By John Eberhard

My recent article “What is SEO Today” got more responses than any recent article, so obviously there is a lot of interest in SEO (search engine optimization) these days. Here is more on how to drive traffic to your site with SEO.

Often when I go to look at a site where the site owner has asked me to evaluate their SEO or give them a quote for SEO, I will see lots of single word keywords being used. This is not a good idea for several reasons.

First of all, the idea with keywords is you want to select keywords to use on your site that you have a chance of ranking for. In other words, the goal is you want to rank well for a given keyword, so that people will see your listing and visit your web site.

You want keywords that have a good number of searches, but not a lot of competing sites. If there are a lot of competing sites, you will not have a shot at ranking well for that keyword.

The thing with single word keywords is that most of them have over one million competing sites. Chances are you are never going to be able to rank well for that keyword. And if you did, it would take you years and likely cost you a lot of money to get to that point.

The Search Cycle

At the beginning of the search cycle, people type in more general keywords, either single words or phrases that describe the whole category of thing they are searching for, such as “MP3 player.” Then after they have done some initial searches and learned a bit about the category, they will then enter more specific phrases, such as “ipod mp3 player.” Then as they are getting ready to buy, they will enter even more specific phrases describing the specific product they want to buy, such as “ipod nano 4GB.” Note that this final, third phase is the time when the person is most likely to BUY. At that point he is usually looking for places where he can buy the product and comparing prices.

Keywords that are from this third phase of the searching cycle, which are most descriptive and which tend to be 2-4 words or more are called “long tail” keywords. These keywords are not only usually easier to have your site rank for them, but they tend to be the phrases the person types in when he is closest to being ready to buy.

Most people who I talk to who are not trained in these facts tend to think that they want to target keywords that describe the overall category, usually single word keywords, like “golf,” “consulting,” “dentist,” “chiropractor,” “marketing,” “computers,” etc. Although these single word keywords tend to have lots of searches, people typing them in are not usually at the buying point in the whole search cycle. And because most of these single word keywords have millions of competing sites, in most cases you won’t be able to rank for them.

Local Keywords

There are a number of SEO guys out there today pitching that they will get your site to rank well for local oriented keywords, meaning keywords that contain words related to your product or service, plus the name of the city or cities where you operate.

I think using local oriented keywords is a good idea. But I have some qualifiers. First of all, be aware that most of these keywords have little to no traffic coming to them. So it’s great if Joe Blow SEO guy can get you to rank on page one for “landscape contractor Butte MT,” but if there are 3 searches per year for that keyword, it is not worth the trouble to do that or to pay money to have someone get you onto page one of Google for that keyword.

So I think it is a good idea to take your highest traffic keywords related to your category, and add city names onto them and target those. But be aware of the traffic issue. Because you can be #1 on Google for a keyword but if no one searches for it, that won’t help you at all.

For local businesses, I think it is more profitable to embark on a program to get to the top of the Google Maps / Google Places listings.