Keyword Research – SEO Best Practices

keyword-research-process-seoWe always conduct a thorough keyword research at the beginning of each search optimization project. Along with SEO competitive analysis, this identifies the most productive keywords for us to target to give our client the best results and most bang-for-their-buck.

Most people performing a Google search find what they’re looking for on Page One. And very few browse beyond page three. So it’s worth investing in search engine optimization and Austin TX SEO services to achieve a Page One result for your major keywords.

To rank #1 in the Google search results, a web page needs to persuade the Google ranking algorithm it is a better fit to the user’s query than all the other pages on the Web. Easy, right? By ‘better’ we mean more authoritative, more germane and more informative. Consolation Prize: If it’s better than all but nine other pages, it will still make Page One.

To learn how professional keyword research can help your digital brand and website SEO — and bring more traffic and new customers, contact Semantic Advantage for a FREE CONSULTATION.

Use Keyword Research to Improve Search Engine Rankings

Keyword selection is an aspect of online branding. It entails process of deciding exactly what a web page should be about, and boiling this down to a 2-5 word keyword phrase. In a perfect world, a website Home page would be optimized for the keyword phrase that best reflects what the website is about. For commercial websites, this is usually the brand of the business.

For other pages on the site,  the keyword should represent what that page is about – and what query terms you expect people to use to find it. A highly specific 5-word keyword phrase can precisely capture exactly what your page is about. But people are less likely to use a 5-word query in online searches. A broader 2- or 3-word keyword phrase would generally be searched for more frequently. But this may also apply to thousands of other web pages, creating a daunting SEO competitive challenge.

This brings us to one of the fundamental principles of good search engine optimization: Keyword selection is a compromise between “short-tail” keywords that have high search volumes – and “long-tail” keywords that more precisely describe aspects of your business, products and services.

How to Choose the Best Target Keywords?

These three factors determine the effectiveness of keyword selection and related organic search optimization:

  1. Keyword volume – the number of times per month a specific keyword phrase is entered into Google, Yahoo! or Bing. You can have the best search engine optimization in the world, but if no one ever enters this keyword into a search engine, you’re not going to get much traffic. At the same time, if you select high volume keywords, you’re going to have a lot of competition from organizations that have applied proven SEO strategies and Google recommendations toward those popular keywords.
  2. Competitor strength – the search engine optimization-enhancing attributes of competitors’
    pages that embody that keyword. Of course, the SEO strength of competitors’ pages is a moving target. Expect them to step up their search optimization in response to the SEO efforts of you and other competitors.
  3. Search engine ranking factors – the attributes of a page that search engines evaluate
    to determine the page’s ranking. These on-page and off-page SEO methods constitute your search engine optimization ‘toolbox’. Using keyword research tools like the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, WordTracker or Keyword Discovery, you can estimate the number of monthly search volume for candidate keywords. These search engine optimization tools will also suggest closely related keywords that might be more effective (or they can be used on the same page as synonyms or contextually related terms).

And the same applies for search optimization on Amazon, Bing, Facebook and Yahoo!, albeit with different ranking methodologies. For those not familiar with search  engine optimization nomenclature, we provide an SEO Terms Glossary on the About menu.

Keyword Research and Competitive Search Engine Optimization

Competitor strength can be determined by examining the pages listed on Page One of the search results for your candidate keyword, noting what keyword(s) they are using and where the keywords are used.  Keywords embedded in the URL, page title (meta tag), page description (meta tag), navigation menu and major headers are most beneficial to search engine optimization. The keyword should also appear in the body of the page – several times – along with synonyms and related terms.

We also need to analyze competitors’ pages for other search engine optimization ranking factors.  The most important factor is the number and quality of backlinks – links from other websites to that page. If your competitor’s page has more backlinks from higher PageRank pages and websites, your page is going to have a tough time beating it in the search results.

Organic Search Optimization and Keyword Placement

Many SEOs feel frustrated when they realize that search engines do not comprehend web pages in any meaningful way. They just count and grade the words and links, apply a mathematical formula to determine which keywords apply, and then score each page for those keywords. Given this, we are all amazed that the search engines can produce relevant search results. Particularly with all the aggressive SEO practitioners out there!

Despite years of experience studying search engine ranking behavior, no one really knows exactly how they work work. And the algorithms change periodically in response to unexpected results, overzealous SEO efforts or outright black hat SEO. But most search experts agree with these heuristic guidelines for keyword placement.

  • Embed keyword (or close synonym) in the page URL, Page Title (meta tag) and Page Description (meta tag) enhance search engine optimization enormously.
  • Keywords in the anchor text (the words in a hyperlink to or from your page) are extremely valuable for SEO.  Ideally in-link anchor text should contain your page’s keyword (or a close variant).
  • Google advises that it does not use the Keywords meta tag for search ranking purposes. Bing and Yahoo! say they “don’t give this much weight”. We wonder if populating the Keywords meta tag could be interpreted as a sign of  ‘over-optimization’; so we don’t do this.
  • Major headers (H1, H2) should also contain the page’s keyword, variants or synonyms.
  • Keywords in large type sizes, bold/strong, italicized and/or underlined get a little extra weight.
  • A page’s target keyword should also occur several times in the page body, along with synonyms and other related terms. But search engines will penalize too many occurrences of a keyword on a page (called ‘keyword stuffing’).
  • Keyword placements near the top of the page have more impact for SEO than locations near the bottom of the page.

Top Keyword Research Tools for Search Engine Optimization

Fortunately, we have plenty of keyword research and evaluation tools to assist with search optimization. Each of the major online advertising platforms (Google, Bing, Yahoo!) offers a free keyword tool. The Google AdWords Keyword Planner was designed to help with SEM-PPC campaigns. But keyword researchers often use this for organic SEO as well. Professional search optimization practitioners generally employ one of the more feature-rich 3rd party paid keyword research services. Having tried most of these, we prefer these two.


  • Particularly good for discovering long tail keywords.
  • Will generate up to 2000 keywords per search.
  • Provides good assessment of competition for keywords.
  • Very easy to use.

Keyword Discovery (Trellian)

  • Gives results for multiple search engines.
  • Provides common spelling errors and plurals.
  • Offers statistics on keyword density.
  • Identifies demographic dependencies for geo-targeting.

The ‘free’ keyword tools are not really free. Your business pays for SEO services or in-house labor. In our experience, WordTracker and Keyword Discovery save enough time to make their modest fees worthwhile.

Semantic Advantage — Austin Search Engine Optimization and SEO Services

For more information on SEO strategies, keyword research or other search engine optimization services, and a free SEO Audit of your website, contact Semantic Advantage.