What is a Keyword and how do I find mine?

When you hear the words “keyword” or “keyword phrases” do you know what they mean to you, your business and especially your clients?

So many times, when I begin to work with a client, the first thing they say, before they even have content for their home page, is “I just want to rank #1 on Google.” So, I naturally ask them which keyword or keyword phrase they plan to rank #1 for? And, that is when I often learn that they hadn't thought much past the desire to rank well.

I can relate. We are constantly hearing that we need to rank well on the search engines, in order to get traffic to our sites. And, though this is partly correct, I believe there are many options to get traffic to your site, but we'll talk more about other options in a future post. For now, let's talk about ranking appropriately with the search engines.

For the purpose of this post, we will focus on the topic of keywords and keyword phrases. So, let's start with a quick definition of these terms related to search engines:

Keyword or Keyword Phrase: A word, term or phrase that someone types into the search box on a search engine site (such as Google, Yahoo or MSN), to find information or sites that talk about ‘their' subject of interest.

I want you to be sure you understand this: the definition does not say a term that you, and folks in your industry, use to describe your services or products. What it does simply state is that it is a term someone else (a potential client or customer) might use to find info about the subject they are interested in.

For example, though you want to rank #1 for your company name and products, there are folks who may not know you, yet, so you also want to rank for the terms they'd use to solve their problem.

Here is an example that might be helpful.

A few years ago, I went to meet with a company that duplicated CDs. Before I walked in, I did a few searches, to see what they had already begun and how they were ranking in the search engines. I couldn't find them for any of the ‘obvious' terms I was searching for (cd duplication, cd manufacturing…). So, you might be as surprised as I was when their president said to me, “We're # 1 on Google!

“Really? Wow, that is great, but may I ask for what terms?” I politely questioned, because either I had done something wrong or he was using a term I wasn't looking up (and maybe his potential clients wouldn't use his term, either).

He proceeded to show me and, when he did, it became clear why he was #1.

The way he was looking up the term, and the way he had optimized his website, was to use the following full keyword phrase, exactly as it is written below:

“CD/DVD Manufacturer and Duplication Services”

Now, let's break this down, because – at first sight – it does seem like folks might find him this way:

But let me ask you, if you were looking for someone who did CD manufacturing, would you type in the term exactly as he had it? Take another look and remember, he was ranked # 1 exactly as it is written above – slash mark between CD/DVD, and all. Because he did his search with quote marks around it, as well, this meant his clients would have to use the words in the exact order they were in and how they were presented to find his company's only #1 ranking search term.

He was nowhere to be found on the terms individually, because he had only placed the words on his site as they appeared in his search term (minus the quote marks).

That would be like me doing a search for…say… the above sentence.  Chances are I would easily rank #1 if I did a search for the above sentence (once the search engine's indexed this page), because no one else has written it the same exact way I have.  But would anyone be looking for it to find my company?  If not, it doesn't matter how well I rank for it!

Most likely, if you were looking for his CD duplication services, you would be looking for the term CD duplication or the term CD duplicators. Maybe you would be looking for CD manufacturing (not manufacturer). But chances are, you would not go to Google and type in CD/DVD (because most people don't think to put the slash in between). So you would never see him.  In fact, I went to Google's keyword research tool, to see how many folks were looking for the term, as he used it, so I could show you the results.

As you can see from this image, there is not enough data (meaning no one is typically looking for that full term that he ranks #1 for). However, Google does provide you with additional searches to consider.  This is handy, because look how many folks are searching for CD duplication or CD duplicators, not to mention DVD duplication and DVD duplicator (notice no s at the end of that specific keyword phrase).  Also, you might notice folks were looking for the term dvd cd duplicator, which is interesting to note (and could be a whole post of its own), but no one searches for it as CD/DVD (it isn't a natural instinct for most folks to add that slash to their search).

Let's pause for a moment…

You may be saying, yeah, but if he includes that full term on his site and he is ranking #1 for it in any fashion, doesn't that mean he'll rank for the individual terms, as well? Well, that is a maybe. See, if there are 200 or more sites who are optimizing their site with the correct keyword phrases that do rank well, then he will be pushed below them – meaning someone would have to search a long time to find him.

If you know that folks are looking for the term CD duplication or, better yet, CD duplicators, you should be consistently using the term or terms appropriately throughout your site. Not the term “CD/DVD Manufacturer and Duplication Services.”

If no one is looking for the keyword phrase you are using, then it doesn't help you to rank #1 for it!

This brings us to another example.  In this case, it is of a keyword phrase lots of folks are using, but one that is useless for the site to use (fortunately, the client realized it):

I have a client who offers software internationalization services. It's a specialized field, but basically they work with the strings of code (the backend of the software) to prepare it to work in any language.

Their president told me he had a disappointing experience with a search firm. They were trying to rank him for terms that didn't make sense to his clients and he knew it.

They were suggesting he use the keyword phrase “translation software”, because they found it ranked better than some he was using. And, yes, they were correct, a good number of folks were searching for that keyword phrase. The problem was most of those folks were looking for:

  1. A product like Rosetta Stone (which teaches you how to speak another language)
  2. A way to translate a simple line of text from one language to another – you know, like how to say “Hello, it is nice to meet you” in French

The second searchers were looking for a free online tool like Babelfish not a company that organizations like Yahoo and HP might go to, in an effort to make sure their millions of lines of code work in any language.

Fortunately, my client knew his own clients well enough to know the search firm was giving him bad advice, at that moment. Keep this lesson in mind, just because a word ranks well doesn't mean it will bring the folks who need your product.  Maybe a lower ranking word will bring better targeted folks to you.

The thing I want you to take away from this post is that ranking well in the search engines requires understanding how your customers would search for you!

If you don't know, then ask some of your existing customers. Whenever a client calls me for the first time, I ask them how they heard about me. Granted, for me it's usually from a referral, which I like even better than ranking #1 in any search engine, because it means another client recommended my services! But on those occasions that folks said they found me on Google, I always ask them if they remembered what search term they used.

I also listen to what terms they use when they speak to me, because they may give me clues there, as well.

As I've mentioned before, my forte is online marketing, not SEO, but they go hand and hand.  I believe I do a good job at starting folks out on their SEO campaigns.  When I am working with a new client's optimization, one of the first things I do is spend a minimum of 1-3 hour just doing a keyword research campaign (I'd prefer more time, but again, this is just to get them started).

However, before I begin the research, I ask the client what terms they think folks are using to search for their types of products or services. Then I go to a series of keyword researching tools to begin to capture results. BUT, I always keep in mind that just because a keyword ranks well, such as translation software, it doesn't mean it is the word potential clients are using to find them. So, I go to Google and do some searches to see what types of companies are listed for that specific keyword phrase.

And, of course, while I am doing that, I encourage my clients to check with a couple of existing customers. Because, after all, their customers are the best resources, as they were once prospects, too.

Here are my suggestions of free keyword research tools, to get you started:




This post is just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to keywords and keyword phrases, but I do hope it expands your mind and offers some good advice.

By the way, if you haven't already, you may also benefit by reading two previous posts on UniqueThink's blog, about search engine optimization:

SEO tips: How to Optimize your site

Setting Realistic SEO Expectations

And, of course, don't forget I offer a 1-hour free consultation, if you need to discuss your specific situation!  Feel free to contact me.

If you have any keyword horror stories that others can learn from, or any good research tips, please share them by commenting below! 

5 comments on “What is a Keyword and how do I find mine?

  1. “Understanding how your customers would search for you,” I think is the key like you say.

    I also think that the cool thing about internet marketing is that you don’t have to spend so much time trying to get into the head of your customer but you can let the data be your guide. Once you ask your client what terms they think folks are using to search for their types of products or services, you do your research and form your hypotheses and then give it a try. With web analytics you can then see the results and measure the effect those keywords had.

    If some words are leading to high bounce rates then take them off, form another hypothesis and try again.

    This way you can constantly be optimizing your site to fit with what your customers are really looking for.

  2. Hi Zach,
    Thanks for the comments.

    Everyone: Meet Zach, a very talented and informed intern to UniqueThink. Maybe we can convince him to write some posts, as well!

    He has a lot of insights from his studies, and we are merely helping him to transfer them from practice into purpose. So, definitely listen to that which he writes about.

    As Zach mentions, web analytics (Google Analytics is my first choice) is a great way to follow up on the SEO you’ve already applied to your site.

    Check your stats for your chosen keyword, as Zach pointed out, but also look for external searches that brought folks to your site that you hadn’t optimized for, yet.

    If folks are using search terms that you hadn’t taken into consideration and finding you than write an additional blog post about that appropriate subject. For instance, I just checked my own stats and saw some folks found me thru a search result for cross promotional marketing. It sounds like it is time to write a post about that!

    Anyway, thanks for your insights Zach. And, if anyone has questions or comments, let us know!

  3. WOw, you guys just blew my mind! Lots to think about now…
    Like, What do you do if you offer multiple services under one umbrella site? For instance, I want to have different portals for different clients to enter. Would I setup multiple pages featuring copy that uses different keywords for different services?

  4. Hi Jennifer:

    Good to hear from you, say hi to your sister! So glad you found my blog! And, glad we gave you some things to think about.

    As for your question, I guess I need to know more about the services, to determine the best way to set your site up.

    But most likely, as you concluded, you would have multiple pages (or maybe categories with posts) that feature copy using different keywords to cover each of the services.

    I offer a 1-hr free consultation, if you want to chat more.


  5. Thanks for the article. I’m always looking for good keyword research and this helps. I have bookmarked this article over at the SEO Social Bookmarking website.

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