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SEO Keyword Research Posted On: 04/06/2011 Last Updated: 05/08/2012

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What is Keyword Research?

At its core, keyword research is the investigation into how people search. Millions of people use search engines every day; they search to find information, they search to find products, they search to find answers to their questions. Researching how people search is the first and most important step in writing good titles and content. If you know the questions that people have, you can give them the answer. If you know what products people are searching for, you can make an effective sales pitch.

Three Types of Searches

Keyword searches are typically broken down into three categories called: short-tail, mid-tail, and long-tail. Short-tail keyword searches are usually 1-2 keywords, they are typically common words, and they are very competitive. Mid-tail searches are usually between 2-3 keywords that are commonly associated. Ranking highly in a search result for mid-tail searches is much less competitive than for short-tail searches, but still difficult for an individual item.

The Loooooooong-Tail

Long-tail searches typically have three or more keywords and are much less competitive than short and mid-tail searches. While there is much less search traffic to any one particular long-tail search, taken in aggregate long-tail search traffic usually makes up between 40-70% of a sites search traffic. The majority of search traffic that comes to ArtFire comes via long-tail searches. Just as an example, for one month in August 2009 there were 150,000 different searches that brought visitors to ArtFire; most of those searches had an item as a result.

Long-tail is where many sellers see the best results. If you have 100 products listed and each of them bring in, on average, 0.5 Google searchers per week, that's 50 new people every week visiting your shop. The great part about this type of traffic is that it is highly convertible and can lead to people looking at and buying other products you offer. If you optimize your titles and descriptions well enough and list enough products, there's no limit the amount of steady traffic you can see from Google Search and Google Shopping.

Tools for Keyword Research

The Google AdWord Keyword Tool is by far the most popular keyword research tool used today. When you're using this tool keep in mind that if a term you search for is popular and competitive, it will be very difficult to rank for that term alone (but it still might be a good term to include in your title). Incorporating terms that people are comfortable searching with along with unique identifiers for your product should help optimize your listings for long tail traffic.

The best use of the AdWord Keyword tool is to get an idea of the general way that people are comfortable searching for your type of product. In this example, there were 5400 U.S. searches in August that exactly matched the keywords, "Swarovski crystal earrings." That's the number of times that Google users searched for that exact phrase last month; broad matches include a wider variety of searches for similar phrases. I like to look at both when researching keywords.

From this example, I learned that people are fairly comfortable searching for the keyword as I researched it. It would be difficult, however, to rank an item for that term even if I used the exact title "Swarovski crystal earrings," as I'd be competing against and other large sites. What it does mean is if I include that phrase in the title and go into more detail about the style/colors of the earrings, I'd stand a good chance to get long-tail search traffic from Google.

The information you get from Wordtracker is not as in-depth as the Google AdWords tool, but it can give you and idea of what is/isn't being searched for. My advice would be to play around with both of these keyword tools to find the one which works best for your needs.

Try to keep one thing in mind when using these tools, the data they use is from the past. Google claims that between 20-25% of searches are unique and have not been searched before on Google; this means people are comfortable asking a search engine for exactly what their looking for using detailed queries. Keep this in mind when you are writing the title for your listing, as well as using keywords in your descriptions and tags.