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Keyword Strategy for Beginners – Keyword Selection and Competitor Analysis

Smart Keyword Strategy

A great keyword phrase to optimize for has:

  1. Relevance to the searcher’s intent.
  2. Search volume.
  3. Few competing pages optimized for the phrase.

What terms will your target market search to find web pages like yours? These are the keywords (or more accurately, “keyword phrases”) for which you’ll want to optimize your page through basic keyword SEO.

Like good marketing throughout the ages, keyword strategy involves a bit of “getting into the head” of your ideal customer. Start by brainstorming all the various terms customers might use to search for the products or services your business provides.

If you’re an oral surgeon in the Bronx, for example, you might consider such phrases as “Bronx oral surgeons,” “Bronx oral surgery,” “Bronx dental implants,” “cosmetic dentistry, New York,” “best implant dentist,” “teeth replacement,” or “wisdom tooth extraction cost.”

Keep in mind you’re not searching for one keyword phrase to target site-wide. You should optimize each page of your website for a different term, thus maximizing your overall visibility.

Be thorough and compile an extensive list — you’ll cut many of the terms from consideration further along in the process.

. . . And forget about the single-word search terms. Though the search volume is high for single words, it’s virtually impossible to rank high for them in search engine results. Besides, customers rarely conduct single-word searches these days. Focus on “long-tail” keyword phrases (incorporating three or more words) for the best chance to find “gems” with low competition and high search volume.

Begin Research Into Volume and Competition with Google’s Keyword Planner

Since you don’t want to optimize for a phrase that no one is likely to search, nor for a phrase so popular that you’ll be competing with too many other well-optimized sites, you’ll want to consider search volume and competition for your phrase.

The Google Adwords Keyword Planner -- a perennial tool for keyword selection.

The Google Adwords Keyword Planner is easy to use even for beginners. Click above for a basic guide to getting started.

Gain insight into these factors with Google’s free keyword planner tool. It’s intended for Google Adwords advertisers, but it’s available for anyone who registers for a free Adwords account.

Enter your phrases, and it returns the average number of searches conducted per month, a graph charting search volume over 12 months, a competition indicator, plus related keyword phrases.

The insights you gain into search volume are the main value here. Using the keyword planner, you can narrow your initial list of keyword phrases down to those with a robust monthly search volume. Now it’s time to narrow it further by canceling out those that are the focus of formidable competition.

The Adwords’ competition indicator can be misleading. Understand that it’s based on competition between Adwords users bidding to appear in Google’s paid search results for the phrase.

Your actual competition is any web page optimized for that phrase. Adwords might indicate low competition among Adword users, when in fact many, many pages are optimized for that phrase on the web.

Use the Google “Allintitle” Search for Keyword Competitor Analysis

An example of a Google "allintitle" search, a valuable step in keyword competitor analysis. A Google “Allintitle” search offers a more accurate assessment of your competition than the Adwords Keyword Planner. Enter allintitle: followed by your search term (in quotation marks, so that it’s searched exactly). Google will serve up all web pages with that search term in their HTML “title” tag.

Since the title tag of a web page is the most important place to include your keyword phrase in SEO, the number of pages with your phrase in the title is a decent indicator of the number of pages optimized for the phrase. Generally, these pages are your competition in the challenge to rank well in search engine results.

Have a look at the top sites that come up in your “allintitle” search. Are they in direct competition with your business, or simply related to the subject at hand?

If your phrase is “Bronx oral surgery” for example, and the top “allintitle” listings are for oral surgeon professional associations, oral surgeon trade journals, supplies for oral surgeons, and continuing education for oral surgeons, a patient who needs an actual oral surgeon will be happy to find your website, even if they have to scroll a bit in order to do so. That phrase might still be worth optimizing for, in spite of the number of existing pages with the term in the title.

Size Up Competing Pages’ Keyword Optimization

Even if the top results are in direct competition to yours, you should examine how well they’ve optimized their pages for your keyword phrase. Perhaps you can do better!

Examine competitors' SEO.  Perhaps you can do better!Click to their web pages and view the source code. Have they used the phrase in all the most important tags for keyword SEO? You might find that the keyword phrase doesn’t appear in the code, or that it’s mentioned very few times. This could mean that the page is well-optimized through other means (such as an abundance of inbound links), or it could mean that the page isn’t well-optimized at all; it’s just the best optimized of the current field.

. . . Perhaps it’s the inbound links? You can investigate that as well. As of this writing, two free tools are available to help you analyze the quantity and quality of links to any site: the Moz Open Site Explorer and the Majestic SEO Site Explorer.

Plug in the URLs of a few of the well-ranked competing pages. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that the top-ranking sites for your keyword phrase have few inbound links, and that the links are from sites with little “authority,” such as the site owner’s personal blog.

If the best-ranking sites for your phrase aren’t well-optimized and have few quality inbound links, you’ve found a keyword phrase with weak competition — a good phrase to focus on.

Use Google Trends to Compare Keyword Phrases and Forecast Search Volume

The Google Trends website is best known for offering insights into what search terms are currently most popular in general. However, it can also help you explore search volume for any term you propose, over time periods you can specify.

Additionally, you can narrow your focus to specific countries, and even major cities. It even offers insight into the context of spikes in your term’s popularity (such as media impact) and can help you forecast future search volume for your term.

A Google Trends chart comparing searches for 'shiatsu massage' in CA and NY. Google Trends' charts and comparative insights help you analyze deeply for better keyword selection.

On average, Californians search “shiatsu massage” more than New Yorkers. Both states, however, show annual spikes in December.

Though many of those features are duplicated in the Adwords Keyword Planner, one special value of Google Trends is how easily you can compare data via the lucid charts it serves up.

You can visually compare the popularity of up to five search terms, various ranges of time, and search volume in specific locations.

Google Trends also uniquely lists related phrases users searched most often in addition to your search term, and “rising” searches — those that show significant growth in the time period you’ve selected.

If you’re torn between which keyword phrases to focus on first, or which to focus on in a particular season, Google Trends charts will help you compare keyword performance for whatever time period you desire.

If your focus is on search engine marketing, that is, using web traffic as the primary means to market your site and its products, Google Trends can help you create content that ties into surging searches. Consider building an “editorial calendar” around seasonal spikes in searches for your terms.

Unlike the Adwords Keyword Planner, Google Trends doesn’t provide specific numbers of searches for your term. Instead, it uses peak search volume as a reference point and shows trends as compared to the peak within the time period you specify.

For more on how Google Trends presents search data, visit Google’s “Working with Google Trends” web page.

Find Long-Tail Keywords with Google Autocomplete

Some SEO specialists recommend mining Google’s autocomplete feature for good “long-tail” keyword phrases. “Long-tail” keyword phrases are phrases with more words, more precise meaning, and importantly, fewer sites well-optimized for them.

The phrase “dental implants” for example (a “short-tailed” phrase) draws about 49,000 searches each month in the U.S. as of this writing. An “allintitle” search reveals there are about 489,000 pages with “dental implants” in the title — a mountain of competition that might make ranking well a considerable challenge.

However, if you type “dental implants” into the Google search box, autocomplete suggests “long-tail” phrases people are searching, such as “dental implants procedure pros and cons,” “dental implants cost,” and “dental implants nyc.”

“Dental implants cost” has only about 4,800 pages with the phrase in the title as of this writing. That’s significantly less competition — and that means your odds of ranking high for this long-tail keyword phrase are much better than for “dental implants” alone.

Yes, it draws only about a sixth of the search volume of the longer phrase, but if you were to optimize your page for it, you’re in the running to rank for both the short-tail phrase (“dental implants”) and the long-tail phrase (“dental implants cost”). 

Realistically, you’re more likely to rank high for the phrase that has less competition, but as your content gains authority and popularity, your chance of ranking high for the more competitive phrase increases.

An image of Google autocomplete in action. Autocomplete suggestions can help beginners with long-tail keyword strategies.

“The search queries that you see as part of autocomplete are a reflection of the search activity of all web users and the content of web pages indexed by Google. . . . algorithmically determined based on a number of factors (including popularity of search terms) without any human intervention,” says Google.

Type the phrase “Are dental implants” into Google, and autocomplete comes up with a bevy of long-tail phrases to complete your sentence — “are dental implants safe,” “are dental implants good,” “are dental implants better than bridges,” “are dental implants worth it.”

You won’t always be able to find search statistics in Google Trends or the keyword planner for the long-tail keyword phrases autocomplete suggests. Still, if the phrase makes it into Google autocomplete, you can be sure that there’s some search volume.

Why? There’s of course the fact that autocomplete suggestions are based in part on search term popularity (says Google). As importantly though, the tool’s “nudging” of users means there are naturally going to be more searches for whatever terms it suggests. All else being equal, it’s better to have a page optimized for the phrase Google autocomplete suggests than for another term.

Choose keyword phrases based on solid search volume and competition estimates gleaned from other tools, then use Google autocomplete to find related long-tail keyword phrases.

Sometimes the perfect “long-tail” keyword phrase is composed of two valuable shorter phrases, both of which are “tickets” in the search results lottery. String them together into page titles, headings, image “alt” tags and captions, and other important places to insert keywords for SEO.

One thing to watch out for: In addition to drawing from terms that other people are searching, autocomplete also makes suggestions based on previous searches in your own search history. Be sure to clear your cache so that you don’t see those terms.

Find Related Long-Tail Keywords with Google “Related Searches”

Google 'related searches' offer a smorgasbord for keyword selection.

Google’s “related searches” can spark additional ideas for keyword selection.

For many searches, Google also suggests related searches at the bottom of the results page. These can inspire keyword ideas.

Click on them and you get a new page of results which likely displays its own related search terms. Following this “trail of searches” can help you discover specific long-tail terms that might fit well with your content.

Remember User Intent — Create Your Pages for People First!

With the abundance of keyword data at your disposal, you might be tempted to build web pages specifically to cater to popular search terms. However, that’s not all there is to keyword strategy.

Don’t forget that visitors have to be happy with the content they find when they land on your page. You’re much better off creating content that will be valuable to people in your target market, and only then examining it for opportunities to optimize with your keyword phrases.

After all, pages rank well based on many factors other than keyword SEO, including links to the page from other sites and the sharing of your content via social media. Valuable content gets linked to and shared more often, keyword optimized or not.

Page rank can in fact be diminished by skimpy content wrapped around a popular keyword. A high “bounce rate” (the number of people who leave your site without visiting other pages), and low “dwell time” can result when people visit your page and find that it’s only nominally about what they googled. Most SEO experts believe search engines penalize sites for high bounce rates and low dwell times.

. . . Not to mention the effect that disappointing visitors can have on customer relations and conversion.

You can’t go wrong focusing on creating valuable content, and only then “putting out the welcome mat” by optimizing it for relevant terms your customers are searching.

  • SitebySunrise weaves SEO into each site we create. Local search and directory optimization for “brick-and-mortar” business sites. Microformatting for sites marketing products and services. Basic keyword research and technical SEO for all. Need an attractive, optimized site, complete with effective copywriting, SEO and promotion? Take advantage of the SitebySunrise Website Package. Start with a free consultation.
Keyword Strategy for Beginners – Keyword Selection and Competitor Analysis
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