There are many aspects of search engine optimization that allow for comparison to traditional marketing mediums, but some say that SEO is lacking some important variables. One of the main points that has been made is that search engine optimization, and especially keyword selection, is not, but should be, testable. If a company were to pursue a direct mail marketing campaign across the nation, they would first test this campaign on a smaller scale and measure the response. If the response is not good, the campaign strategy needs to be adjusted, and if the response is good, the national campaign moves forward. This is an example of a marketing campaign test, which is highly useful. Contrary to what some may believe, keyword and market testing is available within the search engine optimization and marketing industry.

There are a few different mediums for testing your keyword list before embarking on your search engine optimization campaign. Below we will take a look at the various mediums for keyword testing, how to use them, and what benefits each have.

One of the best keyword research tools available to the SEO and webmaster industries is WordTracker. This online application requires the user to pay a subscription fee, with the option to choose a daily, weekly, monthly, 3 month, or yearly membership. WordTracker allows its users to query their database of millions of user search queries compiled from Meta engines over the past eight weeks. A user at WordTracker will enter a keyword into the field, and the application will display a list of all related keywords on the right hand side, with a few different numbers for each. On the left hand side, WordTracker will output an extensive list of related keywords to your entry that can be searched upon. There are a number of different features and numbers that WordTracker outputs, which we will discuss below.

Now that you know about WordTracker and how to utilize the application, let's take a look at how to use the tool for keyword testing. WordTracker is not in essence the best keyword testing medium available to SEO professionals as one can only gather search history information, and not actually test the keywords that one has chosen. This being said, there is much to be learned from the information displayed from WordTracker. Once you have an initial list of keywords to target within your campaign, it is vital to refine this list so the conversion rates can be increased. WordTracker helps one do this in many ways. First the application will tell you how many searches appeared in its database for each particular keyword over the last 60 days. It will then tell you the estimated number of searches performed for this keyword across all search engines and directories, and the last function called "dig" allows you to focus on keyword variations that allow targeting niche markets.

A good list of keywords should have been gathered from this first section, and with this we move on to the second section of WordTracker. In this section, WordTracker will allow the user to define two search engines, directories, or PPC engines that will be used in this research phase. Once selected, WordTracker will show the user how many times the keyword appeared in the database for this search engine over the past 24 hours, over the past 60 days, and how many sites you would be competing with for ranking. Based on this information, WordTracker then calculates and assigns a number to each keyword that represents the effectiveness of each keyword. The calculation compares the number of searches for each keyword in the past 24 hours against the number of competing websites for that keyword. If there is a larger amount of websites competing for that keyword, results will be harder to obtain and take longer.

While this is not the traditional type of market testing, the information given by WordTracker for each keyword and keyword market is highly valuable and can be used to effectively estimate campaign success and results.

Overture, a pay-per-click search engine, is another powerful tool for keyword and market testing. There are a number of different ways that Overture can be used for keyword testing.

Overture can be used as a keyword research and testing tool just as we explained above with WordTracker. Overture offers a Keyword Suggestion tool that allows you to research what keywords were searched for in the previous month. This tool will show you a list of keyword variations of the keyword that you defined, as well as the number of times that this keyword was searched for in the previous month. Just as with WordTracker, this will help to refine your initial list of keywords to increase targeted traffic and conversion rates.

Overture can also be used for actual keyword and market testing, as an account can be set up and your site can be listed in the top 3 rankings within days. Overture's top three search listings are currently displayed on MSN, AOL, Yahoo, AllTheWeb, AltaVista, and more. With the amount of exposure that Overture's listings have across the Internet, it becomes feasible to test a keyword to measure response, click thru rates, level of targeted traffic, and conversion rates. To begin this keyword testing, simply choose a few keywords that you would like to use in your future search engine optimization campaign, and open an Overture account. It is important that you place your bids high enough to be ranked in the top 3, as only the top 3 listings appear at the top of the search listings on the search engines mentioned above. Once your account is up and running, you should let the listings run for a few weeks to test the market for responsiveness.

While there are other variables, like your title and description to name a few, that will come into play when deciphering click thru and conversion rates, this test should allow you to gauge the success you may see with these keywords. Once the allotted time has passed and enough information and data has been gathered, you should being to analyze the data. What was the click thru rate for each keyword? What was the conversion rate for each keyword? Was the traffic from each keyword as targeted as it needs to be for desirable conversion rates? What was your return on investment? Was the level of traffic what you had expected?

If the test was successful, then these keywords should be used within your search engine optimization campaign. If the test did not yield the results that you were expecting, there are questions that need to be addressed, and an additional test(s) may be needed before moving forward with the search engine optimization campaign. Was I targeting the right keywords? Was I in the top 3 throughout the entire test campaign? Was my title hindering my click thru rates? Was my description hindering my click thru rates? What was the level and authority of the competing websites?

Another medium for keyword testing is Google, which can be used in the same fashion as Overture, as a keyword research tool and as a keyword-testing tool.

For keyword research, you can utilize a function within Google Adwords that allows the user to plug in a keyword or keyword phrase and see how many impressions this keyword receives daily, weekly, and monthly. As with Overture and WordTracker, this data can then be used to refine your keyword list to eliminate the unproductive keywords.

Google Adwords, which is pay-per-impression advertising, and Adwords Select, which is pay-per click advertising, can both be used to test keywords and their effectiveness within markets. Keyword testing in Google is different than Overture, as Google Adwords and Adwords Select do not appear in as many search engines or directories, which limits the size of the test market. To perform keyword testing in Google, follow the same procedure that was outlined in the Overture section above. There are three important things to remember about market testing in Google. The first thing to remember is that conversion rates are mostly lower as the advertisement listings are placed on the right hand side of the page, and completely separated from the search listings, while Overture's are directly above. The second thing to remember is that there are two different Adwords options in Google: 1) the Original Google Adwords, which is a pay-per-impression based advertising, and 2) Google Adwords Select, which is pay-per-click based advertising. The third important thing to remember about market testing in Google is that the position of your advertisement or listing is based on the ad's click thru rate, as the advertisement with the highest click thru rate is placed at the top, with the other ads following the same suit.

Keywords are the most important part of your search engine optimization campaign. How will you know if you are targeting the right keywords if you don't research them, refine them, and more importantly, if time and/or money allows, test the keywords and keyword market. Keyword testing is not vital to a search engine optimization campaign, as thorough research and analysis can also be effective. Rather it provides definitive insight on how to make an optimization campaign more successful. Keyword testing is a tool that not many use, as it can require a substantial amount of money and time, but when executed properly can provide data and information that will result in a higher return on investment and success rate.
July 15, 2002

Andrew is the Director of Search Engine Optimization Operations for a market leading company. Since the Fall of 2001, Andrew has served as the moderator of the Search Engine Promotion forum within - a leading online community of web professionals. Andrew's articles appear regularly on informative sites including Search Engine Guide, SEO Today, SitePoint and others.

Search Engine Guide > Andrew Gerhart > Keyword Testing for Increased Search Engine Conversion Rates