4 crucial SEO keyword questions you need to answer

Succeed with your SEO. SEO tips from Jarle Fjeldstad

To optimize your web pages for search engines is by far the most cost effective way to generate leads. But only if you target the right keywords.

As a web editor or marketer you have probably long since realized that having your product page high up on the result list for relevant keyword phrases is a potential goldmine.

For the sceptics, let me substantiate:

Search engine algorithms are largely based on keywords. And these algorithms decide how far up on the search engine’s result list your page appears.

Research from Optify shows that websites that appear in listing position 1 in Google had an average click-through rate of 36.4 %. Number 2: 12 % and number 3: 9.5 %.

The graph below shows how the click-through rate drops the further down the result page you end up.

Amazingly, being number one in Google is the equivalent of all the traffic going to the sites appearing in the second through fifth positions.

Click through rate by search positions

This graph from Optify shows how the click through rate plummets for pages that appear below the top spots in Google.

In order to reach the top position for attractive keywords you really need to put in the work. Your first goal, however, should be just getting on the first page. Anything less than that and you’re practically in SEO equivalent to Siberia:

Click through rate #1 spot, 1st page, and 2nd page

Set yourself reasonable goals. Getting on the first result page should be your first objective.

All SEO success is founded on strong keywords

To optimize a page is fairly straight forward. Especially if you use applications like SiteAttention, which has more or less gamified the process of placing your keywords in metadata, headlines and so forth.

However, the most important part of your SEO work happens at an earlier stage: Choosing what keyword or keyword phrase to optimize your page for.

Think of SEO as a long journey. The destination is clear. But how to get there is not. If you set out in the wrong direction you might never get to where you want to go.

To put it another way: You risk showing up in searches that doesn’t actually generate leads with customer potential all the while your competitors are lining their CRM systems with ‘your’ leads.

4 make-or-break questions

With the right keywords and SEO strategy as a foundation you can build SEO activities that will send a steady stream of quality sales leads your way (how your landing page is set up for conversions is of course a major factor, but more on that anon.)

By asking yourself the four following questions you will be able to decide whether or not you have the keywords required to build successful and profitable SEO activities:

1. Is the keyword phrase relevant?

Find out if the keywords you are considering generate traffic that is relevant to the product you offer. Is this the wording and jargon that your target market actually uses? And is the majority googling this keyword phrase looking to buy a product or are they on a different mission?

As an example let’s look at something we discovered while working with keywords here at Visma:

As a provider of a range of cloud solutions for businesses – and particularly after launching Visma.net in 2012 – it has been increasingly important for Visma to appear in the search results for business owners and CFOs who consider going cloud.

You would consider ‘cloud’ and ‘cloud computing’ to be must-have phrases for Visma. However, it turns out that our target market is more specific when they search for cloud-based business solutions. By targeting a phrase such as ‘business cloud’ we appear to a much more relevant group.

By using Google Trends we disclosed another interesting aspect. Whereas ‘cloud computing’ (seemingly used mainly to find out about the concept of cloud computing) peaked in 2009 and has been in steady decline ever since, the phrase ‘business cloud’ (admittedly still a minnow in comparison) is showing a strong incline.

The graph shows how the search trend 'Cloud computing' has developed over time.

‘Cloud computing’: Users are becoming more specific in their searches after the term went mainstream in 2009.

'Business cloud': The development of the term over time.

‘Business cloud’: The search term is on a steady incline. Can we catch the trend before it peaks?

2. Can you compete?

Before you decide in which basket to put your proverbial SEO eggs, it is important that you size up your competition.

Is there a chance for you to reach a high enough position on the search result page that it is worth the investment? Are there link magnets such as Wikipedia or Dictionary.com occupying the top spots? Or is your direct competition just too strong? If so, try a different angle.

Remember, you can have a long-term strategy to topple a strong competitor, but it would be wise to also have more short-term activities that make sure you exploit existing opportunities. What alternative keyword phrases are commonly used? Do users further into the decision process use other search phrases than those starting out researching the topic? Are there niches within the area you should try to rank for?

3. Go big or go smart?

When starting out with SEO you inevitably face the temptation of going for the glory-terms with thousands of monthly searches. The thought of what a top position for that keyword could do for your business is mesmerizing, but a quick look at what it would take to get there is usually equally sobering.

An alternative approach is to go for long tail terms. These might generate only around a hundred monthly searches, but the upside is that they might reach users who are specific about what they are looking for, and who have moved on from the research phase and into the evaluation phase.

So which path should you choose?

The answer is that you should probably pursue both alternatives. At least if you are a big player like Visma you need to have a healthy mix of keywords that target both head-terms; the prestigious industry defining keywords, as well as the long tail terms.

For instance, here at Visma we need to target both a mammoth keyword like “Accounting” as well as minnows such as “Accountant Molde” (a small town on the west coast of Norway where Visma is represented with an accounting office).

All the main pages on your website need their unique set of keywords. But it is also important to see them in relation to each other.

4. How does it convert?

A keyword phrase that generates a lot of traffic to your site is all well and good. But if it doesn’t bring traffic that converts into sales leads (and from leads to customers) it might be a blind alley. Look at your stats in Google Analytics or similar tools to identify the users who convert best on your site and what keyword phrases they entered the site on.

There are specialized tools available – so-called closed loops analytics – to help you identify what channels and search phrases that generate the most customers.

When working with SEO it is easy to take your eyes off the ball and just focusing on traffic. But don’t forget that the true value of SEO is sales leads converted into paying customers.

How do you juggle head terms and long-tail terms in your strategy? Please share your best advice in the comments below.

The article is based on a presentation held by Jarle Fjeldstad and Anders Alknes on Visma Web Editor Days 2013