Selecting and Evaluating Keyphrases for Search Engine Marketing
by Scott Buresh

Many businesses recognize that search engines can bring volumes 
of highly targeted prospects to their website, typically at a 
fraction of the cost of traditional marketing. Unfortunately, 
these same companies often overlook the most important part of 
their search engine marketing campaigns, which is keyphrase 
selection and evaluation. Keyphrases (those phrases that 
potential customers are using to find products or services on 
search engines) are the building block of any search engine 
marketing strategy. It is essential that they are chosen 
carefully, or else the remainder of the campaign, no matter how 
effective the implementation, will likely be in vain. What 
follows is a three-step process that goes over the process of 
compiling, selecting, and evaluating the ongoing performance of 
keyphrases for search engines. 

1. Compiling a Keyphrase List
Usually, companies are sure that they already know their ideal
keyphrases. Often, they are wrong. This is typically because it 
is very hard to separate oneself from a business and look at it 
from the perspective of a potential customer (rather than an 
insider). Compiling a keyphrase list should not be, despite 
common practice, a strictly internal process. Rather, it is best 
to ask everyone outside of your company for their input, 
especially your customers. People are often very surprised at 
the keyphrase suggestions they get- and sometimes dismayed to 
realize that an average customer doesn't speak the same language 
that they do. Only after you have put together a list of likely 
phrases from external sources do you add your own. As a last 
step, try to add variations, plurals, and derivatives of the 
phrases on your list. 

2. Evaluating Keyphrases
Once you have compiled a master keyphrase list, it is time to
evaluate each phrase to hone your list down to those most likely 
to bring you the highest amount of quality traffic. Although many 
individuals will base their assessment of keyphrase value based 
only on popularity figures, there are really three vitally 
important aspects of each phrase to consider.

By far the easiest of the three to judge is popularity, since it 
is not subjective. Software like WordTracker gives popularity 
figures of search phrases based upon actual search engine 
activity (it also gives additional keyphrase suggestions and 
variations). Such software allows you to assign a concrete 
popularity number to each phrase to use when comparing them. 
Obviously, the higher the number, the more traffic that can be 
expected (assuming you are able to obtain good search engine 
positions). However, this number alone is not good enough reason 
to pursue any particular keyphrase, although too often keyphrase 
analysis stops here.  

This is more abstract than the sheer popularity number, but
equally important. For example, let's assume that you were able 
to obtain great rankings for the keyphrase "insurance companies" 
(a daunting prospect). Let's also assume that you only deal with 
auto insurance. Although "insurance companies" might have a much 
higher popularity figure than "auto insurance companies", the 
first keyphrase would also be comprised of people looking for 
life insurance, health insurance, and home insurance. It is very 
likely that someone searching for a particular type of insurance 
will refine their search after seeing the disparate results 
returned from the phrase "insurance companies". In the second, 
longer keyphrase, you can be reasonably sure that a much higher
percentage of visitors will be looking for what you offer- and
the addition of the word "auto" will make it much easier to
attain higher rankings, since the longer term will be less

Motivation of User
This factor, even more abstract than specificity, calls for an
attempt to understand the motivation of a search engine user by 
simply analyzing his or her search phrase. Assume, for example, 
that you were a real estate agent in Atlanta. Two of the 
keyphrases you are evaluating are "Atlanta real estate listings" 
and "Atlanta real estate agents". Both phrases have very similar 
popularity numbers. They are also each fairly specific, and your 
services are very relevant to each. So which phrase is better? 
If you look into the likely motivation of the user, you will 
probably conclude that the second is superior. While both phrases 
target people looking for real estate in Atlanta, you can infer 
from the second phrase that the searcher has moved beyond the 
point where they are browsing local homes or checking out prices 
in their neighborhood- they are looking for an agent, which 
implies that they are ready to act. Often, subtle distinctions
between terms can make a large difference on the quality of the 
traffic they attract.

3. Evaluating Keyphrase Performance
Until recently, judging the performance of individual keyphrases 
was a dicey proposition. Although it is possible to tell from 
your log traffic analysis how many visitors are getting to your 
site from each keyphrase (valuable information, but unfortunately 
not enough to do much with), it was very hard to decipher which 
phrases were bringing you the most quality traffic. Recently, 
however, some sophisticated but affordable tools have been 
developed that allow you to judge the performance of each 
individual keyphrase based upon visitor behavior. This new 
software makes it possible to periodically analyze which 
keyphrases are bringing your site the most valuable visitors 
- those who buy your products, fill out your contact form, 
download your demo, etc. This type of data, rather than the sheer 
number of visitors from each search phrase alone, is invaluable 
when you are refining your search engine marketing campaigns, 
since you can discard and replace non-performing keyphrases and 
put increased effort toward the phrases that are delivering 
visitors that become customers. This kind of ongoing analysis is 
the final piece of the keyphrase puzzle, and allows you to 
continually target the most important phrases for your industry, 
even if they change over time. 

Keyphrase compilation, evaluation, and performance are all 
vitally important to any search engine marketing campaign. 
While high rankings in search engines are an admirable goal,
high rankings for poor keyphrases will consistently deliver
poor results.  Integration of this keyphrase process into your
overall search engine marketing strategy can dramatically
improve your website performance (and thus your bottom line).

Scott Buresh is Co-founder and Principal of Medium Blue Internet 
Marketing < >. For monthly tips on how 
to get the most out of your internet presence, sign up for our 
Internet Marketing Newsletter < >