Written By Melanie Phung, New Media Director
Search engine optimization (SEO) is about attracting more visitors to your site by making your content easy to find. Part of that process is making sure you're using the right words to describe and label your content. (For a general SEO overview, you can refer to the SEO Basics webinar materials and previously posted materials here.)
Just a little bit of time investment up front as you are creating or tweaking your content can pay long-term, recurring dividends. If your pages are well optimized, they can continue to attract new visitors for many months or even years without any additional marketing effort.
In this series of blog posts, we'll focus on the basics of keyword research, the process for figuring out which sets of keywords should be the focus of your efforts.
Introduction to Keyword Research
In order to get traffic from search engines like Google, your site needs to appear in search results for specific keyword queries; however, not all keywords are equal.
When optimizing your content to attract more organic (i.e., non-paid) search engine traffic, you first need to know what terms to target. You can't rank well for everything, and not everything is worth ranking for.
The goal of keyword research is to help guide your SEO efforts by helping you identify the biggest opportunities. Target the right terms and more visitors will find your content. Target the wrong terms and you'll waste time and energy without attracting more traffic.
When choosing keywords, consider:
1. How much search volume is associated with your target keywords (and closely related phrases). The more people search for a term, the more traffic it can drive. Don't bother optimizing for terms that have no potential to drive traffic.
2. How relevant the term is to your content. The more relevant it is, the more likely you will be able to rank for it and the more likely that that you'll meet user expectations if people are finding your site using that keyword.
3. How much competition your site faces. The more sites are competing for relevance for the same term, the harder it will be to achieve high rankings. It's important not to expend excessive energy and resources trying to achieve unrealistic goals. You could spend all year trying to rank for the single-word term "Obama" and have nothing to show for it in the end; instead, you could aim for related terms that have only a fraction of the total search volume, but would drive more actual traffic because you're able to achieve high positions in the search results.
4. Search intent. When a user is typing certain terms into a search engine, what information are they really looking for? Does your content answer the users' implicit questions about that subject?
The more keyword research you do, the more you'll figure out what's worthwhile and what isn't, but choosing keywords doesn't have to be a huge production taking weeks of staff time. Even a few minutes spent thinking carefully about how to describe a piece of content can pay huge dividends.
Example of How to Apply Keyword Research
For example, let's say you have a few pages about a Brown Recluse Spider. You know that non-descriptive text or phrases don't work well for SEO, so you focus on optimizing for keywords that people would actually use to search.
You decide that your target term for your main page is the phrase "brown recluse spider."
The Google keyword research tool would tell you that this phrase is searched approximately 100,000 times a month. You know based on how well similar content has performed in the past, that you have a strong chance of achieving top 10 rankings for this term (unlike a much more competitive term like the word "spider"). Based on these two pieces of information, you're confident that you can drive a lot of long-term traffic and achieve high rankings for the phrase "brown recluse spider."
However, with only a few minutes of additional effort, you may decide that you could also optimize for long-tail variations of that term (like "brown recluse spider bite" and "photos of brown recluse spiders"). By identifying additional attributes of content that already exists, you could take advantage of (what Google's tool says is) an incremental 13,000 search impressions per month with almost zero additional effort.
Thinking more creatively, you also realize that the target audience might not recall the name of the brown recluse (so this audience wouldn't use this particular search term), but your content should also be findable if someone searches for "world's deadliest spider." (Google says "deadliest spider" gets 3,000 searches a month.)
Even if the program debunks the belief that the brown recluse is in fact the world's deadliest spider, you could still include this important term by simply including both phrases in your copy: "Is the brown recluse spider really the world's deadliest spider?" or "The Brown Recluse Spider – Not the World's Deadliest Spider, After All" or "Brown Recluse: The World's Deadliest Spider?" In this way, you can optimize for multiple keyword phrases at the same time – i.e., brown recluse spider, brown recluse, recluse spider, deadliest spider, world's deadliest spider – simply by adding a bit more descriptive text that complements rather than competes with your primary term.
On the other hand, while it's the case that "fiddleback spider" is a common nickname for the brown recluse, a quick check in the Google AdWords tool shows only 1,300 monthly searches for the term. While this might represent a good opportunity for incremental traffic, you probably don't want to optimize for "fiddleback spider" at the expense of your stronger keyword phrase. Given that you have a limited amount of different phrases you want to pursue, you may decide to omit the phrase "fiddleback spider" from your optimization plan all-together if your existing content doesn't support it and you don't have the resources to create a new page.
While keyword optimization is not exactly a "zero sum game," there are limits to how many keyword rankings you can realistically pursue at the same time. Using traffic estimate data from keyword research allows you to make informed decisions about how to get the most bang for your buck.
You want to choose those phrases that have the most realistic potential to drive maximum traffic based on a variety of factors including search volume, content relevance and keyword competition (i.e., the likelihood you'll be able to achieve strong rankings).
We'll end this intro article with some quick tips to help you take the content you already have and focus your copy for maximum traffic.
3 Simple Tips for Thinking About Keywords
1. The keywords you optimize for are not necessarily the same as the words in the episode name. They are also not the same as "tags" or categories.
2. For SEO purposes, descriptive terms do better than broad concepts. Think about how someone would search for your content rather than how you would want to describe it. Fill in the blank: "I'm Joe Public and I'm looking for information about ______".
3. Every page of content should have one primary keyword phrase and at least two or three secondary keyword phrases. (We'll talk about what to do with your keyword phrases in one of the next blog posts.) Your secondary phrases can be long-tail variations of the primary phrase.
Now that you have a better idea of how to think about keywords, stay tuned for our next articles in this series, which will talk about how to dive into keyword brainstorming, evaluating relative value of keywords, and what to do once you’ve selected your target phrases.