Getting started with keywords research

Before you can begin analysing which keywords are right for your website; you need to make a broad list of all possibilities. Remember you’re looking at the bigger picture here, don’t worry about search volumes, competition or relevance; we’ll deal with those later.

Brainstorming for keywords

You can’t brainstorm alone so pull together some colleagues or employees. Include people who have direct contact with your customers (which usually means sales and support staff) as they are best positioned to know the language your customers use.

The aim of the session is to act as a brain dump, but you will need some structure to get the most out of it. Start with the obvious and ask your group how they would describe your products or services. Next ask them what they would type into Google to find those products.

Let everybody know there are no ‘right’ answers and no ‘wrong’ answers, and encourage creative thinking. If a member of your team thinks something is a keyword; the chances are at least one of your customers will too.

Next ask your team to put themselves in your customers’ shoes. Cover different demographics by asking how their parents might search for your products, and how this would differ from their friends or children.

WARNING: Jargon, lingo and mumbo jumbo

When researching keywords approach jargon with caution. Business lingo is often so embedded within company culture that staff are unaware they are even using it. They have little idea that the wider-world is baffled by the barrage of acronyms and technical terms they use everyday.

The aim of keyword research is to discover the language your customers use, and it’s unlikely to include business mumbo jumbo. However, identifying jargon as jargon can act as a prompt to help you find valuable keywords your competitors may have overlooked. And serve as a reminder that you may need to clean up your copy.

Using company publications for keyword inspiration

Next, have a quick run through any company publications you can find, including: your current website, brochures and press releases. Mining PR material can be a surprisingly rich source of keywords. If your website has a blog or forum, even better! Take note of how customers are talking about your products in blog comments and forum threads.

External publications as sources of SEO keywords

Once you’ve raided your own public relations material for keywords, move on to industry related magazines (both on and offline), associations and foundations. You’ll get a much broader picture, plenty of new keywords and some great ideas for fresh content.

Mining competitors’ websites for keywords

Everybody is at it, so don’t be shy about ‘borrowing’ keywords from your competitors. Target websites that are performing well in the search results, note that these may not necessarily be your traditional business rivals.

Most importantly, be aware that your competition may well have messed-up their keyword research, so use their keywords as a springboard for your own research.

The best place to start is to with a competitor’s sitemap, which you’ll usually find linked-to from the bottom of the homepage. Not all websites have a sitemap, but if you find one; you’re off to a flying start. If the site has been optimised their link text should mirror their choice of keywords. So you can find everything you are looking for on just one page.

Another method of analysing a competitor’s keyword choice is work your way through their site, recording the title tag (the text displayed in the deep-blue bar at the very top of the page) and the H1 tag (the main on-page heading) for each page. Both tags key elements in SEO and spell-out the traffic they are targeting.

If you are still hungry for more, there are tools which allow you to snoop at the keywords your competitor’s are bidding on in their PPC campaigns. Obviously designed for PPC, they can also throw up some interesting ideas for SEO.

Using your own site search to find keywords

If you’ve got an internal search box on your website, then you’ve got a direct record of ‘how’ and ‘what’ your customers are searching for. It’s gold dust, so don’t ignore it. Analysing the search box tells you: the language your customers use, what they are looking for and what they are unable to find. Use the data to produce new content or tweak existing pages to reflect your new keyword discoveries.

Don’t forget to use synonyms as alternative keywords

Just because you ‘call a spade a spade’, doesn’t mean everybody else does. How about shovel? Or even trowel? Get hold of a thesaurus and look-up synonyms of your root words. For example: If you are selling ‘dog food’ it’s probably worth optimising a page for ‘puppy food’ or maybe even ‘dog meals’. Of course you have to use your judgement and some suggestions you will be able to discount immediately. There are plenty of online thesauruses to choose from, but www.thesaurus.com has been lodged at the top of Google for a long time precisely because it’s the best.

Using product function as a source of SEO keywords

One valuable area of keyword research that is commonly overlooked is to describe what a product actually does. For example: If you are selling solar panels, think creatively about why people want to buy them and you’ll come up new keywords, such as: ‘reduce my carbon footprint’, ‘save the planet’ or ‘going green’.

Seasonal keywords can land big business all year round

Check your calendar to see which dates could provide you with opportunities for extra sales, and new keywords. If you run an online golf store: a ‘nine iron’ can become an ‘Christmas present’, a ‘putter’ an ‘anniversary gift’, or a ‘set of golf clubs’ a ‘retirement present’. And if the Ryder Cup starts next month, how will this affect sales? And how can you benefit from it?