You need to be extremely careful with keyword research so that you don't miss excellent opportunities or aim so broadly that you target phrases that will never rank well. Here are 10 strategies to guide you along the way:
1. Know your potential customers. We can't tell you how many businesses we've met who simply pick keywords out of thin air. They don't talk to customers or hot prospects in order to determine what might be a useful set of keywords.
2. Start with core words. A core set of keywords - even if too broad - can stimulate creative thinking.
3. Look at the industry. Examine industry trade group web sites and related newsletters to find potential keywords.
4. Study competitors. Some companies make a bigger deal of competitors' keywords than they should, but it's still a useful strategy. Invariably, a competitor will be using a strong keyword or phrase you don't want to miss. Often, however, they load their web sites with single keywords that aren't appropriate. If Internet users are seeking cookware, their search terms shouldn't be laundry-based words. Yet we came across that very example. Be careful which words you use.
5. Be specific - add other words to your primary phrases. If you sell metal, try metal stamping or metal stampers. Or, how about metal stamping companies? Words like services, companies, products, accessories, and many others can really pay off. Ok, everyone wants to rank #1 for terms like "toys" and "sports." It would take more time and budget than you may have to land such terms (through META updates, content adjustments and links).
6. Visit Wordtracker. It's a great tool even if it only collects a sampling of actual searches (more than 300 million). You'll get a good sense of how frequently someone may search. Here is their URL: http://www.wordtracker.com
7. Use your intuition. Don't hesitate to try some ideas; Wordtracker and other sources can confirm whether you have a search term people might or might not use.
8. Limit your selection. Come up with a list of words - 10, 20, 30, maybe 50 or more. But don't get so many that you can't manage them all.
9. Tie keywords to site planning. Pick keywords you can work with over time. Make sure you don't plan to drop a page from the web site or change it so often that your target keywords may be knocked off or irrelevant every 30 days.
10. Study your log files. Web analytics is a great tool if you want to see how your visitors are searching. Study the results and you will come up with a revised set of keywords.
Michael Murray is vice president of Fathom SEO, a Cleveland, Ohio-based search engine marketing (SEM) firm. A member of SEMPO, he also authored the white paper, "Search Engine Marketing: Get in the Game." email@example.com