The first step towards great Search Engine Optimisation is identifying and prioritising your keywords. These are the words and phrases that you want your target audience to enter into search engines in order to find your website.
For the purpose of this post, I will use a fictional New Zealand hiking operator as an example case.
Where to begin?
There are a number of starting points. Firstly, common sense. Ask yourself the question, “What would I search for to find my company online?” Make a quick fire list of as many phrases (preferably 2-5 words long) that come to mind. Make sure you pick things that are relevant to both your business and website.
E.g. Our NZ hiking operator may think about “New Zealand hiking tours”, “New Zealand treks”, “New Zealand walking holidays”.
Consider your audience – depending on their age and nationality they may gravitate to different words.
Once you have done this and produced at least 10 terms, head to Google Analytics (assuming you have an account set up for your site) and click on Traffic Sources > Sources > Search > Organic.
This should show you what search terms your current users are finding you with. Depending on how well your website works, this could be already relatively accurate, or it could be alarming random! Add to your list any terms you see that you think are accurate.
You’ve probably now got at least 20 phrases. But did you realise that “New Zealand” can be replaced by “NZ”? And “New Zealand hiking tours” is actually a whole different phrase to “hiking tours in New Zealand”? Not to mention the numerous synonyms for “hiking”… Well this is where a keyword table can help.
New Zealand Hiking Tour(s) NZ Trekking Holiday(s) kiwi Walking Trip(s) South Island Adventure Vacation(s) North Island Camping Touring Outdoors Package(s) Travel Adventure(s) Treks
As you can see, each column contains synonyms or words that can replaced by others from that same column. This gives you a multitude of different combinations of phrases… “New Zealand Hiking Tours”, “NZ Hiking Tours”, “kiwi hiking tours”… and so on. (NB. A plural version can be counted as a whole separate phrase to the singular!)
You can also make a list of random “add-on” words that can be added to any phrase:
This keyword table can also become a really useful resource when it comes to copywriting and phrasing your web content.
Take a 5 minute break to laugh at some invisible cat photos.
So, how do you know which are your best phrases?
This is where my friend Google’s Keyword Tool comes into play. Enter some, if not all, of your phrases from the table.
NB. It might be an idea to restrict the location to your country if your audience is not international (for the New Zealand hiking company this wouldn’t be necessary as they are targeting outside NZ).
Now compare your results. It will show what search phrases are most used globally, and locally if applicable.
I would download this to Excel and highlight the top phrases, before comparing them to what the current website content offers. There is still quite a lot of common sense involved. If you find something that gets high results, but does not describe your business, then don’t use it! There may be phrases that automatically jump out at you as being good to use on certain sections/pages in your site.
You may notice a column in Google’s keyword tool entitled Competition. This gives you an indication of how many other websites are likely to be also competing for the keyword. It can be useful to know when refining your top phrases – beware of only targeting highly competitive keywords that are hard to rank well with. It can be nice to be a bigger fish in some smaller ponds. (>> Read more on long tail keywords.)
Distinguishing between Similar Words
So, “New Zealand” and “NZ” are both used in search. Google will recognise they mean the same thing, but it will still give better results for an exact match. So how do you know which one is used more?
This often depends a little on your audience, but it is easy to research with Google’s Insights for Search. (No, Google do not pay me to promote them, the reason I mention them often is that they are king of search, so we might as well use their tools).
Interestingly enough, when you compare New Zealand tours with NZ tours on Google Insights, it can be observed that the former’s use is decreasing considerably, whereas the latter is steady. Nevertheless, New Zealand still wins. Click the image for more detail.
Change “worldwide” search to “New Zealand” and it is the other way around (kiwis know their country a little more intimately).
You can also use this tool to compare plural vs singular versions of a phrase.
Every website can attract the wrong type of visitor, so whilst you are prioritising keywords you should be also identifying those that could have a negative affect on your SEO. If people consistently land on your site by entering an inaccurate keyword, then they will leave relatively abruptly, increasing your bounce rate and damaging your reputation with Google.
E.g. The New Zealand hiking operator might decide they do not want to be found for “New Zealand holidays” as they do not offer full holiday packages, and they get very little positive traffic from that keyword.
There may also be words that should not be left alone, i.e. they should always be paired with another word. Note down some rules for these. E.g. “this word” may only ever be written when preceded by “this other word”.
You should now be looking at 2 columns. The first has 20-50 keyword phrases, and some are probably quite similar. You may have them in some form of priority, but it isn’t necessary.
The second has a number of negative phrases or words that shouldn’t be used (or have rules about usage). You may also have some rules regarding pairing some words with others.
If you are here, then I’m impressed! You are now ready to begin delving into your SEO strategy.