I started this Search Engine Marketing Series with a definition of the two SEM areas — Search Engine Advertising and Search Engine Optimization. Last week we focused on SEO with SEO My Web Site in 3 Easy? Steps. We discussed the three elements of SEO and what I call their "blind spots".

As we learned last week, the first of those 3 elements is your keyword list. Your keyword list is critical because it is these keywords that will be used for optimizing your your HTML code & programming and build your incoming links. When you start doing SEA you'll find that your keywords are critical there too.

So what are keywords?

Keywords are the word or phrase that someone types into a search engine to find something they are looking for — like "buttermilk pancakes" or "cannon digital camera".

When a searcher types in one of these phrases, a "search engine results page" (aka SERP) is returned with a list of Web sites that the search engine has decided best fits that phrase.

Here are the SERP pages for "buttermilk pancakes" on Google (top) and Yahoo (bottom):

So let's say you own a diner in Durham, NC and you'd like anyone who searches for "buttermilk pancakes" to see your diner at the top of the results page.

That sounds pretty good, right?

I mean the #1 ranking, I know the pancakes sound good and yes — that was a trick question.

In fact, choosing "buttermilk pancakes" as your keyword phrase could not only waste a lot of your resources, it could also cause problems for your business.



Here's why.

First — there is such a thing as too much traffic. How many phone calls do you need from someone in another state trying to place a delivery order or asking you'll mail them your pancake recipe? If your staff time get's maxed out by inquiries from people who won't ever do business with you, your staff won't have time or energy for the people who will.

Second — you will have devoted valuable time and money on a top position for a keyword that may hurt your business rather than help it. Those resources could have been spent far more productively elsewhere.

Unfortunately, many small businesses fall into the trap of choosing the keywords based on volume — thinking the ones that provide the most traffic will be the best investment. But what you really want is to focus on the keywords that will bring you the most business, even if they bring a small amount of traffic.

So how do you do that?:

  1. Focus on "Buying" Phrases — as shoppers get more serious keywords get more specific like "buttermilk pancakes durham nc". Think of what people are searching for when they're ready to buy.

  2. Skip Generic Phrases - tire kickers love generic keywords. As in the example above, try to make your keyword phrases 3 words or longer.

  3. Iterations - try using what I call "iterations" like locations. "durham nc" "north Carolina" etc.

  4. Is it soda or pop? — there may be more than one way to say the same thing. Use Google's keyword suggestion tool to choose the most popular term and maximize your reach.

  5. Do a Search - for each keyword you're considering, make sure you actually look it up in the various engines. You'll glean really helpful data from this.

  6. Know your neighbors - know what kinds of results you'd be surrounded by. Ranking on some keywords can hurt your brand by association.

  7. Know your competition — your search competition — who is at the top of the list for the keywords you want, how big is their site and how well optimized is their site?

  8. List Length - for SEO the size of your list should depend on how much content you have to work with and how fierce your competition is. Start by looking at the keyword density of your competition as a target. For example 5% density means 5 repetitions for every 100 words. You can then figure out the potential size of your list by taking the keyword density you're aiming for vs. the number of words you have available per page and the number of pages on your site.

  9. Product & Brand names — these can be highly valuable. If your customers know them, don't forget to optimize for them.

  10. Don't forget Misspellings — of brand names, product names, location names, your company name, names of prominent staff etc.

Have you been burned by keywords or have they been the path to success?

Share some of your keyword tips below!

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