SEO is necessary—you've got to do it if you want to rank well for keywords. Simple in concept, keywords are actually very complicated things. They bring order to chaos, define markets, and reveal intent. Keyword data simultaneously tells you how many people are looking for your product or service and what those people will do once they find you. The results of a keyword search can tell you who the top people are in an industry and inform you of upcoming trends in the market. Keywords are the most visible focal point of free market competition between business interests. Search engine optimization is a popularity contest for keywords and this is a popularity contest you want to win.
The most critical part of an SEO project is finding the right keywords. You will spend months working on your web site, getting links, and telling the world that your site is the authority on that keyword. It's critical that when you finally arrive, your customers are there to embrace you. If you pick the wrong keywords, you'll spend months working only to find that there is nobody who wants to buy your product. Ouch! An extra few hours researching your keywords in the beginning will help you avoid this fate.
What a keyword is
Keywords are many things to many people. For the purpose of this SEO campaign, there are really only two things about keywords that we need to understand to get the job done. Keywords aggregate searchers into organized groups and a keyword defines a market.
Keywords are single words that a search engine user types into the search box to try to find what they're looking for. Key phrases are the same as keywords except for the fact that they consist of two or more words. For the sake of simplicity, throughout this article let's use keywords to mean both, keywords and key phrases.
Keywords aggregate searchers into organized groups
Millions of random people visit Google every day. When they arrive, they are amorphous—a huddled mass yearning for enlightenment with nothing more than a blank Google search form to guide them. As each person types keywords into Google and clicks the Search button, this random mass of people becomes extraordinarily organized. Each keyword identifies exactly what that person is looking for and allows Google to show them results that would satisfy their query.
Much like a labor union, the more searchers there are looking for a particular phrase, the more clout they have with the businesses who want to sell to them. However, instead of more pay and better health benefits, you get better search results. If there are a thousand people per month looking for keyword A and a hundred people per month looking for keyword B, then chances are good that there are more competitors focused on keyword A. More competition means better optimization is required to show up at the top. Better optimization requires more content, closer attention to meeting the needs of the group, and more interesting web sites.
A keyword defines a market
This organization of searchers is what gives Google such power. In a very real way, Google creates billions of tiny markets every day. There is a buyer (the searcher) looking for a product, the seller (the web site owners) selling what they've got, and the middleman (Google) organizing everything and facilitating the transaction. The transaction takes place when the searcher clicks on the result of a keyword search and is whisked off to the seller's web site. However, it doesn't always go smoothly.
In fact, very high percentages of the time the searcher doesn't find what they're looking for so they hit the back button and try again. They may try a different result on the same page or type in a different keyword and do the entire search again. Each time you have an opportunity to convince them that yours is the right site with the best information and most promising solution to their questions. It is in your best interest to provide a web site that quickly engages the searchers, pulls them in, and keeps the dialogue going.
Why keyword research is important
As a Drupal site owner, you have the opportunity to position yourself as the best site available for the keywords people are searching for.
Know thy customer
There are hundreds of good marketing books out there to help you better understand your audience. All that good information applies to SEO as well. The better you know your audience, the better you can guess what keywords they are typing in Google to find companies like yours.
You're an expert in your field, so of course you know many of the keywords that people use to find your products and services. But, are you sure you know them all?
A few years ago Tom, a friend of mine, hired me to do SEO for his high-end landscaping firm. His company designs and installs yards, trees, retaining walls, and so on, outside million dollar homes in the hill country near Austin, Texas. We sat down in an early morning meeting and he said, "Ben, the right keyword is landscaping. I know it so there's no reason to do all this research. Don't waste your time and my money. Just do landscaping and that's that". Being the thorough person that I am, I did the keyword research anyway. Guess what I found?
The number one phrase in his business was landscaping. However, a very close second was landscaper. And, while landscaping had dozens of competitors—some of them were very well entrenched—there were only a handful of competitors showing up for landscaper.
The next day, I called Tom and told him what I found. "You know what?" he said, "Now that you mention it, many of our customers do refer to us as landscapers—'I need a landscaper. Call a landscaper' ".
So, we started his campaign targeting the keyword landscaper. Because there was so little competition, he ranked in the top five in a matter of weeks and was number one in Google within two months. He was dominating half the search traffic within two months! The leads were rolling in so we switched to the keyword landscaping. It took longer—about three months—for him to break into the top ten. By that time, he had so many inquiries, he hardly even noticed.
The lesson here is three-fold:
- You may know some of the keywords, however, that doesn't mean you know them all.
- Just because you think of yourself in one particular way doesn't mean your customers do.
- By taking the time to do keyword research, you will reveal opportunities in your market that you didn't know existed.
What your keyword goal is
Before you start looking at keywords, you need to fix your goal firmly in your mind. There are basically two major reasons to do SEO.
Goal 1: Brand awareness
This may come as a surprise but there are people out there who don't know that you exist. SEO is a powerful and inexpensive way to get your name out there and build some credibility with your target customers. There are three major types of brand awareness:
Company brand awareness
Company brand awareness works on getting the name of your company into the market. If you want to build credibility for Big Computers Unlimited as a whole, then you probably want a campaign focused on getting your company listed where other top producers of PCs are listed. PC, computer, or fast computer all might be good terms.
Product brand awareness
Product brand awareness focuses on building general market knowledge of one product or line of products that your company produces. If you work for Big Computers Unlimited and you want to sell more Intergalactic Gamer brand computers at retail stores throughout the country, then you probably want to build a campaign around keywords like Gaming PC or even high-end PC.
A 2004 survey by iProspect found that two out of three search engine users believed that the highest search results in Google were the top brands for their industry; there is little reason to believe this perception has changed. That means that just by being at the top of Google will gain you a certain level of trust among search engine users. If Big Computers Unlimited can rank in the top three for Gaming PCs, they'll develop a lot of creed among gamers.
Goal 2: Conversions
Conversions are a fancy way of saying that the visitor did what you wanted them to do. There are three typical types of conversions:
A transaction is just what it sounds like. Someone puts in a credit card and buys your product. This is typical of most product-focused web sites but isn't limited to this narrow category. Your web site may sell registrations to online training, subscriptions to magazines, or even credit monitoring. The bottom line is that it can be purchased on the site. You need to focus your keyword research on terms that will bring buyers who are ready to purchase right now. Words like buy, price, merchant, store, and shop indicate a desire for immediate purchase.
Give them the transactional information they need like price, color choices, size, quantity discounts, return policy, and delivery options. With this information and a great checkout experience you'll have them buying from you in no time.
Ubercart is simply the best shopping cart solution for Drupal. If you're a transactional web site and you need an e-commerce solution, start here: http://www.ubercart.org/.
If you're in an industry with a long sales cycle like real estate, legal services, or medical, then you're probably interested in generating leads rather than online transactions. If you sell a service or product that requires direct contact with your customer, like consulting or personal training, then you probably want leads too.
Lead generation means that instead of buying from your web site, you're interested in someone expressing an interest in doing business with you so that you can follow up with them later. You let them express interest by filling out a contact form, emailing you, or even picking up the phone and calling you. You need to focus your keyword research on terms that will bring people who are perhaps a little earlier in the buying process. Words like review, compare, best, information, and generic names of your product indicate a user is researching but not quite ready to buy. You'll need to provide a lot of information on your web site to inform them and shape their thinking about your product.
Page impression (or ad impression)
Some web sites make money when visitors view an ad. To these sites, a conversion may simply be someone clicking on one or more pages so that they'll see one more ads. You need to focus your keyword research on terms that will bring people seeking information or news to your web site.
Keyword research tools
There are many tools to help you find the right keywords. It's not important that you use them all but you should try a few of them just so you can see what's out there. Here are my favorites in order of preference:
Your own web site
The most important keyword research tool at your disposal is your own web site, http://www.yourDrupalsite.com/. If you already have some traffic, chances are that they're coming from somewhere. With analytics installed, you should be able to find out what they're searching on with just a few clicks. If you have Google Analytics installed then you can easily see this data by logging in to its admin section and then going to Traffic Sources | Search Engines | Google.
This information can be invaluable if you cross-reference it with your current positions in the search engines. Say, for example, that you're getting 100 searchers a month on a term that you're on page 2 of Google. That's a good indicator that people are searching hard to find a company like yours and that may be a very good term to focus on with your search engine campaign. If you're getting that much traffic on page 2, imagine if you were in the top three on page 1.
Drupal has a built-in search engine—another great tool to see what the people are searching for, after they've already visited your site. There's an insanely useful module for that, called Top Searches (http://drupal.org/project/top_searches) that does a better job that Drupal's built-in list. This module was developed by the founder of Linnovate, Zohar Stolar. Thanks, Zohar!
How to set up the Top Searches module
Carry out the following steps to set up Top Searches module:
- Download the latest version: http://drupal.org/project/top_searches.
- Install the module like you would any Drupal module and enable it.
- Visit http://www.yourDrupalsite.com/admin/settings/top_searches or go to your admin screen and click on Administer | Site Configuration | Top Searches link. You should a screen similar to the following screenshot:
- Set the option Should counters be presented next to the items in the block? to Yes and click on Save configuration.
- To view the searches, you need to set up a block. Set up the block by going to http://www.yourDrupalsite.com/admin/build/block and clicking on Configure, located next to the Top Searches listing.
- Let's make this block only visible to authenticated users and only on the admin screen.
- Under Role specific visibility settings, select authenticated user.
- Under Page specific visibility settings, click on Show on only the listed pages and add admin under Pages:. You should end up with something like this:
- Click on the Save block and go to the admin page and you will see your Top Searches block.
It may take some time for it to fully populate with data. Now that you've got some data from your own site, let's take a look at some external tools for keyword research.
How your SEO-savvy competitors market themselves can reveal a lot to you about where your customers are. If they've optimized, you can easily see what terms they consider important, just by visiting their web site.
How to scrape your competitors' web site for keywords
There are two ways to scrape your competitors' web site for keywords:
The quick way
Carry out the following steps to scrape your competitors' web site for keywords using the quick way:
- Go to your competitor's web site.
- Click View Source in your browser.
- Look for the keywords Metatag. It looks like this: .
The easy way:
Carry out the following steps to scrape your competitors' web site for keywords using the easy way:
- Use Google Adwords Keyword Tool.
- Select Web site Content and enter your competitors' web site.
- Review results.
You don't want to get too carried away with this. If all you're doing is getting your competitors keywords then you'll miss those great niches of opportunity that you'll find doing the full research. Still, it's a great way to kick start your keyword hunt.
Google Adwords Keyword Tool
Visit https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal to check the Google Adwords Keyword Tool.
The Google Adwords Keyword Tool shows how many people searched for a particular keyword and related keywords in the last month or so. At its most basic, you type in the keyword you're interested in and it gives you the quantity of searches for that keyword and derivatives of that keyword.
Why would Google just give this information away? Google makes their money when businesses buy ads. In the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, they've created an excellent resource to help advertisers find highly trafficked keywords for their campaigns. Luckily, this tool is free, even if you aren't going to advertise.
Apart from being free, there are several advantages to Google Adwords Keyword Tool.
It is Google's own data, so you can count on it being accurate for 60-70% of search engine users. If you're focused on Google, this is the tool to use. Period!
It gives you an exhaustive list of terms. If you type in your main term, it will often produce hundreds of additional, related terms for you to consider. Some other free tools will only give you ten at a time which makes research a very time-intensive process.
It allows you to filter results using negative keywords. So, if you sell software, you might use the negative keywords -free, -crack, -serial to filter out all the people who are looking for free, cracked, or just want a serial number. That will make a huge difference to the resulting volume count.
Other helpful things include the ability to download the resulting list as a CSV, using your web site (or even a competitor's web site) to start the keyword search, and the ability to match the results based on broad, phrase, or exact.
Visit http://www.google.com/zeitgeist to check out the Google Zeitgeist web site.
Zeitgeist is German for time ghost or the spirit of our times. The idea that there are certain thoughts or ideas that make their way through society. Google Zeitgeist shows you emerging trends by showing the fastest rising search phrases in a given time period in each of four major services: search, news, images, and book search. You can also see things like Top of Mind, Politics, and Trendsetters.
For example, the 2008 USA Year-End Google Zeitgeist shows that the fastest growing terms in search are obama, facebook, att, and iphone. So, how does this help you with keywords research? It can help you to take advantage of trends in your markets. If you can somehow tie your products to the major trends, then you can take advantage of huge amounts of traffic.
Visit http://www.google.com/trends to check out the Google Trends web site.
Google Trends allows you to see how a keyword has done over the years. For example, remember that kid who sang the Numa Numa song on YouTube? Well, his popularity is waning (finally!). Check it out:
Google Trends even lets you compare two different words to see which one has more traffic. With some comparisons, it even charts major news stories to drops or peaks in traffic:
Visit http://budurl.com/seom to check out the SEOmoz web site.
SEOmoz offers a suite of free and paid Pro tools to help your optimization efforts. For example, their Term Extractor tool will tell you what keywords your competition is optimizing for. When I put in Amazon.com, I got gems such as books and gift cards. No surprises there. Other great tools include:
- Keyword Difficulty: It tells you how hard it will be to achieve ranking for a particular keyword
- Popular Searches: It aggregates and archives popular searches from various sources
- Juicy Link Finder: It finds links that have authority—old domains with a high PageRank that rank well for the keyword you enter
They seem to add new tools every month. At $79 per month, this is not cheap. Try it at least once and decide for yourself if the Pro membership is worth it. I'm a paying subscriber.
Visit http://budurl.com/KeywordDiscovery to check out the Keyword Discovery web site.
Suppose you want to know what's going on outside of Google—non-Google searches do make up 30-40% of the market. And, say you want to see monthly trends for your keywords and create campaigns that you can come back to and revise over time. Well, pry open your wallet and head on over to Keyword Discovery. Their free tool just isn't as good as Google's, however, for a reasonable monthly fee you get an excellent keyword research tool.
The best thing about Keyword Discovery is that you have an account that you can log in to and save your research. This is great if you are running several campaigns across different sites or you just don't have time to do all your research in one fell swoop. Also, their related terms finder is second to none—even better than Google's in some cases. They show data from all over the Web too by capturing data from many sources, including ISPs and search logs from large web sites (they don't reveal which ones, though). A worthy research tool in your kit.
Visit http://budurl.com/WordTrackerFreeTrial to check out the WordTracker web site.
WordTracker has been around the longest for good reason. They provide dozens of tools to help you find the best keywords. They gather their data from Meta search engines—search engines that aggregate search results from many different search engines. They then extrapolate the number of searches on a particular term based on market share data. It's not perfect but it does provide some great data points.
One of the most helpful features is the step-by-step wizards which walk you through your keyword research. If you're new to keyword research, this feature alone is worth the membership fee. The price is quite reasonable when you consider that you can get a fully-functioning seven day trial for free! If you're just doing one web site, sign up for the trial, get your research done, and cancel it. I like free.
How to pick the best keywords
By now, you know the goals of your SEO campaign—branding, lead generation, sales transactions, and so on. Now, it's time to dig into the data. There are infinite number of ways to go about doing keyword research. I'm going to takeyou step-by-step through one of them. It's not necessarily the right or the best way but it's a good, solid technique that I've used many times to produce excellent results.
You need one more thing—a spreadsheet. Whether you use Excel, Numbers, or Google Docs, the easiest way to keep track of a list of keywords is in a huge spreadsheet. It doesn't have to be complicated, just a simple list of keywords and some key data about each one. Something like this:
Keyword Searched Source Difficulty Rank Keep? ... ... ... ...
Google will tempt you into adding all the keywords to a list that they'll keep for you and then you can download when you're done. I avoid this for two reasons. First, they only save the keyword, not how many searches it brought so the data is incomplete. Second, it can sometimes take me a few hours or even days to finish my keyword research. Google doesn't save the data for that long so I might have to start all over if I forgot to export it. It's better to just build your own spreadsheet from the get go.
Let's say that I'm doing keyword research for a large computer manufacturer called Big Computers Unlimited. They sell computers all over the U.S. from their web site and a few select retail outlets. They recently acquired a smaller competitor called Intergalactic Gaming that specialized in high-end gaming PCs. The purpose of this campaign is to create more online sales of the specialized line of entertainment computers by increasing traffic from the search engines. While Big Computers spends millions each year on search marketing, this campaign is a trial to test the waters so they've only allocated a few thousand dollars over the course of three months.
How to gather a keywords list
Carry out the following steps to gather a keywords list:
- Visit https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal. You'll start with the most basic keyword that you can think of, for your industry, like pc, and click Get keyword ideas; as shown in the following screenshot:
- It's a good idea to adjust your match type to phrase or even exact since SEO typically focuses on a single, specific keyword at a time.
- Click on Approx Avg Search Volume to sort the list of keywords that was generated by searching for the term pc. This shows you the most searched keywords at the top.
- Looks daunting, doesn't it? Don't worry, you're just gathering ideas for now. Notice that there are a lot of phrases that have words that are completely off-topic, like free or repair? Well it's time to filter those out. Click the Filter my results link, located just below the keyword box. Enter one negative keyword per line, as shown in the following screenshot:
- Click on Get keyword ideas. Now the list is a bit cleaner. Nice!
- Notice that there are quite a few phrases related to games, like pc games, pc game, and gaming pc. They might seem like great choices but stop to consider that someone who is looking for pc games is not the same as someone who is looking to buy a high-end games pc. Careful! Google treats the search phrase games pc and pc games as the same in this result. If you change the Match Type to Exact, the number of results drops in half. Let's find out how many of those terms are actually games pc.
- Go back up to the keyword phrase list and type in games pc, gaming pc, and game pc. Under Filter my results, check the box next to Don't show ideas for new keywords. This will just show you results for those three terms. Now click on Get Keyword Ideas.
- Change the Match Type to Exact and you'll see a very different story:
- These are still terms that should be considered but they're certainly not as hot as you may have thought at first. Add each phrase and it's search data to your spreadsheet.>
- Now, let's unclick the Don't show ideas… box and see what we get. There are some good ones here: gaming pc, best gaming pc, gamer pc, video game pc, and so on. I'll add them all to my spreadsheet. This could go on for hours and for a large project, it's not unusual to have a list of 500 keywords after a few hours of research.
- Now, let's find out how hard it's going to be to rank for those terms. Notice that there's a column on the report called Advertiser Competition. That report will tell you how many advertisers are bidding on that key phrase in Google's Adwords. That doesn't exactly correspond to how many are trying to rank for that term organically but it's probably close, so let's use it.
- Hover your mouse over each Advertiser Competition bar and a little pop-up will give you an indication of how difficult it is. For example, next to games pc it says Very high advertiser competition. Since I will probably want to sort the list, I'll change that into a number; say 10 for the hardest and 0 for no competition.
- After doing all that, my spreadsheet looks similar to the following screenshot:
- Now, let's find out where Big Computers already ranks for these terms. We put each term into Google and here's what we find:
Broad, Phrase, Exact: What do they mean? Say you want the term tennis shoe. Broad Match is the outcome of any possible search that contains your keywords, including searches that had other words in them, plural versions of your keywords, and even synonyms. For example: shoes for tennis, tennis shoes, or tennis sneaker would match. Phrase Match can include other terms as long as it includes the exact phrase you've specified. For example: nike tennis shoes fits but shoes for tennis would not. Exact Match means that the phrase must match exactly. For example: tennis shoes and nothing else.
Picking the right terms
Now, we've got some decisions to make. There are some huge terms on that list with over 100,000 searchers per month and very high competition. However, there are two terms that Big Computers already ranks for: game pc, games pc, and gaming pc. All three have considerable traffic but notice that they rank on page 2 for game pc. With 74,000 searches per month, this is a hot term and definitely makes our short list.
The term gamer pc has somewhat less competition as does video game pc. Although there's relatively little traffic, less competition means an easier time getting ranked. We'll keep both of these for now. On the other hand, best gaming pc and gaming pcs have high competition and low traffic. We'll reject both terms for our initial campaign but they might be good to add in later. That leaves games pc and gaming pc—both terms are high traffic and high competition. If this was a full campaign, I think they'd make the list—remember, though, that this is just a trial. Since we want to justify a fuller campaign, we need some easy wins. We already have three good terms to work with, so I'll say no to these final two terms. So, my almost-final spreadsheet looks similar to the following screenshot:
Getting rid of the wrong terms
At least as important as finding the right terms is rejecting terms that are not right. Some terms seem perfect until you put them under the microscope, then you will start to see the flaws in your own logic. Here are a few steps you can follow to make sure you've got good keywords:
- Google the keyword and look at the results. Do you see relevant results?
- Use Wikipedia to read about your keywords. Are those words used in other ways in a different industry than yours?
- Ask your customers, colleagues, and companions: "What does
mean to you?"
- Look in the
phone book. What companies show up for the phrase you're evaluating? Are they the right kinds of companies?
- If you've got some money to spend, try running an Adwords campaign. Put in all your keywords and write some ads. After a few weeks, you should have a pretty definitive idea of which terms perform the best for you.
Now that we've got our keywords, it's time to start using them on our web site.
In this article, we covered the tools you're going to need to do keyword research, from Drupal stats in your own web site to all the great tools available online. Keyword research is one of the most important things you'll do in SEO so make sure you've taken the time to do it right. At this point, you should have:
- A good understanding of the goals that you've set for your web site
- The Top Searches module installed
- A working knowledge of at least one of the keyword research tools— probably Google's tool
- A list of the keywords that will be the focus of your SEO campaign
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