If you’ve been through the process of building a website, writing blog posts or crafting new website content to improve your search engine rankings, chances are you’ve had some experience with developing a keyword list for your website. Whether you’ve been actively involved in the SEO keyword research process in the past or you’re just implementing a program for the first time, it’s a good idea to review and update your target keyword list annually, as changes in your business, competition, and market may shift your strategy. Before you write content for your website or blog, or even plan out your sitemap, you should have a search engine optimization strategy in place.
Here’s a simple plan to get you thinking about the right words to include in all of your content:
1. Think like a customer.
It’s easy to get caught up in the language of your industry and completely lose sight of how your customers would refer to your products or services. For example, a law firm once informed me that the preferred court terminology for ‘custody’ issues had been changed to ‘family law’ or ‘residential / non-residential parenting’ as a means of minimizing negative connotations of ownership related to the word custody. While this completely makes sense in court documents and language among those involved in the case, the reality is that the word custody is still what the general public would think of when searching for an attorney that handles these types of cases. For search engine ranking purposes, the word custody needed to be included in the website content to ensure that the site had a chance of coming up in those search results.
It’s important to use the same language that your ideal customers would use when developing your sitemap and writing out your content, right down to the questions they might ask.
2. Spy on your competitors.
SEO and inbound marketing companies typically have access to advanced tools that allow them to pull lists of the keywords your competitors are ranking for organically and/or purchasing for use in search engine marketing. If you are working with an inbound marketing and/or SEO company, they will provide this information. If you are going the DIY route, you can get a good idea of the keywords your competitors are focusing on by checking out some key areas of their websites.
Perform an audit of 3-5 competitor websites and be sure to identify which keywords they’re using in these important areas:
A. Web browser title bar: On each page, you’ll see a title in the top browser bar (the tab at the top of your browser). Companies performing well in search will typically have important keywords listed at the beginning of their page titles.
B. URL keywords: Along with the browser title, the words in the URL (ie: website.com/keywords-are-here) will give you key insight into their target keyword list.
C: Page and Blog titles: The headings and sub-headings on each page, especially on high-profile internal pages and blog posts, will highlight their keyword strategy and possibly even the types of clients they are focusing on (ie: an accountant writing blogs targeted at small business owners is likely focused primarily on that audience).
D: Calls to Action: Are they offering free downloads of reports or case studies? Free product demonstrations? A free trial period or complimentary analysis? These CTA’s will clue you into their keyword focus areas as well as their overall marketing strategy.
3. Start with free research.
As with the above example, if you’re working with an SEO and/or Inbound Marketing company, they should have access to advanced tools which will allow them to research the keywords that prospective customers are using in search inquiries, and to sort these by your chances of ranking for them (in terms of how popular and competitive they are). But if you’re going it alone, you can do some simple research yourself online.
Start with Google’s keyword planner tool, and enter in the keywords that you believe your customers are using to search for similar products and services (from step 1), in addition to the list of competitor keywords you pulled in step 2. You can allow Google to also pull variations of these keywords into your list (recommended), and then export the results into excel. From there, sort the list by search volume and narrow it down to a manageable size by eliminating words that are irrelevant, have very low search volume, or are too competitive.
4. Go long (tail).
Now you’re ready to go long. Here’s the issue with long-tail (ie: Cape Cod waterfront weekly rental home under $3,000) versus short-tail (ie: Cape Cod rental home) keywords. Short-tail keywords are generally too competitive to rank well for, unless you are one of only a few companies in your product or service category. If you are in a business with many competitors (and you should consider bloggers and directories in your industry as competitors online, because they are using similar keywords), the search results are often too cluttered with content for your website to break through. If you’re unsure, try typing one of your short-tail keywords into a Google search, and look at the total number of results returned at the top of the list (About X number of results).
The key here is to think about how specific you can be in your keywords to compete in search while still picking up traffic from prospective customers. Dive into your product/service list, consider the problems or questions that your customers may be searching for a solution for, and use that information to define your target keyword list.
5. Enlist the help of a professional.
This list is a good way to get started, and your internal team should always be involved in the process of keyword research and planning, as no outside firm will know your industry, products/services, and target customers better than you do, but if you want to perform well in search results, there’s a lot more to the process than conducting keyword research online. Enlist the help of a qualified team with proven past results to help you reach your goals – it’s an investment that will return years of results in new business and reduced marketing waste.