As the SEM industry grows up, there is less shabby SEO work being implemented, which is great. One way some still cut corners, however, is to shortchange phrase research. Glancing search and competition numbers and picking ones with a certain ratio no longer cuts the mustard. This sin of omission is not to be taken lightly, because it is THE most essential step in a successful SEO campaign. As the SERP space becomes more competitive and the SEM industry becomes more savvy, phrase research needs to dive ever deeper to be effective.
1. Understand your Online Market
It’s easier to craft an effective phrase strategy when you know where you stand in the online marketplace. Offline competitors are often not primary online competitors. Brand leaders are sometimes surprised to see who trumps them online — Gorilla marketers with small offline market share, Wikipedia, Associations, Print magazine websites, and online powerhouses like Amazon or Target, etc. Use these tools to see who is where and determine your site’s likelihood for getting into the mix on page 1 SERPs.
2. Take a Realistic Look at your Website
We call it an SEO Audit here at SageRock and every agency should do some variation on that theme of analyzing where you currently stand in the online market. You can’t know how far you have to go, if you don’t know where you currently stand. Find out and analyze, at the very least, these factors:
- What is your Page Rank and Link Popularity?
- Where do you currently hold decent SERPs and for what phrases (you might not want to lose them when you optimize)?
- What technical hurdles will your site face in SEO (Flash, CSS, Redirect, and URL issues)?
- What are your content challenges (too little, poorly organized, poorly themed / scattered, behind registrations, pdfed, etc.)?
3. Use Several Good Phrase Research Tools
The number of phrases a site can “support” for decent SERPs depends on the competitiveness of the industry and a web site’s Audit results (as discussed and determined by the steps above). Once that homework is complete, then find the competitiveness of the desired target terms.
Here are some appropriate tools to help find well-searched, realistically competitive phrases that relevantly represent a site’s content. Tools will give lots of relevant data to support decision making, so we suggest making a spreadsheet in order to sort and filter through all the variables. This will help the site owner set realistic SEO goals.
- Google AdWords Keyword Tool
- SEO Book
- Wordtracker Free Version
- Term Target
- adCenter Lab
- MSN Ad Intelligence (Excel 2007 Plugin)
4. Developing the Phrase Strategy
Keep an open mind. Companies are often surprised by what people do and do not search. Here are some issues to keep in mind when choosing phrases:
- Consider all the stages in the buying cycle. To some degree, you can use SEO to help control where you position what site content in SERPs to appeal to each buying cycle or demo of search user.
- Try and isolate themes. This is where many sites fail in their SEO because there are so many layers. In addition to offering multiple products and services to multiple demos, a site owner must also consider that each product and service is referred to in several different ways. As an example, “Individual” Health Insurance could also be Private, Personal, Short Term or Self Employed. This type of “Insurance” could also be referred to as Coverage, Plans, or Policies.
- Be realistic on how many themes your site can support and how competitive those phrases and themes can be. For each product and service, several themes can be created. However, a site must have lots of unique content to support many phrases and themes. Most websites that are not in Brand Leadership positions will do well to choose one over-arching theme (such as “Personal” and “Coverage” only) for the website and then only use phrases for products and services that adhere to that theme and have mid-level competition numbers. This is the most effective way to saturate SERPs on relevant terms. Avoiding this step of creating themes can lead to overly diverse phrases and scattered / low SERP results.
5. Develop a Wireframe Strategy for Systematically Optimizing your site(s)
If Key Phrase Research is done correctly, it is a complicated, multi-layered strategy that is difficult to navigate without a visual map. This is why most agencies will develop a wireframe, blueprint, etc. for optimizing the content on a website.
The easiest way to proceed is to crawl the site(s) and get a spreadsheet listing all URLs. Make columns for each URL on page topic, assigned key phrase, title, description, and related page links. Implement the themes that will be grouped on URLs within common folders and directories with common content topics. Create custom, relevant titles & descriptions for each URL. List other pages within the theme in the related page column. Then implementation can finally begin. This wireframe helps content optimizers understand why and how to edit the Meta tag and on-page content for the best SEO results.