Posted by Jonah A. Berger, Search Specialist (Natural Search)
Picking the best keywords for your SEO campaign is easy, right? I mean, you crack open a cold beverage, prop your feet up, plug a few popular words into your favorite keyword tool and – voila! – you have generated a list of words you need to reach the apex – no, the zenith – of search engine rankings.
Not so fast.
The Global Language Monitor estimates that there are over 900,000 words in the English language and that the one-millionth word will appear sometime next year. Sure, many of the words are ones we've never heard, have trouble pronouncing or will never use – words like antejentacular, which means "breakfast before bedtime," or duniwassal, which refers to a "Scottish gentleman." And how can we forget myrmecophagid, which means "of, like or pertaining to anteaters." Speaking of anteaters, did you know some have 2-foot-long tongues, 3-foot-long tails and can eat up to 30,000 insects per day? If only those insects were conversions and anteaters were search engine optimizers.
But here we are, living in a reality where anteaters know nothing about keyword research and lists of potential words grow like face stubble. How in the name of Col. Jacob Schick do we find the perfect keywords? The first thing you can do is eliminate "perfect" and "keywords" from the same sentence because there is no such thing. If there were, sites that achieve top billing on search engine results pages would plop the umbrella in the sand, slather on the sunscreen and live a long and prosperous life filled with unique visitors, high conversions and sales through the parted clouds. Instead, natural search rankings are up and down like seesaws in a windstorm, and you can never tell what kind of mood a search engine's algorithm is going to be in from one moment to the next.
Instead of combing the beach in search of the perfect keywords, take the following best practices for a spin when assigned your next keyword research project:
BUILD A MASTER LIST FIRST
Remember the close to 1 million words mentioned earlier? Your master keyword list won't be that long (hopefully), but it could number in the thousands. Start compiling your list manually by visiting the most important pages of your site, then plug competitor sites into the mix to learn which keywords are important to them. Keep an eye on the same words found on multiple sites because some of them could very well end up on your final list.
USE MULTIPLE SOURCES
There are scores of keyword tools out there, so don't put all your eggs, er, ants in one snout. Instead, build your list using a variety of sources and avenues. It is always better to have too many keywords than not enough, and you never know where the next great keyword might come from.
CHASE THE LONG TAIL
The long tail, of course, hit the star-studded red carpet in 2004 thanks to writer Chris Anderson. Used to describe how narrowly-targeted goods and services can be just as rewarding as those in the mainstream, the long tail plays an important role in keyword research. Instead of focusing on high-volume, ultra-competitive terms like "cake" or "pie," you should zero in on longer-tail variants that are equipped with the right combination of volume and relevance. Think "best chocolate cake" or "banana cream pie recipes," which, besides driving up your blood sugar levels, can help bring more targeted traffic to your site. Bonus tip: If several keywords on your list are comprised of just one word and not multiple ones, there probably are better options out there. Don’t be afraid to find them.
TRIM THE FAT, BUT NOT ALL OF IT
Lean cuts of meat are graded based on the amount of intramuscular fat they contain (known as marbling), and the same approach should be taken when adding to and then subtracting from your keyword list. No, you can't throw your keywords on a plate and charge $42 for a porterhouse a la Morton's, but what you can do is trim the fattiest of fats and save the rest for later. In a perfect (there's that dreaded word again) world, each word on your final list would be mapped to a page that contains relevant content to be optimized for search engines. However, keyword research projects are more likely to result in having too many words and not enough places to put them. When this happens, map as many keywords as you can to appropriate landing pages and create new pages for the rest.
TAKE YOUR TIME
Rome wasn't built in a day (come to think of it, neither was Minnetonka) and the same goes for effective keyword research and the results that follow. Leave no sedimentary rock unturned as you scour your resources looking for possibilities. Research that is rushed or has more holes than the "Friday the 13th" franchise is almost guaranteed to lead to subpar results. So take your time and keep the following proverb tucked inside your satchel along the way: Good things come to those who wait.