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Choosing The Right Keywords - Going Back to the Future

By David Howlett
Posted Sunday, September 19, 2004

It hardly seems something over a year ago that I sat down with a client to discuss how to choose the best keywords for his business website. The website Meadowmania currently enjoys top positions for its industry related keywords: wildflower seed and amenity seeds.

Fifteen months ago things looked very different, it worked functionally: visitors that were coming to the site were ordering; but there were very few coming from the search engines. So our task on that day was to work out which keywords would attract the visitors.

In theory it seemed very simple. Obviously wildflower, wild flower and seed were going to be the top keywords but we would need more than that. We needed keywords to back them up, further down the page. And we're going to need quite a bit of text in total to get sufficient density of the top keywords.

Old fashioned as it may sound we started off with a large blank sheet of paper. I drew several lines down the page, like columns and at the top of each column, I wrote a heading. The heading went something along the lines of: brainstorming, website logs, other sites, Overture tool, Adwords tool and talking with customers and colleagues.

Now we set about doing our research based on the headings we’d come up with. The humble sheet of paper was a simply a crude recording tool to highlight patterns of the most popular keywords.

We started with brainstorming. The site owner talked with customers, colleagues; anyone in fact who would give an opinion on the keywords they would use to find the site. We’d then feed the same keywords into search engines noting the sites that came up and keywords within those sites.

People often don’t realise that the often incomprehensive website visitor logs report, are a goldmine of information on what happening on the site and amongst other things all the keywords people use in search engines, are brought with them and recorded in the logs. Although there weren't many we added these keywords to the list as well.

And finally the tools. Overture have a tool that can tell you how many times a particular keyword or phrase has been searched on in the previous month. Similarly Googles Adwords has a similar tool built into the campaign manager that will tell you connecting keywords to the one you enter.

So which keywords did we choose and now fifteen months later just how much benefit did we derive from all our research.

Our final choice of keywords for the home page were: Wild Flower, wildflower seed, amenity, agricultural and organic seed online. We then wrote nearly 600 words of text to go on the home page which contained nearly all the keywords at a density of around 10 per cent plus other relevant keywords as well. To give you a better idea the keywords have been highlighted to show where they appear on the text.

So, fifteen months later has it all been worth it? Undoubtedly yes. The site is averaging around 2000 unique visitors per month, up from 300 when we started. Around 35 per cent of those are first time visitors from search engines.

Interestingly the top keywords in the website log files started out the same as our choice, but then started to change as more pages were being indexed by the search engines resulting in a greater mix of keywords.

For instance a search for Angelica and Chives Organic Herbs will find the page that sell those and other organic seeds as that page has now been indexed.

Detailed analysis of the log files found people were entering quite complex question like: “I want to buy chamomile plants” or “where can I buy bluebells” and still finding the site. Future plans are to build on those queries; developing pages optimised specifically for people with those or similar question.

So what have the main benefits been? First thing a site that works effectively in the search engines without employing any secret techniques to improve the listing; something that’s very relevant following the recent Google reshuffle. Even more important its all been done using a strategic approach with a technique that with further refinement will yield even greater results.

But the most compelling benefit is what this low cost effort is adding to the success of the business. Turnover has nearly doubled, buyer conversion has increased on the site (because people who do more specific searches are more likely to buy) and the site has a search engine strategy very much focused on the future.

About the Author
David Howlett has been helping businesses with their websites for the past seven years. He has used many of the skills he's learnt in his own website that specialises in selling all types of garden plants: (http://www.gardenmania.co.uk)