Getting Started with SEO Keyword Research

Never underestimate the power of words.

Search engines crawl the web one page at a time to answer the following: What are you talking about and are you an authority on the subject?

The primary way they answer this question is through the words you use … in the page title, in the URL, in headings, in links, and in copy. These words are the key to getting indexed and found. They should be the foundation of any good search engine optimization effort.

What words are successful in bringing additional traffic? What words do people use to find me? What words do I want visitors to use?

Research holds the answer.

There’s no secret short cut to crafting a list of keywords you should use across your site. It takes research and time. Here are five steps to get started:

1. Brainstorm.

Start by asking the simple questions visitors might ask. “How much does a bachelor’s degree cost?” “Where can I earn an MBA in Chicago?” “What are the requirements to earn a teaching certificate in New York?”

Are there common phrases the keep popping up? Consider modifiers like “online” or location – “political science degree in St. Louis” or “art program in Florida.” Think about language that best describes your content beyond singular words or phrases.

Compile a list of words, phrases and descriptions. This list is a good place to start.

2. Test and generate new ideas.

Several online tools exist that provide free data on search traffic to various keywords and phrases. Enter your ideas in small batches of related phrases and compare the results. The results provide clear data and additional suggestions.

Some of the best tools out there include:

3. Take advantage of the long tail.

Give up on the idea of ever becoming the No. 1 search result for a term as generic as “MBA” or “Best Online College.” People searching with such generic terms aren’t looking for you anyway. These “popular” searches make up less than 30 percent of all searches performed on the web. Instead, focus on the other 70 percent.

Most searches in this “long tail” include additional phrases or altered terminology. Capitalize by optimizing keywords and phrases to capture these permutations. Stop worrying about “best adult education” and get more specific. Instead, focus on “evening classes near San Jose” or “completing my nursing degree at Mercy Hospital.”

4. Consider the competition.

Schools in similar locations, offering similar programs are competing for the same search traffic. Run a competitor’s site through a tool like Open Site Explorer and examine the keywords they have on their site.

Go back to the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. The same tool that provides search traffic data also lists the level of competition for each word or phrase. The ideal keyword or phrase attracts how search volume and low competition. These terms are the ones to use.

5. Implement, measure and repeat.

You have the list of keywords to use. It’s time to put them in place and see what happens. Google Webmaster Tools will show Google searches that returned URLs from your site, as well as information about your pages most often seen in search results.

Regularly review the data, refine your approach and reap the rewards.

This post appeared originally on the mStoner blog. mStoner is a marketing and advertising firm exclusively serving higher education.