Posted on February 29, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Whether you’re a small independent company or a larger corporation, keywords are the ‘key’ to getting the desired traffic to your website. It’s incredibly important to do your homework beforehand to determine what is currently driving people to your site and whether or not they’re staying engaged. Hopefully by the end of this article you will have a better grasp of how to get started on keyword research, how to generate lists of relevant and irrelevant search terms, and how to apply them to your site.

1. What do the stats tell you?

First and foremost, make sure you have an analytics (stat-tracking) system installed on your site. If you have yet to install one it may be hard (or impossible) to determine where your traffic is coming from and you certainly won’t be able to tell if your users are hanging around long enough for your content to even be seen. Popular systems such as Google Analytics will tell you where your visitors are coming from, how long they’re staying, if they’re coming back, and which keywords are driving them to your site. A good alternative for tracking statistics is StatCounter.

It’s very common to see that the majority of your visitors aren’t staying long enough to even read through the first paragraph on your site. Why is this? Instead of associating this problem on your content, it may just be a relevance issue. This means that the majority of the users are finding your site ‘in error’ and were likely looking for something else. Much of your keyword research can come from your analytics statistics by identifying the words or phrases people are typing into search engines which lead them to your site. Make a note of all of the words and phrases which are relevant and make another list for those that aren’t. These lists will be important later.

2. Do your homework

It’s time to start optimizing those lists. There’s a lot of competition out there and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the popularity of some of these search terms and the on-going struggle to rank highly in the search engines. It’s important to note that even without a budget, once you know your niche it’s possible to rank fairly high up through specificity alone. Identify words and phrases that are unique to your site. There are some handy tools online for helping you populate your keyword lists. Here are some free solutions:

Google AdWords Keyword Tool – Whether you’re planning on making a campaign or not, this will be the number one tool for analyzing keywords. Start by inputting your list of keywords and seeing what comes up, then sorting by global views and competition to get a general idea of the most sought-after terms in your niche.
Google Suggest – Built right into Chrome and Firefox, start typing your terms and watch the drop-down list suggest some terms for you. – Helpful for finding synonyms to your keywords you may want to include (or exclude) from your lists.

3. What to do with your keyword lists

On a budget? No problem.

Whether you have a small or large budget – properly-applied keyword research can be a free and effective way to drive users to your site. Regardless of whether you’re performing keyword research strictly for Search Engine Optimization or for a Google AdWords campaign (which isn’t free), the keywords you choose need to be extremely relevant and featured prominently within your website content in order for you to dominate that top spot on the paid search results.

Keywords for SEO:

Remember not to pack too many keywords into your pages – limit yourself to 3 or 4 to a page or you’ll run the risk of being irrelevant. Users generally want to see a large volume of what they’re searching for so try be as specific as possible on a single page. If you’re starting to see your page length drag on with too many sections, it may be good to start splitting that content up into separate pages. Some places you should be including keywords are the title tag, meta description tags, headings, alt tags and link text.

Keywords for AdWords:

This is where your list of rejected keywords will play a vital role. Although one could ramble forever on the ins and outs of Google AdWords, we’ll cover what you need to get started efficiently.

Once you’ve set up your first campaign and adgroup, it’s time to drop in the keywords you think are the most relevant. Be sure to narrow down your terms with exact or phrase matching where applicable or else you may find visitors coming in with only partial matches to your terms which don’t end up being relevant at all. The next step, and arguably the most important, is to include your negative keywords. Add them in from your list of irrelevant (rejected) terms to ensure your visitors aren’t coming through targeting keywords and phrases which are irrelevant to your business.

Additional Keyword Research Resources

For further reading and additional help analyzing your keywords more in-depth:
Beginner’s Guide to SEO – Keyword Research
10 Steps to Advanced Keyword Research