Keywords: Speak Your Audience’s Language

It’s amazing how many marketers fixate on their site’s HTML, believing that’s where solutions to their search engine marketing (SEM) challenges are found. But they’re looking inward when they need to be looking outward.

At a recent industry conference, I provided SEM assessments for Web sites belonging to audience volunteers. Participants invited me to review the sites in front of the other conference attendees and offer suggestions about how to initiate, or improve, their SEM campaigns.

Every brave volunteer’s natural inclination was to immediately dig into their sites. That was the last place I wanted to look. It’s as though marketers think their Web sites are the focus of their SEM campaigns. They’re not. The audience is.

Many marketers worry about how they can attain top ranking without first understanding how their audience searches and where in search results they click. Consider these actual assessments I performed for the audience.

Home Healthcare Monitoring

One volunteer’s company offers a system that remotely monitors certain medical conditions, allowing patients who would otherwise be in the hospital to rest comfortably at home. I asked the marketer to name the most important keyword her SEM campaign should target. The reply: “Home healthcare monitoring.”

First, I searched for that phrase on the home page. Nothing. Clearly, this highlights a huge challenge.

Next, I used Overture’s Keyword Selector Tool. This tool determines how many searches were performed on a keyword in the previous month. I input “home healthcare monitoring.” Overture reported not one single search was performed on that term in the previous 30 days — an even bigger challenge.

“Home healthcare monitoring” is an industry term. Sellers of these sorts of solutions use it to describe what they sell. As is too often the case, it’s not how the audience describes it.

Users think about these services in terms of “medical alert,” “alarms,” and “systems.” That the devices are installed in the home apparently isn’t as important to them; they’re interested in the systems’ response features.

Some keywords that were searched:

  • “Personal emergency response”
  • “Medical alert systems”
  • “Medical alert system”
  • “Medical monitoring”
  • “Medical alarm systems”
  • “Medical alert devices”
  • “Medical alert alarm”

Next I looked at Overture’s View Bids tool. “Medical alert systems” has multiple bidders; the current high is a whopping $14 per click. “Personal emergency response” is selling for over $3 per click. How do we know we zeroed in on the right language? There were clues.

First, “home healthcare monitoring” had zero or low-query volume. It also had no paid search advertising bidders. “Medical alert system” was queried more frequently. It had multiple bidders and a high bid price (suggesting it’s valuable to competitors).

This problem is more common than you might think. Marketers think of solutions in their own terms, not in their audience’s terms.

Here’s my favorite example: A major bank’s executives recently asked me to ensure their site could be found on every search for “lending” because they’re one of the world’s largest “lending” institutions. I pointed out what I thought would be obvious: Their audience wants to “borrow.” Smiles slowly formed on their faces. They got it.

Ring Tones

Another assessment I performed was for a large telecom. It’s active in a number of markets, including data, cellular service, and local and long distance services. I was asked to review a wireless product’s Web site.

I asked the audience what keywords should matter to this company. Someone shouted out “cell phone.” Someone else suggested “calling plans.” Then, I heard it. Some smart marketer blurted out, “the brand!”


Big brands often find their branded keywords are the most important and enjoy the highest click-through and conversion rates. Again, I referred to Overture’s Keyword Selector Tool. The most frequently searched term was the brand name and the phrase “cell phone.” But the second most frequently searched term was a surprise to everyone. It was the brand name paired with “ring tones.”

I asked the marketer if ring tones were a profitable business. He assured me they are. Yet the phrase “ring tones” was buried deep in the site. I searched Google and Yahoo for the company name with “ring tones.” Dozens of other companies showed up in the search results but not this major brand.

Though the company is engaged in paid search advertising, no one thought to bid for this keyword phrase or to feature it on the home page, even though the keyword included the brand and was the second most frequently searched branded term.

To experienced search marketers, these examples seem simple and intuitive. To others, especially those new to SEM, they aren’t intuitive at all.

Before focusing on your site’s HTML, first look closely at how your audience searches. How they search is probably different than what you’d expect. Looking inward instead of outward can leave a lot of money on the table.

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