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SEO 101 - Part 8: Everything You Need to Know About Keywords

The following series is pulled from a presentation I gave to a group of beauty bloggers hosted by L'Oreal in New York. Most of the presentation is geared toward how to make a blog more search engine and user-friendly, however I will expand many of the concepts here to include tips and strategies for sites selling products or services across all industries.
Keyword Research
Keywords are the blue-prints from which all your marketing efforts are built upon. Keyword research tools provide valuable insight into what words people are searching on the major search engines. But research tools are just the first step in a thorough and well-planned keyword research process. Great tools like Keyword Discovery and Wordtracker or even Google's tools don't tell you the intent of each search, however that information can be deduced with a bit of analysis and keyword organization.
But before we get into that, let's look at how people search so we can better understand how to segment and organize your keywords into an effective optimization campaign.
How People Search
How People SearchOver the years searching trends have changed. Once upon a time the majority of searchers used one word queries. Eventually they started realizing they they get better, more accurate, results when you give the search engine a bit more information about what you are looking for.
The more accurate the search phrase you use in your search is, the more accurate the results will be that are returned. Studies have shown that four and five-word phrases often have a higher ROI than one and two word phrases because the searcher is more likely to get results that meet their needs.
The downside of longer phrases is this increases the keyword combination potentials so the number of searches for any one phrase reduces dramatically. This makes optimization more difficult. Instead of optimizing for one general phrase you have to optimize for five very specific phrases. This is the long-tail of keywords, also known as the low hanging fruit. These longer phrases have far less competition and are much easier to get ranked, but also produce lower traffic volumes.
Long-tail phrases should not constitute the primary focus of your optimization efforts. Nor should you focus primarily on short-tail phrases either. A good keyword optimization strategy goes after both simultaneously.
keyword Buying Cycle
Keyword Buying CycleEvery user has different needs and ultimately different goals they wish to achieve when they begin a search process. Many searches are quick with a sole purpose of learning something such as "how many days does it take the Starship Enterprise to travel from Earth to Vulcan at Warp 7?" A few searches may give you a satisfactory answer and then the sci-fi geek Trekker can go back to watching her ST:TNG marathon.
Other searches have another simple goal: to buy a product that best suites your wants and needs. While that goal maybe simple the process to reach it isn't. Most searchers--no matter what the goal--will ultimately use at least parts of the following research cycle.
Every search starts with an interest. The interest generally uses broad keywords with one or maybe two words. As the user moves through the other stages--gather, research, exclude and purchase, they make their queries more and more specific. Every change in query, brings the searcher closer and closer to their goal, each giving them more information along the way.
Most searchers go through this process unintentionally, but as they start in the lower stages they learn more about what they want and how to search more accurately. How does a searcher know they want a 1080p blu-ray player (for his Star Trek Blu-rays) until they learn that 1080i isn't quite as good?
Most businesses want to be ranked for the interest level searches because that's where the most traffic is. This can often be a mistake because searchers will often use those sites as a springboard to get to the other sites that meet their more specific queries. There is still valid reasons to be ranked on these broader searches as that can help brand your site and bring people back as they know more of what they want, but the conversions come from the more specific terms.
What You Learn
Keyword Research Helps You UnderstandOnce you understand how the searcher progresses through the buying cycle you can then learn something from the keywords that were used to search. The information you glean can be crucial in determining how to develop the content and direction of your website.
Target Audience: The more you know about who your target audience is the better position you will be in to meet their needs. The keywords used by business professionals will often be different from keywords used by students and hobbyists. Both will be using keywords that appear to be relevant but depending on what you offer, not all of them truly have the same intent or delivered to the same page.
Areas of Interest: Keywords can tell you what is important to your target audience. Are they looking to satisfy a quick query about warp speed travel or are they looking for the quantum mechanical details of how warp propulsion works? Both of these queries take you to Star Trek sites but the latter would certainly turn the non hard-core Trekker away muttering, "stupid sci-fi geeks" under their breath.
Needs to be met: Finally, your keywords can tell you what needs the searcher is looking to have met. Some hobbyists are looking for a strategy for tackling their next project and a business leader may be looking for a community of like-minded individual.
Unlike the chart above, keyword research isn't always a linear process. There is a lot of overlap and much that you do in the process requires going back and repeating once you have new data on hand. Keeping your keyword research fluid helps you maintain accuracy and adapt as changes are made in visitor search patterns.

(Author: Stoney deGeyter)