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Search Engine Optimization Basics (Part I)

By Andy Beal
Posted Sunday, February 8, 2004

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.


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. 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 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) 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?

  • s 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.

About The Author
Andy Beal is Vice President of, 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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