terms that are likely to yield conversions

Frequently Asked Questions
A great way to find targeted prospects is to find what ideas and concepts are important to them in the buying cycle. Why do they buy? Why did they chose you? What are common questions they may have during the buying cycle?

You can create a page focused around each of the common buying questions to show up in the search results when people about to buy and are focused on those ideas. Answer the questions as best you can and then place your ads near the answer.

Keyword Suggestion Tools
There are a couple tools on the web which do a good job of helping you find which keywords get searched for and how frequently they are search for.

Overture Search Term Suggestion Tool

Free tool based on prior months Overture ad distribution. Please note the Overture tool combines singular and plural versions of a word and only can track those terms which already have ads in place. Since Overture makes money by selling ads and many automated bots search through their distribution network their results may run high (some highly competitive commercial terms are off by a factor greater than 10 fold).

If you find the term barber shop gets 15 monthly searches and you find a term like Seattle barber shop gets 24 monthly searches then likely some Seattle barber shop owner is frequently checking his rankings.

Google Suggest
Near the end of 2004 Google launched Google Suggest, which attempts to auto-complete your search queries. The results are influenced by search popularity so you can use the tool to help you find many of your deeper keyword phrases after you find some of your broad keywords. DaveN also created a scraper tool which queries Google Suggest.

Google Keyword Sandbox

Free tool from Google AdWords. Offers likely synonyms to the word you type in, but does not approximate traffic. To approximate traffic you would need to set up a Google AdWords campaign and track the number of times your ad displays. Be careful in doing this because it can get rather expensive if you create random ads for the wrong words and / or bid highly for your keywords.

Using the above two tools you can get a good idea what words would be good to target. In addition, there is a tool called WordTracker which is slightly more robust. WordTracker takes sampled data from a couple meta search engines and projects future search rates for different words.

The data pool WordTracker uses offers better data since it separates plural listings from singular versions and also tracks meta search clickthroughs, versus tracking search engine ads.
Since WordTracker makes money by providing accurate statistics versus selling keywords their traffic tends to be a more fair representation of actual web traffic. Keep in mind that their meta search user breakdown might be different than the cross section of normal web surfers and very low search counts will likely have many anomalies.

WordTracker is a tool well worth trying if you plan to do in depth keyword analysis. You can buy a year subscription for a few hundred dollars or use it for a day for under $10. They also offer a variety of subscription options between those two time frames.

WordTracker data can be spammed by competitors. For example, if you find the word golden nugget to convert really well then you can go to Dogpile and Webcrawler and search for an alternate version (like gold nugget) to make unimportant terms look like important ones and hide the good ones. Not many people does this, but it can be done, and is more likely to happen in competitive markets.

WordTracker has a free informational guide on their site you may want to read before using there service so you can get the most out of WordTracker if and when you sign up. WordTracker also has a competition feature (called KEI) which aims to determine how competitive a phrase is, but the tool is no longer very useful in my opinion.

Keyword Discovery
Keyword Discovery is a similar product to WordTracker with a few more features and a deeper database. WordTracker is believed to have a cleaner database, but Keyword Discovery has historical search data and a deeper database.

Keyword Intelligence
Keyword Intelligence is a new keyword research product created by HitWise. It is a bit more expensive than the other tools, with a subscription fee starting at $89 a month. Hitwise has partnerships with internet service providers and search engines that allow them to track user behavior of 25 million users. In tracking the behavior and clicks from various sources this data is likely to be cleaner than most of the other tools. Additionally they track the actual clickthrough rate of the completed searches to know what percent of searchers were happy with the results of their search queries.

Competitive Intelligence
Alexa is widely tooted as a must use tool by many marketing gurus. The problems with Alexa are:

  • Alexa does not get much direct traffic and has a limited reach with it’s toolbar
  • A small change in site visitors can represent a huge change in Alexa rating
  • Alexa is biased toward webmaster traffic
  • many times new webmasters are only tracking themselves visiting their own site.
  • Why do many marketing hucksters heavily promote Alexa? Usually one of the following reasons:

  • ignorance
  • if you install the Alexa toolbar and then watch your own Alexa rating quickly rise as you surf your own site it is easy for me to tell you that you are learning quickly and seeing great results, thus it is easy to sell my customers results as being some of the best on the market
  • if many people who visit my site about marketing install the Alexa toolbar then my Alexa rating would go exceptionally high
  • the marketers may associate their own rise in success with their increasing Alexa ranking although it happens to be more of a coincidence than a direct corilation

A lower Alexa number means a greater level of traffic, and the traffic drops off logarithmically. You can fake a good Alexa score using various techniques, but if it shows your rankings in the millions then your site likely has next to no traffic.
Alexa by itself does not mean much. It simply provides a rough snapshot of what is going on. It can be spammed, but if a site has a ranking in the millions then it likely has little traffic. It is also hard to compare sites in different industries. For example, if I created a site about weight loss there would be many more people searching for it than a site about knitting. Also, you shouldn’t forget the webmaster bias the tool has, which means my site will have a higher Alexa rating than it should.

The Best Free Keyword Research Tool
Digital Point created a free tool which combines the Overture tool and the free version WordTracker tool. I recommend trying the free tool before spending money on WordTracker. I usually use Digital Point’s tool to do most of my keyword research. The Digital Point tool can also estimate localized keyword traffic at the national level.

Is it Worth Buying Keyword Research Information?
Most of the major keyword databases are used by various marketers. Since many people look at this exact same data it is likely that these terms are bid higher on the pay per click engines and are also more competitive in the regular search results. By accessing smaller and lesser used databases you can find data that other marketers may not be using.

Checking Keyword Competition
Many people will look at the number of pages listed for a phrase and think that is a fair estimate of competition level. It is not. That is just a measure of how many pages have those words somewhere in the content or in links that are pointing at their pages.

A better measure of competition is to search for “keyword A keyword B”, as that will at least give you the number of pages which have that phrase on it. You also can further target your competition estimation by searching Google for allintitle: keyword allinanchor: keyword. Pages which have your keyword phrases in their title may be optimized, and pages which have them in their inbound links stand a good chance of being fairly well optimized.

The best way to know what your competition level is though is to look at the link profiles of the top few sites. Are they using keywords in their anchor text? How many unique domains are linking into their site? Google primarily relies upon link reputation to determine relevancy for competitive terms.

The Tail of Search
Many people feel the need to rank for a broad generic term and optimize exclusively for that term.

The problem with this is that around half of all search queries are unique each day. If you were trying to rank well for “used books? you should cater to a variety of terms around that idea, such as: used book store, buy used books, used book search, etc.

By writing naturally and answering questions you will also include many common terms and phrases people search for.

Need Help with Keyword Selection?
If you still need more help understanding keywords feel free to ask me. In addition Dan Thies of SEO Research Labs specializes in doing keyword research reports for SEOs, web designers, and webmasters.


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