How do you find out which searches you should be targeting?

I was asked last week what the most sensible approach would be to determining what the key search terms would be for a particular market sector. There’s no definitive way of finding out, unfortunately, and even if you can compile a list which you’re pretty confident represents the most-entered searches, you’ve then got the job of determining if there are any undexploited opportunities there.

The simplest (and worst) approach is just to say: “we make blue widgets, so that’s the only term I need to know”. That’s fine if there are only ten results in Google for “blue widgets”, if you only have a couple of competitors and if the term is never used in association with any other unrelated market sector. The chances are that there are thousands of results, and loads of long-established sites in the Google results, so that you’ll be trying to research “longer tail” opportunities. Should you be focusing on “blue widgets uk”, “cheap blue widgets” or “blue widget suppliers” perhaps? If so, which?

I’ve already mentioned the Google Keyword Tool, but that does come with a lot of caveats, and can be a little vague in niche markets where there aren’t many searches. Asking customers sounds like a good idea in theory, but I can’t believe many would know what they’d type into Google when the moment came. There are some online resources such as Wordtracker which are excellent, and well worth a try. There’s also some good background reading to be done such as this and these. If you’re taking the exercise seriously, I’d look at setting up a very broad Google AdWords campaign for a few weeks. Once you’ve established if any alternative terminology exists, advertise against every term on a broad match basis and you’ll get a good list of the actual searches where your ad gets shown. For example, let’s say your research and market knowledge shows that customers refer to your products as “blue widgets”, “blue widgettes” and “bw’s”. You would set up “broad match” AdWords ads on “blue widget”, “blue widgette” and “bw”, and then look at the actual searches which caused them to be shown. You’ll need to ensure that you’re bidding enough for your ad to show every time, of course. This exercise might cost you money, but you’ll get the bonus of a lot of website visitors from your research project!

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