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Not All Keywords Are Created Equal - The Optimising Guide to Keyword Selection

Posted on January 01, 2014

Ok ladies and gentlemen, this post is going to get quite thorough, so strap yourself in for at least the next 15 minutes if you want to learn this properly!  How to choose the 'right' keywords is a question often asked by clients who have never done SEO before, and also those who are coming to us unhappy with their existing SEO agency - There is no all-encompassing simple answer.  There is the short (TL;DR) version however:

You can want to rank for any keyword you like, but there are lots of factors that make lots of keywords ineffective to try and rank for.  Just accept it.

Now let's dive deep into everything you should consider when choosing keywords for your SEO campaign.  Some believe that actually generating a list of keywords is a good first step, and it is, however let's take a little step back first to ensure we have all bases covered and are taking the most comprehensive approach.  What you should think about upfront is what products you actually want to focus on for your SEO campaign.  Take a look at your current market offering and decide on a few core products/services that are your biggest earners, and what you're most likely best known for, and build your SEO campaign around using those as key directives.  Focussing on the products with the highest margin and that aid your bottom line the most are best to choose keywords around, and also means you don't spend too long on the superfluous stuff that won't net you valuable traffic in the long run.  Remember the purpose of this is to build your brand online, but also to result in more sales.  Organic traffic is good, organic traffic that converts is better.

After you've determined the best products/services to focus on is when you should come up with a list of relevant keywords that will drive traffic.  You don't need to have a whole lot of focus at this stage as you want to determine a general idea of what keywords work, don't work, what they cost, etc (we will think more in-depth about these factors later).  A good tip is that you can use the AdWords Keyword Planner to determine the traffic associated with particular keywords, or even for keyword ideas, even though it's a PPC tool!  Stick to 15-20 keywords in total, and bundle them into groups of 3-4 of a similar 'theme'.  The reason we bundle into groups of 3-4 is because each keyword group will end up being mapped to a particular page on your site - It's important your keywords actually point to corresponding relevant content or they won't have really any value when it comes to Google looking at your site.

When you've got a general list of keywords, you can start to cull by focussing more on your goals, so ask yourself:

  • Am I generally just interested in generating organic growth over time?
  • Am I focused on targeting a few 'money' pages?
  • Am I interested in keywords that will drive a particular lead type?
  • Or am I hell-bent on being numero uno on the first page?

If you can determine a goal sooner rather than later, it will make finalising your keyword list a lot simpler and quicker.  You can't forget though that while you might have a particular goal driven by perception, market understanding (or lack thereof) or maybe even just ego, customers are the ones searching for you, so you need to also focus on how they will be doing this so you meet what they need.  Throughout the process of choosing keywords, ask yourself these sorts of questions:

  • What's the searcher trying to actually find with this particular keyword?
  • Would the searcher be more likely to buy or just be looking for information for these keywords?
  • Will the searcher that lands on my site get what they are after if they are using this keyword (will my content meet their expectations)?

A keyword might have a really high volume, but if there is a widely varied use of the keyword or maybe it only loosely related to what you are hoping to convert searchers on, it won't end up working for you.  Volume on its own shouldn't dictate what keywords you choose.

Now before we continue, there is a secret that nearly everyone forgets to think about when starting out working with keywords: Not all keywords are created equal.

You have limited time in your day, so you only get a certain amount of tasks done!  Apply the same logic to this - Spend more time on the keywords that convert more traffic.  How do you do this?  You need to prioritise!

How to Prioritise

To prioritise the effort you spend on your various keywords, there are several key things to focus on:

  • Searcher Interest
  • Keyword Competitiveness
  • Budget
  • Results Timeframe
  • Webpage Value

Let's take a look at each in a little more detail to make you a power keyworder (I didn't actually think that was a word, but it is!)

Searcher Interest

Searcher interest is the demand that's out there for a particular keyword - How many people are actually searching for it!  Choosing keywords isn't just about picking the ones with the most traffic - Novices tend to run after the big traffic numbers without considering if the traffic generated from those high-volume keywords is actually qualified and whether that traffic will actually help them achieve their goal.  Just because a keyword is relevant and drives more traffic than another doesn't mean it's better to target that keyword, you also need to consider the value of that traffic.

Keyword Competitiveness

The competition for particular keywords is very important as well, because the competition density can be a make or break for how much effort it will take to even break into let alone rank well in.  The best way is to search for your keyword (using the 'incognito' or 'private' browsing setting to avoid results that are biased from your normal search behaviour) to get a sense of what kind of pool you're diving into:

  • Are the results following a trend or seem to have all sorts in the mix?
  • Are there any perceived difficulties with ranking in this mix that you can see?
  • Are there trusted domains with authority in the mix (e.g. Wikipedia, Government, etc.) that you're trying to outrank?
  • Do the results seem brand-heavy?

Newer sites have the hardest time ranking in a highly competitive field, mainly because they don't have the trust, authority, or even time-tested content on their pages.  Trying to compete with these competitive keywords is thus the wrong style of attack, instead it would be better to target the pain points of what customers might be looking for or may be swayed by.  There will naturally be lower competition in this area and this can expose new searchers to you who traditionally are brand-focussed.  If you have an older site, it's not a massive gain, but it does help when trying to compete directly on a competitive keyword.


About the Author

James Richardson

Sales Director

James Richardson started his online career by running online Sports Fan sites (luckily none are still online today), with the pinnacle of the site being a write up in the Sunday Herald Sun 'Wired' column.

His professional career began at a ASX listed company, Melbourne IT, where he held various senior roles across the Sales and Marketing teams, before deciding to venture out on his own.

Running several successful online websites and businesses himself, he is well placed at understanding your business needs.

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