Perhaps the most important step towards search engine optimization success is setting the right goals. This might seem obvious, but it is not uncommon for website owners to become confused over what their goals should be. They think that the goal is "to rank number one in all the search engines" for their keywords. Recent research shows that search engines vary widely as to the results returned, so besides being impossible, this is not really an insightful goal. It is a fine aspiration, but it is not really the goal — the objective is to get visitors to come to your website and do something there — buy something, sign-up for something or even just learn something. Ranking number one for a keyword is just the means to that end.
So, how do you set appropriate expectations for keyword targeting and ranking that will result in the achievement of the true goal — more customers? Well, the first step in determining what keywords that a searcher is likely to put into the search query box in order to find your website is to do a little keyword research.
First, ask yourself what word would people likely use to find your product or service? For example, an online fruit seller might reasonably expect that someone looking for apples would type in the keyword "apples". Naturally, as this is your business, you should be in the best position to know what words are best, but just in case, digging a little deeper can verify your intuitions.
One important thing you need to know is whether or not anybody ever searches for that keyword. It doesn't do much good to rank well for a keyword if nobody ever looks for it. There are several good tools that will give you information about the volume of searches that search engines receive for different keywords. For example, Google offers a free keyword suggestion tool for potential Adwords customers that will give you some idea what kind of volume of traffic you could expect from a Pay-per-click (PPC) campaign for keywords. Of course, this is only specifically relevant to PPC, but it can give you a rough idea. If you are going to be researching lots of keywords, it might be worth it to purchase access to a keyword research service like Wordtracker or Keyword Discovery. Most internet marketing firms offer keyword selection services which can also behelpful because keyword research can be tricky and making use of a professional to find the best keywords could be well worth the price. If you choose this option, make sure they will be doing real research and not just sending you the results from Google's free keyword suggestion tool.
Finally, you need to know how competitive your keywords are. If the keyword with the highest volume of search also describes another product or service unrelated to you and/or it is featured on an extremely well-known and popular website, your chances of ranking number one for that keyword are going to be diminished. For example, if we do a search for the keyword "apples" in Google, we see that there are well over 4,000,000 other pages in their index that are relevant to that keyword. That's extremely competitive. Furthermore, the first three results are for Apple Computers, a Wikipedia article about apples and the official site for the Washington Apple Commission. These are all extremely high profile pages with a great deal of authoritative value with Google for the keyword "apples", yet none of them are particularly relevant to someone who is trying to buy apples. It will take a well-trusted domain with a significant number of inbound links from a lot of other authoritative sites to beat out these pages for the top spots.
Recent research has shown that most searchers do not look past the first page of results. Not only that, the difference in traffic provided by the top position and the seventh position is considerable. Searchers are much more likely to click on the top three links. However, these studies have also shown that searchers are increasingly likely to modify their search if the results are not consistent with what they are looking for. This means that even though "apples" is a high traffic keyword that describes my product, the fact that the result of a search for "apples" is not necessarily one that helps my customers find what they want means that it might be just as good or better for me to rank prominently for a modified version of this keyword – "eating apples" or "apple varieties". These key phrases are less competitive and anyone searching for them is more likely to be looking for my product. So even though the number of searchers is smaller, the number of potential customers could be larger. Ranking on page 1 for a lower traffic key phrase will bring more traffic than ranking on page 5 for a high traffic keyword.
Adopting this philosophy is especially important for new websites. If your website is relatively young, it might be worthwhile to focus on a less competitive, specific key phrase while you build up search engine trust and cultivate important inbound links. Not only that, but searchers looking for those more specific phrases are more highly qualified in that they are actually trying to purchase your service. This makes these visitors more valuable than those that would be searching for the more general keyword, so not only do you get more visitors this way, but you also may get more sales which alert readers will remember is the real goal.
Once you've determined what key phrase you want to target, you have to decide which page of your site will target it. In order to maximize the chances of converting a visitor into a customer, the optimal situation is to bring the searcher directly to the most relevant page for their search term and ideally, it will be a page designed to make it as easy as possible for the visitor to purchase your product. However, which page you choose to target the key phrase will depend on a couple of factors:
- Page Content – the more precisely matched the page content is to the keyword target, the more likely that a visitor will click on your link in the search results and buy something once they are there.
- Competitiveness of the keyword – if the keyword is highly competitive, you may need the ranking power of your homepage.
Whatever page you choose, make sure it contains clear information on how to get the product or service. Ranking well for the keyword is of little use if the target page doesn't convert them into a customer. Once the page keyword target is chosen, optimize the page for that keyword or phrase by:
- Putting the keyword on the page in all of the important places.
- Targeting a keyword density at or slightly above (or below) that of other top ranking sites.
- Getting inbound links to the page — ideally with the keyword in the anchor text.
If you have correctly identified the keyword target for your page, then reaching your goal of more customers will be easier. Identifying your goal is definitely the most important step in web page optimization, but it isn't the only one.. The second most important step is to monitor your progress and not only for how your page ranks in search engine results pages.
To keep track of your progress, compare the ranking in search engine results pages before and after you have optimized the page and then compare the difference in traffic before and after your listing appeared.
- Make sure you give search engines enough time to crawl and index your pages. It can take up to a couple of weeks after they have crawled your page for changes to produce results.
This can give you some indication as to whether or not your efforts have had a positive effect. If your rankings have improved, but your traffic has not, maybe this key phrase is not right for you. If traffic has improved, then you are on the right track but the true test is in whether or not that increased traffic is translating into new business. To check that, compare customer conversions from the page before and after.
- Are your new visitors sticking around to become your customer or are they coming to your pages and just "bouncing away"? Make sure that visitors can easily become your customer.
Fierce competition and shifting search engine algorithms make web page optimization an ongoing process. If the results aren't what you hoped, then maybe this wasn't the best keyword for you or maybe the page needs a little more tweaking for keyword density or backlinks. Maybe the page is fine for search engines, but needs to be optimized for visitors. Website owners must constantly keep on top of search engine trends to keep traffic and conversions high. Identifying goals, taking a step-by-step approach, monitoring your progress and never giving up are the keys to success in search engine optimization.