A keyword is any word or phrase that is used to describe content on a particular page of a website, and enhance that content for online search. Optimizing a page for a keyword is important, but it is vital to do research beforehand to determine the best one to use. This article will focus mostly on the importance of keyword research in respect to SEO, because adjusting SEO keyword strategy after the fact is much more cumbersome than that of PPC. (Note: Poorly researched keywords for a PPC campaign can lead to unnecessary ad spend and lost opportunities, but you can easily pause them to “stop the bleeding”.)
Problem: Not conducting enough research. While going with your gut can be useful in some situations (e.g. if you fear you’re in danger), it is not the best tactic for SEO. Choosing a keyword rashly, can lead to wasted time and effort optimizing your strategy. Keyword research is the first step in a complex, ongoing SEO program, and getting it wrong could mean restarting the whole process over again.
Solution: Use keyword research tools to determine the best opportunities. Google AdWords Keyword Planner is probably the best free tool out there for keyword research (an AdWords account is needed). However, it is designed for PPC, not SEO. There are many tools that provide more comprehensive information to conduct SEO research, but the better ones cost money. This is where an SEO consultant, such as Silverback would be able to offset the costs, because they leverage paid tools for multiple.
Long Tail Keywords vs. Head Terms
Problem: Choosing too general or broad a keyword. It is almost impossible for smaller to medium websites to rank for broad, popular search terms. For example, if you want to rank for the term “shoes”, you are competing with the likes of DSW, Zappos, and Nordstrom to name a few. These companies likely have dedicated teams of people working to optimize their pages.
Solution: Look for longer-tail keywords. These are highly descriptive search phrases (typically 3 or more words) that are less competitive. Long-tail keywords are more relevant, leading to better quality traffic and higher conversion rates.
Long Tail Keyword Explained
By choosing and optimizing on the head term “shoes”, a small to medium sized website may show up on page 10 of a Search Engine Results Page (SERP) for a search conducted 1,000 times a month. However, they would show up on the first page (or even the first position) for the long tail keyword “black high heeled shoes”, a search conducted 200 times a month. Which is better? To answer this question, one must know how many people view the tenth page of a SERP. (How many times do you go on to view page 10, or even page 2 or 3 for that matter?)
The graph to the left shows the average click through rate (CTR) of the first 10 positions of an SERP. Note that these are the top positions, not pages. Only 2.2% of people click on the search result in the tenth position.
In the scenario discussed above, using a high estimate of 2% click through rate for head term search results on page 10, the site will be clicked on 20 times at absolute best (1000*2%). For the long tail keyword, the site will be clicked on 12.5% of the time if it is in position 2, generating a total of 25 clicks (200*12.5%). The long tail keyword generates 5 more total clicks a month and is much easier to optimize.
In summary, keyword research is critical to determining a list of terms around which to optimize your site. Longer keywords are a better option for small to medium sized sites, because they can more easily optimize and achieve first position. A house is only as strong as its foundation, and SEO is only as strong as the keywords chosen.