If you want to attract traffic to your site, you must know which keywords to use to tap into your target market.

We have talked a lot about keywords in our introductory articles on SEO, Search Engines Deconstructed Parts I and II and Latent Semantic Indexing. Now let's look at the keyword concept in depth. A keyword is a word that an Internet user types into the Google or Yahoo or MSN search box to look for information, products, etc, on-line. That word or combination of words brings up pages of listings ranked by relevance to the keyword in terms of content, linkages and so on. If your site isn't using the keywords that your customers are typing into search engines, they are not going to find you and your products. How do you figure out which keywords will be most effective for you? You need to do some analytics.

Keyword list

First, you need to develop a list of all the keywords that might possibly relate to your site and your products. This may be a very large list; that's okay for now. However, you may want to initially evaluate your list in the following ways:

  1. Do the words and phrases you have listed represent the way that your customer describes your product or service? You may consider your site to offer 'technology solutions' or a new 'integration matrix'; your customer is looking for 'management software'. Or, you are selling 'nutraceuticals'; your customer wants to buy 'herbal products'.

  2. Are your keywords specific enough? Amazon may be at the top of the rankings for the keyword 'books' but it probably won't work for you. On the other hand, sorcery books or witchcraft books may bring people to your occult book website.

  3. Think about misspellings if that's common in your area. You can probably plan that someone will be looking for 'neutraceuticals' or 'nutriceuticals' or 'nutracuticals' as well as the properly spelled 'nutraceuticals'.

Once you have a keyword list, you need to test it with search engines. There are several ways to do this.

Test keywords manually

Test out the keywords yourself. Enter keywords into search engines and see what you come up with for results. Your goal is to find keywords that will link you to your marketplace but minimize the number of competitive sites in your arena. This is obviously a labor-intensive process and there are, of course, many programs that will do the testing for you. However, There is a good deal to be said for seeing what your customers see when they search. Even if you use a keyword tool to help you, donít skip the step of acting like a customer and searching on relevant keywords.

Keyword analysis tools

There are many tools in the marketplace, both free and paid-use. Here are some common ones in use.

  • Google Adwords Keyword Tool: This free Google tool tells you the average searches per month on a given keyword, the relative level of competitiveness on the keyword and suggests alternative keywords.

  • Tools I Seek: This free tool gives you 35 different ways to evaluate keyword usage for a webpage.

  • Wordtracker: This is a very complete, subscription, keyword analyser tool that many analysts favour. It's a bit pricey but you can always opt for a short subscription and concentrate your research efforts into a day or week or month.

  • The eSources Market Research Wizard: if you are selling mainly on eBay and need optimisation data for your listings, the The eSources Market Research Wizard offers probably the most advanced eBay research tool on the web.

Making selections

Once you have run your keywords through the analyser and/or done some search engine work yourself, you need to decide which keywords you will focus on. It's useful to develop a spreadsheet to keep track of information you've gathered such as keywords, searches/month, results returned on searches, competitive scores and so on.

Aim to select 10-20 words that either encompass your site's broad appeal or speak directly to more narrow searches. For example, if you sell dolls, you may need to use terms such as dolls and toys but you will get more conversions from terms such as vintage Barbie or Victorian porcelain doll.

Operationalise your keywords

Use 4-5 target keywords per page. If you use more, you dilute the value of the words. Use the words in your headings, metatags, links and navigational buttons. Monitor your pages and see which keywords seem to be bringing traffic to your site. Make adjustments as necessary and you should enjoy more traffic and higher conversion rates.

Using keywords for competitor research

Keywords aren't just for optimising your own site; use your keywords to identify your competitors, and to learn from them.

One of the best ways to find out who your competitors are is to drill down on keywords they are optimising, then compare their efforts with your own. You can find those competitors by using a search term called 'allintitle:' If you sell Central European pottery, you have probably done searches on the word 'pottery' and Poland or Ukraine, for example. Try searching this way: allintitle:Polish pottery.