Back to the Basics of Keyword Selection

Arguably, one of the most important basics of search marketing is selecting the right keywords.

For that reason, I wanted to address how you go about determining which keywords are right for your business to “bid” on, and which you should leave for the less savvy of your competitors.

I sometimes forget that I write a Search 101 column, and perhaps lean more toward writing about the industry trends like mobile search or what’s new and hot with Google. That said, for some of you out there just getting into search marketing, you may be like, forget about the new stuff, I just need to get the basics right! So, here we go.

Wear Your Customer’s Shoes

The first place you should start when thinking about keywords is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What are their wants/needs? What might they be looking for?

Many businesses get caught up in the way they think about things or do things internally. For example, if you know all your products by product number or SKU, that’s how you will refer to them. Product No. AV1872 might mean something to you, but to your customers, it probably doesn’t mean much. Getting caught up in industry jargon is a common error. You might refer to one of your products as “enterprise IT security software,” but your customers may think of them as “anti-virus software.”

The best way to get in the shoes – and minds – of your customers is to do a little informal market research. Ask your customers how they would describe your products or services to a friend. If you are unable or unwilling to ask your customers, try any external stakeholders. Suppliers, vendors, partners, advisors – all of these individuals may be able to bring a perspective that you can’t necessarily see being “on the inside.” This will help you build an initial list of keywords to use in your keyword research.

Another important approach is to let the data tell you what they’re thinking. You can do this in two ways:

  1. Check the keyword referrals in your analytics package to see what terms users are currently using to find and enter your website
  2. Use keyword research tools such as the Google Keyword Tool to get a historical view on what users have been searching for in your category

Make Sure the Shoes Fit

When undertaking keyword research, the goal is to uncover as many keywords as possible. That said, you also want to make sure you do some editing along the way. Just because you uncover 5,000 keywords, doesn’t mean they will all make sense for your business. Weeding out irrelevant or inappropriate keywords at the start will save you spending on ineffective terms later on.

Keywords you generally want to avoid (using our enterprise IT protection example):

  • One-word keyword phrases such as “software”
  • Very broad terms that have multiple meanings such as “virus”
  • Acronyms with other applications (e.g., if you had a product called “Computing Information Application,” you might want to avoid bidding on the term “CIA”)
  • Marketing or promotional language that you’d use to describe your product such as “performance driven” or “proven defense”

The best way to determine whether a keyword makes sense or not is to think about relevancy and specificity – if you typed this term into the search engine, what are the various types of products or services you might expect to see in the results? If you can count more than a few, it might not be specific or relevant enough of a keyword.

Of course, if you’re on the fence about a keyword, you can always include it in your account and test it out. You’ll want to keep a keen eye on its performance to avoid allocating too much of your budget into this term. I usually recommend setting up a separate campaign for these “test” keywords so that you can easily control investment into them and easily view performance separate from your core campaign.

Once you’ve weeded out the obvious terms, you want to think about terms you may have missed in your search.

Keywords that are often overlooked (again, keeping with the example):

  • Reverse order phrases (e.g., anti-virus software vs. software anti-virus)
  • Plural or singular versions (e.g., computer security program vs. computer security programs)
  • Misspellings (e.g., anti-malware vs. anti-malwear)

Keep Your Shoes Polished

Of course, the initial setup of the campaign should not be the only time you undertake keyword research and selection. This should be an iterative process over time.

Running regular performance reports to determine which keywords are working and which are not will help you refine and enhance your approach over time. That said, every so often you may want to go back to the drawing board and re-do your initial research to see if anything’s changed. Particularly if your industry changes quickly, if you’ve added any new products to your line-up, or your customer base has changed, you will want to revisit your keywords to see if they are still appropriate. Some refinements may be needed along the way to keep your campaign performing its best.

Julie is off today. This column was originally published on February 28, 2011 on ClickZ.

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