It’s officially here! Day 1 of SMX West 2012, that is. After a smashing success at yesterday’s aimClear Facebook Marketing Workshop, we’re ready for the main event. Starting our Tuesday morning off with a delicious cup of coffee in the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, attendees headed on over to the first of the SMX Boot Camp sessions with Christine Churchill, President of Key Relevance and moderator Debra Mastaler, President of Alliance-Link for a copywriter’s dream session, “Keyword Research & Copywriting for Search Success.”

Described as “one of the foremost people in the keyword research industry,” Christine took the stage and asked the crowd, “What is keyword research and how do you do it?” How much keyword research is enough? When should you do it? Christine walked us though all of these questions and more, describing how virtually anything we put online can be optimized. Optimizing our content with keywords is the one absolute step we must take when placing any content online. Read on for aimClear’s coverage of this killer session.

What IS Keyword Research?
Because so many companies and marketers have varying processes for how they conduct their keyword research, Christine defined the term for the audience as the process people use to identify the phrases people use to search.

When a person types in a phrase to the search bar, search engines recognize the text (which they use to categorize pages), and detailed research can uncover which terms people are actually using to search.

Basically, you need to perform keyword research if you want to be competitive in the world of online marketing.

Properly performed keyword research can yield positive results. Well, yes, but how? By learning the language your customers are using to search for your brand or product, you can increase conversions. In addition, by fixing underperforming keyword choices, you can avoid missing out on sales and site traffic. You need to find opportunities for new keywords and to utilize longer tail phrases to get the most out of your keyword optimization.

Keyword research is not a “do it once and you’re done” kind of deal. It is an ongoing process which you must constantly reevaluate. Christine likes to follow the following cycle for the keyword research process:

Brainstorming and discovery –> Keyword expansion –>Keyword evaluation

The brainstorming session should be a non-judgmental type of session. Your ultimate goal during this time is to generate as broad and long a list of keywords as you possibly can. Don’t let your questions and critiques come into play at this point in the cycle.

How can you generate internal keyword lists?
Christine offers up a few suggestions here:

  1. Do an analysis of your company’s website and take note of all your content including press releases, PDFs, videos, etc. Consider what type of language insiders may be using that visitors may not be.
  2. Study up on the terms your customers use through interviews, surveys and even focus groups.
  3. Discuss with your support and sales personnel what customers are saying.
  4. Check out the social media spectrum! Visit discussion forums and blogs.

We can often get numbed to words we are hearing every day, so it’s important to take note of what words your customers are using.

When it comes to creating your keyword list, Christine offers this one simple piece of advice – Create keyword lists by looking into diverse sources. Some of these sources can include:

  • Online and print magazines
  • Company and product reviews
  • Thesaurus
  • The “tilde” (~) search in Google allows you to look at competitors and discover what they are targeting, which words they’re spending money on for paid search, and looks into the titles on their content so you can determine which keywords are most important to them

Where do marketers go to find their keywords? Is there a “right” place to look? In order from most popular sources to least popular, marketers find their content via:

  • Site log files for converting KWs
  • Site log files for frequent words
  • Internal site search
  • Competitors’ sites
  • Competitive intelligence tools
  • Exploring long search phrases
  • Social semantic mining
  • KW suggestion tools

Since Google surreptitiously decided to stop providing some referral data, finding keywords via analytics is not exactly fool-proof. So what is a marketer to do? Christine suggests taking a peek at the Google keywords for people who are not logged in, checking out Bing as well as other search engines that provide referrals for keywords in analytics, studying up on older information, testing the performance of your keyword phrases, and last but certainly not least, delving into the inference. Basically, this means looking into other pages in analytics and checking which phrases those pages are optimized for. From there, you can compare where the pages are ranking. It’s not a perfect method, it’s only a best guess, but it is definitely better than nothing.

What can a site search box do for you?
Not only are site search boxes on your website a nice tool for visitors to utilize to generate a more positive site experience, they offer advantages for you as the keyword researcher. Some of these benefits include:

  • Discovering which keywords and expressions visitors are actually searching for
  • Search boxes create a direct telepathic link into the mind of your visitors
  • Provides an inside look into the relative popularity
  • Allows you to stalk which path your visitors are taking navigating throughout your site

What do keyword research tools have to offer? Aside from saving time and investment, they can help you find keywords opportunities you would not otherwise have found and even provide keyword popularity numbers you wouldn’t find through your own analytics account. Furthermore, keyword tools take the assuming out of your keyword process as they can offer proven data and insights. Last but not least, they can even allow you to compare multiple phrases to see which yield the best results.

Listing various keyword research tools, a few free tools include:

  • Google Keyword Research tool
  • Webmaster tools
  • Google Insights
  • Google Trends
  • Google Contextual Targeting

Some people don’t realize that when they’re not logged into the Google keyword research tool, they won’t see all the results. It’s important to remember to log in before you start researching. A few of the benefits offered by the Google Keyword Research tool are keyword volume data from Google, unearthing synonyms, and the ability to export the data to Excel. Christine also notes that newbie keyword researchers should be sure to use the “exact phrase” match in this tool as broad match has been known to spout nonsensical and unrelated search terms. In addition, this tool can tell you what keywords Google thinks are important for a particular domain.

Providing a little bit of detail about other tools out there, Christine describes each of the below tools briefly.

  • Google Hot Trends – provides specific trends for a particular day based on historical data
  • Google Insights – gives you trending information about keywords over time, not for just a particular day. In addition, it provides demographic information by country or state so you can see usage in different states and see which phrases are most popular in which regions.
  • Google Contextual Targeting Tool – allows you to build themed keyword lists and is a great resource for keyword expansion
  • Keyword Discovery – pulls data from various databases giving a more comprehensive analysis of keywords
  • Google Webmaster Tools – gives you data from Google’s perspective
  • – lets you figure out which variations in words work best
  • Google Instant – shows results as you type. If someone is typing in the search bar and they see a suggestion, lots of times people will just select the suggestion, thereby giving that keyword more juice
  • – gives you all the terms from A to Z for any phrase. A lot of the times, we are all guilty of entering a search term and running through the alphabet letter by letter to see what kind of results we get. This tool delivers all this data to you right away.
  • Google Sets – gives you a longer list of related terms for a particular keyword phrase
  • – if you type in a term, it will give you a list of questions that are related to that phrase. What are people asking about this term?
  • Quintura – it’s a visual search engine and shows you terms related to your search phrase

How should you determine your keywords?
Christine lays out some hard and fast factors that can help determine which keywords you should be targeting. Consider these factors during the keyword selection process:

  1. Relevancy to site – select keywords that really describe what the page is about
  2. Keyword popularity – offers insight on potential for traffic. If you’re a smaller site, you will probably need to target longer terms that are still relevant. As you build up your links, then you can go after the more popular keywords.
  3. User intent – It is imperative to know why people are searching for what they’re searching. Where are they at in the buying cycle?
  4. Competition – see what your competition is doing! They may not be doing it correctly, but its still good to know what they find important.

If there’s one thing you’re going to remember from this keyword research process, it should be to always test your keywords. Some keywords can sound promising, but when you test them, they may perform terribly.

How would you describe search behavior?
There are 3 types of behaviors when it comes to search:

  1. Navigational  – they search a single word because they want to be taken to a particular site
  2. Informational – they want more information, so maybe they use a question as a search phrase
  3. Transactional – they are ready to commit some sort of action, whether it’s a purchase, a subscribe, or a sign-up of some sort

Another important tip to remember is that you should always evaluate keywords of your competition. Sometimes online competitors may not be your real competition market-wise, but they act as if they are online. In order to compete, you need to understand why they’re ranking and what you can do to outperform them. Find out how active they are, what content they’re optimizing, etc.

How does keyword research tie into content optimization? Christine describes content optimization as “putting all the keywords together.” When you do anything online, you must always consider keyword research first. Optimizing the title of a video or optimizing the description can give you an advantage you wouldn’t otherwise have.

Google loves alternate file formats
If you’re not competitive enough to make it onto the first SERP from your website alone, then you really need to take note here. Optimize all your content. Everything. Whether it be videos, press releases, images, blogs, anything! If you optimize your alternative file formats, you will have a better chance of making it onto the first page of results.

Where should you use your keywords? In all the obvious places, including title tags, meta descriptions, meta keywords, headline tags, all visible portions of the page, in the alt attribute, in links and anchor text, in file names and in the URL.

Google likes to use the meta description for the previews it uses on the SERP. They don’t ALWAYS use it, but they frequently do. You can get the SERP to say what you want by doing this, and you can even get better click through rates if you have a good meta description.

And last but not least, when it comes to writing copy, Christine suggests focusing on the benefits, not the features. What does the reader get out of it? Be sure to appeal to their emotions and senses since most buying decisions come from an emotional place.

Big thanks to Christine for a great session. We’re looking forward to hanging out with some more great speakers all week – be sure to stay tuned for more coverage as we continue to blog and live-tweet the sessions here at SMX West 2012.

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