SEO Basics: What Makes a Keyword Attractive?

Panning for Keyword GoldFinding the perfect keyword is a little bit like panning for gold. You sift through loads of worthless sludge and keep your eyes peeled for those precious nuggets that make it all worthwhile. If you’re lucky, you’ll come across a real keeper that gets your heart pumping and pupils dilating. It doesn’t take a skilled miner to separate the nuggets from the rest of the sludge. Gold is much heavier, brighter and differs in greatly in consistency.

When mining for keywords, it helps to understand the qualities that separate those golden keywords from the scores of undesirable alternatives. And since we want to find the best target keyword for each landing page, we truly need to understand the qualities that make a keyword attractive. In most cases, the best keywords to target are those that are relevant, popular, not too competitive and convert well.

Relevancy

Targeting keywords are closely related to your brand, services or products are  more likely to produce the desired results. At its core, the goal of Google Search is to return the most relevant results as quickly and consistently as possible. The exceedingly complex, ever-changing ranking algorithm evaluates whether or not results are meeting searchers expectations. One way this is achieved is by measuring how many searchers return to the search results after clicking on a given result.

Imagine you have suddenly come down with searing pain in your jaw and are looking for a nearby emergency dentist. You pick up your phone and do a Google search for “coral springs emergency dentist”. You click on the first result and discover that the dentist is closed and does not offer emergency services. Perhaps this service was offered in the past or perhaps a gray-hat local SEO was attempting to rank for a valuable, but unrelated keyword.

Regardless, you did not find what you were looking for, so you return to the previous set of search results. This “pogo-sticking” is measured and logged by Google. If it happens often enough, this particular result will be demoted since it (apparently) has failed to satisfy several search queries. Google is becoming adept at identifying how visitors engage with your site content. Ensuring that the content on your landing pages closely matches your target keywords can reduce bounce rates and make your pages stickier.

Popularity

Once you’ve established the relevancy of your target keyword, it’s important to know that your customers are currently using that phrase to search for your products or services. Although it often isn’t necessary (or advisable) to choose keywords with the highest search volumes, there isn’t much value in targeting a keyword that has limited search volume.

The Google Adwords Keyword Planner is one of several keyword research tools that provide approximate search volumes for keyword candidates. If you haven’t used this free tool before, you can open an Adwords account and take it for a spin. Using Keyword Planner, you can identify average monthly search volume for a given geographic region (country, state/prov, city) along with seasonality and trend data. The excerpt below shows a comparison of possible keyword candidates for an eCommerce web page selling 3G mobile phones.

Google Keyword Planner example

If you would like to know more about basic Keyword Planner functionality, this previous post includes a video overview.

Competition

Choosing a keyword with a high level of competition often requires significant time and budgetary resources in order to achieve top rankings. Targeting a moderately competitive phrase can be a savvy way of breaking into a competitive market dominated by a few strong players. One way of assessing the competitiveness of a keyword is to once again look to the trusty Keyword Planner. The competition metric identifies how many advertisers are currently bidding on a particular keyword. If there are many bids for a particular keyword phrase, the level of competition will be high. Keywords with strong Adwords competition often have strong organic competition as well. There is a limited amount of paid and earned real estate on the first page of the search results, so competitive keywords often have strong all-round competition.

Convertibility

Now we’re getting somewhere! Relevant, popular keywords with acceptable levels of competition make good targeting candidates. However, there is another important element that often gets ignored. The type of keyword you target can often have a significant impact on the type of visitors that arrive at your site. If your goal is to generate more leads/sales with your website, targeting keywords with a higher conversion potential is advisable.

As customers progress along the shopping journey, their searches become more specific and purposeful. In general, explicitly transactional and location-based searches have higher conversion rates than more generic, informational queries. As the owner of a jewelry shop, would you expect to receive a higher conversion rate targeting the phrase “diamond rings” or “buy asscher diamond ring”? Which prospect is closer to purchasing?

In the Keyword Planner, convertibility can be approximated by using the advertiser suggested bid price. There is an element of judgment required when evaluating keyword candidates using this particular metric. All things being equal, advertisers are willing to pay a higher price per click for a keyword that has a higher conversion rate or provides an acceptable return on ad spend. Keywords that have a low suggested bid ($0-$1) are often harder to monetize. Finding the sweet spot for suggested bid prices takes some practice, but this metric can be used to quickly eliminate keyword candidates with very low conversion potential as they often have a suggested bid of $0.

Driving customers to your landing pages is only the beginning of the process. Choosing the best keywords will ensure that the right visitors are seeing the right content at the right time. Panning for keyword gold can be a tedious process, but finding that perfect phrase can make all the difference in the future profitability of your optimization efforts.

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