The English language is incredible. There are hundreds of different word combinations that can be used to communicate a single idea. And every combination is a possible SEO keyword phrase for some website. Maybe yours.
So how do you decide which words and phrases to use when you’re optimizing your website to increase search engine traffic? Do you choose keywords with the highest search volume? The ones that you’re already using on your site or that are already drawing traffic? Do you pick keywords with the least competition?
All of these questions must be addressed through the course of developing a comprehensive SEO plan. But for a small business website, one question rises above the rest: Which search terms are your customers using?
SEO Keyword Choices
Putting together a proper SEO plan requires making sensible decisions about which keywords you’ll target and which ones you’ll ignore. Sounds easy, right?
Not so quick. As you conduct keyword research and start developing your ideas for an SEO plan, you’ll be faced with infinite choices regarding which keywords you should include in your SEO campaign. Many (too many) website managers make their decisions in a rash manner, often without giving any consideration to why one keyword might be a better choice over another.
I’ve actually witnessed small business owners and bloggers tackle the decision-making process in an arbitrary, freewheeling manner. So I thought I’d put together an article that addresses some of the considerations that should be involved in making choices among all of your keyword options. And chances are, you’ll have a lot of options.
A synonym is a word that has the exact same meaning as some other word. If you want to find synonyms galore, just open a thesaurus (or visit an online thesaurus). Look up the word buy and you’ll find out that one of its synonyms is purchase. This raises the question: Should you optimize your site with the word buy or with the word purchase? You’ll find that the synonym dilemma arises for every single SEO project. The ongoing challenge in the keyword selection process often involves deciding between synonyms and synonymous phrases.
Search volume refers to the number of searches a term receives in a given time period. For example, the word buy was searched about 68 million times on Google in January. Purchase only received about 6.1 million searches. Still, that’s a lot. A knee-jerk reaction might be to decide that you’ll use the word buy in your SEO because it gets more searches. But there are many cases in which it’s much better to target a keyword with a lower search volume (although you don’t want to go too low!).
If buy gets more searches than purchase, then more people probably use the word buy. Therefore, it will probably have greater competition, which means you have to work harder (publish more content, obtain more links) to see results. That’s something to think about. Maybe you could optimize for purchase and get a big chunk of the 6.1 million searchers within a few months whereas you could spend years optimizing for buy and never see a single visitor as a result of your efforts. Don’t worry about which keywords get the most searches. Worry about which keywords will draw your customers and which ones will realistically lead to success.
The best way to start narrowing down your list of synonyms is to determine which words your customers use when referring to your products. For example, many musicians refer to their recorded music as “records.” They’ll say something like “We made the record for our fans.” But fans don’t search for records. They don’t buy or purchase records. So records are not what music lovers are looking for. The fans — the customers — the searchers — are looking for music. They want to buy or purchase music. Or songs.
Existing Keyword Traffic
Let’s say you sell music on your website. Should you optimize for purchase music or buy music? If you find that you’re already drawing a few visitors every month for the term purchase music but you’ve never drawn a single visitor for the term buy music, then you might be better off working on the former term. Whenever possible, leverage keywords that are already drawing traffic! For example, if purchase music brought in five visitors and you find your site ranked on page 35 of the search engine results pages, you should optimize and try to move up a few pages. Then you should keep optimizing and try to move up a lot more pages.
Some potential keywords and phrases don’t lend themselves to written content. This includes odd phrases that people will enter in search engines but that they wouldn’t normally say or write while communicating with other people. It also includes keywords that are misspelled (many searchers misspell their search terms). Keep in mind that when you finish your research and finalize your keyword selections, they will have to be implemented on your website, which means they will be written into the text. If you want the language on your site to be readable and correct, then you want to choose keywords and phrases that are natural and reader-friendly, otherwise your content comes across as awkward and unnatural — or worse — unprofessional.
Narrow the Search
Let’s face it, there’s a whole lot of music out there. You can get more specific about which music you’re selling. If you’re a full-service music store, you’d do well to choose a bunch of keywords with each one targeting a different genre or artist. You could optimize for purchase rock music or purchase pop music. Sometimes you’ll see better results optimizing for a smaller pool of keywords that are highly specific and have less competition.
How specific can you get? I already mentioned artists and genres. What about format? Do you sell music downloads? Maybe instead of purchase rock music you should optimize for download rock music. As you add more words to your keyword phrase, it becomes a long-tail keyword, which is simply a keyword phrase that consists of several words. These can be effective when used thoughtfully.
SEO is About Asking the Right Questions
When you start compiling a list of possible keywords, your head might spin. It’s truly mind-boggling how many words and phrases can be used to search for one product or service. As you go through your list of keyword possibilities, avoid making arbitrary or meaningless selections as much as possible. When you eliminate or add a keyword to your list, make sure you have a clear reason.
As you go through the process, asking the right questions is essential to informing your decisions. Think about each keyword and determine how many ways that term might be used by people searching for it. Are they more likely to be looking for your offering, or is it possible the search term is even more applicable to something you don’t sell at all?
- If I optimize for download rock music, I might draw searchers who are looking for free downloads.
- If I optimize for purchase rock music, I might get visitors looking to buy sheet music or CDs.
- Should I optimize for buy rock songs online?
Sometimes you end up back at square one, and you have to do more research. But it’s worth it. If you’re going to invest in a serious SEO campaign, you want to get the research and keyword selection right the first time.
Here’s a summary of considerations to keep in mind when making SEO keyword selections:
- Synonyms: Do you have a nice, long list of keyword possibilities to choose from?
- Search Volume: How many searches are conducted for each of the potential keywords?
- Competition: Which keywords are highly competitive in the SEO field?
- Customers: Which keywords do your customers use when looking for your products and services?
- Existing Keyword Traffic: Are you already seeing low volumes of traffic for some of these keywords?
- Reader-Friendly: Lean toward keywords that are correctly spelled and flow naturally within written communications.
- Narrow the Search: To attract customers looking for exactly what you offer, narrow your language. Be specific.
- Long-Tail Keywords: Be more specific. Use longer keyword phrases that have lower search volumes and less competition.
- Finally: Ask the right questions. Make sure you have a reason for each elimination or selection from your list.
SEO is a tedious process, especially the research and keyword selection phases. But once you get past the nitty-gritty grind of poring over lists of words, phrases, and statistics, you get to move to the next step: keyword implementation. And that’s when SEO gets fun.
Buzz Pro Studio provides online marketing services for small businesses, specializing in website design and copywriting as well as keyword marketing. For more information or to get a no-obligation quote, contact me.
Melissa Donovan is a website consultant and copywriter. She is also the founder and editor of Writing Forward and the author of over seven books.