As we’ve said, search engine optimization doesn’t have all that much to do with your own creative ideas. But it has a lot to do with the ideas of others; that is, your potential site visitors. So, research becomes the key. Find out what keywords your visitors are using to try to find you, and then you can adapt your Web pages to target those keywords – creatively, of course. Since you need to actually use the targeted keywords on your page (duh), in your title and headings, it’s hard to target more than one or two phrases per page.
Some of the best tools for keyword research is free and easy to use, thanks to Google itself. The Google Adwords Keyword Tool lets you collect popular search terms, related to your website or favorite keywords. You don’t need a Google Adwords account to use it.
There are other keyword tools as well. To me, Google’s Search-based Keyword Tool seems less useful – it’s more for pay-per-click tycoons. Other industry standards: Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery. You should also be using Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. Try them out and you’ll see why. In future posts, we’ll tell you why we like them.
How to Use the Google Adwords Keyword Tool
- First, go to https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal and decide, “How would you like to generate keyword ideas?”. Choose “Descriptive words or phrases” – it gives you better results.
- Pick a two- or three-word phrase that you think people might use if they were looking for your website, one that describes what it’s about, and type it under “Enter one keyword or phrase per line.” I chose “college admissions.” Hint: don’t include “A&M” – that’s too easy and vague. You probably want to make sure “Use synonyms” is checked. Click on “Get keyword ideas”.
- You’ll see two lists. The top list of keywords is called Keywords related to term(s) entered, and the keywords include all your descriptive words. So, after looking it over, you may decide to ignore it for now – maybe your descriptive words weren’t the best ones.
- Go down to the second list, called Additional keywords to consider. This is one reason why you checked “Use synonyms”. This list includes related terms which you may not have thought of, or may not have realized how popular they were. For example, I figured that just as Americans don’t say they’re “going to university,” they don’t search Google for “university admissions.” But Google’s tool indicated that it’s actually the more popular search in North America. The green bar graph indicated that it also has less competition among advertisers, which is good.
- If the results look promising, you can download them now and analyze them with your favorite Microsoft spreadsheet software. Otherwise, pick the result that looks the most promising, and try the search again. I think I’ll try “university admissions” next time.
- Notice that these are the most popular keywords related to your site. They’re not the keywords that are most closely related to your site. Those may be relatively unpopular. Just pick the keywords that are the best combination of popular and relevant. Of course, you should also target specific terms that your colleagues would use, whether or not anybody else uses them. But do that separately. If someone searches for “your department or division texas A&M” and your page doesn’t show up, you have a problem you need to correct.
- The Google keyword suggestion tool shows how many other advertisers, not how many other Web pages, are targeting your keyword, so it’s not perfect. Still, be realistic. If a search already brings up hundreds of good results, it’s unlikely that your page can rise above them. If possible, pick keywords that more people search for, but fewer websites deal with. You might call this “medium tail” search optimization, as opposed to long tail search.
- One of the benefits of this tool is that it shows your potential visitors’ vocabulary. What words do people normally use to describe what you do? They may be different from the words you would use. Finding the best words is more complicated in more technical areas, depending on who you want to target. A graduate student in chemistry might be looking for information on advanced kinetic studies of enzymes, while a senior researcher might know that Mossbauer spectroscopy would be more promising for him, while an undergraduate might be writing a paper on mass spectrometry. So what would a high school student be searching for, not yet knowing that someday she will be studying EPR spectroscopy? What keywords would you target to bring her to Texas A&M?