Any marketing veteran will tell you that before you begin developing a business marketing plan, you first need to know who your target market is, along with what they want and how to appeal to them. This is just as true online as it is offline.

Keywords & Creating Competitive, Compelling Content

When pursuing an online marketing campaign, whether it be SEO, PPC, social media or link building, keyword research helps you understand your potential audience. And, understanding your audience is key to developing smart and effective usability practices on your website.

Using a variety of keyword research tools that are available online, you can gather some very important intelligence about how to reach your key customers. This, in turn, will help you create a website that improves your on-site customer engagement, visitor satisfaction and total site conversion rates.

When building a better website for your visitors, there are four things you need to know that keyword research will help you better understand.

Customer Terminology

One of the most important pieces of intelligence you can find with keyword research is the terminology your customers are using when looking for the products or services you offer.

Of course, most business people already know the “correct” terminology, as they are smack dab in the middle of their own industry. And if you believe that one, I’ll sell you the merchandising rights to the Star Wars franchise!

The truth is that those of us in any industry know our terminology. What we don’t always understand is how the customer talks about what we do, or, more specifically, how they search to find us.

Some might search for proper names, others might search for results or outcomes, while still others might search in descriptive terms. All these variables are in play because different people have different knowledge levels and think differently about what it is they need.

To give you a quick example from my own industry, many people refer to what we do as [SEO] or [search engine optimization]. Others call it [website marketing], [internet marketing], or even [inbound marketing]. Yet still, many people searching for what we offer are looking for [search engine rankings] or [website promotion].

All those terms can pretty much be used interchangeably. Those of us in the industry might use them with a bit more nuance, but the reality is, there isn’t a whole lot of daylight between them to the average searcher. We might just call it SEM.

But without looking at this smorgasbord of term variations, we might be missing out on a significant customer base if we don’t speak in their terms rather than our own.

Keyword Ideas

Using Google’s keyword tool, a search for [website marketing] minus [marketing] produces different ways people refer to the same general service.

Another good example is the used pre-owned car industry. We’ve all heard the commercials about owning a certified [pre-owned car]. According to Google, [pre-owned cars] gets just under 15,000 searches each month. Nothing to sneeze at, and I suspect it would be a worthwhile keyword to target.

However, car dealers would be wise to dig into their audience’s terminology a bit. If they did, they’d find that a vast majority of searchers use the term [used cars].

Shocker.

In fact, [used cars] is searched approximately 1,000,000 times per month. Pre-owned cars is a good addition to the overall customer acquisition strategy; however, unless dealers go after [used cars], they are leaving hundreds of thousands of potential customers in the proverbial dust. Even if only 0.1% of those searches turned into a customer, that’s 1000 cars per month left sitting on the lot!

Understanding your customer’s terminology helps you write content that speaks the language that not only has meaning for them, but ensures that your content is immediately relevant to how they think.

Yes, the audience may put 2 and 2 together and realize that a pre-owned car is also a used car, but not everyone will. Don’t make your visitors connect the dots. Do it for them.

Customer Desires

Keyword research gives you insight on what your customers desire. This information can help you establish navigational elements, informational call-outs and calls to action that help each visitor get the information they need more quickly.

All good keyword research tools will give you a search volume number. Now these numbers won’t be perfectly accurate, but they will give you a good base of reference for comparing one keyword against the next. As you dig into your product or service categories, you begin to see variations on how searches are made.

For a site that sells kids ski and snow gear, your keyword research would show you that thousands search for [kids ski jackets] while only hundreds search for [kids snowboard jackets].

Both may be great keywords, but by sheer search volume alone, you can see there is far greater consumer desire for ski jackets over snowboard jackets.

Keyword Popularity

Does that matter to your customer? It might. If you only targeted [snowboard] terms you are, again, missing out on a big chunk of your audience.

Let’s look at another example. Say you make or print ID badges. Keyword research will tell you what kinds of badges people are seeking most. Here you’ll find that [photo] is the most searched qualifier for [id badge], followed by [employee], [company], [custom] and [security].

Assuming conversion rates are the same for all these keywords, this information alone can help you decide how best to tailor your business to get the most profit possible. But beyond that, suppose you were just thinking about your product in terms of security badges. Those might have photos, and they typically are for employees of companies; but until now, you were just focused on the term [security].

Now, with your keyword research in hand, you see that you might want to adjust your content strategy to be optimized for some of these other qualifiers as well, giving more customers the information that is most relevant in making their purchasing decisions.

Competitive Keywords

A nice piece of data you can get from your keyword research is the competitive nature of any particular keyword. This is helpful when deciding which keywords you can expect to be successful at achieving top rankings for and in what amount of time.

If you don’t quite understand the competitive nature of the keywords you are targeting, there is a good chance you’ll wind up frustrated when you don’t get results as early as you had expected. That’s because your expectations weren’t rooted in the reality of the competitive landscape.

Keyword Competition

Competition ratings are just one factor in determining if a keyword is viable for your optimization campaign.

Truth be told, some keywords are very difficult to rank for because they have a lot of competition. But it’s not just the number of competitors, it’s also the strength of the competitors that matters as well.

The stronger, more authoritative and rooted your competition is for any given keyword phrase, the more difficulty you’ll have breaking through into top search engine positions. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, it just means you may need more time and money to get it done.

When you find good keywords that are extremely competitive, sometimes it’s best to cede that ground for the time being and focus on something more attainable. The benefit of this strategy is that you can start to get top rankings and traffic more quickly, while building up your own authority in the eyes of the search engines. Some traffic now is better than no traffic for a long, long time.

Targeting the low-hanging fruit helps you build up your credibility and get the sales you need. As you grow, you become more competitive and can slowly begin to go after the keywords that are more and more difficult to achieve, but bring greater rewards once you are ranking for them.

This strategy also gives you the opportunity to test various on-page sales elements, terminology and designs to see which produces the greater return. Failed tests on this scale will produce less of a loss, and successful tests will give you more headway as you gain rankings for the more competitive terms.

User Questions

Another great thing about keyword research is finding out all sorts of questions that people are asking. This gives you plenty of fodder for creating site and social content that provides answers your customers need and finding ways to get your visitors to the content they want.

Keyword Questions

Filtering includes words such as how,when what, where and why can help you find questions that you can answer to drive traffic to your site.

Answering common searcher questions, in whatever forum, can really help you set yourself apart as an authority. Yes, this is the very same authority needed to get rankings on difficult and competitive keywords!

At the same time, providing answers to commonly asked questions can drive traffic for those searching for such answers.

While these may not be direct customers, you are creating a branding effect. Today’s information gatherer very well may be tomorrow’s customer. And who do you think they’ll go to when it’s time to buy? That’s right, the very site that provided them answers to the questions that have helped them make purchasing decisions.

These questions can also help you streamline your internal sales processes, decide what content is valuable, and what’s going to help you ward off unnecessary customers service phone calls. All of these can be pretty important time and money savers.

Keyword research is an important first step in any online or offline marketing campaign. It helps you build a website that engages customers and moves them through the conversion process armed with the information they need to make a smart purchase. The insight keyword research gives you can help you build a website that puts you more in touch with your audience than you would have otherwise been.

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Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Keywords & Content

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About The Author: is president of Pole Position Marketing, a leading online marketing strategy company established in 1998 and currently based in Canton, Ohio.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • cjvannette

    Great piece! I’ve often found a disconnect between industry terminology and shopper terminology. I’m also one of those people who uses search engines to find out the name of something. I recently searched [copper head scratcher]. Bless whoever used the right words to describe this thing – http://www.amazon.com/Head-Massager-colors-may-vary/dp/B001IHXFQK/ref=pd_bxgy_hpc_img_y

  • http://twitter.com/mikecartmel Mike Cartmel

    I’d go a step deeper. Individual company terminology has a great disconnect too. Internal shorthand can become a product in their own mind. When you do keyword research I often find that what they call their product is nothing like what the product is know as in the “real world”

  • http://www.facebook.com/ward.tipton Mark Tipton

    So what tools do you recommend for doing keyword research?

  • Andrew Kapral

    I feel like it should be made clear that Adwords competition is very different from keyword competition – all that “High” or “Medium” means is that other advertisers are bidding on those keywords; but not necessarily that there is any specific level of competition in the SERPs.

  • http://www.kaushalam.com/search-engine-optimization.html Kaushalam

    Up to the point. Like and agreed that customer terminology plays an important role before choosing right keywords.

  • Alessandro De Broi

    … essentially be active in various forums and web pages up the scores of credibility before the public …

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how you talk about your products/services, it’s how your audience searches that counts. You can’t force people to search a certain way and if you don’t adjust your SEO to align with your audience’s search behavior you are leaving a lot on the table.

  • Andrew Kapral

    There are many tools free and proprietary used for keyword research, one of the more popular tools is Market Samurai. SEOMoz offers keyword analysis in their pro packages as well, or if you search for “Keyword Inspector” you may find that the free solution is fine for you.

    When I perform keyword analysis I normally don’t look too much at Adwords data besides search volume, but I will primarily look at the on-page content and optimization, and then equally important in my opinion is using a reputable backlink checking service (I recommend Majestic SEO) to look at the competition’s inbound links so that you may replicate and eventually overcome their strategy and effectively gauge the resources needed to do so.

 

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