The proper selection of keyword phrases is a critical part of every SEO campaign. Keyword phrases provide a focus for search engines. This focus will be reflected in the content of your Web pages and in the measurement of results.
I mention keyword phrases rather than just keywords due to the fact that most users search using more than one word. Multiple word searches are necessary because the world’s largest repository of information, also known as the Internet, has become so large that it is now difficult for users to find specifically what they are looking for without using multiple words to filter the search engine results down to something that yields the best possible results. Users will frequently try several different word combinations when they feel the results they see are not exactly what they desire.
Think like a customer when selecting keyword phrases
Selecting the best possible keyword phrases is not as simple as it may sound. You must learn to think like a purchaser of your goods and services, and not like a seller. Sellers tend to use very proper terminology to describe a product or service; purchasers tend to use more generic descriptions. The best source for keywords and keyword phrases is your customers. Ask them which words they use or would use to search for your products and services. Record searches performed on your web site to build a list of the most popular phrases people are using. Focus groups made up of people that have an interest in your offerings might be another way to develop a list. If none of these ideas is feasible, then you will need to make sure that you put yourself in your customer’s place when selecting your keyword phrases. Don’t take this responsibility lightly, because if you select the wrong list, you risk running a campaign that will not yield the results you desire. A number one position in search engine results is worthless if the phrase you are searching with is never used by your customers.
Avoid extremely competitive search phrases
An important consideration is the fact that some keywords or keyword phrases have so much competition that it may be next to impossible to work your way to the top of search engine rankings just because of the sheer number of Web pages you have to compete with.
A case in point concerns one of the companies we work with. They are a large, worldwide distributor of copier replacement parts and supplies. One of their most important product lines is photoreceptors. Photoreceptors are typically cylinders coated with a special light-sensitive (photoreceptive) material. These devices are at the heart of almost all copy machines and laser printers. The generic name for copier or laser printer photoreceptors is “drums”. But a search for “drums” in Google yields approximately 65,700,000 web pages related to drums. Guess what? The first 100+ listings are almost all for sites selling musical instruments. The word drums is therefore too generic to be used as a focus for an SEO campaign for photoreceptors. The search results are much too diluted by other products.
Most customers searching with the word "drums" would soon get discouraged and start a new search using a different word or word combination. In this case, the more technical term “photoreceptors” might be more appropriate, because it is also a word commonly used to describe the product. A search for “photoreceptors” in Google only yields about 1,510,000 web pages, which is still large, but is a more workable number to compete with. This keyword became a focus of the company’s campaign and they currently hold top 10 positions for “photoreceptors” in AOL, Google, HotBot, MSN, Netscape and Yahoo!.
Another tactic commonly used by searchers is to take the generic keyword "drums" and combine it with one or more words that filter the results down to something more specific. OPC is a name for a coating commonly used on photoreceptors. These products are generically referred to as “OPC drums”. A search for this keyword phrase in Google yields approximately 504,000 web pages. This keyword phrase became a focus of the client’s campaign and at the time of this writing they hold top 10 positions for “OPC drums” in AOL, Google, HotBot, MSN, Netscape and Yahoo!.
Make sure your selected keywords and phrases are valid
Above all else, make absolutely sure that the list of keywords and phrases you select will be used by your targeted audience when they search for your offerings. A common ploy used by some unethical SEO consultants is to guarantee top placements for a Web site, but their guarantee is really for their selected keyword phrases, rather than yours or those that your customers would use. It is very easy to obtain top rankings for obscure keywords and phrases that are not used by your customers nor anyone else’s. If you sell bicycles, and “bicycle” is one of your keywords, your Web pages will have to compete with approximately 2,300,000 others in Google. If the keyword phrase is “multiwheeled metal framed transportation”, the #1 position is currently available and easily obtainable because there is no competition for that keyword phrase.
Start with a small number of keyword phrases
How long should your list be? That depends upon how large you want your campaign to be. For a small Web site or a small company, usually five keyword phrases is a good place to start. Moderately sized campaigns can focus on ten to fifteen keywords and phrases. Large companies with very large Web sites have been known to focus on hundreds or thousands of keyword phrases. For most companies, it is usually a good idea to start with a small number and expand the list as you achieve successes. It is not possible to optimize a 20 page web site for 100+ keyword phrases. Each keyword phrase needs to be represented by a page, and preferably, by more than one page.
One method might be to start with a long list and stack-rank it with the keyword phrases most likely to be used at the top. Once your keyword phrases have been selected, you have completed the first step in your SEO campaign. The second step requires that you match your selected keyword phrases to the appropriate pages in your site. Read the article on Choosing Web Pages for Optimization for more information on this topic.