Search Term Research For the Rest of Us

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By Peter Prestipino

If content is king, then search terms are the crown. Learning and researching the keywords and phrases that customers use to find your site is paramount to Web success.

Simply put, search term research is the process of selecting keywords that are relevant to your site and used by customers on natural/organic search engines and pay-per-click services. Performing keyword research helps you discover new opportunities, correct misconceptions, increase conversion and monitor the state of your brand and industry trends.

Building Better Keyword Lists
A king needs an elaborate crown embedded with jewels from all over the world. The same is true with keyword lists - success comes from utilizing as many quality sources as possible. While brainstorming keywords will get you quite a ways towards a full and comprehensive list, there are other sources for finding this valuable data which should be on your radar.

Established sites can look at data from site search tools or from raw log files, but those just getting started may have a more difficult time finding an initial set of keyword and phrase data. Fortunately, there are many tools and tricks available that can put you on the right track. If you're just getting started, send out a few surveys or conduct a focus group. Explain to the group what you do and ask those participating to describe how they would go about finding your site or its products and services through a Web search.

There are hundreds of keyword research tools available that companies use to build up lists - the most high profile are WordTracker and Trellian ( which provide unparalleled degrees of competitive intelligence. But the rest of us may be satisfied with the myriad of free tools available that, without giving a comprehensive view of important keywords and phrases, do provide a good base for getting started. Some popular free tools are Yahoo! Search Marketing's keyword inventory tool ( and's keyword suggestion tool (

Those most successful with their keyword research have found that by also targeting variations of their keywords, they can gain greater exposure to potential markets. For example, many website owners use misspellings and typos, abbreviations, slang, plurals and synonyms within their lists. Even though most of the major pay-per-click providers offer some sort of keyword matching or mapping solution, this "busted keywords" approach will help with search engine optimization.

Evaluating and Assessing Relevance
You didn't think that keyword success came from research alone did you? Evaluating the keywords that comprise your list and assessing their relevance to a potential consumer is the next, essential step to excelling with keyword-based promotions. What you should be trying to determine is the relevance of that term to the person using it. For example, in Iowa, a bag is called a sack. In Minnesota flip-flops are called beach thongs. Look for beach thongs in California and you may end up with an entirely different part of the human anatomy. Since terms have different meanings geographically and have multiple meanings in some instances, it's important to assess the perceived relevance to your customer.

In the end, the most important thing to realize about building a list of keywords is that it is not a static process. The Web evolves and the people that search to find your products and services change as well. This means that while you should explore all possible opportunities to find keywords at the outset, you should also stay tuned into the ever-changing mood, language and trends of your consumers.