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SEO Values: The Importance of Keyword Research
By Eric Lander - December 21, 2001

Search engine optimization is no longer a service for those who simply choose to enhance their web site's prominence. It has evolved into a necessity for any organization looking to succeed on the Internet. Combine that fact along with the economic struggles faced by nearly all industries recently, and the importance of online success becomes unparalleled.

The most important aspect to any search engine optimization campaign lies within keyword research and keyword targeting. Choices that are made surrounding keywords should be solidified factors of optimization far before any code is touched. Concluding what keywords are best relies on the market and type of web site that needs to be optimized. The research behind determining these keywords sets the theme and tonality for any optimization campaign. Ultimately, those choices will then lead to success or failure once search engine optimization has been applied.

The value of an optimization plan can be determined based upon how successful a site is in generating targeted traffic. It goes without saying then, that optimizing for the right keywords will yield the most effective results.

First and foremost is the most important task at hand. That is, a targeted user needs to be identified. Does the site you are about to optimize exist so that it can generate online sales? Generate more sales leads? Provide information to a specific online community? The answers to these questions will all lie within the content that is (or will become) readily available to all web site users.

Once you know who the site is intended to target, begin to search various engines using that particular mind set. Searching for services? Yahoo! seems the most logical and immediately available, so start there. Looking to provide information to a specific online community? Google comes to mind since it offers such an extensive amount of content readily available… My point here is that it is important to think as the targeted user does, and search from where they would most likely start for what they appear to search for.

Targeted traffic will be generated by any page ranking well for keywords that are searched for regularly. But how can one find out which keywords and phrases are searched for most often? Thankfully for us SEOs, there are services and subscriptions available from proprietary databases that allow you to access search history from web users. (An excellent example is WordTracker.com) While each of these databases are able to provide you with some concrete numbers, illustrating the most effective of keyword choices, the rank an optimized page can obtain on the results pages will always become the most powerful factor in delivering this traffic.

While the information within database systems allows one to locate the terms most suitable for optimization - some discretion should still be used. If you are optimizing a web site for a client who sells used cars in and around the city of Boston - do not let them tell you they should be ranked number 1 for the term "car". It simply cannot happen, and should not happen - for a number of reasons.

You will need to go back now to what you found when you identified your targeted site user. It is not someone looking to buy new cars in San Diego, right? Of course it isn't! But, someone from San Diego, looking to buy a new car may very well just type in "car". If so, they are probably still searching for things. As users of search engines become more experienced with the Internet in general, they begin to understand that the more information they give TO a search engine, the more appropriate the results given back become. So, it would then become logical to target "used cars boston" as one of your key words. Bear in mind here, your job is not to simply deliver traffic to a web site. It is to deliver targeted traffic to a web site. There's nothing targeted about someone who lives 3000 miles away and is not interested in buying your clients used products.

It is also very possible to over specify your target market too. Try to keep all keyword phrases to 2 or 3 words in length - as longer keywords are very rarely searched for. To use our existing example - ask yourself: Will targeting "used Honda dealer south boston" provide you with many users? Again... Of course not!

Researching keyword variations within these databases also provides some great results. Once you can determine the most searched for and appropriate keywords, you can begin to apply them within the process of optimization. If a web site can be found quickly and easily for the terms that it targets, then the web site can work for its owner by stimulating more business. While attracting targeted traffic may seem easy enough, there are some surprises to be found in just about any campaign.

Once again, if the optimized web site can obtain high ranks for those keywords, then the optimization campaign is becoming a success. Choosing those keywords and phrases though requires some work - both from the optimizer and site owner. Impress your clients and have some things readily available… Optimization professionals should always be aware of the work and research required in order to make web sites rank well! It is after all, their business!