Your Keyword Planning Philosophy

Goldilocks has a lot to teach us about keyword planning. When she tasted the porridge, she avoided the bowl that was too hot, and the one that was too cold, and settled on the one that was "just right." So it is with keyword planning.

You will hear a lot of theories about keyword planning, so you will need to make up your own mind. You will often hear variations on one of these two approaches:

  • The "hot" keyword approach. You have to target very popular search terms if you want to drive substantial traffic to your site.

  • The "cold" keyword approach. You need to target less-popular keywords that have little competition if you want to get a high ranking.

But the world just is not that simple. Either one of these approaches can be right in your situation, or they might both be wrong. The key is understanding your situation and developing a philosophy that matches your Web site's content. The keyword you select cannot be too hot or too cold for your Web siteit needs to be "just right." So let's look at the Goldilocks approach to keyword planning.

Don't Pick Keywords That Are "Too Hot"

Popular keywords are very seductive. We cannot help but have visions of instant success, with searchers streaming onto our Web site overnight. But, as is usually the case in life, it is not as easy as it seems. Let's look at why some words can be too hot for you.

Overheated Subjects

Be honest. Is your organization a household name? Do people naturally associate your products with its generic name? For example, anyone interested in a copier would naturally think of Xerox. They might also think of Canon or Ricoh, but most people would think of Xerox. Is that the kind of Web site you have? Your company is very identified with a product?

If so, you can think big. You should target the word copier, if you work for Xerox. You make every kind of copier there is. Color copiers, collating copiers, copiers that staple, punch holes, and do the fandango. You make every flavor of copier known to man, so why not go after that big broad word?

But what if you don't work for Xerox? What if you work for a small copier manufacturer? Yes, you have many good, loyal customers. And lots of folks think your copiers are even better than Xerox copiers. And they are cheaper, to boot. It is tempting to target that word copier too, isn't it? No need to check how popular that word isyou know it has a zillion searches every day. If you only get some of those searchers, that's okay. You want to fish where the fish are, right?

Well, no. That word copier is too hot for you, and you will get burned. You see, you do not make every kind of copier. You only make color copiers. Uh, personal color copiers, as a matter of fact. You are the leader in the emerging personal color copier market. But of all the people searching for the word "copier," only a few are looking for personal color copiers. Those are your potential customersno one else. Now that does not mean that the only keyword that you should buy is "personal color copiers." It probably makes sense to buy "personal copiers" and "color copiers" and many more, too. But if you purchase paid placement for "copier," you probably are looking at a bad outcome:

  • You get very few clicks. This is what will happen if your paid placement ad for the word copier is titled, "Personal Color Copiers at Low Prices." Most people searching with the query "copier" are not looking for a personal color copier, so they will not click. If your clickthrough rate is low enough, eventually the paid placement service will drop your ad completely. So, you will rack up next to no sales on your paid placement campaign.

  • You get many clicks, but low conversion. This is your probable outcome if your "copier" ad says, "Low-priced copiers with free delivery." Now, you might have low-priced copiers and you might offer free delivery, but you only sell personal color copiers, so many of the folks will click your ad, see you do not have what they want, and abandon your site. After you are charged for the click, of course. Charged handsomely, in fact, because that word copier is very expensive (because it gets a zillion searches a day). So, you will rapidly run through your paid placement budget, racking up next to no sales.

But, you might ask, "Suppose I do not use paid placement? I can go after organic search." Think again. There are millions of pages with the word copier on them, so why should Yahoo! show yours on page one? There are many other companies that sell a wider range of copiers and are more well known (and have more links to their sites). On the other hand, you might have a great chance at getting a high ranking for personal copier or color copier or especially personal color copier.

And think about it. If you do optimize your page for those more attainable phrases, the word copier will be all over the page anyway. So if by some chance you do have a shot at ranking well for copier, you will. But it is more realistic to pick terms that are just right for your Web site, rather than too hot, because it will cost you just as much to perform organic optimization for the wrong keyword as for the right one. You just will not drive any qualified traffic with the wrong one. Just as with paid placement, most people searching for "copier" are not looking for you, anyway. So what is the point of ranking well for copier when it will not get you many conversions?

Before you go overboard in the other direction, however, there are times when a very broad keyword is "just right" for you. Consider whether Apple Computer should target the word computer. At first blush, you might reject computer as being too broad a term. After all, most people looking for a computer want a computer that runs the Windows operating system and many want servers, which Apple is not well known for. But do people that have specific ideas about what they want (such as a Windows server) actually search for the word "computer"? Probably not. It might be that the novices who know they want to buy "a computer" are exactly the kind of people who might buy an Apple.

The most important thing to learn is not to be seduced by the high volumes for the most popular keywords. Go after the keywords that are the closest match for your site, even if they are not the most popular ones. If it turns out that those popular keywords are "just right" for your site, by all means target them. But don't overreach. Don't go after words that are too hot for you, because you will not get the conversions you want anyway.

Overheated Meanings

There is no best-selling book titled Lincoln: The Man, the Car, the Tunnel, because even though a Lincoln Continental and the Hudson River crossing share the name of America's sixteenth president, they do not have much else in common. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that words with multiple meanings are another cause of "too hot" keywords. In addition, slightly different words sometimes have very different meanings.

Overheated meanings occur in a number of common situations:

  • Multiple audiences. The keyword security means one thing to an antivirus software maker and something else to a home burglar alarm installer. As with the copier example, sometimes you can add qualifying words (computer security and home security) to bring down the temperature and make a keyword "just right." At other times, you might decide to just avoid that keyword entirely.

  • Related meanings. If you sell auto insurance, the difference in your conversion rate between searchers for "car" and "car insurance" is substantial. Stay away from a broad term when a more specific one will do. Yes, some people buying cars are in the market for car insurance, too, but you are panning an awful lot of water for a few gold nuggets.

  • Multiple intents. Although it is true that the word hotel and the word lodging mean the same thing, a hotel operator will find much higher conversion rates for the word hotel itself. Searchers for "lodging" are often looking for alternatives to hotels, such as bed-and-breakfast inns, which is why they used the less-common word. Job seekers look for the word "job," whereas employers search for help with "recruitment"both might search for "recruiters" (which might be too hot a word).

  • Singular/plural meaning changes. Search engines typically look for both the singular and plural forms of a word, but that can sometimes cause overheating. The word sale has a different meaning than sales"appliance sale" might be searched for by a consumer, whereas a job-seeking salesman might want "appliance sales"and that difference can overheat the keyword. Cosmetic and cosmetics are two more words that seem seductively similar in meaning, but in fact are not. Think carefully about every keyword you target to see whether changing from singular to plural changes the meaning.

  • Acronyms. It is quite common for the same acronym to mean several things, causing the keyword to be overheated. Does CD mean a disc or a certificate of deposit? Does SCM stand for supply chain management or software configuration management or source control management? Actually, it stands for all three, which is why it is hard to get qualified traffic when your site matches just one meaning of the word.

Most search marketers follow "the more, the merrier" theory. If women's fashion boots is a good keyword for your Web site, boots will be even better! There are so many more people searching for "boots" that it is sure to drive a lot more traffic. The problem is that if you sell only women's fashion boots, that extra traffic will not produce many more conversions. Instead of looking for hotter and hotter keywords, look for "just right" keywords.

Don't Pick Keywords That Are "Too Cold"

Often, after being burned by a flaming keyword or two, people go in the opposite direction, afraid to go after any keyword that has too much competition. Even some search marketing consultants would rather go after "cold" keywords so they can show you how quickly they get high rankings in search. Goldilocks will tell you that this is not the right way either.

Sometimes cold keywordsones with few or no searchers looking for themare chosen by accident. An Italian tour operator targets "milano," but misses all the American tourists who use the anglicized spelling "milan." Or the shortest word forms of keywords are chosen, such as manage your finances instead of personal financial managementsearch engines usually find the shorter forms when you target the longer forms (but not always vice versa).

One particularly troublesome cause of accidental cold keywords is translating campaigns into other languages. If you take a search marketing campaign you have run in your native language (say, English) and merely translate those keywords to French, for example, you are likely to have chosen numerous cold keywords. Just as searcher intent differs in English for many terms with similar meanings, you might have chosen an accurate, but unpopular, French translation for your English keyword. Paid placement vendors can help you redo your keyword planning in global markets so that you pick "just right" keywords for your site in every local market.

Another accidental chill can occur when you assume that different audiences for the same product search the same way. Tor Crockatt, the Senior Editor of Espotting (the European paid placement vendor), loves to show examples of how searchers performing similar tasks do different things. Tor describes a major electronics manufacturer whose Scandinavian customers did research online but whose German customers did little research online (although they did buy the product online). If the manufacturer had assumed that buying habits were the same in Germany as in Scandinavia, many cold keywords would have been targeted around the Learn stage of the Web Conversion Cycle. Similarly, IBM has found that consumers tend to shop, whereas business people tend to procure or purchase, even when they are buying the same product. If you expect that every market segment will approach searching for your site the same way, you are likely to land in some cold spots.

Some choices of cold keywords are actually done on purpose, however, by intelligent people who really should know better. Wordtracker (, the keyword research tool, features Keyword Effectiveness Index (KEI) analysis. KEI analysis (and similar techniques that go by other names) is a mathematical representation of the popularity of a keyword (the number of searches containing it) compared to its popularity in usage (the number of Web pages it is found on). As a tool, there is nothing wrong with KEI analysisin fact, it can be quite useful in helping you avoid "too hot" keywords that are not right for your site. But it can be abused.

Some might use KEI analysis to dissuade you from going after any keyword with even a modicum of competition. That's misguided. Although it is true that the more pages a word appears on, the more difficult it is to get a top ten search result, the simple fact is that someone's site is ranking #1 for that word. How did they do it? Whatever they did is what you have to do just a bit better if you want to rank #1.

Just as it was silly for our personal color copier manufacturer to want to rank #1 for the hot copier keyword, it is equally silly to shy away from the keyword personal color copier just because many pages contain those words. If you have found a set of keywords that perfectly describe your site, it's time to fight for that ranking, not slink away to some backwater set of keywords that no one is looking for (just so you can say you have a #1 ranking). Remember, it costs just as much to optimize an organic page for a cold keyword as for a "just right" one, so spend your efforts on the ones that will pay off.

Before we move on to "just right" keywords, you should know that paid placement differs from organic search when it comes to cold keywords. In the case of paid placement programs, there might be little downside to targeting cold keywords. Even if very few searchers enter the keywords each month, if you are getting conversions at low per-click rates, there is no reason to stop (unless it is costing you too much time to manage). In general, however, stick to the "just right" words; they will have the best payoff.

Pick Keywords That Are "Just Right"

So why do "just right" keywords work? It is not that hard to understand, really. Search engines actually do a very good job of finding the right pages for each query, and people do a good job of clicking the right pages from what they see. What that means is that if you target keywords that are truly relevant to your site, and you follow through on the techniques in the rest of this book, you will likely improve your search traffic with highly qualified visitors. In short, sticking to keywords that truly reflect your site will make it easier for you to attract search rankings and will pay off in more conversions than if you do anything else.

Conversely, if you find that you are seeing the symptoms of targeting "too hot" keywords (low paid clickthrough, dropping organic search referrals, or low conversion rates), you have a choice. You can move back to "just right" queries, or you can change your Web site. If you want to compete for the "copier" query, what content can you put up to attract all copier buyers? Affiliate links for products you do not sell? Comparison information that shows why every copier buyer should buy yours? It is not easy, but there are times when you can expand your site so that it really is a good match for a broad query.

For those of you who are less ambitious (and more realistic), however, there is good news. The days of searchers entering single-word queries in large numbers are coming to an end. Although there are still cases where a single search word is very descriptive of what the searcher wants ("ipod"), there are far more situations in which only multiple words will truly pinpoint the information desired, and searchers are growing in sophistication.

Jeremy Sanchez, Senior Search Strategist for search consultancy Global Strategies International, says that "75 percent of all search queries in our trusted feed data are three terms or longer with very few search queries alike. For every 50 clicks a URL receives, 45 of the search queries are different." In a similar vein, a recent study showed that 70 percent of searches contain two or more words, with 25 percent using three words or more.

What this means is that more and more searchers are entering long keyword phrases that far more accurately pinpoint the pages they want. More searchers are using "just right" queries, so you can feel comfortable targeting them.

Our friends at Snap Electronics heeded this advice. They stayed away from the hot keyword cameras because they make only digital cameras, not film cameras. The word cameras might be okay for Kodak, but it was wrong for Snap. Snap recognized that digital cameras itself was still a very hot word, and that it would not be easy to get a high ranking there, but they also knew that it perfectly described their product linethey made a range of cameras and they needed to be seen there to reinforce their brand image as the best and easiest to use digital camera.

Enough philosophy! Now that you understand the value of keyword planning and you have a sound approach to make your decisions, let's get started.

    Search Engine Marketing, Inc. Driving Search Traffic to Your Company's Web Site
    Search Engine Marketing, Inc.: Driving Search Traffic to Your Companys Web Site (2nd Edition)
    ISBN: 0136068685
    EAN: 2147483647
    Year: 2005
    Pages: 138

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