In SEO, keyword research is one of the most important activities you can do.
Search patterns are always changing. At one time single words formed the majority of searches. People quickly realised that search engines returned more accurate results but providing more information, i.e. more search terms.
How many words should you be optimising for?
There are plenty of people who search with two words in their searches (short-tail search terms). However, most people (at the date of writing this article) search using at least three words. For example, we optimise for "Drupal Website Design UK" or "Drupal Training Courses UK" (and rank on page 1 out of millions of results).
Nowadays it's not uncommon to search with four and five word phrases (long-tail search terms) and if your pages match these queries you are much more likely to meet the visitors expectations. The downside is that there are more combinations of keywords which makes optimisation harder. Optimising for several very specific phrases has less competition, is much easier to get good rankings but will produce less traffic (as less people are searching for any exact phrase). This is called "low-hanging fruit" in SEO.
So how many words should sites be optimised for? Generally speaking your SEO efforts should focus on a combination of both short-tail and long-tail search terms.
Types of Searches
When buying a particular service or product people generally go through three phases: -
1. Vague and General Interest
At this stage people has a general idea about what they want but often no specific item (or exact service) in mind. They will probably use broad and short-tail search terms. All they are looking for is information around their area of interest.
Most companies (perhaps unintentionally) optimise for this type of traffic. It's still important to be ranked for these terms because lots of people are likely to be searching and will certainly consider your company if you meet some basic criteria. However it is very unlikely that they are ready to purchase anything just yet.
2. Narrowing Down
At this stage people pretty much know what they want. They want a gizmo that can do x,y, and z, and will want to narrow down their choices to one of two specific items or service types.
Traffic from this type of search is much more useful. As we've said, by now people have a good idea about what they want and will be using more specific search terms. Although a conversion is still unlikely at this stage, a visitor is more likely to come back to you if you provide the right information.
At this stage people will know exactly what they want and are looking for a company to provide this exact product or service. They will expect quality, reliability, and above all, will need to feel they can trust you.
This is the best kind of traffic to get on your site. People want to make a conversion - they want to buy. Optimising for these search terms will undoubtedly bring the best returns. The search terms used here will be quite specific so make sure you consider these possibilities carefully.
Know your visitor
As we've already said, knowing your visitor is vital. Understand the differences between a visitor that knows your subject very well and a visitor who doesn't. Both types will probably use different search terms.
Most importantly a visitor has needs that must be met. Make sure you meet them.
Take your time over this - it's the most important part of your SEO process.
Drupal and Keyword Research
Once you've identified as many terms and phrases as possible it's time to look at these questions: -
- How many people are searching for those terms?
- What are the alternatives?
- How can I make these long-tail searches?
- How much competition is there?
The excellent "Keyword Research" module works with several other modules and APIs to give you a list of alternative search terms. (If we've installed the modules for you, you will find this linked from the SEO dashboard.)
For example, submitting "Drupal Services" will return a list of related phrases people have been searching for and in this example might include "Best Drupal Hosting Service", "Drupal Service Provider", "Drupal Development Services", etc.
Not only can this give you valuable information about who searches for what, but it may open your eyes to terms you've never considered, particularly if the competition for these terms is low. There are also links out to several other useful providers such as "Google Trends" which can give you more insights.