Keywords are complicated. On the surface, it might seem as if keyword research is relatively easy - you pick words that are relevant to your industry and use them on your website, with the goal of getting more traffic to visit your site.
The mistake that most people make is that they think of keywords as being only words. They look at keywords from their side of things - the industry side - instead of taking it from the searcher's point of view.
What is a Keyword?
Many business people, even professional SEOs, fail to take their customers' point of view into consideration when choosing keywords. They use industry jargon, buzzwords, or specific product names when they should be putting themselves into their customers' shoes. Ultimately this leads to a fall in Google rankings.
That's not to say it's never correct to use industry jargon. If your company sells business to business, jargon may be the appropriate thing to use, because it's what your customers would be using. For the average consumer, though, a keyword isn't just a word. What it actually is, is a question.
What do I mean by that? Let's take a quick look at how and why the average internet user conducts a search - in 2010, search psychology expert Brad Geddes spoke at a Google AdWords seminar on the topic of why people search. His talk revealed some crucial insights into the topic.
According to Geddes, keywords tend to fall into four basic formats:
- A question - Where can I find a divorce lawyer in Boston?
- The answer to the question - A website for Boston divorce lawyers.
- A description of the problem - High asset divorce in Boston.
- A description of the cause - Husband cheated on me.
What you'll notice is that all of the above formats have one thing in common - the person who types those things into Google is looking for information. In other words, they're looking for an answer to a question. They may not word their keyword as a question, but they're asking one.
Developing Customer Personas
If a keyword is a question, how can you determine which questions your customers - the people who need your product or service - are most likely to ask? You can start by developing a customer persona.
A customer persona is basically a prototype of your target customer. When you ask yourself questions about who your customers are and what they want, you can learn a lot about how they're likely to ask for it. For example, a suburban stay-at-home mom searching for information about a home alarm system is likely to use far different language than a security professional hoping to buy a system for his place of employment. If you're targeting the stay-at-home mom with a page optimized for the security professional, the chances are very good that she's never going to see your site.
Why? Because you're not answering the question she's asking. You're speaking two different languages - your site might as well be written in Sanskrit for all the good it's going to do her - and that means that you're missing out on huge amounts of traffic as a result.
To develop a customer persona, describe your ideal customer using demographic data such as:
- Income level
- Marital status
- Geographical location
Depending on your product or service, you may also want to consider psychographic data, including:
- Leisure activities
Once you have some basic data about your customer, the next step is to find out how she's most likely to search for your product.
Traditional keyword research generally requires looking at search statistics and the competitiveness of keywords, and making decisions about which keywords to target based on that information. When you research based on personas, the process is a little different.
- Conduct market research. There are various ways to do market research, but the goal is to determine the words your potential customers are most likely to use when searching for your product. A divorce attorney who specializes in high asset divorces may target different keywords than one who specializes in quickie divorces. Here are some things you can do to find out how your customers search:
- Conduct a survey. Sites like Survey Monkey make it very easy to create surveys and track results.
- Use social media. Facebook lets you create surveys and post them, and you can boost your survey post for a few dollars to ensure it gets seen by people who are not already following you as well as those who are.
- Review your website analytics and see which search results have brought people to your site.
- Review your competitors' sites to see which keywords they have optimized their sites for.
- Once you've identified keywords that you think might be effective, go to Google and search them so you can see how many results appear and which sites are ranked near the top.
- Use Google Analytics to get an idea of the average bid for each word and to get suggestions for alternative keywords.
Make sure to consider all types of keywords as you do your research:
- Head keywords are short and broad. Continuing with our example of divorce lawyers, "Divorce lawyer" would be a head keyword.
- Medium-tail keywords are slightly longer and usually include additional information. One example might be "Divorce lawyers in Boston."
- Long-tail keywords are long and specific. Some examples might be "retain a high-asset divorce lawyer in Boston" or "Boston attorneys specializing in high asset divorce."
As a rule, long-tail keywords tend to be less competitive than head keywords. When someone types in a head keyword they are usually looking for very general information - or else they aren't sure what they need yet, and they're starting at the top and will then narrow it down. Keywords based on personas tend to be long-tail keywords.
If you conduct your keyword research this way, starting with your customers and working backwards, you can give your traffic a huge boost by ensuring that your website offers answers to the exact questions your customers are asking when they type in a keyword.
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