The use of appropriate key words is definitely the most important aspect of search engine optimization—targeting your key words and phrases is crucial for building web traffic and getting the audience you want for your web pages. Like any other type of advertisement, your key words must be carefully chosen to ensure that you achieve both high page rankings and relevant traffic. Achieving high page ranks is pointless if you don’t generate traffic from the people you are trying to reach. For this reason, many experts believe that the key word choices you make can be the difference between success and failure of your web site or online business.

When it comes to online businesses, it’s not enough to choose a relevant domain name. These days, what really counts are the key words you choose. The majority of people who discover your web site will do so through a search engine. They’ll type in two or three words that describe what they’re looking for, and that’s where your key words come in. Key words are what enable people to find you, and choosing the right key words helps more people find your site.

With this in mind, identifying your target audience is the first step in creating relevant key words and phrases. Again, this is not dissimilar to targeting television advertisements—it’s important to know your audience so that you can identify the key words that will draw them to your web site. One of the most important aspects of this is location, particularly if you are using your web site to promote a local business. If, for example, you operate a used car dealership in Hayward, California, any traffic you get from outside a very specific area is virtually useless to you. Similarly, if you operate an online business that does not ship outside the USA, generating traffic from other countries will not help you make sales. By adding key words that are specific to your location as well as your product, you’ll eliminate the traffic that doesn’t generate business—not only do you stand a better chance of reaching your target audience, but you’ll also achieve a better conversion rate, and increase your page ranking, too.

Taking the used car dealership example again, let’s say a user types in the word “cars” into a search engine. They’ll never find what they need, because it’s far too general—generating around 500,000,000 hits. Using the words “used cars” generates almost 70,000,000—that’s still too many to deal with effectively. Using “used cars Hayward” generates almost 900,000 hits, and narrowing the focus even further by using the zip code rather than the city name reduces it to less than 25,000. Choosing key words for your web site works the same way—if your key words are too general, your target audience will never find your site, because the search terms generate so many hits that it’s impossible to wade through them all. However, if you go too far in the opposite direction and use too many key words, or key words which are too specific, you risk losing business as well. The best key word phrases are no more than three words in length, and more importantly, are the words that people actually use when they’re looking for your product.

So how do you choose the right key words? The first step is brainstorming with colleagues or friends, to come up with a list of 20 or more appropriate key words. The Google Keyword Tool ( is also an excellent place to research key words—entering key words into this tool can not only give you an idea of the popularity of certain words, but also offers you alternative key words and phrases which you can use to help build your list.

There is no limit to the number of words you can come up with at this stage, because next you’re going to refine your list to select the strongest words. There are several good online research tools available, which can help you decide which words will be most effective for you. Some good examples are:

Note that most sites such as these charge a fee for using their databases. However, many also offer a free trial, so if you are well organized you can get your research done within the trial period.

Using these databases will help you determine which of the words on your list will generate the most relevant traffic. Eliminate those key words which rank poorly or are very unpopular, and of those which are left, choose the ones which are both popular and focus on your site and your audience. Always remember that when it comes to key words, you are focusing on optimizing your traffic rather than maximizing it.

-Ben Herman

Mad Fish Search Engine Keyword Marketing