First, let me start by saying that I don’t like the word “keyword”. It’s a bit misleading as it implies a single word rather than a potential combination of words. I believe ‘search term’ is more accurate in depicting how search engines and search engine optimization works. By my definition, a search term is a word or multiple words that are used to perform a search on a search engine. The goal of search engine optimization and marketing is to get your web site to appear as close to the top of the search results for any search terms that are relevant to what your site offers.
Search term selection should be the first step in the search engine optimization and marketing process, and it is probably one of the most important steps as well. Many site owners believe that if they have a #1 ranking then visitors will begin rushing to their site. This may be true if your #1 ranked search term is actively being searched, but if it does not accurately portray what is on your site you will quickly lose those visitors. In regards to getting and maintaining top listings, keep this in mind: all search terms are not created equal.
Choose Specific Terms
There are many search terms out there that, if ranked high, will generate tons of traffic for you. However if that term does not directly apply to your site or what you offer, then the searchers will be quick to hit the browser’s Back button. You received the hit but not the sale.
Terms such as these are usually categorical and very broad in nature. What you most often find is when these terms are searched, the searcher is unable to find the specific information they were looking for in the search results. Rather than sort through thousands of related results that don’t meet their specific needs, the searcher will perform a new search using more specific terminology.
While these specific terms are not searched as often as the general one-word search terms, they are the terms more likely to achieve top listings and more likely to produce sales. Why? Because when a searcher types in exactly what they are looking for, they are more likely to find exactly what they want. And if your site is at the top, you just made a sale. Also, keep in mind that single-word terms, while attractive by the sheer number of hits they potentially produce, are often time virtually impossible to promote. Why waste the time and effort in promoting a term that is less likely to generate the sales you are ultimately seeking. Don’t promote terms on the basis of it generating hits, but promote terms on the basis of generating sales.
Choose Precise Terms
Another mistake often made is promoting terms that are unrelated to what your site specifically offers. The theory goes that if they were looking for X they would be interested in Y. This is a very tempting concept, however there are a couple of inherent problems with it.
First and foremost, some search engines consider this unethical, and if they find you are promoting a term that is unrelated to what you offer, you can potentially get your site removed from their index. The second problem is that to promote any term, you need to have those terms within the text of your site. You would have to make a concerted effort to place these unrelated terms (terms with which your site has nothing to do with) into your text.
One legitimate way to go about this is to devote a page or several pages to comparisons to what you offer and the unrelated product or service. This can allow you to promote both terms since you are providing legitimate consumer information. You ultimately will want to be careful when promoting certain unrelated terms, however, as there have been past lawsuits regarding sites that have promoted trademarked terms to boost their own sales. As far as I know, these lawsuits have all been settled out of court so there is no set legal precedent, however it did cost the offending parting quite a bit of money to settle. Promoting only relevant terms to the content on your site is the safest and most effective way to go.
Choose Actively Searched Terms
Finally, you want to make sure your search terms are actively being searched. A top ranking for a term that nobody types in the search engine will ultimately be useless in driving traffic to your site. Time after time I’ve seen people be adamant about their search terms because, as the above section mentioned, the terms were very specific what their site offers. The problem was that the terms were too specific and virtually nobody was performing a search for them. The top listings were easily achieved but the end result was disappointing. You need to balance out choosing specific with actively searched terms. They are both equally important.
In general, terms with two to four words are the best. With two to four words, each search term can be both descriptive and specific. If a specific term is typed into the search engine and your site appears, I know you have precisely what I’m looking for.
Choosing the correct terms to promote is important and often times difficult. After proper research is performed you will generally find many terms that could potentially generate lots of traffic and tons of hits. It is more important, however, to focus on those terms that will generate sales, that is, after all, the endgame of this process.