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Eight Effective Keyword Research Strategies for Search Engine Marketing

Mar 29, 2008
Keyword research is the lifeblood of a search engine marketing campaign - either natural or paid search. If you don't promote your site with the right keywords, you will waste a lot of time and money for nothing. The obvious place to start your keyword research for a pay per click campaign is the search engine's own keyword tool. But you can go far beyond that to uncover keywords that are very effective for your business. Following are eight strategies for creating keyword lists.

1. Comb your web site for keywords. Every different way you have described your business on your site is a new keyword or set of keywords.

2. Think from your customer's perspective. Are the words you use to describe your business really the way other people would describe it? Ask around. Whatever words people are using to search for your kind of business are the words you need to target, regardless of what terms are used in your industry. Don't get so wrapped up in industry jargon that you end up paying for ineffective keywords.

3. Nichebot. We really like this web site. First sign up for an account. It's free to sign up. Then type a starting keyword related to your service or product in the text box at the top of the page and hit the Search button. You can change the middle dropdown list to "Overture" to get a better idea of the actual keywords people are using to search in Yahoo!. But don't overlook the "Word Tracker" option, which will generate a lot of keyword data.

The data will be returned with information such as the number of searches performed for each keyword, the amount of competition, and the KEI for each keyword ("KEI", which stands for "Keyword Effectiveness Index", is a value for the keyword based on a formula that considers the number of searches for the keyword relative to the number of directly competing web pages).

4. You can also look through your web logs for the search terms people have used on your web site or to find your web site. This is critical data that few businesses tap into. If people are already using particular keywords to find your site, then those keywords likely warrant extra promotion.

5. If you sell products, you can combine brands with attributes of the products (color, width, size, etc.) to create many specific, late buying cycle keywords. For instance, if someone is searching for "laptop computers" they are likely in an early stage of doing research in the process of purchasing a laptop computer. But if a person is searching or "HP Pavilion 15 inch laptop", that indicates that he is further along in the buying process because he is researching a specific brand and screen size of laptop.

6. Competitors' brand names. Most search engines' official position on bidding on your competitors' trademarks is that you can only do it if you are the owner of the trademark, a reseller of the company's goods, or if you provide "substantive" information about the company. I suggest you bid on keywords that contain the brand, but don't use the brand name in your ads.

For instance, if you were marketing a line of tennis shoes, you might want to create one generic keyword group that contained brands names such as "Nike", "Reebok" and "Adidas", and then write an ad targeting purchasers of tennis shoes in a general way, without referencing any of the competition. Some of the brand name keywords may get declined, but probably not all of them.

7. Try to think of keywords that reflect different stages of the searcher's buying cycle. Early in the buying cycle, they will be looking for more general information about your type of service or products. Later in the buying cycle, when they are much closer to making a decision and doing business, they will use more specific keywords, which might include particular brands and models, or even locations to make a purchase. Try to use keywords that cover the entire buying cycle. It may be worth bidding higher for the more specific keywords because your conversion rate for those keywords should be higher.

8. Spy on your competitors. There are a couple of online services, such as SpyFu and KeywordSpy, that allow you to see what keywords your competitors are bidding on in their paid search campaigns. This information can be very useful. But don't just assume that your competitors are smarter than you are. You will still need to test to see which of their keywords are effective.

And remember that you are looking for groups of keywords. Unless your campaign is very small, it is unlikely you will want to run a 1:1 ratio of keywords to ads. It will be a very unruly number of ads to have to create and monitor. So you will be assigning ads to small groups of related keywords, and writing ad copy that applies to all of the keywords. So if you're going to run ads for "gardening", you might as well run them for "flower gardening", "spring garden", and "planting". The major search engines have some nice dynamic features that make it pretty easy to customize an ad for multiple keywords.

Using the above strategies, you should be able to greatly expand the number of keywords in your paid search campaigns, and generate many new keyword ideas for natural search. I recommend that you first use your paid search campaign to generate data related to your keywords, and then optimize your site for those keywords that convert at the highest rate, unless the keywords are too competitive to target with SEO.
About the Author
Jerry Work is president of Work Media, LLC, a Nashville-based company that specializes in search engine optimization and pay per click management.
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