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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Do-It-Yourself Keyword Research

You can’t start an article marketing campaign without knowing what keywords and phrases you want to rank for. If you’ve got a professional SEO firm working for you, there’s no reason to worry. But it’s often a catch-22: SEO services are expensive. And some start-ups don’t have the capital.

Luckily, keyword research is something you can do on your own. Here are five steps to make it happen.

Step 1: Know thyself. What products, services, qualities, or concepts do you want your business or site to be known for? What are your customers likely to type when they look for you online? The first step of any keyword research project involves a little brainstorming.

Think about what you would type into a search engine if you were looking for a site like yours. List every product or service you offer. Each is a potential keyword.

It can also be a good idea to check in with customers and potential customers for good ideas. If you have a list of customers already, consider sending out a survey asking about their search habits. If you don’t, head into forums for people who’d buy your services. There may be some people online who wouldn’t mind answering your survey, particularly if you offer a discount.

Step 2: Research your competitors. What keywords are your competitors targeting? Choose a few of your best-known competitors. Go to their websites, and check out their web content. Do a few select phrases repeat themselves? Do a few online searches and see what keywords and phrases they turn up for. You may get some ideas that hadn’t occurred to you before.

Step 3: Use a research tool. There are many keyword-research tools out there, and they’re all different. Some are free, while others require membership fees. And some have more of a data share than others.

Basic keyword research tools measure the amount of times a term has been searched for, usually in the last month, and the number of hits that come up in a search for that term. They’ll also offer suggestions for other keywords. More in-depth analysis will help you figure out which phrases are the highest earners; the difficulty for ranking in those terms; predictions for numbers of searches in the next month; and more.

Step 4: General or specific? You decide. The most popular keywords are generally the toughest to rank for. They may bring great financial reward, but you’ll be battling big companies with deep pockets to get there. Other search terms may bring fewer visitors, but you’ll be able to rank for them much more easily.

So do you want to be a generalist, or do you want to zero in on more obscure phrases? It depends on what words fit your business and your marketing budget. If your company sells organic cat food, you may be best off using a search term like “gluten-free cat food” instead of a more general term like “cat food.” Then again, a more general term may truly suit your business better—but competition may be too tight on your top words. In these cases, it’s often best to target the more obscure terms first, and work your way up.

Once you’ve targeted your keywords, you can literally build a website or design an article marketing campaign around them. Know your keywords, and you’ll be able to design an SEO campaign that will bring your business to the next level.

Jennifer Williamson runs a successful business as an

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