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So, the CEO thinks your company Web site is optimized to attract search engine traffic because when he types the company name into Google your home page is listed at the top of the search results.
Of course, that's an important (if sometimes effortless) achievement. But unless you're Home Depot or McDonalds, don't count on your brand name as your main source of search engine traffic. Consider this: The term "office furniture" gets searched 15 times more often than "Herman Miller," and "car insurance" gets queried 22 times for each "GEICO" search.
In fact, brand-specific search phrases get only a tiny fraction of category-specific searches. Most important, searches on specific phrases are often conducted by Web surfers who are researching a purchasing decision or hunting for providers of products or services.
Effective search engine optimization (SEO) can drive new Web site traffic based on popular industry search phrases, but the best practices of SEO are effective only by using the right keyword phrases, on the right pages and in the right manner. Gone are the days when stuffing a bunch of keywords on a page generated Web traffic. Today it requires a disciplined program that includes thorough keyword analysis, smart SEO copywriting tactics and a good understanding of landing page optimization.
To receive a healthy stream of search engine traffic, you need to know what potential customers are searching for. Too often, the words we use to refer to products or services are not the words that people actually type into Google's search field. The vernacular of trade shows and whitepapers typically is used more by industry insiders than prospective customers.
For companies like Opalis, a Toronto maker of server maintenance software, keyword research is essential for staying on top of the industry's constantly changing naming conventions. A software category called "enterprise application integration" yesterday may be known today as "data center automation." In dynamic markets, keyword research demands vigilance.
"We need to stay on top of what people are searching for in our industry," says Mike Tindal, vice president of marketing for Opalis. "Our keyword research gives us a quantitative overview of how frequently Web searchers are using a broad set of industry terms and enables us to strategically position our Web pages to meet their information needs."
Keyword research begins with collection. First, gather potential search terms from wherever they can be found: industry publications, marketing materials, subject matter experts and competitors' Web sites. Add some quick and easy customer insights to your sample. Ask some current customers to describe your products or services in generic terms, then ask them what search phrases they'd use to find companies such as yours on the Web.
With these phrases you can explore stem variations using tools like Yahoo's keyword research tool [http://inventory.overture.com]. Say your company sells business intelligence software. If you type "business intelligence" into the Overture tool — a phrase searched 37,538 times in Yahoo during May — you'll learn that this highly competitive term has many longer variants, such as "business intelligence tool" (486 entries). Scroll down and you'll find less predictable phrases, such as "business intelligence learning organizational," which generated 134 searches that same month (see screen image). You'll find gems in these long search strings, phrases that generate highly targeted traffic and that often exist below your competitors' radar.
More sophisticated research would look at additional factors. The Keyword Efficiency Index (KEI) is a statistical measure that compares search frequency to the number of competing pages. It helps identify good optimization opportunities where search volume is high and the number of matching Web pages is low. Monitoring historical KEI tracking data over time can also be valuable, and is particularly effective for spotting seasonal trends. Misspellings are another consideration. Obviously, you don't want to embed misspelled words in your page, but a misspelling is a wonderful way to target pay-per-click advertising programs.
With keyword research in hand, you're ready to choose specific landing pages on your site to optimize for search phrases. But keep several tips in mind:
Considering this, map your selected search phrases to the pages on your site that offer the most suitable content. This step is good litmus test for the validity of your site's information design. It often turns up glaring gaps because you may find you don't have a Web page that matches a popular search term relevant to your business. Landing page mapping is an opportunity to spot and address such gaps.
Multiple factors affect how search engines rank pages. Some on-page elements to consider:
Finally, there are some statistical measures for SEO copywriters to consider. Keyword density is the ratio of keywords compared to other words on the page. The recommended range is 2 percent to 8 percent. Keyword frequency is the number of times a keyword is repeated on a page. Keyword prominence measures how close your keywords are to the beginning of a sentence, title or metatag. There are tools online to help you with measuring, such as a free keyword density analyzer [http://www.ranks.nl/tools/spider.html].
With time and energy, you can make your Web site more of a lure and relevant to search engine queries. The trick is persistence.