Friday, March 9, 2012

What's a Keyword? Is Keyword is important?

When people go to Google, they search for things. As of June 2011, more than 3 billion searches happen every day on Google (and lots happen on Bing + Yahoo!, too). A good portion of those people are searching for information about travel, and if you build your site right and do a bit of what SEOs call "keyword research" (figuring out what people search for and how) along with "keyword targeting" (using those words and phrases in smart places on your pages), you can earn positions in the search rankings and get lots of high quality, valuable visitors coming to your site.
Shops of Covent Garden SERPs
For example, in the search I've done above, you can see that Geraldine's post - The Shops of Covent Garden, London - is ranking in position 5. On average, about 5% of searchers for that query will likely click on her page. If there's 100 searches for that phrase each month, Geraldine will get 5 extra visits to her site every month. If she wrote 5 blog posts every day that performed like this, in a few years she'd have some pretty amazing traffic. And, of course, if she got to ranking #1 or #2 for some of those keywords or ranked #5 for things people search for 1,000 times each month, that could be even more exciting.

In the SEO world, we call the search words and phrases that people type into Google and Bing "keywords," and we do our best to understand what people are searching for, build great pages that would make those searchers happy and try to rank high in the results to earn as many of those clicks as possible. The first part of that - understanding what people are searching for, is the critical part of "keyword research." Here's how you do that:
AdWords Screenshot
(sadly, this isn't the best example, because there's so few searches for the phrase, but you get the idea)
The screenshot above comes from Google's AdWords Keyword Tool. It's the best known keyword research tool on the web, and is likely the only one you'll need as a travel blogger unless you become very advanced at SEO. There's a few important things to understand about the tool, so I've made some notations with red numbers:
  1. This is where you enter the words to describe what you're writing about. You can use one or two words or try to be more specific. The words Google suggests will be based on what you enter here.
  2. For travel bloggers, I generally would recommend that you use the language you'll be writing in, but don't exclude any countries. Travelers search from all over the world! Don't just limit your keyword research to the United States.
  3. This is very important, even if it seems a bit complex at first. The "match type" refers to the suggestions Google will give you, and if you're not careful, this can really throw you for a loop. Basically, "exact match" is what you want most of the time (but it's not checked by default, so be sure to do that!). Exact match means that Google will only show you the keywords and search volume for that particular keyword phrase. If you use broad match or phrase match, you'll often see a much higher volume of searches, but it doesn't mean that this quantity of people actually performed that search. You can learn more about match types here.
  4. Here's your data! Looking at these keyword "suggestions" you can see what Google knows about that people search for around these keywords and how many people are performing those searches globally. The "competition" column doesn't matter too much for you here - it refers to the number of advertisers who bid against a keyword and how much they pay, but since you'll be targeting the "free" or "organic" searches, you don't need to worry about these.
  5. Google will also give some keyword "ideas" that relate to your search terms, but don't match them exactly. This can be handy for finding opportunities of things to write about or what to title your posts.
When it comes to the AdWords Keyword Tool, I recommend you play around with it - experiment, have fun, see what different clicks and buttons do, the works! Just remember - the numbers Google reports are, relatively speaking, accurate, but not precise. So, if Google says that keyword 1 has 100 searches/month and keyword 2 has 200/month, that doesn't mean that precisely that many people search each month for those words. But, it does probably mean that keyword 2 gets about twice as many searches as keyword 1.

OK. You know how to see what people search for and now you're ready to start writing some posts to earn some of those rankings and get some visitors. But, what do you actually do with those keywords?
Use them smartly in your blog posts!

Covent Garden Page Example
I've got an entire post dedicated to best practices for using keywords in your pages, but the simple rule of thumb is:
  • Make the important keyword phrase the first words in your blog post's title (if possible)
  • Use other relevant, important and/or identifying keywords in the title (for example, Geraldine's post on this topic was wisely labeled, The Shops of Covent Garden, London - both to indicate its location and because people might search for "covent garden shops, london")
  • Make the headline of the piece/page match the title (searchers don't like to click on one thing and get another!)
  • Use the keyword phrase and other important keywords in the content of the post - don't stuff or spam them in unnaturally, just try to include them where relevant and appropriate
  • If you can, make your URLs (this thing - use the keyword as well. This is pretty easy to do in Wordpress and most other blog platforms 
That's it! That's really all you need to do on the keyword front. If you need it in once sentence, it's this:
Find the words and phrases people use to search and include them prominently in the blog posts you write. 
If you've done that, you're well on your way to good SEO.

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