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How Many Keywords Should You Target?

Posted on October 12, 2005

By Ryan McCann

Here we are, in the midst of some serious keyword research. We have gone ahead and created a nice list of keywords we've found people to be typing into search engines. So now what? Do we choose three to four of them.. five to eight? How many keywords should we be targeting? Initial instinct may say either one of the above ranges is appropriate, but let's ignore our instincts for a minute and give it some more thought.

For this discussion, let's assume our site sells women's clothing. We have our list and we see that the top 5 searched for keywords are:

women's clothing - 9,282
women's clothing shop - 3,885
plus size women's clothing - 638
women's sport clothing - 420
women's clothing catalog - 322

(Numbers shown are approximate searches per day provided by Overture)

For our purposes, four out of the five keywords listed relate well to what we are trying to sell. Our clothing is general women's clothing so we can remove plus size women's clothing from the list. So, here we have four keywords that are very relevant to our sites topic, receive lots of searches and everything looks just peachy.

So what's the hitch? Well, unless your store name is Macy's, Wal-Mart or some other big name clothing retailer, you've got many problems if your strategy is to only target these four phrases. The biggest one being the amazing amount of competition you will be facing to achieve top rankings for these words, but that's not what we're talking about here. Keyword competition is only one aspect of selecting good keywords. The aspect we're focusing on today is very simple in concept but for some reason many people/site owners don't get it or choose to neglect it.

First, let's get some perspective here. The five keywords listed above, after doing some quick math, bring in an approximate total of 15,000 searches per day according to Overture's numbers.

+ 322
14,547 total searches per day

That's a lot of potential traffic, IF you rank highly for EACH one of those phrases. I can tell you now that if you spend the next 2 years tailoring your website for those phrases alone you'll be lucky to exist in the top 40 results for all of them when the 2 years is up. That's a lot of time and work for mediocre results that will bring maybe .01% of those searches to your site. If we know anything by now about search habits it's that users don't like to stray much farther than page one then they move on to a new search term. Which just so happens to tie in perfectly with the concept we're about to explain.

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Search habits show that a user may initially type "women's clothing" into a search engine to find what they are looking for. Once the search is complete and the results are displayed, they will probably click to a few of the top 5 ranking websites as well as some of the paid listings. What the user generally ends up realizing after this process, is that the results being shown are entirely too vague in nature to find exactly what they are looking for. So what do they do next? They narrow down their search of course. Instead of women's clothing they now type in something like "women's tank tops".

What's this? They're not searching for women's clothing anymore? Of course they are, but instead of such a broad term as women's clothing they search for more specific items to get better, more relevant search results. This process continues until they find exactly what they are looking for (pink women's tank top with silver sequins) or give up trying. So, with this knowledge in mind, let's move on to the concept at hand.

When it comes to your website, what is it that you are actually trying to sell? Is it women's clothing? Yes. But is that all? I should hope not. In addition to the overall theme of women's clothing, you might have women's tank tops, women's jeans, skirts, shirts, accessories and many other individual products and categories that exist in the realm of women's clothing. This is where we get into the 'more keywords' is better idea. Every product, category and more importantly, page in your website should be targeting something different. If you have a category for women's jeans, that page should target women's jeans and two or three other variations of that search term. If you have a product within the women's jeans category name seven jeans A pocket style, that page should be targeting keywords consistent with seven jeans A pocket style. The goal here is to get specific with our keywords where appropriate.

Now, you may say, "But when I do my keyword research it shows hardly any searches for seven jeans A pocket style, so why would I target that keyword?" Well, regardless of what those numbers say one can never know for sure every search queried in the search engines.. So be honest with yourself and think, "If I wanted a pair of these jeans, what would I type in to Google?" Me, personally, I'd search for seven jeans A pocket style or A pocket seven jeans, etc. And chances are my site will rank much higher for that more specific/less competitive keyword than it would for something as competitive as women's clothing.

Now, take this concept and apply it to all of your categories/products/pages and, depending on your inventory, you'll begin to see why you should be targeting possibly hundreds of keywords at a time instead of three or four site wide.

To give us further reason to apply this method to our website, let's look back to the previous numbers mentioned above. We saw approximately 15,000 searches a day for the top five women's clothing searches performed according to Overture. How does at best, a few searches a day for these very specific terms even compare? I'll show you.

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Using our search term suggestion tool we see approximately 10 searches a day performed for seven A pocket jeans, 45 searches a day for earl jeans and similar numbers down the line for all of our specific products and categories.

In the essence of time, let's say on average our specific keywords get about 20 searches a day each, and we have a list of 120 specific keywords based on our products and categories.

So again, we'll do some quick math.
20 searches per day X 120 keywords = 2,400 searches per day

We can see from these numbers that with high rankings for our specific keywords we could potentially see 2,400 searches a day coming to our site. This is by no means 15,000 but the truth is, you can eventually equal that number of total searches by expanding your keyword base over time and get much more targeted traffic in the process. I'll take 2,400 targeted visitors to my site over 15,000 general searches any day. Remember, the users searching for women's clothing usually end up modifying their search to something more specific anyway. So much of that traffic generated by a search for women's clothing ends up in a quick visit then a quick click on the back button. Whereas a user typing in seven jeans A pocket style clicks to your site and sees exactly what they are looking for.. That type of traffic is much more likely to end up in a sale, which is the ultimate goal for all of us.

If we lock down all of our specific products and categories with high rankings in the search engines we are ensuring that most of the traffic generated by our optimization efforts is highly targeted to what our site offers.

Women's clothing is a great theme for your site, and should be optimized for (we will go over how to do this in another article).. But as far as sales, rankings and overall targeted traffic is concerned, we need to spread our reach well beyond women's clothing to all areas of women's clothing. Make sense?

About the Author

Ryan McCann is an Online Marketing and Search Engine Optimization manager at Ecommerce Partners located in New York, NY


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