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What is Keyword Research?

Keywords are those words or phrases on your website which match up to customers' online web searches. The purpose of keyword research is to find out what your customers are searching for online and then lead them from search results to your page.

When SEO first came about as an online marketing strategy, marketers would stuff their sites full of the most searched for terms or phrases, to try and drive the most traffic possible to their sites. This seems like a good idea, however, this practice soon proved futile, because customers reached a site which may have matched the exact keywords they typed in, but did not provide the information or product they were looking for. Now marketers use keyword research to ensure that what the customer is searching for on google matches a relevant page on their website.

The goal of keyword research is to improve your chances of making a sale or conversion online. It all starts with capturing potential customers who are searching online and then directing them to relevant content on your site, which answers their question or need. Keyword research can help you determine the best words to devote your SEO marketing dollars to and its easy to do with some brainstorming, testing and use of user-friendly analytics tools.

Keyword Research and Search Engine Optimization

There are potential customers on the web right now, searching for a product or service like yours. The biggest goal of keyword research is to capture as many of those potential customers as possible and to convert them online. Another goal of keyword research is to try to become listed as high up as possible in search results for a certain word or phrase, thus beating the competition.

If for example you run an Accounting business and a potential customer searches online for 'income taxes,' you'd want your site to appear within at least the top ten results for that query. Hopefully you would get that person to click through to a page on your site addressing their need or question about income tax preparation.

Key word research is a must because it involves little up front cost and helps marketers to avoid wasting time on unprofitable keywords and phrases. It also rewards marketers with new insight into what their customer's motivations are and what needs or questions they should be addressing on their website.

Getting Started

A good way to get started is by putting yourself in your customer's shoes. Sit down and brainstorm a list of words and phrases that your customers are likely to type into a search engine in order to find your product or service. It helps to include alternate spellings, synonyms and common variations on each word or phrase.

Then, in a survey or other customer communication, ask the same question of past customers: 'If they were trying to find your product or service online, what would they type into a search engine?' You'll be surprised by how much your customers' responses may differ from yours, But this is one of the benefits of conducting keyword research, it gives you new insight into what your customers are thinking.

Once you've made a list of potential keywords, you may want to set up a chart or spreadsheet to help you record the next couple of steps. Recording the results of your initial findings, will help you rank each word or phrase by its value and then come up with a final group of words that you want to invest in.

Take your list of potential keywords and search each term in the major search engines like Google and Yahoo. Look at the search ads which appear alongside the search results and record the number of advertisements which appear with each word or phrase. If there are many search ads associated with a term, that is a good thing. Lots of search ads mean that the word or phrase probably has a high-conversion rate and that's why its valuable to those other marketers who already advertise there.

Next you may want to review each page of your website's content to refresh your memory and then go through your list of potential words to see if they are relevant to your content. Here are three questions you can ask yourself to help determine the relevance of each word: 1) Where on my site is there content relevant to this search term or phrase? 2) Will the searcher's implied questions or needs be answered when they jump from their search to my site's content? 3) How likely is it that search traffic from this word will end in a sale or conversion on my website?

Analytics and Testing

Once you've narrowed your list down to the most relevant key words for your website, you must find out the difficulty of putting those keyword into use. Because of competition from other businesses and websites, who may be ahead of the game when it comes to SEO marketing. certain keywords may be difficult to achieve results with right away.

To find out if any of your potential keywords are going to be difficult to use, again do a search for each term in major engines, but now look at the search results themselves. If your competition already takes up the top 10 results, then it may be a long time before that keyword pays off for your business. In order to estimate the strength of those top 10 results and how competitive they will be to market against, you may want to note how long that competitor has been online and the relevance of the result to the keyword or phrase. If the top 10 results are not national companies or big-box stores, it may be possible to compete against them for traffic. There are all kinds of free and low-cost tools available online to help marketers measure further analyze the top 10 results for each keyword and the difficulty of competing for search traffic from from that keyword.

Smart keyword researchers will also take advantage of Google and Yahoo's sample campaigns, where you can select a keyword or phrase, direct traffic from that word to the most relevant content on your site and then measure the results over the course of a few hundred clicks. A reporting feature will help you measure the results of your sample camapign, and from the results you can estimate the number of visitors you gained, how many of those visitors resulted in a sale or conversion and how much revenue the keyword generated for your site. If the word provides a large enough return over the time and money invested in your search strategy then you've got a winner.

After selecting the best keywords for your site, you can continue to monitor those words using widely available and user-friendly analytics tools such as Indextools and ClickTracks. These tools measure and report the traffic from each key word, the activity of web users who come to your site from that word, and the number of conversions won. To keep up with changes in customer needs and market trends, always continue your keyword research, refine your word selection, build in new words and phrases and continue to monitor results. This will give you an enduring keyword strategy.