Locking In on Keywords

Today, in a special double feature, we take a close look at keywords. First, Bralynn Bell explains how choosing keywords can be the difference between being a fish in a big pond or a whale in a bathtub. Then, Rob Schmults looks at a couple of tools which can help take you beyond keyword optimization.

Avoiding the Competition

By Bralynn Bell

When choosing your Keywords, knowing how to limit your competition is essential. After all, what use is it to you to be a little fish in an ocean of sharks? Find out how to become a big fish in a little pond with the use of the proper keywords. Do it right, and you easily make yourself as obvious as a whale in a bathtub.

“Better to be a big fish in a small pond, than a small fish in a big pond.”

That proverb can be especially true in the big pond that is the Internet, and more specifically, search engines on the Internet. When choosing your keywords, knowing how to limit your competition is essential. Time and again I see people construct their keywords using only one common word, such as “Bike,” and then they question why they aren’t getting ranked high in the Search Engines. When you choose common words like “Bike,” you are typically giving yourself a great amount of unneeded competition.

For instance, at the time of this article, a search in Google for “Bike” returns over 10 million results. Trying to get ranked high in a search term as broad as that is of course achievable, but why put yourself through the burden of competing with 10 million other results when you could just avoid it?

What I also find common is that the same site, which was trying to target a common word didn’t need to because their site was related to something more specific, such as “Bike Safety Equipment.” The search term “Bike Safety Equipment” at the time of this article returns around 400,000 Google results; still a lot of competition, but obviously far less than 10 million. In the case of your search terms, the difference could be even more drastic.

In short, if your web site is related to something specific, try targeting that specific keyword search term, instead of opening yourself up to a ton of competition by being too broad. The less competition you have, the easier it will be for you to rank high in that search term.

A technique you can use to find an excellent keyword search term is to compare how many searches there were for a keyword to how many search engine results there are in that keyword.

One way of doing this is by using a tool like the Overture Search Term Suggestion Tool, which you can use to search for your keyword search term. After entering the term, the tool will show you how many people have searched for your term in the last month. Note: the Overture Search Term Suggestion Tool only shows the statistics from their database, so these results should be used for estimation only.

For example, according to the Overture Search Term Suggestion Tool, “Bicycle” was searched for 111,000 times last month in Overture, and returns over 4.5 million results in Google. “Bicycle Tour,” on the other hand, was searched for 120,000 times last month in Overture, and returns over 1.4 million results in Google.

What this example shows is that the keyword search term “Bicycle Tour” is searched for more often than “Bicycle,” yet has less than a third of results. In other words, if you targeted the keyword search term “Bicycle” you would have less people searching for your keyword, but you would have three times the competition. Using the same technique, you can find out which search terms have the stiffest competition and which search terms are, in a sense, untapped.

If your web site offers products and/or services locally, you can take advantage of that fact, and optimize accordingly.

For the following examples, let’s use a made-up web site for a store called Eddie’s Mountain Bikes. Eddie’s sells mountain bikes in Dallas, Texas. When choosing a keyword search term for this site, the first keyword that probably comes to your mind is “Mountain Bike,” and although that word should be plentiful in your web site, we shouldn’t stop there.

Let’s say, for example, we did stop there, targeting “Mountain Bike” as our main keyword search term for this site. For starters, what does our competition look like? At the time of this writing, the keyword “Mountain Bike” returns over 2,000,000 results – quite a lot of competition.

Secondly, let’s say that we do end up getting in the top 10 results for “Mountain Bike” in Google. What are the chances that the people who are looking to buy a Mountain Bike are going to be in the Dallas area? At the time of this article, there are around 300 million people in the United States and just over 3 million in Dallas.

So in theory, you’ve got a 1 in 100 probability that the person who just found your site is in the Dallas area. What if instead of being so broad, and only using “Mountain Bike,” we became more specific? Let’s use the keyword search term, “Mountain Bike Dallas.” This takes us from 2,000,000 to just over 50,000 results. Also, anyone searching for “Mountain Bike Dallas” is most likely in the Dallas area. In fact, you could also include surrounding areas to Dallas in your keyword search terms.

Take note that you haven’t taken yourself out of the running for the keyword search term, “Mountain Bike,” because that is still part of “Mountain Bike Dallas.” As such, you can be ranked high in both search terms. Had you only targeted “Mountain Bike,” with no trace of Dallas anywhere, you wouldn’t be a contender for the Dallas market any longer.

When becoming more specific in your keyword search terms, you want to keep away from becoming too specific. For example, in the case of the Eddie’s Mountain Bikes web site, you wouldn’t want to get as specific as “Mountain Bike Dallas Maple Street” because that is not going to be searched for often, if ever. I’d suggest finding a good middle ground between a really broad search term such as “Bike,” and a painfully specific one such as “Mountain Bike Dallas Maple Street”.

Make sure you’re optimizing your web site for what it is really about. You may find a good keyword search term that has little competition, but don’t just use it because of that. Visitors are good, but only if they find what they are looking for on your site.

If your site offers products and/or services locally as well as nationally or internationally, make sure you optimize your web site for all of them. The area you want to target more particularly should be what you focus on, but make certain that if you sell products and/or services nationally or internationally, visitors to your site will be able to tell. It would be great to optimize your site locally and increase sales and traffic but not at the expense of eliminating your other target audiences.

If you are optimizing for a site that is for an extremely broad search term such as “Games,” then these above steps may not be for you. I would recommend researching and implementing other search engine optimization methods for your web site in that case.

Bralynn Bell is currently a Technical Writer for CoffeCup Software, with over 9 years in the IT industry. He can be reached at bralynn@coffeecup.com.

Beyond Keyword Optimization
By Rob Schmults

The rate of change online used to be fun. Now, the cutting edge is no longer the target: increasing your ROI is.

Chasing the cutting edge was an exciting occupation with limited accountability. But now ROI, quarterly budgets and the need to grow sales AND profits, have replaced the cutting edge as the object of our efforts. Yet, despite the transition to more traditional business goals and outcomes, the rate of change remains the same.

Take keyword buys. This is still a relatively new phenomena, and many businesses are only just beginning to develop an approach to extract the benefits. Nevertheless, returns have already been compressed as the cost of keywords has quickly been bid up to their marginal rates of return – and on some case beyond. The ease with which results can be tracked has allowed the market to be extremely efficient in pricing keywords, making it harder and harder for the buyers of words to generate a return.

Pockets of gold still exist. Keywords that have been overlooked by competitors can still produce outsized returns. But these pockets will only shrink over time as more buyers enter the market chasing the same end customers.

To continue to extract vale from keywords, marketers are going to have to turn inward. For most companies, getting the traffic is seen as the whole of the equation. But just as important is what you do with the traffic. So even as we are only starting to get the hang of keyword buys, we need to tackle landing page optimization.

To date, landing page optimization has been too hard and too expensive to generate a return. But with the returns on keywords contracting and the advent of new optimization tools, the math behind such efforts looks better every day.

To date, most companies purchasing keywords have to settle with dropping a potential customer off at the home page. In some cases, they can send them to a category level page or to a particular product page. Going beyond this to a more customized landing page that better matches the keyword is simply too taxing in terms of time, people, and money. Simply getting the requisite page changes through IT is often a sufficient barrier in and of itself.

But solutions exist for these problems. Services like Offermatica (http://www.offermatica.com) from Fort Point and Optimost (http://www.optimost.com) offer tools that allow marketers and merchants to cost-effectively manipulate a page to reflect any number of necessary variants. Now a home page can show language and featured products that clearly tie to the keyword that brought a potential customer to the site. Even product level pages can be improved, be it through highlighting particularly relevant product features, adjusting pricing and promotion, or showing related products – all of which tie back to the source keyword.

In the case of Offermatica, the tool works as a hosted application. Portions of a page are defined as “mBoxes” that are then filled based on the keyword source. The content can be anything you would normally put on a Web page: text, images, links, forms, etc. Because it is a hosted application, it bypasses the need for internal IT while providing the responsiveness needed to keep up with rapidly changing marketing requirements. And best of all, both Offermatica and Optimist are priced as a service, eliminating both difficulty and cost as an excuse for doing nothing.

Keywords – at least the ones that work – are not going to get any cheaper. They will remain a valuable tool for driving qualified traffic. But increasingly buying the right ones will only be the first step. Generating a return on the resulting traffic through landing page optimization will be the key continuing to generate positive returns.

Rob Schmults is an independent consultant who has worked in the Internet and e-commerce space since 1994.

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