The Intelligence of Search Engines
Recently, there has been much debate about whether robots will one day overthrow humans and take over the world. While I’m not ruling out this (ludicrous) idea, I’m confident that we’re very far away from such an apocalyptic outcome for the human race.
How can I be so sure?
Because one of the the most intelligent computer algorithms in the world still struggles with the English language. I am, of course, referring to Google’s search algorithm, one of the most sophisticated forms of artificial intelligence the world has ever seen.
And yet, Copyblogger, a prominent online marketing portal, belittles search engines like Google referring to them as “bright little toddlers who need information delivered to them in a way that works for them.” We’re not worried about a coup d’état led by toddlers, and nor should we be about robots.
But search engines are indeed smart, once you know how to speak their language. That language is the language of keywords. Keywords are the words and phrases that internet users type into a search box of a search engine.
Why Keywords Are So Important
In order for Google’s search algorithm to act smart, you have to use keywords in your website content that reflect the keywords your prospects (and other stakeholders) are using when searching for businesses like yours. What happens if you don’t? Your website simply won’t show up when people search for your industry, product or service.
For example, The Mezzanine Group could dedicate an entire page on its website to talking about their outsourced marketing services model. However, let’s say that on that page, the phrase “outsourced marketing” was never mentioned. Instead, imagine metaphors, analogies, and synonyms were used. Perhaps we used the term “external marketing company” instead. We would have very little hope of appearing in Google’s search engine results pages (“SERPs”) for the term “outsourced marketing”.
In other words, Google may not know that “external marketing company” and “outsourced marketing company” have effectively the same meaning. This is a situation all companies want to avoid.
To avoid this fate, start with meticulous keyword research. The aim of keyword research is to find out the exact phrases internet users are typing in when searching for businesses like yours, and then to incorporate them into your website copy in all the right places.
If you follow the 5 keyword research tips below, you’ll be well on your way to learning how to speak Google’s language.
1. Walk a Mile in Your Prospects’ Shoes
But how do you get in the heads and targets of your target audience?
Start with brainstorming. Gather your sales team (and anyone else that knows your prospects intimately) into one room. Start by writing down each product and service area that your business offers. Then, as a group, ask yourselves “what key terms and phrases do I think our prospects are typing into Google when looking for these categories”? Aim for at least 5 key terms per category.
Then, simply plug these terms into Google’s Keyword Planner “get keyword ideas” function. Google will take an initial list of say 50, and weigh in with suggestions for related keywords. Before you know it, 50 keywords grows to 1000.
Does a list of 1000 sound overwhelming? It is. But there are techniques for coping.
The first thing to do is export this much-enlarged list into excel. Secondly, you’ll need to be ruthless in enforcing the next 4 steps in order to trim your list down to a manageable level. Bring with you a critical eye, good judgement and a plethora of patience.
2. Transactional Intent > Informational Intent > Navigational Intent
Most people that are new to keyword research make one fatal flaw; they fail to consider the intention of users.
What do I mean by intention? Well, broadly speaking, people use search engines for the 3 following reasons:
- Transactional Queries:
- These queries suggest that people are looking to take some form of action
- g. a CEO mulling over whether to acquire another company might type in “M&A law firm in Toronto” because he wants to hire an M&A lawyer.
- Informational Queries
- These queries suggest the person is undertaking research, and needs information.
- For example, a law student might type in “mergers and acquisitions law” because they are studying for an m&a law exam, and need some information their textbook doesn’t provide.
- Navigational Queries
- These searches suggest the person already knows exactly where they want to go
- For example, a lawyer might type in “law society of upper canada” because they want to find the law society’s website, but don’t know the correct URL.
If you’re looking to attract prospects who are already deep into the sales funnel, your main priority should be to target those keywords which are transactional in nature. These keywords suggest that the user is potentially interested in buying your product or service.
In this case, a law firm which specialises in providing M&A law services would clearly favour the “M&A law firm in Toronto” keyword, if pressed to choose between the three. This is because a keyword such as this will attract a targeted audience. As Tom Ewer makes clear, “1,000 targeted visitors can be more beneficial than tens of thousands as many of visitors with no commercial intent.”
3. Be as Specific As Possible
Another common SEO mistake businesses fall foul to is choosing “umbrella keywords”. Umbrella keywords are ones that are very vague, and can mean many things to many people.
So for example, if you’re a corporate law firm, who specialises in m&a law, there’s not a whole of point in trying to rank for keywords such as “lawyers”.
The term “lawyers” might be keyed in by tens of thousands of Canadians each month, but it has a multitude of connotations which don’t apply to a corporate law firm. For example, consider a brick layer who was hit by falling debris on a construction site. His first reaction might be to type in “lawyers” into Google. Clearly, he needs a personal injury lawyer, not an M&A lawyer.
So, get specific. Specific terms lead to more qualified traffic and quicker rankings.
4. Competition Counts Too
Sometimes, the best way to compete is to avoid the competition. Pick your battles.
In your pursuit of top rankings of Google, you need to be well aware that you’re not alone in the race. Your competition may be paying a digital marketing agency thousands of dollars every month so that they can maintain their position at the top of Google’s totem pole.
If your company is devoting comparatively fewer resources to SEO than your competition, your best bet is to avoid targeting the hyper-competitive keywords. So, an integral part of your keyword research is to assess what the competitive playing field looks like.
Competitive analysis involves finding out which other companies are ranking for the keywords you’re interested in pursuing. If these companies have more authoratitive and trusted domains than yours, then climbing your way to the first way of Google will be an uphill battle from day one. You’ll have to put in a lot of elbow grease creating relevant content, obtaining back links, and increasing your website traffic to even stand a shot.
Subscription services like Moz.com help you make sense of the competitive landscape. Their keyword difficulty to tool condenses a number of complex competition factors into a single percentage figure. I personally try and avoid keywords with a competition figure above 60%.
Moz also provides SERP Reports, which show you a list of the top 10 websites for a particular keyword, how many external links they have, and domain and page authority (which are measures of how much Google likely trusts your website).
5. Make it easy to write
During your keyword research, you’ll discover that people might be searching for terms such as “best corporate lawyers in Toronto” or “most prestigious corporate law firm Canada”. Just because these keywords have a high search volume and a low level of competition doesn’t mean you should pursue them.
Ultimately, your websites number one priority is to provide the best user experience. This involves ensuring your copywriting is to a high standard. It’d be hard for your copy to be compelling if the phrase “best corporate lawyers in Toronto” kept appearing on your website. Besides coming across as arrogant, targeting such keywords makes it extremely obvious that you’ve prioritised SEO over user experience. Such a strategy would destroy your brand image, and once Google cottons on to what you’re doing, it’ll reduce your keyword rankings across the board.
What tips do you use to help guide your keyword research?