Author: Mark Birkett
Keyphrase research is a vital part of your online success. That's because you need to optimise your web pages for phrases that are relevant to what you do and which contain high levels of potential Web traffic - or customers.
There is absolutely no point in optimising your pages for phrases that no-one is using in the search engines. And there is no point in guessing these phrases, you need to research them. So let's examine why this keyphrase / keyword research matters in more detail...
Once published, most businesses soon want to see their new website appearing in the major search engine results pages (SERPS). But since there are literally millions of websites, a good number of which may be competing with you for business, how on earth can this be achieved?
Well, the honest answer is that climbing to the top of the search engines is not a particularly easy task. After all, we can't all be No.1 can we? Someone has to come second, third, fourth...and so on.
Our task first requires an understanding of how search engines function. Then we need a knowledge of both 'on-page' and 'off page' optimisation techniques. After that we need to research your potential customers' search habits. Perhaps most importantly of all, 'online success' requires both the client and the web design / SEO experts to work together on an agreed strategy.
Despite the claims of many so-called 'SEO experts' there is no way of guaranteeing particular search engine results for any given website. If there was, everyone would be doing it. And since there are so many contributing factors, it is not always easy to measure which of your efforts produced your eventual SEO success either.
However, with effort, patience and team work, you can deploy a series of techniques which together can add up to your website appearing higher and higher in the search engines' results pages (SERPS).
No two businesses are the same. Some industries are very niche, i.e. with only a handful of competitors. For example, whilst Siberian Mink importers might be a rather rare commodity - with few likely competitors - most businesses exist in a crowded and sometimes even ruthlessly competitive marketplace. So you need to realise that climbing to the top of the search engines in one industry may require a great deal more effort than it might in another.
That said, if you and your chosen web design / SEO company work together on developing an 'inbound link strategy', it is perfectly possible to obtain significant increases in your search engine rankings over a 6-12 month period. And it all starts by understanding how search engines identify key phrases on your website, how they then index your site into a useable order, and then how they deliver your website in results pages when someone uses that phrase as a search query.
Search engines are not manned by human beings. They rely on 'spiders' or 'web robots' - electronic 'scouts' if you like - that seek out as many web pages as they can. These pages are then indexed into a usable order so that anyone searching for a given topic can find the website based on that topic and click to see it in their browser.
Unfortunately, far too many web design companies only consider search engine optimisation (SEO) issues after the client's website is built. That's the wrong approach entirely (the phrase 'cart before horse' springs to mind). You should plan any new website around established SEO principles right from the start of your project.
In this article, we'll concentrate on how best to make your website 'Google-friendly'. Sure, Google is not the only search facility on the Web and many complain (with some justification) that it isn't the best either. However, with some 85% of daily search traffic in the UK, for the time being at least it is the biggest. So we'd better have some understanding of how it works.
(This doesn't mean we should ignore the many other big search faciities, like Microsoft's Bing. It's just that many other such search engines work in a similar way to Google so the principles set out below should help increase your ranking in all of them).
'Optimisation' is all about two key tasks:
But before we can optimise effectively, we need to understand why it's so important to the search engines...
Indexing the world's websites:
To understand how websites are indexed by the search engines, we'll try an analogy;
Let's imagine you're a supermarket manager, responsible for telling new customers where products are in your (very large) supermarket. Clearly, you'd need to have some sort of stock control system in place. You'd then need to know which aisles contained which types of products. You'd need to know which shelf on those aisles particular products were displayed on.
You'd also need to know which products were popular so you could order more for your customers when needed. And each of those products would need to be labelled clearly so that you could keep track of them electronically.
Most search facilities on the Web work in much the same way
Without similar methods of organisation and structuring, and without clear 'labelling' on them, the millions and millions of web pages on the World Wide Web would be next to impossible for search engines to find, index and provide as results when a customer searched for them.
Let's now imagine we're designing a new search engine from scratch. Our task is simple enough; to deliver the most relevant series of results when a given search query is made. How might we achieve this? What model or logic would we base search results on? And what checks and balances might we build in to ensure that our search engine couldn't be 'cheated'.
We could list all the websites in alphabetical order; or we could list them by geographical location; or we could list them all on the basis of when they were created... and so on... there are lots of possible approaches. However, one answer that might work really well is where they were delivered in order of how popular each of the listed websites were. After all, the person making the search query is hardly likely to be seeking an 'unpopular' website are they?
Interestingly, this is the logic Larry Page and Sergey Brin settled upon when they invented Google back in the late 1990s. Google's electronic algorithm was based on the 'Wisdom of Crowds' where the logic goes like this; if a given website is 'popular', it's probably a 'better' search result to offer than an 'unpopular' one.
But that begs the question, "how does one determine a website's popularity"?
The answer lies in the fact that Google determines how many external websites are linking to the site in question. If a given site has lots of other sites linking to it, then the chances are that it's content will have something worthwhile to offer. And if that's the case, it makes sense for it to offer the more 'worthwhile' websites as search results first.
Google lists its search results largely on the basis of the number of inbound links each website in its huge index of websites has. So that means, as a website owner, we have to make sure our shiny new website has lots of inbound links. We must leave plenty of 'clues' for Google about how relevant, how topical and how popular our new website is.
We have now examined how Google (and other search facilities) identify and index websites, and how they deliver them as query-related results. So let's now examine the practical issues involved with keyphrase research...