Keyword Research for Search Engine Optimization in Drupal 6

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SEO is necessary—you’ve got to do it if you want to rank well for keywords. Simple in concept, keywords are actually very complicated things. They bring order to chaos, define markets, and reveal intent. Keyword data simultaneously tells you how many people are looking for your product or service and what those people will do once they find you. The results of a keyword search can tell you who the top people are in an industry and inform you of upcoming trends in the market. Keywords are the most visible focal point of free market competition between business interests. Search engine optimization is a popularity contest for keywords and this is a popularity contest you want to win.

The most critical part of an SEO project is finding the right keywords. You will spend months working on your web site, getting links, and telling the world that your site is the authority on that keyword. It’s critical that when you finally arrive, your customers are there to embrace you. If you pick the wrong keywords, you’ll spend months working only to find that there is nobody who wants to buy your product. Ouch! An extra few hours researching your keywords in the beginning will help you avoid this fate.

What a keyword is

Keywords are many things to many people. For the purpose of this SEO campaign, there are really only two things about keywords that we need to understand to get the job done. Keywords aggregate searchers into organized groups and a keyword defines a market.

Keywords are single words that a search engine user types into the search box to try to find what they’re looking for. Key phrases are the same as keywords except for the fact that they consist of two or more words. For the sake of simplicity, throughout this article let’s use keywords to mean both, keywords and key phrases.

Keywords aggregate searchers into organized groups

Millions of random people visit Google every day. When they arrive, they are amorphous—a huddled mass yearning for enlightenment with nothing more than a blank Google search form to guide them. As each person types keywords into Google and clicks the Search button, this random mass of people becomes extraordinarily organized. Each keyword identifies exactly what that person is looking for and allows Google to show them results that would satisfy their query.

Much like a labor union, the more searchers there are looking for a particular phrase, the more clout they have with the businesses who want to sell to them. However, instead of more pay and better health benefits, you get better search results. If there are a thousand people per month looking for keyword A and a hundred people per month looking for keyword B, then chances are good that there are more competitors focused on keyword A. More competition means better optimization is required to show up at the top. Better optimization requires more content, closer attention to meeting the needs of the group, and more interesting web sites.

A keyword defines a market

This organization of searchers is what gives Google such power. In a very real way, Google creates billions of tiny markets every day. There is a buyer (the searcher) looking for a product, the seller (the web site owners) selling what they’ve got, and the middleman (Google) organizing everything and facilitating the transaction. The transaction takes place when the searcher clicks on the result of a keyword search and is whisked off to the seller’s web site. However, it doesn’t always go smoothly.

In fact, very high percentages of the time the searcher doesn’t find what they’re looking for so they hit the back button and try again. They may try a different result on the same page or type in a different keyword and do the entire search again. Each time you have an opportunity to convince them that yours is the right site with the best information and most promising solution to their questions. It is in your best interest to provide a web site that quickly engages the searchers, pulls them in, and keeps the dialogue going.

Why keyword research is important

As a Drupal site owner, you have the opportunity to position yourself as the best site available for the keywords people are searching for.

Know thy customer
There are hundreds of good marketing books out there to help you better understand your audience. All that good information applies to SEO as well. The better you know your audience, the better you can guess what keywords they are typing in Google to find companies like yours.

You’re an expert in your field, so of course you know many of the keywords that people use to find your products and services. But, are you sure you know them all?

A few years ago Tom, a friend of mine, hired me to do SEO for his high-end landscaping firm. His company designs and installs yards, trees, retaining walls, and so on, outside million dollar homes in the hill country near Austin, Texas. We sat down in an early morning meeting and he said, “Ben, the right keyword is landscaping. I know it so there’s no reason to do all this research. Don’t waste your time and my money. Just do landscaping and that’s that”. Being the thorough person that I am, I did the keyword research anyway. Guess what I found?

The number one phrase in his business was landscaping. However, a very close second was landscaper. And, while landscaping had dozens of competitors—some of them were very well entrenched—there were only a handful of competitors showing up for landscaper.

The next day, I called Tom and told him what I found. “You know what?” he said, “Now that you mention it, many of our customers do refer to us as landscapers—’I need a landscaper. Call a landscaper’ “.

So, we started his campaign targeting the keyword landscaper. Because there was so little competition, he ranked in the top five in a matter of weeks and was number one in Google within two months. He was dominating half the search traffic within two months! The leads were rolling in so we switched to the keyword landscaping. It took longer—about three months—for him to break into the top ten. By that time, he had so many inquiries, he hardly even noticed.

The lesson here is three-fold:

  1. You may know some of the keywords, however, that doesn’t mean you know them all.
  2. Just because you think of yourself in one particular way doesn’t mean your customers do.
  3. By taking the time to do keyword research, you will reveal opportunities in your market that you didn’t know existed.

What your keyword goal is

Before you start looking at keywords, you need to fix your goal firmly in your mind. There are basically two major reasons to do SEO.

Goal 1: Brand awareness

This may come as a surprise but there are people out there who don’t know that you exist. SEO is a powerful and inexpensive way to get your name out there and build some credibility with your target customers. There are three major types of brand awareness:

Company brand awareness

Company brand awareness works on getting the name of your company into the market. If you want to build credibility for Big Computers Unlimited as a whole, then you probably want a campaign focused on getting your company listed where other top producers of PCs are listed. PC, computer, or fast computer all might be good terms.

Product brand awareness

Product brand awareness focuses on building general market knowledge of one product or line of products that your company produces. If you work for Big Computers Unlimited and you want to sell more Intergalactic Gamer brand computers at retail stores throughout the country, then you probably want to build a campaign around keywords like Gaming PC or even high-end PC.

Credibility

A 2004 survey by iProspect found that two out of three search engine users believed that the highest search results in Google were the top brands for their industry; there is little reason to believe this perception has changed. That means that just by being at the top of Google will gain you a certain level of trust among search engine users. If Big Computers Unlimited can rank in the top three for Gaming PCs, they’ll develop a lot of creed among gamers.

Goal 2: Conversions

Conversions are a fancy way of saying that the visitor did what you wanted them to do. There are three typical types of conversions:

Transactional

A transaction is just what it sounds like. Someone puts in a credit card and buys your product. This is typical of most product-focused web sites but isn’t limited to this narrow category. Your web site may sell registrations to online training, subscriptions to magazines, or even credit monitoring. The bottom line is that it can be purchased on the site. You need to focus your keyword research on terms that will bring buyers who are ready to purchase right now. Words like buy, price, merchant, store, and shop indicate a desire for immediate purchase.

Give them the transactional information they need like price, color choices, size, quantity discounts, return policy, and delivery options. With this information and a great checkout experience you’ll have them buying from you in no time.

Ubercart
Ubercart is simply the best shopping cart solution for Drupal. If you’re a transactional web site and you need an e-commerce solution, start here: http://www.ubercart.org/.

Lead Generation

If you’re in an industry with a long sales cycle like real estate, legal services, or medical, then you’re probably interested in generating leads rather than online transactions. If you sell a service or product that requires direct contact with your customer, like consulting or personal training, then you probably want leads too.

Lead generation means that instead of buying from your web site, you’re interested in someone expressing an interest in doing business with you so that you can follow up with them later. You let them express interest by filling out a contact form, emailing you, or even picking up the phone and calling you. You need to focus your keyword research on terms that will bring people who are perhaps a little earlier in the buying process. Words like review, compare, best, information, and generic names of your product indicate a user is researching but not quite ready to buy. You’ll need to provide a lot of information on your web site to inform them and shape their thinking about your product.

Page impression (or ad impression)

Some web sites make money when visitors view an ad. To these sites, a conversion may simply be someone clicking on one or more pages so that they’ll see one more ads. You need to focus your keyword research on terms that will bring people seeking information or news to your web site.

Keyword research tools

There are many tools to help you find the right keywords. It’s not important that you use them all but you should try a few of them just so you can see what’s out there. Here are my favorites in order of preference:

Your own web site

The most important keyword research tool at your disposal is your own web site, http://www.yourDrupalsite.com/. If you already have some traffic, chances are that they’re coming from somewhere. With analytics installed, you should be able to find out what they’re searching on with just a few clicks. If you have Google Analytics installed then you can easily see this data by logging in to its admin section and then going to Traffic Sources | Search Engines | Google.

This information can be invaluable if you cross-reference it with your current positions in the search engines. Say, for example, that you’re getting 100 searchers a month on a term that you’re on page 2 of Google. That’s a good indicator that people are searching hard to find a company like yours and that may be a very good term to focus on with your search engine campaign. If you’re getting that much traffic on page 2, imagine if you were in the top three on page 1.

Drupal has a built-in search engine—another great tool to see what the people are searching for, after they’ve already visited your site. There’s an insanely useful module for that, called Top Searches (http://drupal.org/project/top_searches) that does a better job that Drupal’s built-in list. This module was developed by the founder of Linnovate, Zohar Stolar. Thanks, Zohar!

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