You have to be able to evaluate how competitive your market is, what resources
you have available, and whether you can compete in that market. A large reason
many websites fail is that they are too broad or unfocused. If the top sites in your
industry are Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Hotels.com, and other well-known
properties, you need to have a large budget, create something fundamentally
innovative, or look for a better niche opportunity in which you can dominate.
Keyword Density (KD)
Keyword density analyzers end up focusing people on something that is not
important. This causes some people to write content that looks like a robot wrote
it. That type of content will not inspire people to link to it and will not convert
In March of 2005, Dr. Garcia, an information retrieval scientist, wrote an article
about keyword density. His conclusion was “this overall ratio [keyword density]
tells us nothing about:
the relative distance between keywords in documents (proximity);
where in a document the terms occur (distribution);
the co-citation frequency between terms (co-occurrence);
or the main theme, topic, and sub-topics (on-topic issues) of the
Thus, KD is divorced from content quality, semantics, and relevancy.”
Later on I will discuss how to structure page content, but it is important to know
that exact keyword density is not an important or useful measure of quality.
Why Focusing on Keyword Density is a Waste of Time
About half of all search queries are unique. Many of the searches that bring visitors
to your sites are for keyword phrases you never would have guessed. If a site is not
well-established, most search traffic will be for long, multiword search phrases.
When webmasters start thinking about keyword density, many of them tend to
remove descriptive modifiers and other semantically-related terms. Since some of
those terms will no longer appear on the page, the “optimized” site no longer ranks
well for many queries.
People write, search, and use language in similar ways. Thus, if you write naturally,
you are going to be far better optimized for long-tail searches than some person
who wastes time on keyword density will be.
If the content sounds like it was designed for engines instead of people, then less
people are going to want to read it or link to it.
Time spent tweaking keyword density would usually be better spent creating
additional useful original content.
A major cell phone company refuses to use the terms cellular phone or cell phone
on their site because, in their words, “We don’t just sell analog phones, we sell
digital phones as well. ‘Cellular’ is old technology.” In engineering-speak, ‛cellular
phone’ is a phone that uses ‘cell towers’ to move voice back and forth via analog
frequencies. They didn’t seem to understand that most customers refer to their
mobile phone as a ‘cell phone’ or ‘cellular phone,’ and they don’t give a rip about
the technology that makes the phone work.
Make sure you research how customers search. Do not rely on what the company
prefers to call things.
There are many different ways to find keywords for your website. Some good
keyword ideas are the following:
Words people would search for to find your product
Results from data mining your site-level search information if you have
a site-level search.
Mind map problems your prospective customers may be trying to
solve with your product or service (even if they do not know you exist)
Keyword tags on competitors’ websites
Visible page copy on competitors’ websites
Related search suggestions on large search engines (such as Ask or
Related term suggestions at smaller engines such as Gigablast,
Vivisimo, Become.com, and Snap
Keyword groupings via tools such as Google Sets or the MSN
clustering technology preview
Lexical FreeNet: helps find related terms and ideas using a large
database of related terms (this is well beyond the scope of needs for
most people trying to do SEO)
Tag Cloud: Tag Cloud is a free folksonomy tool showing related terms.
If your product name or brand are related to other common terms in
your market, then you are doing a good job working your brand into
the semantic language. For example, when I search Yahoo! for seo
book, sometimes they show a see also result for seo book aaron.
Sometimes Yahoo! recommends seo book when I search for seo.
Keyword suggestion tools, which are covered in the next section
I frequently optimize for
overlapping terms so I can
rank well for multiple
terms without losing the
focus of the page or
Keyword Selection Tips
The goal of keywords is to choose terms that will bring well-targeted traffic to your
website. Each page on your site can be targeted for a few different keyword
phrases. Typically I like to just do about one to two primary phrases and, at most,
two to three secondary phrases.
Overlapping Keyword Phrases
It makes sense to optimize the same page for keyword phrases that share some of
the same words. A page that ranks well for search engine marketing should easily be
able to rank well for professional search engine marketing or search engine marketing services.
Only Use a Few Keyword Phrases per Page
A note of caution--you cannot optimize a page for 20 different keywords. As you
add more keywords to the mix, you lessen the focus of the page. The page can
start to sound robot-created if you optimize for too many terms. Remember that
converting eyeballs is what matters. People are not likely to link to or buy from a
page that reads like rubbish.
You usually do not want to use misspelled keywords in your body copy or page
title on sites you want to do well long term as they will look somewhat
unprofessional. But a large volume of search queries are misspelled, and that
market is easier to compete in than the core related keywords.
Some sites use “Did you mean…” pages, focusing the page title and heading tag on
the misspelled versions of the keyword and then underneath it say “Oftentimes
Internet searchers searching for xxx misspell the word as blah or blah. If you are
looking for xxx you are in the right place. Learn more about our blah blah blah…”
Search spelling correction will get more sophisticated over time. Search engines
want to correct for misspellings in the search results pages before the users get to
your site. I spoke with a search engine product manager who stated that
misspellings can flag pages for relevancy reviews and usually misspellings for SEO
are not recommended for most websites.
If you are using throw-away domains in competitive environments, then
misspellings might help you get some targeted traffic without requiring as much
effort. Also, if you have a community-driven site, it will naturally include many
misspellings from various bad-spelling authors.
About.com includes “common misspellings” in their page copy in a way that does
not sound or seem spammy. On definition pages they define a word, give its
pronunciation, link to related resources, have a section called “also known as,” and
a section titled “common misspellings.”
Many of About.com’s sections are probably more useful to bots than humans, but
they help draw in traffic. Their site is established enough and the format is
legitimate enough that few people question it.
There is no right or wrong way to play misspellings, just risks versus rewards.
Consider your brand strength, your goals, and how legitimate you can make the
misspelling usage look.
As an example of a creative way to play with misspellings, if you want your page to
look professional but want to get misspellings in the page copy, maybe you can
target that keyword on a page with consumer feedback, and leave misspelled
consumer feedback yourself.
Plural Keyword Versions
Some search engines use stemming, but usually the search results for singular and
plural search phrases are at least slightly different. It is recommended that you
optimize for common versions of your popular keywords, while occasionally using
other versions of the words throughout your copy.
Most major search engines are not case sensitive. Cars is typically treated the same
way as cars.
Most search engines treat hyphens as a space. E-mail is different than email. If a
word is split in half by a hyphen then you should check to see which version is
used more frequently and optimize for whatever versions are commonly searched
If one version of a term is more commonly searched for but is hyper-competitive,
it may make sense to optimize for the less competitive term first.
If a hyphen is sometimes placed between two words, then using either version
(with or without a hyphen) will cause your page to rank better for both versions.
Localized Keyword Research
People use different terminology in different countries. In the U.S., we want taxi
cabs. In London, they look for a car hire. Make sure that if you are not from the
country of your target market, you know what words are commonly used to
describe the products or services you are promoting there. It is typically also
important that your copy sounds local if you are targeting local markets.
Common Keyword Problems
There are a few common problems with keyword selection:
Some people use their internal corporate catch phrases versus focusing
on what people actually search for.
Sometimes words have a more commonly used different meaning that
elevates the estimated traffic and competition level without actually
bringing in any more sales. This especially holds true for shortened
words (examples: pics, cams).
Some people use really generic words that are not very relevant and are
extremely competitive. Optimizing my site for search engine would be a
good example of this. Lots of competition to attain traffic
disinterested in my services.
Keyword Selection is a Balancing Act
You want the words to be descriptive enough for you to qualify the person and
describe your product. You also want the search term to be general enough to be
something that is frequently searched for. The definition of “frequently” changes
depending on industry and the value of a lead, but common sense should help
guide you in finding what keywords are the right ones to target. Sales usually are
far more important than just the quantity of traffic you get. The power of
keywords is in their precise targeting.
Sure you can list well for a really long search term that is present only on your site,
but you want it to be something your prospects are searching for. On the flip side,
it is usually hard to list for a single word such as outsourcing. Selecting keywords is a
balancing act. Most good keywords are two to five words long.
Use your home page to target a primary keyword and use the other pages to target
other keyword phrases. The keyword phrases targeted on each page should also be
terms that describe the contents of that page and terms that are likely to yield
Frequently Asked Questions
A great way to find targeted prospects is to find what ideas and concepts are
important to them in the buying cycle. Why do they buy? Why did they choose
you? What are common questions they may have during the buying cycle?
You can create a page focused around each of the common buying questions to
show up in the search results when people are about to buy and are focused on
those ideas. Answer the questions as best you can and then place your ads or call
to action near the answer.
Ignoring Keyword Research? When to
For some pages, like customer support pages, it makes sense to optimize them for
the problems people might have with your products, but you want to make sure
that in the attempts to optimize the pages you do not hurt the readability.
Not every page needs optimized for keywords. Others may be optimized more for
client usability or linkability.
If you can spread a great idea that other people will link to and reference, then that
is a good thing. Sometimes you can get keywords in great article headlines, but if
making the title keyword rich means that few people will link to it, then I suggest
choosing to go with the story that spreads over the story that ranks. You could
always go back and change the title later after the story spreads.
Keyword Suggestion Tools
There are a variety of tools on the web that do a good job of helping you find
which keywords get searched for and how frequently they are searched for. I will
cover a variety of them, although if you use the free SEO Book Keyword Research
tool and the Google AdWords keyword suggestion tool, you probably do not need
to spend money on any of the other tools.
I typically use keyword suggestion tools just to help find common phrases and
common modifiers. I do not look at the search volume numbers on any of them
as being quantitative, just qualitative. This is especially true when you consider that
much of the relevant search traffic is going to be three-, four-, and five-word
queries, and you might not think of which ones may not show up on any of these
SEO Book Keyword Research Tool
My tool is a free keyword research tool based on the Overture search term
suggestion tool. My keyword research tool pulls keyword data from Overture and
then provides links to many related tools. When you first look at it the tool may
look a bit overwhelming, but all it does is make it easy to cross reference all the best
keyword tools on the market and the related search results for each term. My tool
has about a dozen columns. Above are the first half dozen or so.
The Overture keyword
tool can show inflated
search volumes for
commercial queries due to
automated bots querying
WordTracker also will be
off on certain searches as
The free Digital Point tool
shows both of their results
side by side so you can see
a couple different search
Google Suggest results
may also be organized in
order of search volume
and Google offers a
variety of other useful
keyword research tools. I
created my tool to make it
easy to cross reference all
At the bottom of the keyword search results it also links to blog search, news
search, tag search, and some other vertical search types to help you find related
content, resources, and ideas to write about. This can prove exceptionally useful if
you need one or two more resources to reference to prove a point or complete an
I created a free video explaining how my tool works:
Please don’t hate me for my need to improve my video skills though.
Google AdWords Keyword Suggestion Tool
To the right end of my tool, I link to the Google AdWords keyword suggestion
tool. Google’s tool is free to use.
On top of suggesting related keywords to a word you enter, they also can spider
your site or a competing site or page and return a keyword list based on what they
think a page is about. It is exceptionally valuable to get feedback from the leading
search engine about what they think your site is about.
Since Google has more search volume than anyone else, the odds of them
recommending frequently searched, high-value terms are pretty good.
This tool approximates competition and gives twelve months of historical data. At
the top of the inserted image you can see that they allow you to sort through
different datasets, which include keyword popularity, advertiser competition level,
and cost-per-click estimates. They also make it easy to add keywords to a
spreadsheet that you can use to organize your SEO or pay-per-click advertising
Yahoo! Search Term Suggestion Tool (Formerly Branded as Overture)
Yahoo! Search Term Suggestion Tool is a free tool based on the prior month’s
Yahoo! Search Marketing ad distribution. Please note that the Yahoo! tool
combines singular and plural versions of a word (car and cars would both appear as
car). Since Yahoo! makes money by selling ads and many automated bots search
through their distribution network, their search volume results may run high (some
highly broad and highly competitive commercial terms are off by a factor greater
If you find the term barber shop gets fifteen monthly searches and you find a term
like Seattle barber shop gets 137 monthly searches, then it’s likely some Seattle barber
shop owner is frequently checking his rankings.
Yahoo! has local keyword databases as well. For example, if you search for Overture
suggest UK you should be able to find their U.K. interface.
Google Suggest auto-completes search queries based on search volume. You can
use this tool to help you find many of your deeper keyword phrases after you find
some of your broad keywords. My site also offers a scraper tool that queries
WordTracker is more robust than most keyword research tools. The data pool
WordTracker uses offers better data than what is offered by something like
Overture since it separates plural listings from singular versions and also tracks
meta search click-throughs versus tracking search engine ads. WordTracker also
provides lateral and thesaurus searches, which means that they will return many
keywords like search engine promotion when you search for seo.
Since WordTracker makes money by providing accurate statistics versus selling
keywords, their traffic tends to be a fairer representation of actual web traffic than
Overture’s commercially biased results. Keep in mind that their meta search user
breakdown might be different than the cross section of normal web surfers and
very low search counts will likely produce many anomalies.
WordTracker is a tool well worth trying if you plan to do in-depth keyword
analysis. You can buy a year subscription for a few hundred dollars or use it for a
day for under $10. They also offer a variety of subscription options between those
two time frames. WordTracker also offers a free more limited version of their
keyword research data at http://freekeywords.wordtracker.com/
Like any other keyword research tool, WordTracker data can be spammed by
competitors. For example, if you find the phrase golden nugget to convert really well,
then you can go to Dogpile and WebCrawler and search for an alternate version
(like gold nugget) to make unimportant terms look like important ones and hide the
good ones. I do not think many people do this, but it can be done and is more
likely to happen in competitive markets.
WordTracker has a free informational guide on their site you may want to read
before using there service so you can get the most out of WordTracker.
WordTracker also has a competition feature (called KEI) that aims to determine
how competitive a phrase is, but the KEI tool is no longer very useful in my
opinion. KEI looks at the number of competing pages to determine how
competitive a market is, but that has long been a poor measurement of
competition. Later in this e-book I will give you my tips on how to determine how
competitive a phrase is.
Keyword Discovery is a product similar to WordTracker with a few more features
and a deeper database. WordTracker is believed to have a cleaner database, but
Keyword Discovery offers historical search data and a deeper database.
Keyword Discovery also allows free access to the top terms by category in their
keyword directory, which shows some of the terms that drive traffic from some
smaller engines to sites listed in the various DMOZ categories. Keyword Discovery
also offers a more limited version of their keyword research data at
Keyword Intelligence is HitWise’s keyword research product. It is a bit more
expensive than the other tools with a subscription fee starting at $89 a month.
HitWise partners with Internet service providers and search engines that allow
them to track user behavior of 25 million users. In tracking the behavior and clicks
from various sources, this data is likely to be cleaner than most of the other tools.
Additionally, they track the actual click-through rate of the completed searches to
know what percent of searchers were happy with the results of their search queries.
Having tried Keyword Intelligence, I can say it seems a bit top-heavy (only listing
most of the more generic type terms). The only keyword research tools I usually
use are Google Suggest, Google’s Keyword Tool, my keyword suggestion tool, and
WordTracker. Some of the other tools may be useful, but I get the most value
using all the free tools from the engines and WordTracker. What makes
WordTracker well worth its price is the lateral search and thesaurus features, which
help you think a bit broader about keyword terms.
Another great option for figuring out keywords is to use a broad match Google
campaign and use negative words to filter out obvious bad traffic. As you collect
the various search referrals you can mine that data for deeper keyword sets.
Google Traffic Estimator
The Google Traffic Estimator helps estimate how much traffic you might get from
Google AdWords at a given bid price. If you do not enter a bid price, they will
suggest a price that will make an ad rank #1 85% of the time.
These numbers are exceptionally rough, but it should help you determine if there is
much value in a market. If you are creating a site monetized by contextual ads, it is
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