There are several variables that impact keyword selection. These variables can be divided into two groupings - primary selection variables and prioritization variables.
Primary Selection of Keywords
It is important to understand what aspects of keywords make them important to your business. The different variables or characteristics of a keyword help determine whether the keywords are worth consideration in your SEO strategy. Only if keywords pass the primary selection tests can they be subjected to the prioritization variable tests. Considerations for primary keyword selection are:
- Ensuring keyword terms/phrases have sufficient search volumes
- Ensuring the chosen keyword terms are relevant
- Assessing levels of relative competition
If a search term doesn’t satisfy the criterion of sufficient volume, then it is removed from the list. Likewise, if it does not satisfy the relevancy criterion, it should not be considered.
Prioritization of Keywords
Two things to consider when prioritizing keywords are:
- Competitive advantage for the product/services
- Profitability of the products/services associated with the keywords
Prior to entering the vetting process, a Keyword Opportunity List should be generated.
Generating the Initial Keyword Opportunity List
The first phase of creating the initial Keyword Opportunity List involves brainstorming as many keyword ideas as possible.
a. Listing root brands and product/service names (e.g. lawyer)
b. Brainstorming variations of product and brand related keywords
c. Talking to clients to determine what terms they use in search
d. Studying competitors’ sites
e. Adding geographic variations (e.g. Miami lawyers, Dade county lawyers)
f. Adding descriptive variations (e.g. personal injury lawyers, slip and fall lawyers)
g. Taking all the variations and entering them into the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, which will suggest numerous other variations.
With this list in hand, now the keyword list can be vetted.
Choosing Relevant Keyword Terms/Phrases
Once all keyword possibilities with sufficient search volumes are selected, keywords must then be filtered for relevancy. You don’t just want to pull in traffic; you want to ensure that your traffic is of high quality. Quality traffic helps you convert your visitors into customers at a higher rate.
Let’s demonstrate the importance of relevant traffic through an example. If a small law office in Boise, Idaho were able to achieve a ranking for the generic term ‘lawyers,’ they would be inundated with irrelevant calls from people in New York City, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles. Realistically, less than 1% of the queries from the term 'lawyers' would be potential clients from the Boise area, meaning:
It would be a tremendous distraction for the staff taking these calls or filtering out the bad leads
It would eat up the time and resources you need to nurture your more valuable leads in the Boise area
Assessing Keyword Competitiveness
People have a tendency to emphasize traffic over relevance. You need to make sure the search terms you’re targeting have sufficient traffic, but often you don’t want them to have too much either. More traffic usually correlates with high competition.
Let’s go back to the Boise law firm. Let’s say they want to rank for the term ‘lawyer.’ This puts them up against almost all law firms in the English-speaking world, including larger and more powerful ones. As I’m writing this, there are 112 million Google results for ‘lawyer.’ Only 10 are on the first page of Google.
When picking keywords to target, you clearly need to choose your battles wisely. So how do you do that?
There are several free tools for assessing keyword competitiveness. One example is the SEO Chat Keyword Difficulty Check Tool. The higher the score the keyword gets, the more competitive the term, and the more difficult it is to rank for. Generally speaking, terms with a difficulty score over 60 will require much more than just on-page optimization if you want to rank on the first page of search results.
HubSpot Internet Marketing Software is a paid tool that includes a keyword monitoring component. In addition, it also helps you maintain a dashboard of relevant keywords, including their search volume, competition, your ranking and the number of visits from that keyword search.
What You Need to Beat the Competition
After picking your arena, you need to figure out how to beat the competition in that arena. The way to do this is for your site to gain authority and relevance for those terms.
Authority is assessed by understanding the link profile of your site versus those other sites ranking for the keywords you are targeting. External links from other sites are the single most powerful ranking tool amongst the major search engines of today. The three most important elements of these linking factors are:
- Number of links to a website (more is better)
- Number of links to the specific page one hopes will rank for the term in question (again, more is typically better than less)
- The anchor text of links to the specific page (see the upcoming link building chapter for more on this)
As a rule of thumb, one’s site could compete for rankings (in the short term) with other sites with similar link profiles. Tackling sites with more powerful link profiles requires time and dedication. The bigger the gap, the more time, effort and budget is needed. When a large gap exists between two competing sites in the number of inbound links, it is very difficult for the site with less links to make-up ground and compete for keyword opportunities.
Relevance, on the other hand, means looking to see if the other sites are specifically trying to rank for the term(s) in question. On-page relevancy can be quickly assessed by looking at simple elements.
Keyword match in the title of a page
Keyword match in a site's internal navigation
Keyword match in the domain name
By considering both authority and relevancy, it’s a relatively simple process to determine opportunities. If rankings for a given keyword term are dominated by much more powerful sites obviously targeting the term with their on-page factors, then it’s likely best to look for another keyword opportunity. If, on the other hand, those same sites are powerful yet aren’t specifically targeting the terms (or visa versa), then potential does exist.
At the end of this process, you should have a list of keywords that have been vetted. Now, it becomes a process of prioritizing all the remaining keywords. While the same primary assessment variables can still be utilized to determine priorities, secondary assessment variables now can also be considered.
Additional Prioritization Variables
1. Competitive advantage – Does the firm have a distinct competitive advantage (in terms of price, quality, delivery time) that can be leveraged to increase the likelihood of sales?
2. Ability to scale or fulfill – Is inventory or ability to fulfill limited? If so, other products and services with more potential might be a better priority.
3. Profitability – How profitable is a product or service? More profitable items are often more desirable to promote.
4. Lifetime value of item client – If the sale of a given item is made, the current value of the sale is not the only consideration. One should also take into account the average lifetime value of the purchaser of the item in question.
Often, the keyword terms with relatively high search volumes and low competition are the best opportunities. Of course, relevance must be factored into this equation as well.
In addition to looking at volume vs. competition, it often helps to look at the additional prioritization variables.