Wednesday, May 16, 2007

How to test your search terms

Search Engine Optimization, Back to Basics, Part 4

Your website, in order to rank well on the search engines, has to have the right words in it. It has to have them in the right number, and in the right places. But most of all, those words have to be the right ones.

What determines “the right ones” is understanding the value of a given word. A word is valuable when it fits three basic criteria:

  1. It is relevant to your site. Using irrelevant keywords just irritates your customers.
  2. It is in demand. This means that there are relatively high numbers of people searching for that word. If nobody’s looking for it, then there’s no point worrying about it, right?
  3. It is not so much in supply. This means that there aren’t so many (relatively) other web pages using that same word or phrase.

If a keyword (or a keyword phrase) fits these three criteria, then it’s something you can use in your site, and, with some effort, get some good clickthrough results with.

It’s good to begin this process by creating a table (either in a word processor, or by simply dividing lined paper into three columns), like this:

Search Term

Overture test (demand)

Google test (supply)

Start brainstorming a list of possible search terms. If someone were to go to Google or Yahoo and search for a site like yours, what would they type into the search bar? Make a big list, and put these words in the “Search Term” column of your table.

Then, we want to test the demand, the searches. There are a number of places that you can go to check this. One is, and another is Either one will get you to a good testing tool, both based on the Overture/Yahoo search system. I recommend testing in the demand first, because these tools will suggest more terms to check, that you might not have though of yet.

So, at one of these tools, type in one of the words on your list and click the button. It will return a list of words and numbers. The first one on the list will probably be the closest to what you typed, and the rest will be suggestions of similar words and phrases.

The numbers represent how many searches were done for a particular search term in the month at the top of the list. Look at the number near the word you tested, and write it next to the word in the “Overture test (demand)” column. Now you know how “in demand” a particular word is. That’s great info, but only half the equation. A word like “music” might have 900,000+ searches. Wow! That’s great! But as you’ll see below, that might not be so cool.

While you’re in this window, scroll through the list, and add to your own list any other words that are relevant to your site. Copy their numbers, too. Then, repeat this test for each word in your list.

For the numbers in the next column, I go to Type in one of the words that you have in the other column, spelled exactly the same way, and do a search.

At the top of the search results page will be a blue bar, and on the right side of that it will say, “results 1-10 of (some ridiculously high number, probably in the millions)”. Write this number in the “Google test (supply)” column. Go on and do the test for the other words. Don’t be afraid to think of more terms and flip back and forth between Overture and Google to test them.

Finally, the numbers need to be analyzed to make any sense. So far, they’re just raw numbers right? What do they mean?

Well, let’s look at that example above: “music”. You could look at the initial search and see that there were 900,000 searches. You might be excited by that. That means that this word is in demand, and in demand big. I have to caution you, though, that the demand is only half the picture. Type it into Google, and you’ll see the full picture. That is, that there are 1.1 billion pages using the word “music”.

Let me say that again:


It will be extremely difficult to compete with that many web pages for a good ranking. In this, it would be a good idea to introduce some qualifiers to the initial keyword. Maybe use things like “rock music” or “indie rock music” to temper the numbers some.

Each industry, subject area, and product line is different, so making a definite rule about what numbers are good is difficult. Even still, as a general rule, a keyword or phrase is good if there are more than 750-1000 in Overture searches AND at the same time, less than 3-4 million in Google results. The more extreme in either of these, the better. For example, a search term with 8000 overture results AND 750,000 Google results would be an excellent term.

Keep testing, back and forth, from Google to Overture and back again, until you find 4-6 good strong words or phrases. These will be the words that will help your website to soar.

Finally, use those words in the sentences and paragraphs of your site. Repeat them as you can, sensibly. That way, when someone searches for that word or phrase, you’ll get picked up, and ranked higher.

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome ( Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

1 comment:

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