The Keys to a Good Search Engine Positioning Strategy

The keystone of a good search engine optimization campaign is correctly targeted keywords and key phrases. Just as an arch will crumble when the keystone is removed, so, too, will a search engine positioning strategy if you don’t target the correct keywords or key phrases. Target the right keywords and key phrases, and you are on the way to increased traffic. Target the wrong ones and, well, you are in for a lot of work and not much reward.

Since keywords and key phrases are the keystone of a good search engine positioning strategy, how do we know when we have found a winner? Where do all of these “keystone” words and phrases come from? There are several ways to generate compelling and useful keywords and phrases.


When I consult in this area, the first thing I do is have the top brass of a company get together and brainstorm on as many words and phrases as possible that describe what they do. Next, I ask them to combine these words and phrases in meaningful ways. This is usually informative, as management tends to have its own vocabulary — a vocabulary that does not necessarily reflect what their customers use. (See Talk to a Flesh-and-Blood Consumer below.)

Examine Competitors’ Sites

Another rich source for finding keywords and key phrases is to examine your competitors’ sites. What words and phrases are your competitors using to describe their products and/or services? You might even want to check out their source code and see what words and phrases have been inserted into their keywords meta tag. Note: Do not copy these terms verbatim — most likely they are copyrighted. But this is useful to expand the universe of potential words and phrases and help stimulate your creativity.

Talk to a Flesh-and-Blood Consumer

Come on, you can do it! Talk to your customers. Ask them what terms or phrases they would use to search for your site. Their answers may surprise you and conflict with what you have learned thus far.

Analyze Your Web Logs

A rich source of keyword and key-phrase data may be right under your nose — in your Web logs. When a visitor is referred to your page from a search engine or directory, he or she leaves a footprint that reveals what keywords and key phrases he or she used to search for your site. These WebTrends Live demos give examples of keyword and key-phrase information left behind by referrers.

After developing a list of words and phrases, you then need to assess how good they actually are.

You can probably eliminate single keywords, unless it is your brand mark or name. A single keyword is not very descriptive and leads to poor targeting. For example, search for the word “free” in AltaVista. You will be surprised at the number of meanings and interpretations a single word can have (and the number of pages it will find — 115 million in this example). Phrases are much more descriptive and useful than keywords.

So, if you are now considering only phrases, the question still remains: Are they any good? How will you know the answer to this question?

A highly competitive phrase (e.g., “Internet marketing”) targeted to a specific search engine may have no chance at all of achieving a top 30 ranking. The trick is to find phrases that are popular but that don’t have a lot of competition. Sumantra Roy of 1st Search Engine has developed a Keyword Effectiveness Index (KEI) that ranks keywords and phrases on popularity and competitiveness. A high KEI means the phrase is popular (searchers actually use that phrase when searching) but not targeted by too many of your competitors. The higher the KEI, the better the key phrase to target. has combined Roy’s KEI with a huge database of keywords and keyword phrases. For example, take the WordTracker demo to see this combination in action. You type in your keyword phrase, and WordTracker will search for other similar phrases. WordTracker uses its database to assess the popularity of the phrase and also searches search engines to assess their competitiveness. It then calculates Roy’s KEI to rank the various keywords and phrases.

Any phrase with a KEI of 10 or greater is a good phrase to target. And presto! You now have a good indication of which phrases will be popular but not too competitive versus which phrases will likely give you a good return on your investment in search engine optimization — the keystone of your search engine positioning strategy. You are now ready to build your arch.

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