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The Science and Strategy of Keyword Research for SEO

Keywords are the lifeblood of search... do your research!

[This is part of the The Blogger’s Essential Guide to Search Engine Optimization Series.]

We’ve covered already how search engines operate, what they consider to be important in regards to Search Engine Results Pages, and how you can begin to optimize your content for search.

One things we’ll mention repeatedly is the power and importance of keywords. In fact, I’ve given a really great practical primer in my post about your blog’s Title Tags and how to use keyword research tools to optimize them!

But I’d like to spend a few moments going over keywords and how they are fundamental to your use globally throughout your blog and your blog content.

Keywords Make the World Go Round

Keywords are pretty much the foundation of search as much of the science, the math, and the intricate algorithms that they use. Retrieving information for a user is ultimately based on keywords.

I don’t want to go into depth on how search engines work since I’ve already given a decent primer but essentially search engines index and save your content in databases based on keywords – this helps speed up the process of retrieval when you, the user, looks for something on the web.

Instead of a single mega-uber-humongous database there are actually many much smaller databases that store the results based on keywords.

This doesn’t mean that you’re going to need to change your strategy at all though as the end result is still the same – if you want to win the keyword war and be ranked high for specific keywords in search returns then you need to make sure your blog often and strategically uses them.

So what does this mean? It means that you need to be wise and strategic with your keywords because it matters. Not only does it matter that you use them but how you use them as well. Seriously! These things, for starters, are immensely important:

  • Spelling, variations of spelling. Color or colour? They are night and day to search engines (and some users).
  • Order of keywords matter. “jogging fast” and “fast jogging” are different.
  • Punctuation. “bloggers iphone” is different than “blogger’s iphone.”
  • Capitalization is important (as is consistency of use). “ProBlogger” can be interpreted and used differently than “problogger.”

There are even more nuanced challenges (and opportunities) with keywords but you get the picture. Search engines use the above information to help retrieve and deliver search engine results pages with speed and accuracy and your ability to capitalize on them might be the difference in someone finding your blog over another’s.

This science, formula, strategy, tactic, or whatever else you want to call it is generally understood as relevance – or the ability to return the most relevant search query with the best answer (or link).

A Real-Life Example: How I Dominated the Keyword “Professional Blogger”

When I first started out back in September of 2010 I was making my mark as a Professional Blogger. I had never called myself that but I was excited:

In addition to all of that stuff (and I never thought that I’d be able to call myself this) I will become a Full Time Blogger. I can now scratch that off the bucket list. I’m very excited about that and expect a new blog (or two) in the near future.

Three days later I launched this blog and never looked back.

But let it be no surprise to you that I had a plan and part of my plan included strategic keywords that I ultimately wanted to grab hold of and completely dominate in terms of search.

One of these keywords (among many) was the phrase “professional blogger” – I wanted to own this to help firmly establish in the hearts and minds of readers (and in search engines) that I was, in fact, a professional blogger. Nothing too dramatic or crazy, right?

So, the million dollar question, of course, is whether it worked, right? You bet:

If you do a Google Search for “professional blogger” you can find this blog, only after 10 months, on the first page!

Amazing, right?

It’s worth noting that I’ve seen this ranking go up and down, as close as being in the top five as well as showing up consistently on page 2 (and beyond). It changes as Google changes. It’s also worth noting that I’m not on the first page via Bing or Yahoo!:

I’m on page two for both Bing above and Yahoo! below:

Not too shabby. The natural question is whether or not I’ll optimize TentBlogger to move Yahoo and Bing SERPs to page #1 and I will, in time, but I’m in no rush to do so.

How Did I Do It?

Want to know my secret? Want to know how in just a few months I was able to grab a top spot in the #1 search engine in the world? It’s actually not a secret, especially if you’ve been subscribed to this blog as I’ve shared a lot of my so-called “secrets” already (which aren’t really secrets anyway).

If I were to sum it up very quickly for you this is what I did in a nutshell:

  1. Committed myself to a marathon mentality when it comes to blogging.
  2. Blogged consistently. I made a personal goal to blog at least one time a day for the first 365 days. Sometimes you have to work at developing a writing habit but it takes time.
  3. Focused my blogging efforts and content areas (categories) to the extreme.
  4. I decided early on that anything that I was going to blog about would surround my blog’s promise. This way I would always have the opportunity to use the “professional blogger” keywords and secondary/tertiary keywords to supplement.
  5. I dedicated myself to being a master link architect.

And, in the end, I counted on leveraging guest posting opportunities to provide anchor links back to my blog with the necessary keywords. I worked hard, committed myself to blogging well, and never, under any circumstance, blogged for search engines only.

Opportunity Abounds!

Opportunity awaits.

You can be sure that “professional blogger” has not been the only keyword that I’ve been targeting since I started this blog 10 months ago – I have a list that I’m systematically working through that I review weekly to see how I’m doing. If you’re interested I use a number of these keyword research tools to help me with my efforts.

The point in sharing this with you is to encourage you to do the same. There’s nothing hard or complicated about ranking high for specific keywords in search – it just takes a bit of strategy, dedication, and more importantly time and patience to succeed.

There’s all the opportunity in the world to rank well for very crucial (and profitable) keywords – you just have to get started today. Sure, you may feel like you’ve “done it wrong” in the months (years) past but you can always go back and rearchitect those blog posts if you need!

One Keyword Myth That Needs to Die

Finally, before I close out this post on keywords there’s one myth that needs to take a serious backseat with Search Engine Optimizers: Keyword Density.

I’ve mentioned “keyword density” before in a couple posts and it’s legitimate insofar as the idea that you should have more of the keywords that you’re trying to rank for in your blog than other keywords and thus creating a more “dense” representation of those keywords relative to your overall word presentation on a single page.

It is not a legitimate strategy for optimization as it relates to search engine ranking algorithms as there are more advanced keyword building strategies, tools for analysis, and ways to execute. It is not a good way of calculating SERPs or calculating PageRank  and this is because (especially with the “Panda” update) it cannot accurately prove relevancy or trustworthiness of a page.

For an easy example, let’s say you have 1000 words on a page and 10 of those are your target keyword. Thus you would have 10/1000 or .01 or 1% density. But what if you also had another page from a competitor that had only 100 words and only 1 of them with the same keyword? That would be 1/100 or .01 or 1% density – the exact same level of density. Who is to say which one should rank higher? Which page is more valuable? How can you define, with certitude, relevancy?

Someone needs to knock it out of our SEO vocabulary.

All-in-all it’s just not a factor that should be considered and the reason people still use the term today is because their are simply misinformed.

Good luck with your keyword optimization efforts and let me know when you start dominating search engines with your skills!

[This is part of the The Blogger’s Essential Guide to Search Engine Optimization Series. Image via Creative Commons, milo, vissago.]