Search Engine Optimization Basics (Part 1) 
by Andy Beal


With many new business owners and webmasters exploring SEO 
for the first time, this series of articles looks to assist with 
the basic information needed to start a search engine marketing 
campaign.

In the first part of the series, we will discuss the importance 
of a solid foundation. When starting any SEO campaign it is 
tempting to leap straight in and start tweaking meta tags and 
changing text. However, like any successful marketing strategy, 
it is vital to ensure that you know whom your audience is and 
how to reach them. In the same way traditional advertising 
agencies survey their demographic audience, search engine 
marketers must ensure that their SEO campaign targets the 
correct keywords or search phrases. Target the wrong search 
phrase and you could end up with great search engine rankings 
for keywords that have no search requests. A few hours now spent 
ensuring that the correct search phrases are targeted, can save 
months of useless optimization.

Brainstorm

When you started your company you would have been foolish to 
stubbornly press ahead with your products without first testing 
the market to see if there was a demand. Likewise, when you 
start out on your SEO campaign it is important to brainstorm 
search phrases that are likely to bring qualified visitors to 
your website. Sit down with your co-workers and business partners 
and discuss which keywords are relevant to the products and 
services you offer. Compile an initial list of 5-10 search 
phrases that you feel best represent your company and which you 
believe people would type into a search engine when trying to 
find you. Consider the following factors when brainstorming:

 Is your audience likely to search for industry standard terms 
  or simple layman phrases? 
 Which of your products are in stock? 
 Which products have the highest profit margin? 
 View competitors' websites. 
 Analyze any data you have collected from your pay-per-click 
  (PPC) campaigns to determine which keywords convert well.


Expanding Your Keyword List

Once you have completed your brainstorming and have compiled 
your list of 5-10 core keywords, it's time to move on and expand 
that list. At this point, you need to turn to the search engines 
themselves and research which search phrases are actually being 
typed into Google, Yahoo, MSN et al. While few search engines 
will openly tell you which search phrases are the most often 
searched, there are a couple of very useful tools you can use to 
expand your list. 

The first and most well known, is the Overture Search Suggestion 
Tool (http://inventory.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion/). 
This great little research tool is primarily for the use of 
Overture PPC users and, if you have ever embarked on a PPC 
campaign with Overture, you will no doubt have come across it. 
While useful, and free, it does have limitations.

If you are serious about your SEO campaign, you will consider a 
subscription to WordTracker (http://www.wordtracker.com/) to be 
a worthwhile investment. The biggest advantage with WordTracker 
is that it uses Meta-Crawlers when sourcing search phrase 
frequencies. This eliminates inflated search phrase frequencies 
from Overture users checking their own rankings and thus 
artificially increasing the popularity of certain phrases. In 
addition, WordTracker offers the following advantages:

 Offers a "thesaurus" and "lateral" search, allowing you to 
  view search phrases that are related to your main search term, 
  but not necessarily containing that term.

 Shows search frequencies for both singular and plural phrases.

 Identifies which form of punctuation is the most popular.

 Has an exclusive KEI analyzer that allows you to compare the 
  popularity of the search phrase with the number of websites 
  competing for that keyword.

Determining Competition

Once you have identified possible additions to your search phrase 
list, you must research further to determine if there is a good 
chance you will achieve your prized top search engine ranking or 
if the competition for that phrase is already saturated. There 
are two ways to do this:

 WordTracker's KEI (keyword effectiveness index) 
  (http://www.wordtracker.com/help/keihelp.html) allows its 
  users to analyze their chosen search phrases to determine the 
  level of competition for that phrase.

 If using Overture for keyword research, there is an alternative 
  answer. Enter each identified search phrase at Google, using 
  quotations around the phrase (e.g. "discount computers"). 
  Google will then display the search results for all pages that 
  target that phrase exactly as entered. These are your 
  competitors.

Selecting Your Keywords

By now, you should have an expanded list of search phrases to 
target, taken from either Overture or WordTracker. In addition, 
you should also have a good idea as to the competition for each 
of those keywords, whether you used the KEI or Google format. 
Now is the time to start selecting the search phrases that will 
form the foundation for a successful SEO campaign. Ok, deep 
breath, we're almost there.

When selecting the keywords to target, there are many factors 
you must take into consideration. You will no doubt have your 
own unique considerations, but you must also take into account 
the following:

 Is the search phrase relevant to your website and the page 
  that you are optimizing?

 Is there a page within your website that would be particularly 
  suitable for targeting the selected search phrase?

 How many other websites/web pages would you be competing 
  against?

 Do you offer competitive pricing for the product or service 
  that relates to the keyword?

 Will top search engine ranking for the search phrase generate 
  enough revenue for your company?


Once you have asked yourself the above questions, it will become 
easy to narrow down your list to the main search phrases that you 
wish to target. When doing so, remember that you should not try 
and target every selected search term on your index page. 
Identify the most relevant page for your selected keywords and 
use that page for targeting rankings.

In Summary

When researching search phrases and targeting keywords for your 
SEO campaign, it is important to follow the steps above. Research 
your industry, talk to your potential customers and make use of 
the themes within your website. In addition, consider these final 
tips:

 Determine The Intent Of The Visitor
Thoroughly research all search terms to ensure that the searcher 
intended to find your product or service. E.g. reconsider 
targeting the keyword "DVD" if your store only sells blank DVD 
discs - chances are the searcher intended to find DVD movies 
rather than blank media.

 Don't Always Rely On The Numbers
Both Overture and WordTracker use historical data when displaying 
search phrase frequencies and neither archive more than two months 
back. Therefore, you must know your industry and account for any 
seasonal or other trends.

 Look For Opportunities
Identify the search phrases that have been untapped by your 
competitors. Some search terms may have slightly fewer searches, 
but may have dramatically fewer competitors.

I hope you have found the above useful. This series is designed 
to help the beginner, but I hope a few experienced SEO marketers 
will find something fresh to consider. In the next installment 
of this series, we will look at the use of Meta Tags. These once 
champions of SEO have recently taken a battering, but are still 
extremely important for the success of any campaign. We'll look 
at how they are used, how to construct them and why they can 
help achieve top search engine rankings. In the meantime, you 
should have enough information to assist you in your search 
phrase research and build the foundation for a successful search 
engine optimization campaign.


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Andy Beal is Vice President of ProRanking.com, specialists in 
professional search engine optimization. Highly respected as a 
source of search engine marketing advice, Andy has had articles 
published around the world and has spoken at Danny Sullivan's 
Search Engine Strategies conferences.
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