Achieving SEM Success Through Keyword Research

A couple years back I released a a 22-page document outlining our keyword research strategies for SEM and SEO campaigns. For the past several months I've been meaning to update it with some additional strategies and thoughts. What happened, however was less of an update than a total rewrite. Many of the basic concepts are the same but I've added new details, descriptions and even visual illustrations to make it all pretty!

The result is a 12-part series of posts (later to be put into a single downloadable e-book) that will be our new comprehensive guide to keyword research. This series of posts isn't so much about individual tactics and strategies as it is a start to finish guide on how to find, analyze, prioritize and organize your keywords. The goal is create a solid keyword foundation for your SEM campaigns, whether SEO or PPC, that will put you in a much stronger position for success and give you a significant advantage over your toughest competition.

The importance of keyword research

Keyword research is one of the most crucial aspects of a successful search engine optimization and marketing campaign. Many people look at keyword research as just being another step--albeit an important step--in the we marketing process. But it's more than just another activity to be performed before SEO, it's an ongoing process integral to successful search engine marketing.

Keyword research is more than using a few tools to help you uncover the "right" keywords for your target audience. It's more than selecting keywords that help you improve your ROI. It's also about finding, analyzing, prioritizing and organizing your keywords together in a way so they can be implemented into your site to create the most effective marketing campaigns possible.

Keyword Foundation

Proper keyword research helps establish an effective foundation for just about all of your online marketing efforts. The keywords you choose will power your search engine optimization, sponsored ad campaigns, link building campaigns, press releases and more. Before you begin any of these marketing efforts you must have researched and selected the core terms your site will be built upon, learned which search phrases will fuel your online marketing efforts most effectively, and determined how those keywords should be organized and optimized into the site in order to give you the strongest advantage.

Let's look at some of the benefits of thorough and comprehensive keyword research:

Know where your audience is: Many make assumptions as to which keywords they think people are using. They tend to see things from their own tinted sunglasses, never realizing that not all people think the same way. This is especially true industry people versus their consumers. Just to use a quick example, the auto-industry sells "pre-owned cars," while the consumer searches for "used cars". If you want to target your audience effectively you need to understand the difference between industry jargon and average-joe-searcher jargon .

Magnification of SearchAs you dig down into your keyword research you'll be able to learn three important insights:

  • How your customers search?
  • What words do they use?
  • What's their intent?

Some people search using complete sentences, some use basic words and some search using differing word order, qualifiers, or different words all together. This information can help you develop the content and direction of your site. It allows you to speak your customers language, rather than forcing them to listen to your industry jargon.

You can also learn to understand the intent of certain queries. Sometimes the same words used in a search can be rearranged giving the search an entirely different meaning. For example, a searcher looking for KFC's "original recipe chicken" has a different intent that if they were looking for "original chicken recipe."

Know who your audience is: Sometimes knowing who is your audience, is just as important as knowing what keywords they use. You may find that different keywords speak to different segments of society. An easy example of this is how language changes in different parts of the country and even the world. When looking for a refreshing drink some may ask for a "soda," another will ask for a "pop," still another will request a "fizz" and yet another will just refer it it as a "coke". It's the same language but different words are used to mean the same thing.

You may have the right keyword to describe what you do or sell, but that particular keyword may be targeting the wrong audience, or at least not speak the audiences' native slang. If you focus on only certain words you're very likely missing out on a significant portion of your target audience.

Proper keyword research ensures that you not only know all potential variations of your important keyword phrases, but that you are able to implement them in a way that speaks directly to each segment of your target audience. A MAC machine and an ATM might be the same thing, and your customers might even know that, but using the right language in the right way for the right audience helps close the "out of touch" gap that might otherwise be perceived.

Using keywords to develop a successful marketing campaign

Over the past few years a number of keyword research tutorials have been developed, so it's importance is pretty much understood. While there are a lot of very important aspects to successfully marketing a website, (website architecture, content, etc.) I would say keyword research is probably one of the most important parts of the process. And while there is no single "right" way to perform keyword research, there are many key things that you must do in order to ensure that your research is performed thoroughly and effectively.

Many site owners get caught up believing that if they can achieve a #1 keyword ranking on Google, then visitors will begin flocking to their site. This may be true for some keywords, but if you haven't done your research and selection properly, you're never going to know which keywords will provide you the best overall benefit and strongest return on investment. When it comes to achieving and maintaining top listings, all search terms are not created equal.

Not all keywords are created equal

You'll want to note that there is a big difference between a marketing campaign that delivers a lot of traffic to your site and one that delivers relevant traffic to your site. More often than not, sites that generate smaller amounts of targeted traffic see a better return on investment than sites that generate larger amounts of untargeted traffic.

Identifying and selecting the correct keyword phrases to optimize and promote your site with is important, time consuming and sometimes even difficult. Many people often get hung up on the wrong keywords based on incomplete data or not thinking through each keyword carefully. If keyword research is not performed with the correct focus in the correct areas, you may find you have a whole mess of phrases to target but no clear picture on the value of those phrases or their ability to drive targeted traffic.

It ain't easy doing it right

frustratedWhile many keywords may be extremely difficult to achieve top rankings for in a short period of time, I don't believe that any keyword is out of bounds or unattainable. The only caveat to that is in making sure you have the budget, time, skill and desire to put forth the amount of effort required to get any particular keyword to succeed.

While you should always consider the risk (how much investment will be required) versus reward (how many new sales it will bring in,) a well structured campaign can return near immediate results. As you focus on the more easily attainable keywords in the beginning, you are building the foundation for success down the road with what others might consider to be those unattainable keywords.

The importance of keyword research to help set your overall marketing strategy can't be understated. It can sometimes be a long, arduous process, but it's an essential one. Before you set about your research just be prepared for the process. Set time aside so you're not rushed and can research as thoroughly as possible. When it comes to analyzing, do so carefully, performing more research as needed. And as you organize, be thoughtful about what makes the most sense and will help you achieve your marketing goals.

Over the next few weeks we'll cover four distinct phases of the research process:

Finding Core terms: We'll define what a core term is and show you how to find these terms that create the basis for the rest of your research.

Uncovering Search phrases: I'll show you how to dig up search phrases by researching out your most important core terms, and then how to divide or combine them into different segments of relativity.

Analysis and elimination: We'll look at the different types of keywords and how to begin eliminating those that are not a great match for your site or for bringing in targeted traffic.

Organizing keywords for success: Finally, I'll show you how to organize your keywords so they can be implemented and optimized into a highly successful marketing campaign.

Once you have completed this journey, you'll have a more thorough understanding the keyword research process, its importance to building a successful SEM campaign, and how to go about finding and implementing your keywords effectively throughout your site.

Jump to any post in this series:
* Introduction (you're here, baby!)
* Phase I: Finding Core Terms > What is a Core Term and why do you care?
* Phase I: Finding Core Terms > How to find core terms, steps 1-3
* Phase I: Finding Core Terms > How to find core terms, steps 4-5
* Phase I: Finding Core Terms > Four factors of prioritization
* Phase II: Discovering Search Phrases > What is a search phrase? / How to find search phrases
* Phase II: Discovering Search Phrases > How to find search phrases, Part II
* Phase III: Analyzing and Eliminating Keywords > Selecting high ROI search phrases
* Phase III: Analyzing and Eliminating Keywords > Selecting high ROI search phrases, Part II
* Phase III: Analyzing and Eliminating Keywords > Analyzing phrases for quality
* Phase IV: Organizing Keywords for Success > Making SEO successful / Segmenting Keywords
* Phase IV: Organizing Keywords for Success > Grouping phrases together

October 8, 2008

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


So far, so good. Seems like this is going to be a very informative and helpful series. One suggestion though: be more concise and to the point. The article has great information if one can get through some of the redundancy; in particular, I feel you over-explained the value of keyword research.

Great start!


This is an extremely informative article and it has some very good information in it. I am going to recommend this article and the rest of the series to a few of my friends who are interested in learning the basics and more about SEO.

I think that you are doing a great job at putting this information together and I don't see any need for you to be more concise or to the point.....I think that if you did then this would not be helpful to those with no knowledge of SEO. Being that I am experienced in the business, this article does have alot that I already know, but to somebody new it has tons of information that is highly valuable.

Keep on producing these quality articles and I will surely be back to read often!


Simply fantastic!
It will take me one week to read and apply it :D
Great resource, thanks :)

Hey Stoney,
This is a brilliant and in depth article, just what I was looking for.
One question, you mention both wordtracker and Keyword discovery tools, am I able to get the results I need using the free version or do you recommend the paid ones?

Stoney, I do like the way you write, mate! I have been following your more recent articles and just stumbled across this series - I will be putting aside some time to see what you have to say on this subject. I am looking forward to the read!

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Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > Comprehensive Guide to Keyword Research, Selection & Organization, Part I