Clarifying the basis on which you compete is a fundamental requirement for any strategy. Identifying your keywords allows you to focus and optimise your digital activities such as on-page SEO and pay per click advertising. Longer phrases and very specific keywords are the starting point for an optimised process which attracts the right kind of web traffic and maximises your conversion rate.

Applying the pareto principle to your keyword list

The pareto principle (aka the 80-20 rule) suggests that 80% of your traffic will come from 20% of your keyword list. Making the common mistake of trying to attract everyone with a vaguely related search term is a great way to spend lots of your budget and get very little from it. Having said that, digital marketing is a continuous, iterative process and if your keyword list is too narrow, it may well be that you are missing out on potential customers.

Keywords or key phrases?

Actually, the term keyword is misleading because most searchers use three words or more – therefore we should think in terms of phrases rather than words. Single keywords are usually too generic and increase the cost of competing massively due to the higher level of competition.
For example, if you were a company providing vibration test services to the automotive industry, aiming to come out on top for just automotive puts you up against literally thousands of other organisations. Furthermore, the generic nature of the term means your potential clients will be only a tiny fraction of these searchers. So, we would probably observe the following:

  1. Poor organic results: you would probably appear on page z of the search engine results pages (SERPs) yet ninety percent of clicks come from page one.
  2. Very high cost of visitor acquisition i.e. number of visitors divided by total spend.  This is due to the increased level of competition.
  3. High bounce rate: the likelihood of a visitor to your website being interested in your product or service if they searched using a single, generic term is low. Therefore, a large proportion of the traffic you do manage to acquire will leave your site very quickly.
  4. High cost per conversion e.g. number of enquiries divided by total spend.  The increase in cost is due to the combination of (1) and (2), particularly if this is exacerbated by a website which isn’t optimised to nurture a visitor towards a conversion.

Specificity reduces costs

Casting the net too widely is a basic error. A high cost per conversion reduces the commercial attractiveness of each customer and reduces the number of conversions you can achieve for a given budget. In other words, you will end up with less customers and each of those would be less profitable.

A more effective approach would be to target a longer key phrase – in this example a good choice might be automotive vibration test – because it is more specific to what is being offered. Consequently, you will be competing against fewer organisations to be nearer the top of the organic or pay per click (PPC) results and increase the proportion of visitors who are likely to be potential clients.

A longer key phrase leads to better results because it is more specific. Therefore, what we really seek is specificity. It is possible to achieve this with a short phrase or even a single keyword. In the example above this might be something like an industry test standard e.g. BS12345-2012 that potential clients would be using as a search term.

Keywords and on page-SEO

Your keywords need to appear in the following as much as is appropriate:

  • URLs
  • Page titles
  • Meta descriptions
  • Headings
  • Text body
  • Keywords triggering pay per click ads (e.g Google Ad Words)

The aim here is to make it as easy as possible for search engines to understand and index your content for visitors who are likely to want to read it. Search engines want to deliver content that is relevant and interesting. Therefore, these should be your objectives too. Beware of keyword-stuffing – that is an archaic, black hat SEO tactic which will win no favours with modern search engines and is unlikely to convert visitors because it wont read well.

Test and measure, test and measure

The above advice is only a snapshot of conventional digital marketing wisdom. Every organisation is in a unique situation and needs to find out what works best to attract customers based on what search terms they are using. Factors such as industry type, breadth of product range and intensity of competition put every organisation in a unique situation. Monitoring visitor flow from acquisition through to conversion establishes a baseline. Making modifications and observing the effects allows a continuous improvement process.