By Rod Holmes

Keywords is the term SEOs use to refer to the words and phrases that people type into the search engines. If you type in to Google, “Where can I get a blue margarita with an umbrella in it in Topeka,” the entire long phrase is a keyword. You will occasionally read or see keyword/keyphrase, but it’s time for people to give up and just call them keywords.

Keywords Are the Basis for All Internet Marketing

Knowing which keywords related to you or your business are being typed into the search engines, and how often, are vital to Internet marketing. They are the foundation you build upon and the guide you follow in making decisions about what to do. Without this information, you will flap around wildly like a handkerchief around a bull rider’s neck; you’ll flail around in your SEO efforts, your pay-per-click campaigns, and even your blog posts.

I hope I’ve grabbed your attention; I understand these are strong statements. But the fact is, if you have a Web site and are concerned about people finding that site, understanding the keywords related to your Web site is the biggest prerequisite to success. It’s always a good idea to know where you’re aiming before you notch your arrow.

How to Find and Research Your Keywords

I’ve tried a lot of different tools intended to make finding and organizing keywords easy. The problem is, they seldom get it right. I subscribe to the “do it yourself and do it right” philosophy of keyword research. It has the added benefit of only requiring a free tool: Google’s AdWords keyword tool. When doing keyword research here at Chicago Style SEO, we do use additional tools, but the AdWords keyword tool will be more than enough for most business owners and Webmasters.

You will need to sign up for a Google account if you don’t have one. Then point your browser to AdWords and register there using your Google account. You will come to the AdWords home page. Unless you have been using AdWords, you will get a message saying none of your ads are running. Don’t worry about this; just click on the “Opportunities” tab, and then look for the Keyword Tool, over half way down the left column. I don’t know why Google hid this tool so deeply, but that’s the only way to get into it.

Using the AdWords Keyword Tool

You’ll be presented with a simple form that lets you either search for keywords based on a word or phrase that’s important to you, or Google will take a look at your Web site and let you know what it thinks your keywords are. I encourage you to experiment with the Web site option and see what Google thinks your site is about. But let’s explore inputting a word or a phrase.

Let’s imagine you own a barbecue restaurant in Chicago, and you want to know which keywords are important to your Web site and your business. Type barbecue restaurant Chicago into the “word or phrase” section and click “Search.” AdWords will present you with a table of information; each row will have a keyword, a graph showing how much competition there is for the keyword, how many global searches (everywhere in the world in every language), how many local searches (in your country in your specified language) and a month-by-month graph that lets you know the trend in how often the keyword is searched for.

As you look down the list of keywords, you are going to often scratch your head. Why would they return italian restaurant chicago and chicago vegetarian restaurant when I asked about barbecue? It’s because two of the three words do match. You will also notice that AdWords knows that bbq is a common abbreviation for your keyword and lets you know how often it’s searched for. It’s going to make you think about whether you should be concerned about keywords like chicago restaurant reviews and best restaurant Chicago. If there’s enough traffic looking for those terms, you might want to figure out how to incorporate them into your site.

Repeat and Repeat

Now, select a few of the keywords in the list, put them back into the Keyword Tool, and see what Google tells you about that particular keyword. It will likely expand on that word and give you more ideas. Continue to investigate individual keywords and hope that Google will expand on them and give you more ideas on what you should write about in your blog, what phrases you should use on your site, and what keywords you’re missing from your PPC campaigns.

What Are You Looking For?

There is a mountain of information to sort through, but that mountain may be made of gold if you know what you’re looking for! Some ideas to think about include:

  • Which Combination of Words and Plurals Is Most Important? While looking at these keywords, you are going to be looking for combinations of what you think are your keywords. Always remember that restaurant and restaurants (plural) are different keywords. From your keyword research you should now know which of them is more important.
  • Are there Low Competition, High Traffic Opportunities? Be on the lookout for keywords that have relatively low competition and relatively high traffic. These are the sweet spots you want to take advantage of. If you’re doing SEO, write a post that has that keyword in the title. If you’re doing pay-per-click, make a new AdGroup around that keyword.
  • What Keywords Are You Completely Missing? In the barbecue example above, maybe you hadn’t thought about how commonly people search for bbq instead of barbecue, or how often them misspell it barbaque. Maybe you want to start working those keywords into your site or your PPC campaigns.
  • Can You Take Advantage of Common Misspellings? AdWords will often present you with misspellings and abbreviations that you likely had not thought of. These are easily worked into PPC campaigns, but not as easily into your actual site. One idea is to put up a post on your blog simply listing common misspellings of your keywords; that gets the misspellings onto your site in a way that is acceptable.

These are the basics of keyword research, but be assured these small hints are more than most Web site owners ever do! With this information, you will have the tools to tell you which combination of words you should use on your home page, which words to put in your headers, what keywords you should be trying to go after in your pay-per-click campaigns and even what blog posts you should be doing.

About the Author

Rod Holmes is an Internet marketing expert at Chicago Style SEO. You can find more of his thoughts and SEO tips at the Chicago Style SEO blog.

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