SEO: The Theory Behind Keyword Research

KEYWORD RESEARCH IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT, VALUABLE, AND HIGH-RETURN activities in the search engine marketing field. Through the detective work of dissecting your market’s keyword demand, you learn not only which terms and phrases to target with SEO, but also more about your customers as a whole.

With keyword research you can predict shifts in demand, respond to changing market conditions, and produce the products, services, and content that web searchers are already actively seeking. In the history of marketing, there has never been such a low barrier to entry in understanding the motivations of consumers in virtually every niche.

Every search phrase that’s typed into an engine is recorded in one way or another, and keyword research tools. However, those tools cannot show you (directly) how valuable or important it might be to rank for and receive traffic from those searches. 

To understand the value of a keyword, you need to research further, make some hypotheses, test, and iterate the classic web marketing formula. This chapter seeks to expose the details of this process and the tools that can best assist.

Understanding the Long Tail of the Keyword Demand Curve
It is wonderful to deal with keywords that have 5,000 searches per day, or even 500 searches per day, but in reality these “popular” search terms actually comprise less than 30% of the overall searches performed on the Web. The remaining 70% lie in what’s commonly called the “long tail” of search (according to Enquisite and as published at

It's wonderful to deal with keywords that have 5,000 searches a day, or even 500 searches a day, but in reality, these "popular" search terms actually make up less than 30% of the overall searches performed on the web. The remaining 70% lie in what's commonly called the "long tail" of search. The long tail contains hundreds of millions of unique searches that might be conducted a few times in any given day (or even only once, ever!), but, when taken together, they comprise the majority of the world's demand for information through search engines.
Understanding the search demand curve is critical, because it stresses the importance of "long-tail" targeted content - pages with information not directed at any particular single, popular query, but rather simply exposing the myriad of human thought, research, and opinion to the spiders of the search engines. As an example, to the right we've included a sample keyword demand curve, illustrating the small number of queries sending larger amounts of traffic alongside the plethora of rarely-searched terms and phrases that bring the bulk of our search referrals.
Traditional Approaches: Domain Expertise, Site Content Analysis :
One of the smartest things you can do when initially conducting keyword research is to use automated tools to brainstorm original ideas with the participants in the business. This can be surprisingly effective for coming up with numerous critical keywords.

Start by generating a list of terms and phrases that are relevant to your industry and pertain to what your site or business offers. The brainstorming phase should ideally result in a list of several dozen to several hundred or more keyword searches that will bring relevant, qualified visitors to your site.

One easy way to begin this process is to gather your team in a conference room and then follow these steps:

  • 1. Produce a list of key one- to three-word phrases that describe your products/services.
  • 2. Spend some time coming up with synonyms that your potential customers might use for those products and services. Use a thesaurus to help you with this process.
  • 3. Create a taxonomy of all the areas of focus in your industry. It can be helpful to imagine creating a directory for all the people, projects, ideas, and companies connected to your site. You can also look at sites that are leaders in the industry and study their site hierarchy as a way to start your thinking about a taxonomy.
  • 4. Broaden your list by thinking of higher-level terms of which your products or services are a subset.
  • 5. Review your existing site, and extract what appear to be key phrases from your site.
  • 6. Review industry association and/or media sites to see what phrases they use to discuss your topic area.
  • 7. List all your various brand terms.
  • 8. List all your products. If your site has a massive number of products, consider stepping back a level (or two) and listing the categories and subcategories.
  • 9. Have your team step back and imagine they are a potential customer, and ask them what they would type into a search engine if they were looking for something similar to your product or service.
  • 10. Supplement this by asking some people outside your business what they would search for, preferably people who are not directly associated with the company.
  • 11. Use your web analytics tool to see what terms people are already using to come to your site.
Gathering this type of intelligence is what a traditional marketer might have done prior to initiating a marketing campaign before the Web existed. And of course, if any of this data is  available to you from other departments of the company, be sure to incorporate it into your research process.

art of seo


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