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“The first step to optimise any website is to get your keywords right, but this is something that pretty much EVERYONE gets wrong.”
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If you haven’t heard of the term ‘SEO’ before, then here’s a quick description for you:
“SEO is the process of making a site rank higher in search engines like Google, for words relevant to its content and purpose.”
Sure, it sounds easy: “Just make a few changes and I’ll be at the top of the search results, because my site is the best!”, but it’s actually one of the most difficult and most complicated things I’ve ever been involved in.
Google (supposedly) take into account over 200 different metrics when analysing every page on the internet, to determine if they should appear for any keywords and where they should appear, if so.
They don’t say what these 200 things are, but over the years we’ve got a pretty good idea of some of them.
Of all the things that you need to consider when building a site, or individual page, this series of posts details a few of the points that almost everyone seems to get wrong, starting with what I think is the most important part of any online marketing strategy.
How To Do Keyword Research Properly
The first step to optimise any website is to get your keywords right, but this is something that pretty much EVERYONE gets wrong.
Sure, target “BMW” all you want, but your dealership will probably never outrank Wikipedia, AutoTrader, AutoCar and not to mention BMW themselves (and all of their branded social media pages!).
The trap that most people fall into is finding the most popular keywords for their niche/industry. They spend 30 seconds putting the broadest relevant word they can think of into Google’s Keyword Planner, confirms that it gets hundreds of thousands of searches per month (about 368,000/month for ‘BMW’ over the last year), then proceed to plaster their site with that word.
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No, just no.
Think about it like this: Every single broad-ish keyword you can think of has already been researched by over 50,000 marketers and business owners just like you. Every keyword that gets over 10,000 searches per month is likely already being aggressively targeted by 25,000 (or more) websites.
There are 10 spots on the average first page of Google’s search results. If 25,000+ sites each try to optimise their sites as best as they can, all for the same keyword, then your site has to be better than each of those 25,000 websites.
There’s a reason why the top ten results are where they are – they didn’t just appear one day after thinking “oh, I’ll put this keyword on my site because it’s popular and will make me money”.
How To Do Keyword Research Properly : Target Smaller Keywords!
This is especially relevant if your site is less than a few years old, or if you only get a couple thousand visitors per month or less: target smaller keywords!
If 95% of sites are trying to optimise for the goliath keywords in your niche that pull in tens or hundreds of thousands of searches per month, then there should be a goldmine of phrases that only a handful of sites use. With far fewer competing sites, it can be rather easy to rank for your chosen phrases.
Go For The Long Tail
Long Tail keywords are essentially an extension of the head term – if the most popular keyword relevant to your site is “BMW”, then “used bmw for sale” would be far easier to rank for, if you sold used BMWs. Further, “bmw 3 series convertible for sale” is even easier to rank for.
Generally, the more specific a phrase is (the more words you use to describe it), the fewer competitors you will have. I also find that more specific search terms will normally have higher visitor-to-customer conversion rates, as they should land on a page explicitly to do with what they searched for, whereas the intent behind searching for ‘BMW’ could be anything!
You need to target keywords that your site could realistically rank for. There is no point in going after a one word phrase or brand name that pulls in 50,000+ searches per month if you built your site last month. In fact, if your site is less than a year old then you will face difficulty ranking for anything with more than 20 searches per month, unless you get to work on optimisation.
You need to check the competition levels for anything you decide to try to compete for.
Lets take a look at the three phrases mentioned before. So that you can check for yourself, I’m using the Keyword Inspector tool over at Learn2Rank.com, which gives me an overview of how competitive a search term is:
Search Volume (Google Adwords Keyword Tool Data):
BMW 3 series convertible for sale | 880 searches per month
Used BMW for sale | 5,400 searches per month
BMW | 368,000 searches per month
This is a great example of broader terms achieving higher search volumes and increased competition levels, however this isn’t universally consistent – there may be highly specific terms that are extremely competitive (presumably because marketers have been catching onto Long Tails for a few years now).
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The above table shows some data from the Keyword Inspector tool, such as;
- Search Results – the number of pages (that Google knows of) that use that phrase.
- Avg Home PR – Page Rank of the home page, a 1-10 score from Google that indicates authority / quality / trustworthiness / whatever you want to call it.
- Avg URL PR – Page Rank of that particular page. Obviously, higher is better for them, but may be more difficult to outrank for us.
- Avg Links – The number of pages that link to that particular page. This is an indication of how popular the page might be. More links generally is bad for us, as a competitor.
- Competition Score & Difficulty – A rating from 1-100 that indicates how competitive that search phrase is, and the accompanying estimate of how difficult it will be to rank.
To me, this indicates that if I had a range of 3 series convertibles to sell, then I would target that specific term as it should be fairly easy to rank for (and of course the intent behind the search is extremely targeted to the searcher wanting to make a purchase).
The problem with this tool is that the focus is on the authority of the competing pages as a whole, but doesn’t include any indication of how well-optimised they are for that particular phrase. I look at this as an indicator of how long it might take to rank for a keyword (easy could be as quick as a few months* down the line, to several years for extremely difficult keywords), but to go further you need an indication of how optimised the keywords are.
The good news is that any phrase listed as Difficult or above can be thrown out straight away – it doesn’t matter how optimised the competition is, if the top ten are all high-authority pages then it’s going to take a lot of resources to out-rank them.
*In best case scenarios. Without any effort, even a phrase with an “Easy” rating could still take you several years – you may not even get anywhere at all!
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How To Find Keywords That Get Searched For
Your first stop will be the classic Google Adwords Keyword Planner.
Think about the kind of wording that someone might use if they want to arrive at your page. Don’t put in the title of your page or anything that you would use to describe your page/service/product, unless it’s something that a searcher might naturally type into Google.
Be specific, so if you have a page on an ecommerce site selling mens bicycles, put in ‘buy mens bicycles’.
The results I got showed that the term ‘buy mens bicycles’ only gets about 10 searches per month, which I would say is too low and not worth bothering with (unless you have a high conversion rate and profit per sale).
Quickly though, I’ve found some other terms that look good:
Mens bikes for sale | 390 searches/month | Moderate
Mens road bikes for sale | 140 searches/month | Moderate
These phrases are a little competitive though, but they’re on the right tracks.
Next I’m using Keywordtool.io – plug in a keyword and it gives you specific long tail phrases which are perfect if you can produce a lot of content around one very specific subject.
The tool brings up a lot of results, but it generally comes up with phrases that get very small search numbers – most of these have fewer than 100 searches per month.
The good thing is that even for a site that was only built last week, it shouldn’t require too much effort to rank for many of these keywords.
mens hybrid bikes for sale | 90 searches/month | Easy
This keyword is perfect for a small or unknown site to start on – it’s super-targeted to people who are looking to make a purchase for a specific type of bike, so the conversion rate could be 5-10x the normal rate, as only people who are actively interested in purchasing this product will be searching for this term.
Now, this is just one example – you can choose to use several keywords per page. Over dozens or hundreds of pages this method can bring in quite a large amount of highly converting traffic.
What If I Have A High Authority Site Already?
If you have a site that already gets thousands of visitors from a range of search terms, while also having plenty of good quality sites linking back to yours, then you might not need to target long tail words in order to get traffic.
But stay with me:
Whether you have a new/small or old/big website, you will always face problems trying to rank for keyphrases that are too competitive for your site to handle, so it is always worth investing time into performing some research.
Apart from being easier to rank for (generally), specific long tail phrases are simply better all-round – the visitors looking for these terms know exactly what they want (and you can accurately guess what they’re looking for!), so by targeting these terms you can direct the visitor to the exact page they’re looking for, which puts them in a position to make the next move to contact you or purchase.
Conversion rates (from visitors to customers/leads) on the web usually hover around 1% for a semi-optimised site, but when you enter long-tail territory you can filter out all of the people who are just looking for information, so that you only get the ones who are highly likely to make the next move.
A highly optimised landing page for long tails can convert as high as 25%, while a vague category page might only lead to a 1% conversion rate.
Take the previous example:
“mens hybrid bikes for sale” only gets 90 searches per month. We could say that 35% of those searchers might land on our site if we rank #1, which is about 32 visitors. If it’s optimised well enough and because it’s so specific (mens, bikes for sale, specifically hybrid bikes) you could get maybe 5-8 conversions per month from this term.
Compare that to “mens bikes for sale” with 390 searches/month – 35% Clickthroughs brings us to about 137 visitors, then just say we get a 5% conversion rate (which is generous, considering the term could be more specific) gives us about 7 conversions per month.
The number of conversions you’re likely to get isn’t too different, but consider that there’s a difference of 300 searches per month and a vast difference in how difficult it will be to rank.
- Do your research, no matter how big or small your site is. Keyword research is the most important first step in SEO.
- You will have a hard time ranking for anything if your site is relatively new and uknown. This is a long-term process and it will take you longer than 6 months to get anywhere.
- No matter how big your site is, more specific keywords will not only convert better, but they will be easier (and less resource-intensive) to rank for.