Keyword research determines which keywords you should be targeting with the SEO. Most people think that they know which keywords they should target. Instinct can be a great resource, but it can also be misleading and is almost always not enough. For example, “search engine optimization” gets an estimated 16,000 searches a day while “search engine marketing” gets an estimated 8,800 searches a day. If your gut tells you to target “search engine marketing”, you may get great rankings, but it would only get you half of the traffic that you could have had if you had targeted and ranked well for “search engine optimization”. There are also keywords that you may not be able to rank well for without a lot of time and significant amount of link building regardless of how well you optimize your site. In addition, there are keywords that other people will use to search for what your site offers that you would never even think of. So, in addition to letting you know which keywords are more popular, the research can also provide new keywords to target.
Drawing on the analogy in our search marketing parable (found on the Church Marketing Online blog), optimizing your website without first doing keyword research is like trying to pick apples from a tree without first checking to see if there are any apples on it or if the apples are within your reach. You could end up putting in a lot of effort but going home with little fruit from your labor. So it’s a key component of search engine optimization.
What Do I Research?
There are two main aspects to keyword research. The first is popularity, how often are keywords actually searched for. Unfortunately, Google, Yahoo, and MSN don’t share the actual number of searches for specific keywords; however, there are a few tools online which are generally thought to be pretty accurate and Google does offer a free tool that gives the “approximate” number of searches for some keywords. The keyword popularity tools (other than Google’s) use the search data from a number of other smaller search engines along with a few algorithms to predict how many searches are being made for specific keywords. It’s not perfect, but it gives you an idea of which keywords are most popular. Since Google’s figures come from…well…Google, they are probably the most accurate, but even their figures are only estimates and I’ve found that many keywords return a “Not enough data” result. You may wish to use both Google and another keyword popularity tool.
The second aspect to keyword research is competition research. Competition research starts with analyzing your web pages to determine how competitive your site is both in general and for specific keywords. This is sometimes referred to as page strength. I should note that there are really two aspects to page strength, the general strength of a site and the specific strength of a page within the site. For the sake of simplicity, in this article I will use “web page” for both. The next step is to examine the keywords themselves to see how competitive they are. This is sometimes called keyword difficulty. Determining keyword difficulty is done partially by examining how competitive the pages are that rank well for this keyword, though other methods can be helpful as well. This can be tricky for two reasons.