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Keyword Selection By The Numbers

By • Apr 16th, 2008 • Category: Keyword Selection

Keyword selection is the first step in creating findable content on the Web (well, one of the first steps, at any rate). Many people are unaware of its importance, but choosing the right keywords can have an enormous impact on your visitor numbers. Whether you’re targeting search engines or social media, the specific phrases you use – particularly in your titles/headlines – can make all the difference.

Consider these two scenarios:

  • You regularly create great content, without any overt consideration of whether (or how) people will find it, and gradually build up a trickle of incremental traffic.
  • You regularly create great content. You then tweak your content slightly, in a manner informed by keyword research, and grow your traffic exponentially.

Both are entirely plausible – but which scenario seems the most appealing?

Of course, you need to have good ideas in the first place – concepts and content should be your bread and butter. You can write a great post without any consideration for keyword research, and worry about how to make it search-engine-friendly when it’s written. Or you can go the other way, and write posts specifically to garner inbound links and visitors – a process sometimes referred to as linkbaiting.

Targeting specific phrases is not about keyword stuffing, nor should it seem forced, or reduce the quality of your writing. If your content is good, keep it that way. Don’t try and work phrases into your titles or posts if they just don’t fit.

However, if two phrases work equally well from a writer’s viewpoint, you should choose the one that will bring you the most traffic. This isn’t spam, it’s just intelligent optimisation.

So how do we find out which phrases are valuable?

Basic Keyword Selection Techniques

The easiest keyword research tool to use is called ‘Google’. Other basic keyword research tools you should be familiar with are Yahoo!, Live Search and Ask. However, as Google currently drives the majority of search traffic on the Internet, that’s probably the best place to start.

Let’s take the simplest scenario – you already have a few phrases in mind, and you want to find out if they are worth targeting. For example, you might have written a post about your bass player, entitled “John’s Favourite Bass Strings“.

The keyword phrase in this title is “bass strings”. Now you need to determine two things: how competitive is it, and how many searches does it get.

1. Check For Keyword Competition

This is fairly straightforward – just go to Google and search for “bass strings”.

It’s important to include the inverted commas here, as this will return an exact match for your specific phrase – only pages featuring all the words, in that particular order, will be shown in the search engine results.

You’ll get a set of results that looks something like this:

SERPs for

The first thing to note is the number of pages returned. Google found 515,000 pages in its index containing the phrase “bass strings”.

This means there is quite a bit of competition for the phrase – if you want to be ranked number one in the organic results, you’ll have to beat 515,000 pages to get there. This may be easy or difficult, depending on how well optimised the highest-ranking sites are.

Another thing to look for is the number of sponsored results. There are a lot of sponsored results here (Sponsored Links), which means this is probably a commercial term – people are making money on it. If people are competing for this term on Pay-Per-Click, there’s a good chance that they are competing on SEO too (they may not be doing it very well, of course, but we can look at this in more detail later).

If you type in “bass strings” without the inverted commas, you’ll see that the number of competing pages is much higher – when I searched, it was 766,000. This is the difference between broad match and exact match. The variation can be much more extreme for different keyword phrases.

At the simplest level of evaluating keyword competition, we look at the number of competing pages; if it passes this test, we can move on to check the quality of these competing pages, where we determine how difficult it would be to beat them.

There are a number of useful tools to help us do that, such as Aaron Wall’s SEO for Firefox, but there’s no point going to that stage of analysis unless the keyword phrase has some traffic to begin with.

2. Check for Keyword Search Traffic

The easiest way to estimate how many searches a keyword receives each day is by using another Google tool called Google Trends. This provides a graph of search traffic over time, and can be very useful for detecting the seasonality of a particular phrase. You can also compare two or more phrases, as shown in the screenshot below.

Google Trends

Here you can see that “bass strings” has a graph, but “keyword selection” does not. If a term has low levels of search traffic, then no graph will show up. This doesn’t mean that the term is useless, however. The bar graphs underneath the main graph can be used to estimate daily search traffic, and are much more responsive to lower levels of traffic.

Trends is only useful for determining traffic if you know the number of searches for one term already. In this case, I know from previous research that “bass strings” gets about 600 searches a day. If you look down at the ‘Region’ section, you’ll see the traffic for “bass strings” as a blue horizontal bar and “keyword selection” in red. By comparing the two bars, we can get an idea of the number of searches for “keyword selection“.

Keyword Selection by Trends Regions

It seems that all the traffic for this phrase is coming from the United States, and it’s probably only about 20-30 searches per day. Not much, but not zero either. If there’s not too much competition, it might be worth throwing a post out there to see if it floats. If you want to target the UK, then you should give this one a miss.

What’s The Magic Number For A Good Keyword?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. There are many more things to consider when evaluating keywords; a lot depends on what your objectives are, the type of traffic generated by your phrase and the standard of competing sites.

However, let’s assume it is that simple and try some ballpark figures to get started with.

  • Keyword Competition: Try to target terms with fewer than 100,000 competing pages.
  • Keyword Traffic: Try to target terms with more than 100 daily searches.

If you need help coming up with keywords, you can try Wordtracker’s GTrends Tool. This free tool generates a list of related searches when you type a keyword in the search box. You can then check traffic numbers for each term in Google Trends by clicking on the symbol in the G column.

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  1. […] that people are searching for every day) then you should have a look at my introductory post on keyword selection. ________________________________________ These icons link to social bookmarking sites where […]

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