Keyword research is a major component of your website. It impacts not just your SEO efforts but also your SEM practices. With SEO the keywords you use when you write your pages and posts send messages to the search engines. These messages are taken in as part of the algorithms the search engine’s use and help your pages to come up in search results. With SEM, keywords play a more direct role. When you’re preparing your ads you’ll choose what keywords to associate with them. In either case, if you use the wrong keywords your efforts may be wasted.

SEO Implications of Keywords

When you embark on search engine optimization for your site your goal is to write content that will attract readers to your site organically. Your goal is to have your pages rank on the first page of Google’s search results pages. In fact, you’ll often hear companies guarantee that you will rank on page one of Google. While this can be an important tactic for your site, if the keyword you’re using isn’t being searched for by anyone except your SEO vendor than it may be next to useless.

SEM Implications of Keywords

With search engine marketing, your goal is to associate advertising with keywords you expect users to use to find you. A wrong keyword here means that the right audience won’t see your advertisement or worse, that the wrong audience will see your advertisement and dismiss is because it’s not relevant to what their search.

Generate Your Starting Keywords

There are basically two types of keywords: “head” and “tail.” Head keywords are fairly generic, broad terms like “website” or “website design.” These keywords will have a ton of competition and be difficult to rank highly. You’re better off with long-tail keywords like “WordPress website design” or “website design for real estate agencies.” The longer the tail the more specific the keyword.

The first step is to build a spreadsheet of search terms that are relevant to your website. You’ll want to brainstorm and really hit the essence of the traffic you want to generate. You can test the keywords that you generate in a Google search and see if the results are what you expect. Next, try to turn these keywords into long-tail keywords made up of multiple words. An easy way to produce some long-tail equivalents is to use the Google Adwords Keyword Planner. Yoast, the company that makes an amazing SEO plugin for WordPress also has a keyword expander tool that can generate a CSV file to give you a ton of results.

Test your Keyword Results

Now that you have a list of long-tail keywords you’ll want to circle back to performing a Google search on the terms and making sure those results are similar to your expectations. If they are you’ve created a good pool of keywords for yourself. In addition, if you have two similar long-tail keywords you can test them in Google Trends to see which is performing better. If you’re engaging in SEO you have some topics to write about. If you’re doing SEM then you have some marketing targets for your ads.

Some Things to Avoid

There are a couple of things you want to avoid to improve this process. First, don’t skip the research. Test the the keywords you’ve selected before spending money on them. Second, don’t try to compete on “head” keywords unless you have a large budget you’re willing to spend.. Third, make sure your keywords are relevant and that they are generating traffic. Finally, don’t forget that this is an iterative process. Go back and review your results after you’ve started a campaign or completed your writing. You can always adjust what you’ve set up, but you need to have a baseline for comparison.

Additional Keyword Research Tools

A lot has been written about SEO and keyword research. The trickiest part is making sure that what you’re reading is new content. This is a really dynamic field and what was a solid practice three years ago may not be useful now.

Here are some additional sources to assist you in both generating keywords and reviewing their usefulness: