Most business owners know that SEO is good for them; they have learned that if their website has a good Google rank, it will be visited by many more potential customers. So they contact a SEO agency and ask for help, without knowing exactly what to ask for; this is very bad, because the SEO guys might suggest keywords that won’t help the entrepreneur get the best return on its SEO investment.
A good approach is to pick keywords (search phrases) that answer a question, solve a problem; we’ve discussed this method in the Blogging for Business 101 article. This time we will concentrate on the elements that turn a keyword into a winner.
Many people use Google’s Keyword Tool to search for keywords that have a big monthly search volume. It’s a good idea, provided that you select the [Exact] match type from the column on the left side of the screen; otherwise, the numbers will be completely off (much bigger than the actual search volumes).
Let’s pretend that the business owner sells weight loss supplements; he will probably want to get a first page Google rank for “weight loss”, right? So he goes to an SEO expert and tells him that he is interested in getting a good rank for “weight loss” and has a budget of $500 / month for SEO. Any search engine optimization specialist knows that it is almost impossible to get a good rank for “weight loss” with this monthly budget, so he has two options:
a) He takes the money and hopes that the business owner will pay him for several months before realizing that his website will never make it into top 100;
b) He tells the business owner that the budget is too small and suggests either a budget increase or another keyword. In this case, I would definitely suggest choosing another keyword because the competition for this search phrase is brutal.
So now the business owner is a bit sad because he can’t target his dream keyword; nevertheless, this isn’t that bad, because he can chase even better keywords, search phrases that have a much higher conversion rate. He is selling weight loss supplements, remember? If (by miracle) he managed to get a good rank for “weight loss”, he would receive lots of visits from people looking for weight loss exercise, weight loss tips, etc – not his merchandise.
Important tip: go after keywords that have a high conversion rate, not necessarily a high search volume. Let’s take a real-life example: the “weight loss” keyword has 201,000 monthly searches, so if you are somewhere in Google’s top 100 you might get (let’s say) 1 out of 200 searchers to visit your website, and maybe 1 out of 100 to buy your weight loss supplement; this means that you are only selling 10 products per month!
Let’s use the “weight loss supplements for women” keyword this time; it’s only got 1,300 monthly searches, but it has a much lower competition, so you might be able to get a first page Google spot for it. And if this happens, you are going to sell many more products because the conversion rate will be much higher (the visitors are highly targeted).
The good news is that you can (and you should) pursue several long-tail, highly targeted keywords; each new keyword that gets a first page Google rank is a new potential income stream for your business. This doesn’t mean that you should target keywords that have a monthly search volume of 10 or so; the #1 website on the first Google page gets about 40% from the total number of clicks, while #10 get about 4% – you’d get about 4 visitors for that particular keyword even if you’d be #1!
A bad practice I’m seeing with some SEO companies is their #30 spot guarantee; they promise that they will get your website in Google’s top 30. This used to be OK 5 years ago, but since the introduction of Google Instant (Google’s predictive search) if you aren’t on the first page you’ll only be getting accidental clicks on the 3rd results page. Try to work with a company which uses methods that really work; change your SEO expert until you find somebody that can get you to the first Google page for your keywords or has the honesty to tell you in advance that you can’t get a good rank for that particular keyword. Give him enough time to prove the efficiency of his methods, though; an interval of 3… 6 months should be enough for that.
So how do we choose winning keywords? They need to have all these qualities:
1. A good commercial value; we need keywords that express a strong commercial intent, for example “buy weight loss supplements online”, “cheap weight loss solutions”, etc. Then, make sure to ask yourself this question: if I choose this particular keyword, will I be able to attract potential buyers that are looking for a solution to their problems? The longer the keyword is, the bigger the chance to get highly targeted traffic that converts well. Your SEO specialist should be able to help you pick winning keywords as well; as an alternative, you can use small AdWords campaigns to test the desired keywords.
2. Decent search volume; go after keywords that have hundreds to thousands of monthly searches. Remember that each new keyword that reaches the first Google page will become an additional source of income for your business.
3. Low competition. This is the part where most people get it wrong, because they use Google’s keyword tool “Competition” column as a reference. That column shows the competition for AdWords, Google’s ad network and doesn’t have anything to do with organic search. In fact, no tool in this world can bring you the winning keywords on a plate, so how do you get it right?
First of all, type “allintitle:your keyword” in Google (without using the quotes) – here’s an example:
This Google operator will list the number of pages that contain the search phrase in their title. If the number of results is below 20,000 you’ve got chances to get good ranks for it, provided that your specialist knows his off-page SEO (link building). I have managed to get first page Google ranks for keywords with over 300,000 direct competitors but I had a good SEO budget, it has taken me about 6 months to do it and this is what I do for a living – here’s an example for a keyword that has over 60,000 monthly searches.
Let’s assume that you are targeting “weight loss supplements for women”; the allintitle operator returns only 4,990 results – can we jump on it? Well, not yet, because we have to study the first top 10 competitors. Type in the desired keyword in Google’s search box, and then check out all the results on the first page; we want to find out the PageRank value for each one of our competitors (Google’s toolbar offers this information) and their number of backlinks.
If you can find at least a few competitors with website pages that have PR0… PR2, this is a good sign; the PageRank value of their home page isn’t that important (unless they are ranking for that keyword with their home page, and not with an internal page). Time to check the number of backlinks; go to Yahoo Site Explorer and type in your competitors’ URLs into the “Explore URL” box; click “Inlinks”, and then choose “Show Inlinks Except from this domain” – we don’t want to count the internal website links as well.
This figure is far from being accurate; from my experience, you’ll have to multiply the value by 3… 10 in order to get the real number of backlinks that point to your competitors’ websites. Do that and you’ll have a rough estimation regarding the needed number of backlinks, thus being able to understand if you can outrank them on the long run or not. Do not discourage if you see big numbers there, though, because not all links are equal; a high PageRank backlink is much more powerful than 100 regular, low-quality links, so if your SEO specialist knows where and how to get them, the competition will end sooner, provided that your competitors have smaller SEO budgets and / or less trained search engine optimization experts.
That’s all for now! I hope that you have learned something from this long article; feel free to post your questions below and I’ll do my best to answer them all.