Whenever I’m working on a website copywriting project, I ask my client to fill out a questionnaire that helps me understand their business. This enables me to write copy that truly represents the client’s company, mission, and goals.
One of the items on the questionnaire used to be “Please list any keywords related to your website or business.”
I quickly found out that very few small business owners understood what I meant by “keywords.” Sometimes, they would jot down something like “use your best judgment.” Usually, they’d list a few keywords, but it was clear that they weren’t researched keywords for search engine optimization (SEO). They were simply words and phrases that represented the products and services the client offered, and they had been selected at random.
Since most small business owners don’t specialize in web content and design, how could they be expected to know that when an online marketing consultant inquires about keywords, she means SEO keywords?
It wasn’t long before I changed my questionnaire to read “Have you conducted any SEO keyword research?” Rewording the question had some interesting results. Some clients simply put “no.” Others became curious: “What do you mean by keyword research?”
Search Engine Marketing
Search engine marketing is an online marketing strategy that grows traffic to a website by increasing its visibility on search engines. This is primarily done through search engine optimization (SEO).
Search engine marketing is extremely competitive. Most small business owners think that by simply launching a website, they’ll automatically start getting traffic through search engines. But these days, to get traffic through search engines, you have to carefully optimize your website. That means researching and choosing keywords, implementing those keywords, establishing incoming links, and monitoring keyword and traffic performance.
Search engine marketing isn’t for everyone. If you’re on a tight budget in a field with highly competitive keywords, you might be better off with an alternative online marketing strategy. There are lots of ways to draw traffic, and before you start an SEO campaign, you should do some research, consult with an SEO specialist, and make sure it’s a good match for your business.
You can’t just pluck keywords out of nowhere. Well you can, but your results will be less than ideal. Keyword research can be a tedious process. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of possible keywords for just about any search term you can think of. When you conduct keyword research in preparation for optimizing your site, your goal is to find the keywords that will draw the most traffic. You also want the traffic to be targeted to your business offerings.
Let’s say you run a small, independent bookstore. You might think that a good keyword to pursue would be “books.” But that would be wrong. To gain traffic through a keyword like that would cost tens of thousands of dollars in research, content development, and other SEO efforts. You’d be much better off finding narrower and more localized search terms. Another option would be to forgo search engine marketing altogether and use another strategy to increase traffic to your site.
To discern which search terms would most benefit your website efficiently and effectively, you conduct keyword research or hire someone to do it for you. This is a process in which you start with some general and obvious search terms and use various SEO tools to expand the list of terms until there are plenty of choices. Then you review each of the terms to determine how competitive each one will be, how much content you’d have to add to your site to compete effectively, and decide which keywords your target customers are most likely to enter into a search engine. For example, people searching for the term “books” are not necessarily looking for an independent bookstore, (here’s a hint — “bookstore” is a more targeted keyword than “books”) and even if they are looking for such a store, they might be in a distant geographic location.
Here are some questions to keep in mind when conducting keyword research:
- What are the primary products or services that the website offers?
- What alternative or synonymous keywords can be used?
- How much search volume do these keywords generate each month?
- Which keywords are potential customers likely to use while searching for these products or services?
- What does the competition for these keywords look like?
It’s important to note that when we talk about keyword competition, it’s not necessarily the same businesses with which we’re competing. In other words, there will be other sites that are using the same keywords as you, but their product or service offerings may not be directly competing with yours. You’re competing with them to get search engine traffic via keywords rather than competing with them in business.
For many small businesses, a little SEO can really boost traffic. The decision of whether or not to pursue SEO is one that must be made by each individual business, and the decision will likely rest on how competitive keywords are within your industry, the amount of resources you can dedicate to optimization, and the findings that come from keyword research.
One thing, however, is certain: A successful SEO campaign starts with careful keyword research, and keywords should never be chosen on a whim. A little research can go a long way in helping you make smart decisions about whether search engine marketing and SEO is the right online marketing strategy for your business.
Buzz Pro Studio provides a full suite of online marketing services for small businesses, including keyword research, SEO copywriting, and development and management of SEO campaigns. Contact me to learn more.
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.