As you explore the world of SEO, you’ll probably come across the phrases “keyword” or “keyword research” on more than one occasion. But what are keywords and why should you care about them?
Think about what happens when you go to a search engine like Google or Yahoo. If you’re looking for information on cruise deals for your next vacation, you might enter the word “cruises” into the search bar to find websites related to vacation deals. That word you entered is what’s referred to as a keyword. If you entered a string of words, say “best cruise deals”, you’ve entered a keyphrase into the search engine.
Searchers use keywords to find information on the internet.
The keyword or keyphrase tells the search engine what kind of results to bring back for you. Search engines scour the internet, recording the information they find on various sites around the web. When you enter the keyphrase “best cruise deals”, the search engines comb their databanks to find sites related to “best cruise deals”.
When you’re building a website, choosing the keywords and phrases to focus on is extremely important. You want to target the keywords people are actively searching for. But as you can imagine, some keywords are more competitive than others. An example of a general keyphrase is “lose weight”. It’s much more competitive than the keyphrase “lose weight with the lemon juice diet”.
If you build a new site around the phrase “lose weight”, you’ll be competing with well established websites (like WebMD and Reader’s Digest as shown in the screenshot below) and likely find your site buried on page 89 of Google’s search results for the term.
Where your site falls on the search results pages is measured as its ranking. For the general keyphrase “lose weight”, you’ll likely be low in the rankings, so your site won’t receive much traffic or exposure.
On the other hand, if you focus on less competitive keywords, you can expect to rank much higher in the search engine results – you may even be able to land the much-coveted first page ranking. You can also get there much faster, which is important for building momentum.
If your traffic stats never move then it’s hard to keep putting any effort into SEO. But if you see them start to climb, even if it’s a little (as shown in the graph from Quantcast.com below), you’ll be more likely to keep going.
And SEO really has a compounding effect to it. The more work you put in and the longer you’ve been at it, the better results you’ll see.
This is why good keyword research is vital to the success of your online business. Focus on less competitive keywords and you can expect to rank much higher in the search engine results much easier and faster. By focusing on lots of less competitive keywords, you’ll get lots of free traffic.
Ideally, you want to find keyphrases that have high search volumes and low competition. The two go hand-in-hand – the phrase “make your own digital camera using a potato” likely has low competition, but it won’t matter if no one ever searches for it.
The experts argue back and forth about exactly what type of numbers you should be looking for – “search engine results of less than 500,000″ or “at least 1,000 daily searches” – but it will be up to you to determine which parameters work best for your internet business. Again, the keyphrase, ‘weight loss’ is pretty darn competitive with about 438,000,000 competiting results (that’s probably a little too ambitious when you’re starting out unless you’re backed by a big budget).
The other thing to keep in mind is that you should optimize the individual pages of your site, not just the home page. So you don’t just pick one keyword or keyphrase. You need to select a number of them (typically hundreds or even more keyphrases to optimized your pages for )and set up an actual strategy to rank high for as many of them as possible.
To conduct your keyword research, you can take advantage of a number of free or paid keyword research tools. One of the most popular free research tools is available through the Google Adwords program.
But you can find other good options by searching online (including the keyword tool at SEOBook.com which can also help you get a decent sized list of keyphrases). If you’re looking for programs that offer added functionality, look into WordTracker’s subscription service. Any one of these programs will help you identify keywords and keyphrases with high traffic and low competition to build your web pages around.
High Rankings and Keyword Research
Keywords are at the core of virtually every highly ranked website online. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing SEO, pay-per-click campaigns or creating your sites, you must research your keywords first and incorporate them into these activities in order to see the most success.
It’s important you’re that using the actual keywords users are searching for. If you do, then your ads reach out to them, your sites will rank higher for them, and once they wind up on your site, it will call out to them.
So it’s super important that before you do any site building, PPC advertising or SEO, you have a good list of keywords to use. Again, this includes a variety of keyphrases related to your topic and many of them should be easier to rank for (due to lower competition).
And once you’ve set your site up, you should be constantly looking for more keywords to add to your list. Add more content with your keyphrases within it and even add more keyphrases to your existing content to see better results.
You can expand your reach tremendously by finding ways to add new keywords to target.
You could easily get ten times the traffic if you plan out a site first and build it around the keywords that your searchers use.
What is LSI?
We’ve discussed the importance of targeting your site text to specific keywords and keyphrases – so it’s only natural to assume that you’ll get the best rankings by packing your content full of the same phrase over and over again.
But it’s not.
While it’s never a good idea to stuff your site full of repetitive keywords, recent Google algorithm changes provide further incentive to use natural-sounding language by taking into account the value of semantically-related words.
If that sounds overly complicated, don’t worry. The term “semantically-related words” is really just a fancy way of saying “synonyms”.
In the context of search engine optimization, accounting for semantically-related words means that the search engine robots evaluate the page as a whole, taking related keywords into account when determining what the page is about. Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) is one specific algorithm that the search engines use to evaluate site content through related keywords.
So what does this mean for you as a site owner? Suppose you’ve built up a page that revolves around the keyphrase “how to get six-pack abs”. In order to score high on the search engine rankings, you’ve used this exact phrase repeatedly throughout your text, without using any related phrases, like “how to get a flat tummy” or “how to tone your mid-section”.
When your site is crawled, the crawler will flag your page as over-optimized and rank it lower. Search engines want to show the best pages to their visitors and the best pages are not over-optimized and stuffed with repetitive keyphrases.
Whether you’re updating old content or working on new text for your sites, it’s important to vary the keywords you use to create more natural-sounding copy.
If you’re having trouble thinking up keyword or keyphrase variations, you can use Microsoft Word’s synonym feature (simply right-click on a word and scroll down to “synonyms” to see more options) or consult an online or offline thesaurus.
For example, a keyphrase like “SEO tools” could also be written as “SEO products”, “SEO courses” or “Search engine optimization ebooks”, depending on what your content is about.
And many of the paid keyword tools (like Wordtracker) incorporate this into their service for you.
The main point is you don’t want to have a single word appearing in your content over and over again. That’s called keyword stuffing or over-optimization. It creates a bad user experience and the search engines work hard to rank pages employing these tactics lower.
It’s important to keep in mind that no one knows exactly what the search engine algorithms are, and we are dealing with software, not humans, so it’s still a good idea to include your target keyword or keyphrase within your page a couple of times. This means you can pretty much write naturally, but do intentionally include your target keyphrases in your content at least once. This will ensure that your site gets ranked for the specific phrases you’re targeting while still compensating for the new changes in semantically-related word algorithms.
Since the search engines will reward you for writing naturally and not forcing keywords and phrases, I suggest you just write naturally. Make sure the keywords and phrases you’re targeting are in your content, but don’t go overboard.
What are Long Tail Keywords?
As we’ve discussed, the internet revolves around keywords and keyphrases – the specific terms users enter into search engines when they’re searching for content. Finding competitive keywords to target on your site is as much a science as it an art, as you need to search for elusive keywords that aren’t too competitive, but still have significant search volume. As the internet becomes more and more competitive, smart web site owners are turning to long tail keywords to generate traffic.
The long tail refers to “a socio-statistical theory which suggests that the collective sales of products in low demand can exceed that of popular products and bestsellers.”
As we mentioned previously, in terms of keywords, this means that it’s easier to succeed using longer, less competitive keyword phrases, like “how to establish a home-based vending business”, than it is with more popular keywords, such as “lose weight” or “make money online.” By using long-tail keywords, you’re shooting for the small fish in the pond, while the rest of the marketing community is trolling for the record-breaking bass.
So what does all this mean for you as a site owner? When you’re just getting started, it’s much more difficult to get ranked for popular search terms, given the amount of resources the existing sites have to maintain their rankings. However, it’s entirely within your reach to rank at the top of the search engines for long tail keywords, using a combination of on-site and off-site search engine optimization strategies.
If you rank high for lots of long-tail keyphrases then you will receive lots of free traffic from the search engines. And it’s possible that traffic will even be more targeted than going after one highly competitive phrase that might take you months or even longer to see any traction for.
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