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February 22, 2008
Avoiding SEO Brain Freeze Part One - Hunting For Keyword Phrases

Have you ever wanted to start a new task or project, but there were so many parts involved that you didn’t know where to begin? Under those circumstances your brain just freezes up and you end up in a paralyzed state while simply doing nothing. When this happens, the only way out is to break the project down into manageable parts and do a little bit each day, so as to not be overwhelmed.


Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of those confusing projects that if you haven’t done it before, can sure seem daunting. But really it’s not. Over the next few months I’m going to break SEO down into its manageable parts for you, in a step-by-step manner, so that you can make your own plan of action and start receiving some highly targeted search engine traffic. I suggest that you spend about a month performing the tasks outlined in each article in this series. SEO is not something that can be rushed, so take your time and do it right.

Today we’re going to focus on the very first step in your SEO process – hunting for the keyword phrases that you will eventually use to optimize each page of your website.


The 7 Steps to Keyword Phrase Hunting


Step #1: Think about the various ways in which someone seeking the product, service or information that you offer on your website might type it into the Google search box. What words would they use if they were seeking out exactly what you offer? Write down as many phrases as you can think of that describe what you do. Be sure to go through each and every page of your website, because each of them will (or at least should) have a different focus. When you’ve finished, you’ll have the beginnings of your keyword phrase list.


Step #2: Ask everyone you know to do the same thing you did in step #1. Find colleagues, family, friends and anyone else who you can beg, bribe or pay to help you. Getting others opinions on this is very important as people think differently. You want as many different forms of your keyword phrases as possible, and this is a great way to start gathering them.


Step #3: Get a short-term subscription to a keyword research tool such as KeywordDiscovery or Wordtracker. And/or use Google’s free keyword suggestion tool. Google’s tool was created for their paid search ads, but anyone can use it whether or not they’re actually advertising with Google.


Step #4: Run the brainstormed keyword phrase lists that you previously created through your new keyword research tools, to see which phrases are indeed getting used at search engines, and which aren’t. Don’t get too caught up in the number of searches these tools spit out as they’re not an actual representation of the number of searches any given phrase may receive. Look more at the relative position in the list of any given phrase, so that you have a good understanding that keyword phrase X gets twice as many searches as keyword phrase Y, for example. The idea here is to ultimately optimize your website for keyword phrases that real people actually use, as opposed to those they don’t.


Step #5: Using your research from step 4, compile categorized lists of the various potential keyword phrases. Generally this is easiest to do in the form of an Excel spreadsheet with multiple worksheets contained within it. So if you sell consumer electronics, for instance, you’d have multiple categories such as televisions, radios, computers, etc., with specific keyword phrases listed under each category. For something as broad as this, you’d likely have multiple sub-categories as well, e.g., plasma TVs, large-screen TVs, etc. Each category and subcategory will likely have lots of keyword phrases related to them; don’t worry about the number of phrases at this point, the more the merry as you have more from which to pick and choose.


Step #6: Assess the competitiveness of your keyword phrases. The idea with SEO is to optimize for keyword phrases that people are actually searching on, but for which there aren’t already hundreds of thousands of other pages already competing. This is a tricky one as there’s no specific numbers to go by to determine the competitiveness of your phrases. The more SEO experience you have, and the better and more popular your website, the more you can try and target the competitive phrases. A quick way to assess the competitiveness of any given phrase is to go to Google and type this special command into their search box:

allintitle: “Your Keyword Phrase Here”

The number of pages that Google shows for that result, will be the number of pages that are using that exact phrase in the Title tags of those pages. This signals that those pages are at least minimally optimized for the keyword phrase at hand. Generally, if you see less than 1000 pages for your keyword phrase, it’s worth optimizing for, but you’ll want to use your own judgment based on your own level of SEO skills. The fewer competing pages out there, the easier it will be for you to obtain a high ranking.


Step #7: Repeat step 6 for all your keyword phrases (or at least the most relevant ones) and compile a new list of the phrases you have decided you will actually target for your SEO campaign. This will definitely be a tedious process that will also make you use your brain, but skip it at your own peril! There’s no sense in optimizing for keyword phrases that are too general and untargeted that also have millions of other pages already targeting them. You’ll simply be wasting precious time that could be spent optimizing for the keyword phrases that completely and accurately describe what your site has to offer.


That’s basically it for the keyword research side of things. These 7 steps will be critical to the rest of your SEO campaign, so spend the time to do it correctly. In the next article, I’ll provide you with the necessary steps to determine which of your ultimate keyword phrases belong on which pages of your website.


Until next time…happy keyword hunting!


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As an SEO Consultant, Jill Whalen has been providing her no-nonsense, practical SEO advice since 1995. If you learned from this article be sure to sign up for Jill's popular High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter to keep up with the latest information in the ever-changing world of SEO. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen, "Like" her at Facebook, and "Circle" her on Google+.

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