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SEO (Search Engine Optimization for those of us less acronymically inclined) is one of the most hotly debated, widely misunderstood, universally despised marketing techniques.
But despite the wealth of misleading and inaccurate information at your fingertips, search engines are a doorway to your site that can’t be ignored. And if search engines are the doors, then keywords are – not to sound too corny – the keys that unlock them.
So what does that mean to you?
It means that everyone can and should understand the basic building blocks of a search optimized website. And there is nothing more basic and more important to SEO than the keyword. Keywords are the heart and soul… bread and butter… alpha and omega… of search optimization. It hardly matters how brilliant your site is, how perfectly coded, designed and configured if it uses no keywords – or the wrong keywords. Keywords are the precise way that people find your site in search engines.
But how do you know which keywords to use? How do you begin to guess what people are searching for? And with all the garbled industry mumbo jumbo about things like long-tail keywords, where do you even start?
Breathe deep! The good news is that I’m only asking you to commit five minutes, right now, to finding keywords. And I’m about to make it as easy as drinking your morning coffee. Ready?
Grab your mug and set your timer. We’re going to start by choosing at least one great keyword for your website.
The 5-Minute Do-It-Now Guide
First I want you to think of one keyword or phrase that is important to your business. I use the term “keyword” but think of it more as a phrase. The best keywords are really keyphrases that specifically define your product or service.
If you’re a jewelry retailer, you may choose “beaded necklace”. If you’re a plumber you may choose “sink repair”.
I want you to be aware of a few things as you brainstorm your keywords:
- You’ll almost certainly be optimizing different pages of your site for different keywords. Start with one. Get a feel for it and go from there.
- If you’re a local business, consider phrases that include your location. In the example of the plumber, your customer pool is limited to those people who live within a reasonable driving distance of your business. Optimizing for “sink repair” may not be as beneficial to you as optimizing for “Brooklyn sink repair”.
- The more specific you can get, the more likely you’ll be able to optimize successfully for your chosen phrase. Let’s use the jewelry example. Choosing the keyword “necklace” is probably too broad. If you specialize in silver, beads or seashells then qualify your keywords by turning them into phrases; for example “sterling silver necklaces”.
Next I want you to go to this keyword tool provided by Google.
Bookmark it and repeat after me: the keyword tool is my best friend. You can use other tools, but this one is free and it gives you enough information to take informed action.
Enter your chosen keyword to get a list of more keyword ideas. Here’s a quick search that I ran for the keyword “necklace”:
It’s a goldmine of information.
First, you can see how many searches are performed for your chosen keyword. Then there is a long list of related keywords – and not just any old keywords, but keywords that people are actually searching for. One of the biggest SEO mistakes is **thinking** you know what keywords people are using but not actually knowing. Never assume you know what your potential customers are looking for. Even after years practicing SEO, I can still be surprised by keyword research.
Not only does this tool tell you what people are searching for, but it should give you a stack of ideas for keywords that you can use to represent your products or services.
Second, it tells you, relatively speaking, what the competition is for your keyword. Notice in this example the competition is “high” on every variation.
Finally, it tells you how many actual searches were performed on each keyword, both globally and locally. Remember the plumber? This is where local searches become more important.
As you can see from my search above, there are a lot of people looking for necklaces! But there’s also a lot of competition. It’s always harder to get attention for your site if it’s merely one among many. Choosing a highly competitive keyword may not be the best way to go because it can take a lot of time and effort to get in front of a huge pack of competitors.
Let’s keep going.
As you peruse your list of keyword ideas, I want you to define a more specific phrase, something that more precisely represents your product or service. Instead of “necklace”, I tried “beaded necklace”. Here are the results:
Fewer searches, but more qualified if you are, indeed, selling beaded necklaces instead of sterling silver. You can also get a glimpse into the minds of your potential customers this way. Perhaps it would surprise you to learn that people are also looking for “chunky” necklaces and “long” necklaces. These ideas should get your gears spinning about phrases you can use on your site.
Unfortunately the competition is still pretty stiff for necklaces of any type. That doesn’t mean you should give up. Some niches are simply more competitive. You ought to try optimizing for “search engine optimization services”!
If you’ve bookmarked this keyword tool and didn’t stop to check your Facebook page in between searches, you should still have 4 minutes on the clock.
I want you to keep refining your keyword down to something more and more specific. And counter-intuitively, “refining” your keyword sometimes means “adding more keywords”. We went from necklace, to beaded necklace, and perhaps your next search could be “handmade beaded necklace”.
For those of you selling beaded necklaces, this could be tough! As it turns out there’s a whole lot of competition. It isn’t until I got way down to the bottom of my fourth search that I started to see some potential. The keywords below have relatively less competition which could make your job a little easier.
Here, you can see that “etsy handmade jewelry” has far fewer searches, but is also less competitive and much more highly targeted. So if you’re selling handmade jewelry on etsy, looks like you’ve got an option!
I’ll admit this much: as soon as I started searching for keyword examples to use in this article, I immediately regretted choosing one so darn difficult. I was about to change course and pick a less competitive term to illustrate these points, but then decided to stick with it, because in the real world you don’t get to choose a completely different product or service if yours is competitive. You’ve got to work with what you have, and if it’s a touch niche, then you’ve got to work a little harder.
So all you beaded-necklace people, take heart. You’ve still got options. Take “homemade jewelry”. Let’s start with the fact that it never would have occurred to me to search for “homemade” jewelry. Handmade maybe. But that’s the beauty of keyword research.
Now that you’ve searched, refined, searched again and found a few keywords with potential, you should still have a good 2 minutes on the clock.
Here’s what you do next: compare keywords. Do you see “handmade lampwork bead jewelry”? That’s a great term if that’s what you’re selling. And it’s also middle-of-the-road in the competition column. But look at how many global searches: 73. Compare that to “homemade jewelry” with similar relative competition at 18,100 searches, and which one do you think gives you a better bang for your buck? All things being equal, you’ve got a broader audience for the second than for the first, even though the first is a bit more specific.
As you compare your possible keywords, I want you to consider three things:
- How relevant is it to my business?
- How stiff is the competition?
- How big is my potential audience?
Depending on your keywords and niche, if you can find a relevant keyword with a decent audience and low competition, you’ve struck gold.
Overall it’s wiser to target a low-competition keyword with a smaller audience than a high-competition keyword with a big audience, especially if you’re just starting out (and you only have five minutes). I don’t want to deter you from going for the highly competitive terms, but if you can help it, aim for a smaller, more highly targeted audience with the least competition.
Now that you have one minute left and counting down, this is the last thing I want you to do: write down the top three keywords that you’ve found, along with their competition and search counts. (For the super-efficient, it wouldn’t hurt to open up a spreadsheet and add these to a permanent document that you can use to track your keywords today, tomorrow and every day that you can spare five minutes for SEO.)
I said top three because these are the three keywords that you’re going to use on your site. Now, if you’re a jewelry retailer and you just did a search for necklaces, you’re probably wondering, “But what about the bracelets!?” Alas, that’s your five minutes tomorrow. Each and every page of your site is an opportunity to optimize for specific, relevant and unique keywords. And now you have three.
Write your top three down because those are the keywords you’re going to use to kickstart your website optimization. And it’s only taken five minutes out of your day.
The trick, if there is one, to optimization is that you don’t need to sit down and beat your head against your computer monitor all day. Instead, you need to carve up small bits of time to tackle one thing at a time. Today we found keywords that are going to work for your business, your niche, and your site.
1. Think: What keywords are important to your business? What do you want to be found for?
2. Search: Plug your keywords into the keyword tool and see what comes up. What keywords are other people looking for?
3. Refine: Repeat your search with a more specific keyphrase or a variation. Does anything surprise you or intrigue you? Pick out the potentials.
4. Compare: Look at the relative competition and the number of searches performed for several relevant keywords and phrases.
5. Record: Make a list of the top three keywords that have the most potential to bring you targeted traffic with the least competition.
And you’re on your way to becoming a keyword Ninja!
At this point you may be wondering what the heck to do with your three keywords. Guess you’ll have to come back for the next article. Until then, spend five minutes a day defining the keywords that mean the most to your business and have the greatest potential for driving qualified traffic to your site.
Three… two… one… go!