Reality Check: A Straightforward Guide to Keywords and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Web site owners need to have realistic expectations when it comes to the world of keyword selection.

It's essential to understand your audience, as well as to aim appropriately at powerful, concise keywords that are not vague or generic-those broad, expansive keywords that rarely attract the audience you are seeking--and lead to disappointing rankings and wasteful expenditures of cash resources.

If you want a healthy return on investment (ROI) with search engine optimization (SEO), your success ? or failure ? hinges on the keywords you select when combined with other factors like link popularity and web site design.

If your web site has content and design barriers, lacks saturation (a term used to describe how well a site is indexed by search engines) and isn't found on many other relevant web sites, you're odds of ranking well are pretty low.

Be careful with keyword research so that you don't miss excellent opportunities or aim so broadly that you target phrases that will never rank well. Get your act together. Here are 5 tips to guide you along the way in your research. They may help you make good choices, achieve high rankings and bring more traffic (and leads) to your web site.

1. Know your audience and think through your business goals.
Many businesses simply pick keywords out of thin air. They don't talk to customers or hot prospects in order to determine what might be a useful set of keywords. Your keywords need to match your business strategy. What are your main products? Where are sales lagging? Are there products or services that do well and could soar with SEO? Which products have the highest margins? You should have scores of other questions that make sense for your business. The information should be readily available. If it's not, you're way behind in the SEO process.

2. Watch the broad search terms.
Companies make a mistake in this area more than any other place. The keyword landscape is more inviting than a one-hour toy store shopping spree for a child. The excitement forces people to ignore reality. Who can blame them? Wouldn't it be great to be #1 on Google for "food," "cars," "software"? Yes, single words can help drive sales. But they're difficult to achieve. Link popularity, web site content, site structure and other considerations will impact rankings.

3. Learn how to form search terms.
You can start with "automobile" all you want, but build on your core phrase by adding on other words like "suppliers," "products," "services," "companies," "firms."

4. Analyze log files.
Often overlooked and easily underplayed, web site log files reveal much about the way people search. You can generate many keyword and search phrase ideas just by examining the data with an intuitive sense.

5. Know your link popularity.
First you need to know your competitors ? compare their link popularity to yours. How far do you need to go to catch up? Study who else links to their site. Would those web sites be willing to link to your site? Would you be required to do a link exchange with them? Use a Link Popularity Check (www.checkyourlinkpopularity.com) service to ascertain how your site is faring with link popularity.

Get additional keyword tips through our free keyword development report. Our FREE guide, "Reality Check: A Straightforward Guide to Keywords and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)," helps business owners navigate the often misunderstood world of keyword selection, including how to pick them right words and mistakes to avoid.

Get your copy today of our SEO white paper here: http://www.fathomseo.com/forms/keyword_form.a sp.

Michael Murray is vice president of Fathom SEO, a Cleveland, Ohio-based search engine optimization firm. The SEO firm is a member of Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) and SEO Consultants. He also authored the white paper, "Search Engine Marketing: Get in the Game" and the manufacturing SEO study "U.S. Manufacturers Resist Natural Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Online Sales Leads." [email protected]

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