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Essential Keyword Strategies & Tactics

Internet Marketing Guru Amanda Watlington eats, sleeps and breathes keyword strategies and tactics. That's why I asked her for her latest insights in this fast-changing category. -LC

Why SEO Differs from PPC

For a site to be found through organic search, a search engine must deem it relevant for the query terms. This relationship makes selecting the "right" keywords one of the most important elements of organic search engine marketing.

Selecting keywords for pay-per-click campaigns is a different task. The feedback is more immediate, and adjustments made more quickly, than for an organic search campaign.

A major appeal of pay-per-click keyword marketing is the ability to quantify the results and adjust the program accordingly. Choosing keywords for organic search, however, combines both art and science.

As the Web continues to mature, the tools a marketer can use to guide the keyword selection process have improved. Today, choosing the right keywords still hinges on understanding:

  • How the target audience refers to your products and services
  • What keywords the site supports, and
  • How to use and interpret the information gleaned from the wide array of available keyword research tools.

This last element has actually grown more complex as the tools have proliferated and the level of information available has grown.

Use Keywords Your Target Audience Uses

The right keywords for an organic search campaign are those that fit your audience, not just those that you think might be right. If you assume the searcher knows best, then you will choose the right keywords.

The search engines are making it easier for users to search accurately, too. Google provides hints for misspelled or poorly typed words. Related searches (found at the bottom of Google's Search Engine Results Pages) help users hone their searches. This has affected what searchers place in the query box the keywords.

As a starting point for keyword selection, use the query box and the related searches just as your customer might. Note the data that your searches provide.

Don't just look to see if your site comes up. Consider whether your keywords lead you on a path your audience might follow, based on the problems they are addressing and how your product or service might solve them.

Cast yourself as a customer in each phase of the buying cycle, from exploration to repurchase. You will be surprised at the results.

Stay on Top of Changing Search Phrases and Keywords

If you want organic search to bring you new customers, make sure that you are not targeting industry or company "buzz" that your audience might not know or use.

Although searchers use more words in their queries nowadays, most people still don't like to type in long strings of words. They are more apt to make mistakes. They also expect to find what they want with just a few words. The terms you select for keywords must respect this economy of motion.

Sitting in the customer's frame of reference makes it easier to think about what the potential customer might want. At the time of this writing, we are deep in a recession, and consumers have put their hands in their pockets and are not spending. Just as we must respect the consumer's desire for an economy of motion, we must also look to the consumer's shopping frame of mind.

In a difficult economic climate, don't be afraid to use "cheap" or "discount" in your keyword set. The consumer looking for "cheap hotel rooms" is using an economy of keystrokes to find a good but inexpensive hotel room, not a notoroious fleabag.

"Cheap" is shorthand for "good value," rather than a quality judgment. Let the consumer know that you carry "cheap" - meaning "good value" - products and services. This is good business.

By the way, a quick check using any of the keyword-suggestion tools shows that combinations of "cheap" and "discount" get queried far more often than those that include "inexpensive."

Think economy of motion here and ease of spelling. Remember: Query like a customer.

Surround Product Images with Strong Content

The content on your site is what the consumer is looking for. In its simplest form, if your site is able to provide an answer to the consumer's query, the search engine will facilitate a simple quid pro quo. The searcher gets the information sought, and you get the customer's attention.

If you do not have content on the site that directly addresses and includes the keywords, there is no reason why your site would or should be delivered in response to the query. You bring nothing to the transaction.

What makes this difficult? A site that relies heavily on visual content to carry the message, beautiful images and Flash movies on pages with little text can hardly expect to have a large keyword footprint.

Similarly, a retail site that is little more than page after page of product images with no supporting information will offer a search engine very little to interact with. The search engine must find content on the site to determine its relevancy to the user's query.

Do a search for one of your URLs and then look at the cached version in the text-only format. Follow the links. This text format shows what you are giving the search engine to work with. You may find that you have less text than you thought.

I've worked with retailers who have lots of products that should be fodder for search. I am always startled at how few support the images with content. The bottom line: Support your images with descriptive, keyword-rich text.

Tools of the Trade

The keyword-research tool belt continues to grow. [Check out the SEO and PPC categories at Web Digest For Marketers.] Now, your challenge is not just finding a tool but also understanding how to use it and how to interpret the data it provides.

Keyword Discovery

Access to a large database of keyword data is essential. To fulfill this basic requirement, I have used both Trellian's Keyword Discovery and Wordtracker. Both tools provide a tremendous amount of data. However, I increasingly supplement this information with data drawn from other resources including subscription services such as Spyfu and the free services provided by the search engines.

SpyFu Kombat

When the task is how to compete head-to-head with another site, SpyFu Kombat can compare keywords across multiple Websites, both visually and through a deep data dive. This is an interesting tool, because it provides a sense of the keyword universe each of your competitors' sites is reactive for. A major competitor may have a smaller keyword footprint than you thought. Use this tool to look for competitive niches.


The best insights come from seeing the overlaps and voids created when three sites are analyzed together. This tool will help you locate those keyword niches.

AdWords Keyword Tool

You can also glean a lot of information directly from the search engines. This tool provides search volume trends, showing during which month the greatest number of searches were done for a specific keyword. Similar data on seasonality is available from other services such as Keyword Discovery, but Google's tool is free.

A final thought

Many tools will slice and dice these huge quantities of keyword data. Fitting these sources into a coherent keyword research strategy - now, that is both art and science.

Amanda G. Watlington Ph.D., APR, is owner of Searching for Profit, a search marketing consultancy focusing on the interaction of the consumer with businesses using search engines, RSS, blogs, podcasting or other new media to deliver their message. An industry thought-leader and internationally recognized speaker, Amanda has led sessions on search marketing, Web strategy and social media at Search Engine Strategies, Webmaster World, Ad:Tech and DMA.