Recently, Grant Simmons shared some . As a follow-up, I'd like to talk about some tools and techniques you can use to gauge your keyword strength.
Keywords are the basic building blocks of search engine optimization. Grant wrote, "The goal behind SEO is to attract new, targeted customers to websites via the search engines' natural or organic (as opposed to sponsored) results." While there are many variables that affect how high your site ranks in those results for any given search, the fact remains that you won't get very far if there's no relationship between the user's search query and a page on your site.
That's why it's so important to do proper keyword research, as well as to analyze and update your keywords on an ongoing basis. This entails making sure the keywords you're focusing on are relevant to your business interests, and not so broad and competitive as to limit their ability to bring in qualified traffic. Optimized keyword research goes a long way toward helping you optimize your site for organic search engine rankings.
Below are a handful of tools I use to check the viability and value of my keywords. I recommend adding these keyword tools into your regular rotation.
Google Webmaster Tools
This is a free service you can use through a Google account. Webmaster Tools provides a lot of very useful SEO information. Specific to keywords, you can see a list of your top referring keyword searches, your position in the Google SERPs for each keyword, and the click-through rate (CTR) for many of them. CTR is a good indication of how well you're targeting your intended audience with your keywords. The more relevant and specific a keyword is to your website and business, the higher your click-through rate tends to be. You can also use the tool to see a list of the most common keywords Google finds when crawling your site.
Drawbacks of Webmaster Tools include the fact that you can't see the CTR for every keyword; also, analytics information is somewhat limited in this interface, so you need to toggle between this and your analytics application to get the full picture.
This tool comes free with an SEO Book account. You basically enter your domain name and a keyword (or multiple keywords), and the extension tells you your ranking for each keyword in Google, Yahoo, and Bing. This is a great, quick way to stay on top of your keyword rankings without having to manually search through SERPs. Rank Checker also tells you if you're not in the top 200 results, which is a strong indication that it's either not a good keyword for you or you need to do some optimization work.
Beyond this basic functionality there are some advanced features; for example, in the options, you can select international versions of Google to check your rankings in other countries. You can also save a preset list of keywords and domains to check regularly, or set up a schedule to check your rankings daily, weekly, etc. There's also an export feature.
However, keyword rankings aren't everything. It doesn't do you any good to rank on the first page for a given keyword if no one is actually clicking through to your site, for example, or if people are clicking but not sticking around or converting. So, again, you'll need to consult an analytics application to fully understand how your keywords are performing.
SEM Rush is a competitive research tool, similar to Compete or SpyFu. It has several pricing levels, but most of the keyword information is available in the free version. Despite the name, it is also useful for organic SEO keyword research and analysis. It offers several features that indicate keyword strength:
- Keyword trends, cost, and volume: SEM Rush scrapes data from Google to tell you the average and current monthly search volume of a keyword, whether the keyword is trending up or down in use, and how competitive it is.
- Top competitors for your keywords: You can view a list of the domains that rank for the same keywords as you, and you can also see how much overlap in keywords you have with a given domain.
This data is helpful for determining how you measure up to competitors for your top keywords. If you're falling behind, you may need to drill down into your keywords and determine where you can increase relevance -- potentially by expanding mid- and long-tail keywords. As for the downside, all competitive tools have limited use, since what your competitors are doing isn't necessarily going to work for you. Independent keyword research is crucial for gaining a competitive edge.
WordStream has two offerings for testing keyword strength:
The Free Keyword Tool. It's always a good idea to check your keyword research against keyword suggestion tools to make sure you're not missing any potentially valuable variations or related terms. I like WordStream's keyword tool (recently launched) for this purpose because it offers up more suggestions than other free and paid tools I've used. It serves up the top 100 keywords by volume right away, and you can get the rest of the results (often into the thousands) emailed to you for free. It also has a "related keywords" feature that is useful for finding synonyms and common variations that you might otherwise overlook. The main downside is that it doesn't offer as much information about keyword volume, advertiser competition, and trends as Google's keyword tool.
Keyword management solution. Also from WordStream, this keyword management solution is a paid tool -- but I find it to be worth it, especially for large-scale SEO (and PPC) efforts. It's meant to replace the spreadsheet system of "keyword management" (basically how you organize your keywords, sort them into groups, and so on) by creating a database that is easier to alter and update than a spreadsheet, and easier to manage when your keyword list gets large. One of the other nice things about this tool is that keyword analytics are included, so it's a very convenient way to keep track of your top-performing keywords in terms of both traffic and conversions. You can set different goals to track in case your site has multiple conversion paths (such as newsletter signups, free downloads, and sales).
In addition, the solution has a set of workflow tools that can point you to where on your site optimization efforts are most needed -- for example, if a certain keyword is driving a lot of traffic but doesn't have a dedicated SEO landing page. Negatives, aside from the price tag, include the fact that it takes a certain amount of effort to get your database set up properly -- not the best choice if you want to quickly investigate a small group of keywords. In addition, this tool doesn't provide ranking information, so you'll want to supplement the data with a tool like Rank Checker.
No one tool alone can give you complete answers when it comes to determining keyword strength, so I recommend having multiple SEO weapons in your arsenal. I hope you'll try out some or all of the above SEO tools, most of which are free. I think you'll find that they add a lot of value to your keyword research and upkeep processes.
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