Keyword Research – It’s About ‘Them’ Not ‘You’

I’m one of those rare creatures – an In-House SEM who is allowed to blog, speak at conferences, write articles and play with other companies websites. It was while engaging in one of these activities that I came across someone’s attempt at keyword research.

Now, I’ve been around online since high school and since I’m in the 30+ crowd, that means I was one of those freakish early adopters/geeky developers. Yes, I was a programmer but I escaped and am now living out my life in a former-programmer protection program.

My early years online and involvement ever since also means I’m am aware that I am _not_ a typical web user and so when confronted with doing SEM for any site, I do my research. Research includes keyword research which includes researching the competition and looking at keyword research result tools.

The other day I was given some preliminary work which I am sure must have taken the person ages to complete. They had obviously seen my conference talk and gone hell-for-leather in to getting their keyword research done. I can’t help but think that they were snoozing during the tools section though. The research done basically gave derivations of on-page words and nothing from any competitive analysis or any keyword tools.

Had this gung-ho person done even one keyword search using a free tool (any free tool), they would have seen they were targeting the wrong phrase. That cascaded through a complex set of combinations based on this original phrase and continued through other poorly targeted phrases.

The point here is that keyword research is about THEM and not YOU. That means you do your research for what people are _actually_ searching for and not what you think they should be looking for. Optimise your page for searchers and how they search – not your internal company jargon.

Do your research on who your competition is, what they optimise for and then start using those free keyword tools (maybe even buy one) and get that research going. Identify what makes your page unique and target those phrases.

Keyword optimisation is different for each page because each page (should be) is different. Don’t cannibalise your keywords across various pages – make each page focused and on topic and do your research for that page. Don’t dilute the power of those keywords by stuffing them on every page – make them stronger by keeping them on the relevant pages.

Search engines aren’t fooled by keyword stuffing anymore. Gone are the days when a change was seen instantly on AltaVista. These days search engines are savvy and combine over 200 factors including related terms on page, links in, header, footer, density, and more to determine rank.

Keyword research is the first step in optimisation. Get it done right and the rest will follow. Get it wrong and you’ll languish in the also-rans of the SERPs.

Some free keyword tools:

- SEO Book keyword suggestion tool
- Wordtracker free trial
- Google keyword tool

These keyword tools require payment:

- Trellian Keyword Discovery
- Wordtracker Keywords
- SoloSEO (includes keyword section)

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9 Responses to “Keyword Research – It’s About ‘Them’ Not ‘You’”

  1. Julie Joyce says:

    Nice post, and glad to have you on board Judith. You’re right when you say it’s about them, not you. Many clients want to tell you what keywords to use, but this is all based on their interior marketing knowledge, and it’s rarely in concert with what searchers use. This is a topic that needs to be further examined so we can all find some better ways to convince clients of this.

  2. Sverre says:

    Good stuff Judith. But I’m sure Gary the Groper would insist you’re dead wrong ;-)


  3. It never seizes to amaze me that people don’t get it…
    If you are trying to get someone’s attention you have to do things that make THEM look not you.

    We should definitely explore this topic further.

    How about we start a list of cool ways to discover new keywords?

  4. A couple of years ago I paid a fair sum for Professional SEO. They were able to get me top ranking for several valuable terms like “left handed green widgets with blue stripes”… Anyway, I digress. How do you decide between targeting the high traffic/high competition/high reward terms and the lower hanging fruit?

  5. David, it depends on what your goal is really. For e.g. if you’re doing SEO for a long-term site you’d want to go for all phrases – and over time you’ll rank for all of them(long time sometimes). If you’re building a quick one just for a promo, then the high traffic phrases will be too competitive for you to rank for in the shorter term. Then you need to consider what domain your placing new pages on…

    For PPC also depends. If you’re doing a fast promo, you might want to just bid on high volume kwds but rank lower not #1(CPC would be high).

    If you’re doing a long term brand awareness campaign your goals would be totally different too.

    Sorry – there’s no short answer to this really – it just depends.

  6. Judith Lewis says:

    Julie – I do often see this on other websites including a popular one based around digital and new meda bits. I don’t quite understand the mindset but some companies seem to think that users will search for them using jargon used only internally.
    *shakes head*

    I’ve found in this case the keyword tools help because they offer numbers against each search term and so you can make a better business case when you have numbers. I ignore them and look at relativeplacement but others like numbers.

    Maybe they taste good with chocolate sauce… who knows *smiles*

  7. Judith Lewis says:

    Sverre – Yep. Well, as you know, I don’t know how to do my job. I have no passion and so will never amount to anything.


    Nice to see you here!

  8. Anita,
    That’s a great answer. So, if your goal is to invest in authority over the long term then you should go for the gold, and make the long tail second priority? That actually makes all kinds of sense. Thanks.

  9. Judith, I love how you stressed that keyword research is aimed towards what the user is likely to search for and not necessarily what the client thinks the site should rank for. It’s easy to overlook this, but first and foremost you need to think of your user’s experience.

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