Techniques for Choosing Keywords
by David Marshall
So it turns out that getting your Web site set up was the easy part. The hard parts are figuring out what millions of people in cyberspace are searching for, and persuading a certain percentage of them to visit your site.
You can improve the chances that potential customers will find your site by choosing optimal keywords and phrases screened for both volume and competitiveness. For example, don’t simply use the word diversity if you have a book or books about diversity in the workplace. You will be competing with hundreds of thousands of other sites that have chosen this keyword. Instead, find a term that is more specific, such as diversity training. Choosing your keywords carefully will help the search engines find you.
Although a complex subculture has developed around search-engine optimization (SEO), the basic principles are still easy to grasp:
The more people who arrive on your doorstep, the more mouths you can feed. If optimizing the search engines can double your Web site visits, and every 1,000 visitors convert to $5,000 in author speaking engagements, then 2,000 visitors should net an extra $5,000. If you sell 50 books to every 1,000 weekly visitors, doubling your traffic means selling 50 more books every week.
To attract this extra incoming traffic to your site, you need to help the search engines find you by author names, business name, area(s) of expertise, and book titles.
When most people enter a word or phrase into their favorite search engine, they ultimately click through from the first or second page of results. If your site is back on page 16, most of your potential customers won’t find you. Why settle for page 16 for diversity when you might win page 2 for diversity training? Sure, fewer people will type in diversity training, but they’ll be more qualified to purchase from you because they have self-identified as seekers of help in this area.
Tips on Tools
To determine the best keywords for your site, start with a mini-audit and keyword analysis of your current Google, Yahoo, MSN, and AOL rankings and your site’s source code. You can check it manually by putting in your main keywords and seeing how close they come to the front page on your favorite search pages, or you can hire a service to run a simple report for you.
When I did this recently for a Berrett-Koehler (BK) book, All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity by Robert W. Fuller, here’s what I found via Google:
Google Title Search. With the search term All Rise, the book appears on the front page in the #6 position, after several entries about the All Rise boy band from the U.K. Impressive. So far, so good for All Rise.
Google Author Search. With the search term Robert W. Fuller, a graphic icon from Books.Google.com appears in the #1 position to encourage the reader to click on this site. From here, Google shows author and book facts and figures and then sends traffic to the popular e-commerce engines. Google intends to eventually make this first-view link available for all books, starting with bestsellers or well-known personalities.
Below this book icon there are several other links to Bob’s books and his Web site, BreakingRanks.net, including a link to his new BK author video on YouTube. Although Bob claims all 10 of the top-10 links on the front page, not every Web surfer knows his full name with middle initial. When I enter Robert Fuller in Google, our Robert is upstaged by the actor by the same name. Luckily for us, those willing to scroll below the first screen will find a “Books by Robert Fuller” section. But when I enter Bob Fuller in Google, the first time I see “our” Bob is on the eighth page at the #73 position, after numerous mentions of a children’s author, last name Fuller, who goes by “Bob.”
The lesson here is that both Robert Fuller and Bob Fuller should be entered as keywords on both BKConnection.com and the author’s site.
Google Business Name Search. With this tool you can use the same process for your business name and/or Web site name.
Google Keyword Tool. Before using Google’s Keyword Tool, I examined keywords from the source code of BreakingRanks.net (go to the “View Source” option from the View pulldown menu on your browser). The current keywords are:
<meta name=“keywords” content=“rankism, dignitarian, Robert Fuller, somebodies and nobodies, breaking ranks, all rise, dignity, classism, cronyism, nobodies, respect, bully, mobbing, toxic management, corruption, discrimination, hostile work environment, scapegoat, whistleblower, whistleblowing, employee rights, worker rights, wrongful termination, indignity, disrespect, injustice, rank, abuse, politics of dignity, dignity movement, liberation, malrecognition, theocracy, dignity is not negotiable, nobodies, racism, sexism, lookism, partnership ethic, partnership society, smart mobs, patient advocacy, consumer advocacy, hmo, malpractice, relational violence, domestic violence, conflict resolution, stress, change management, attention economy, hierarchy, social media, social software, a-list, networking, harassment, misconduct, corporate corruption, groupthink, elitism, democracy, advocacy, human rights, civil rights”>
This looks like a comprehensive list, but most of these phrases are highly competitive. SEO experts generally advise limiting your keywords to between 10 and 20 of the most important terms; otherwise the search engines will think you weight them all equally, which diminishes your ranking for any single keyword.
I like to use the Google Keyword Tool because its bar graphs measure the keyword competition and search volume together in the same view. Be aware, though, that the best combination—high volume and low competition—is hard to find.
A quick analysis of the keyword list above reveals four keywords or phrases that meet both criteria—classism, elitism, nobodies, and a-list—and that therefore should be used in linking sites and online articles. Most of the other keywords are extremely competitive (unlikely to derive any search engine advantage without a large advertising budget) or do not have significant search volume. The term dignity in Bob’s Breaking Ranks page is an example of a highly competitive keyword. By contrast, the term rankism has few searches. Bob can attract more people to the site by working the words elitism and classism into his title and text content; nobodies and a-list should be on his top-10 keyword list as well.
When you have used this process to evaluate your current keywords, use it again to test new keywords. And when you have chosen the best keywords, make sure they are in the optimal positions in your Web site to be picked up by the search engines.
Positioning and Price
Use your main keywords on your title pages, and then include one or two keywords per page of text. This applies to both what the reader sees and what the search engine sees through the HTML header. For example, the Breaking Ranks header title will work better as “Breaking Ranks—Abolishing Elitism and Classism.”
For the front page and sub-page text, try bolding the first use of a keyword and italicizing the second one on each page.
Some publishers may choose to do this work themselves. Others may pay their Webmasters, who may work with SEO experts. Recently, we paid $1,000 for keyword help with our site. This is the way we described the assignment:
Scope of Project
1. Keyword research. Produce comprehensive keyword report showing relevant keyword, amount of monthly traffic, and number of competing sites. Use information to create Top-20 list of keywords that get significant traffic and are not overly competitive.
2. Site Audit. Review bkconnection.com for onsite factors and make recommendations for improving search engine rankings for chosen keywords and also for BK author names and BK book titles and sub-titles.
3. Create Web 2.0 Properties. Choose 4 keyword phrases and create independent pages to rank on their own and provide valuable links to the BK site. Submit these four pages to social bookmarking sites. For example, one of the four keywords we found that has high volume and low competition is “sustainability,” which applies to 25 Berrett-Koehler titles. After my bookmarking page is set up on a Squidoo, Gather, or WordPress page, I can test for improved incoming traffic to bkconnection.com on this keyword through Google Analytics.
Duration of Project: Four weeks
Sites That Will Help You Get Started
SEO Research Labs (seoresearchlabs.com). Good introductory site. I used it for part of the project described above.
SEOTools Keywords (seobook.com/keyword-tools/seobook)
Google AdWords. All you need is a Google email address to use this service.
Perry Marshall (perrymarshall.com; no relation). Marshall, an expert on using Google AdWords to increase sales, periodically offers a free five-day email primer as well as a book and a training series.
David Marshall is senior manager for digital communities at Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit bkconnection.com.
Adding an Ad Campaign
Google AdWords deserves its own article [Watch for coverage of this topic in a fall issue—Ed.], but you may want to consider it as you work with your keywords. This pay-per-click advertising program allows you to choose keywords, create a simple ad and campaign, and then pay only for those people who click on your ad to visit your site. You can begin a one-week campaign for as little as $10. Many hosting companies are currently offering $25 to $75 in free Google AdWords to get you started. If you are also using Google Analytics, you can track the clicks from your campaigns straight through to your links to your favorite e-commerce or IndieBound retailer.