Keyword research is the foundation of every search engine optimization (SEO) program. Everything that you do within your SEO program will build upon the keywords you've selected to target. Yet, time and time again I see people not spending enough time choosing the right words to target on their site.

 mindhunters : keyword profiling

What exactly are the right words? When I do keyword research for a project there are three main factors I focus on:

  1. Volume - how much traffic this keyword will send my way each month
  2. Relevance - how likely the visitor is to convert
  3. Competition - is it possible for my site to rank within the top three results for this keyword

The factors I focus on the most are volume and relevance. To determine the volume I turn to three different keyword research tools. Why three? Well it's pretty difficult to get an accurate traffic estimation from any keyword tool, and by looking at multiple sources you'll be able to get the best idea of how much traffic you can expect from a keyword. The research tools I turn to are:

So now that we know where we'll get the traffic volume numbers from we need to figure out exactly which keywords we should be targeting. To start we'll want to look in the traditional areas:

  • Keywords suggested by your site's content
  • Keywords that are already sending you traffic in your analytics
  • Keywords your competitors are targeting
  • Related keywords recommended by the keyword research tools you're using

For most people keyword research stops there. They look at the basics and find a few high-volume keywords to target and move forward with their campaign. What I recommend you do, however, is take this one step further. The reason is that by only using the tactics listed above you still can't be certain you know what language your customers are using when searching for your product/service. You still haven't gotten in their minds. Something that I like to call, "keyword profiling."

The theory behind keyword profiling is that you need to research customer behavior in order to understand what they are looking for. What you might describe as a "S08SC4 microcontroller" your user describes as an "8-bit microcontroller." Why the disconnect? Because you are an expert in your industry and, in most cases, your customer is not. I like to refer to this as professional blindness.

To get over our professional blindness we need to focus on keyword profiling. In order to build an accurate profile I turn to the following research techniques:

Social Networking Sites

Analyzing tweets, LinkedIn Group message boards, Facebook fan pages and other social networking sites lets you directly dive into conversations being had by your potential customers. I like to identify key influencers in the industry and analyze their tweets to see how they describe the products/services/etc. to their fan base. Looking at replies and mentions of those users is another great way to dive into your customers' minds.

Internal Site Search

I never understand why so many people take the time to look at search engine keyword referrals, but completely skip over their internal site search data. The keywords your visitors search for within your site give you direct insight into the language they are using. Find ways to expand on the list they've given you using your keyword research tools.

Customer Services Representatives

Assuming you have a secretary or someone who interacts with your clients directly (perhaps sales people), you have another direct connection to the language your customers are speaking. Anyone who deals with customers receives the phone calls that say "I'm having a problem with [keyword]" or "I'd like to learn more on [keyword phrase]". The possibilities are endless! Put together a 10-15 questionnaire and pass it out to anyone that deals directly with customers. Phrase your questions in a way that requires them to describe what customers are talking about.

User Testing

User Testing is more than just a useful conversion optimization tool. It can also help you build your keyword profile. When conducting a user test, take special note as to how the user is explaining your product/service. Ask them questions like, "how would you describe this product to a friend?"

Testing Your Keyword Profile

Now that you've built your keyword profile, it's time to see just how accurate it is. Instead of making assumptions and choosing which keywords you think are the right ones, test them with a pay per click (PPC) campaign and find out if you're right! The problem with SEO is that it can take a while before you really start to see results. By testing your keywords before you implement them you'll save a lot of time down the road (and money) because you'll know which keywords are leading to conversions and which ones aren't.

With PPC testing I don't just build landing pages. I actually send them to the page they would arrive on had they came to the site organically and see how they convert. What you may find is that a keyword you thought would work well on a page would actually perform better on a completely different one.

Bottom line: don't skimp on keyword research. Take the time to understand your customers, and if you do, you'll find much greater success in the long run.