Keyword Research on a Shoestring

The cornerstones of any SEO or SEM project are the search terms used to set your content apart from the crowd. These terms, commonly referred to as Keywords, are how all of your potential organic SEO traffic is eventually directed to your site. But how to you determine what keywords fit best for your site? That is a tough question with a number of answers but they may be simpler than you think.

The best place to start with any keyword research is in your own head and there are two ways to do it:

  1. Try to put yourself into a potential customers shoes and think of the non-industry specific, jargony keywords and keyword phrases that you would use as a layperson trying to find your product. Then begin writing your site content keeping those search terms and phrases in mind to be sure they are included


  2. Start writing the content for your site the way you think it should be written and let the keywords fall where they may.

Either way you decide to go, you are well on your way to where you want to be. The next step, once your content is complete and your site is up, is to consult one of the many Oracles that Google provides in the form of online tools. In this case what you want is the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Although this tool was ostensibly developed to be used for Search Engine Marketing (SEM), it is still an excellent Free resource to use to help with basic organic SEO.

So how does it work?
Essentially the way the keyword tool works is that is looks at your site and then tells you what IT thinks your keywords are based on your content. Intrigued yet? I thought you might be. This now allows you to see how the other half sees. You think you are optimizing for one thing and it turns out as far as the spiders are concerned you are talking about something totally different but once you know what it is seeing you can begin make the adjustments that will ultimately help bring in those elusive customers.

From here you can fill out your list with keywords you may not have considered before and start breaking things down using some of Google’s built-in “Grading”. The grading allows you to see how many searches are done each month on a given keyword . You will see some amazing search numbers and be tempted to try to rank for words like “internet”, “Computer”, “Security” (or the like depending on your industry) but don’t get sucked in by really high numbers – remember that the broader the term, the more competition there will be for it. As a small business you need highly qualified leads and you can’t afford to compete with Fortune 500 companies for searches that will, in all reality, have nothing to do with what you have to offer. The best option here is to narrow the terms (or more specifically phrases because single terms will almost always be too broad) as much as possible.

Once you have done that you can narrow it down further by the number of searches (remember, the more the better, but within reason – lets not get greedy). And here is where you play the SEM card for your basic SEO needs. Along with showing the number of searches and a general competition ranking, this tool also shows how much Pay-Per-Click advertising is going for on each keyword or phrase. The more it is going for per click, the more the competition is likely to be for regular organic traffic as well. So when you find your balance between competition, search volume and cost per click, you have found your keyword. then as with everything else you just rinse and repeat until you have ten to fifteen strong keywords that you can use as a base for your site.

Then it is just a matter of optimizing the content on the important pages to make use of up to three of these keywords (and they can be different on each page) and then you can go back to your analytics and other tools to see how things work out and adjust accordingly.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is a reason why there are almost as many SEO companies out there as lawyers in this country, they have a lot of expensive toys and know how to really bend the search engines to their will. Depending on your needs it may make sense to work with one of these companies rather than trying to go it alone but for most small businesses, this tool is just one more example of the ways that individual site owners can take some measure of control over their web presence and enhance their organic search engine traffic without sacrificing any body parts to a deity not of their choosing.