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How to Develop an Effective SEO Keyword Strategy

SEO 101: Chapter 3 – Part 1

One of the most important components of search engine optimization (SEO) is developing an effective set of keywords through proper keyword research and analysis. It sets the foundation for the entire SEO process, including all website optimization and off site optimization efforts, such as link building. In order to properly do your own SEO keyword research, it’s important that we start from the beginning and dissect what a keyword is and how it connects us in the online world of search.

What are Keywords?

What are keywords you ask? Well my young Padawan, keywords, which are also known as keyphrases or keyterms, are the search terms people are typing into Google, Yahoo or Bing to find the information, products or services they need.

Why are Keywords Important?

Keywords play a vital role in bridging the virtual online gap between web searchers and websites. On the business side of things, they have the power to define an organization’s core business, purpose, goals and customers. So when it comes down to it, it is all about building your relevancy for whatever keywords you want people to find you for. A successful SEO campaign will use an effective set of keywords that have been selected through diligent research and proven to be the most beneficial to the organization.

Types of Keywords

Keywords can come in the form of a single word or be as long as a six word phrase or more. Studies show that keyword searches for 2 – 4 word phrases have the highest average conversion rate (ie. users ended up purchasing an item, filled out a form or contacted the company). The reason being longer phrases are more specific and focused so the searcher generally knows what they want. However, phrases even longer than four words can still have a lot of value.

With that being said, keywords can be categorized into 3 main types of keyword searches:

  1. Short Tail Keywords
  2. Middle Tail Keywords
  3. Long Tail Keywords


Short Tail Keywords

The most popular types of search terms fall into the “short tail” or the front of the search distribution graph shown above. This area consists of a small number of high-frequency, or highly searched, keywords that are more general in context. These more popular keywords are typically more competitive to rank for because they are usually also the more obvious search terms. Short tail keywords are considered the “root” or base to more specific keyword searches.

Below are a few examples of keyword searches that might fall within the short tail:

  • Cell phone
  • Laundromat
  • Italian food
  • Science books

Middle Tail Keywords

The middle tail portion of the keyword distribution graph accounts for keywords that are slightly more specific than the far more general or obvious short tail keywords. These middle tail keyword phrases consist of the “root” and the “modifier”. Keyword modifiers are what focus the general short tail keyword into a more specific middle tail and long tail keyword phrase.

Below are a few examples of the short tail keywords converted into more specific middle tail keywords:

  • Best cell phone manufacturer
  • Cheap laundromat in Orange County
  • Giovanni’s Italian restaurant
  • High school Science books

Long Tail Keywords

The long tail consists of a significantly larger number of low-frequency keywords that are less popular but also less competitive to rank for. These outliers usually have many modifiers to make them even longer and more specific phrases than those in the short and middle tails. They get their name because they create the illusion of the tail in the search distribution graph shown above.

Below are a few examples of the middle tail keywords converted into even more specific long tail keywords:

  • Where can I find a used Apple iPhone 4s smartphone?
  • Cheap laundromats in Orange County with free parking and nearby liquor store
  • Lasagna at Giovanni’s Italian restaurant gave me a stomachache
  • What is the top rated biology book for my child’s science class?

Building an Effective Keyword Strategy

As you can see, there can potentially be thousands of keyword phrases that would be suitable to your business. However, unless you have an army of resources, it is important to focus your SEO marketing efforts on the most effective keywords to your business.

So, how would we define an “effective” keyword? For one, an effective keyword is one that connects searchers with the most relevant results. On the business side, effective keywords are the ones that drive the most qualified traffic, or potential customers, to your website.

Building an effective keyword strategy means allocating your time and effort to the keywords that mean the most to your business. Short tail keyword roots will probably have much higher search volume but be significantly more competitive, which makes attaining higher rankings much more difficult. Middle and long tail keyword phrases may not individually have as much search volume but because they account for such a large portion of all search you can attract more overall traffic than in the short tail.

In our experience, we have been able to focus on the less competitive middle and long tail keywords while still increasing our rankings for the highly competitive short tail keywords over time.

For example, SEO efforts focused on “internet marketing in Orange County” can reinforce our base for a much more competitive keyword like “internet marketing”.

This strategy allows us to actively go after the low hanging fruit (short-term goal) but still build our brand and relevance for the higher hanging fruit (long-term goal).

Every industry is different but we are pretty confident that this sort of approach just about applies to any website. It’s easy to get lost in focusing solely on the overly competitive keywords that fall within the upper echelon of the short tail search. Diversify your efforts and focus on building your keyword foundation first and you’ll have a better chance at attaining those high search volume keywords.

In Part 2 of this chapter, we will provide some keyword tips, checklists and tools to use to help you develop your keyword list.

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