Commentary

What Are The Right Keywords? Anyone? Anyone?

If you walk around at any business conference, you'll often find companies that are lost in their own jargon. Every company develops its own internal language--terms and phrases that make perfect sense on the inside, among colleagues--but really don't mean much to the outside world.

But when it comes to reaching customers through search engine marketing, it's vital for marketers to understand not just the product or services they are selling, but the words their customers use to describe them. Marketers frequently make false assumptions about the most appropriate keywords to purchase in paid search or to use on their Web sites, based on the jargon that they use internally. The keywords they should actually be using can be very different.

Sometimes it's not even a term that would traditionally be thought of as "jargon." For example, a large automotive brand that we once worked with had a corporate policy against using the word "car" to describe the product it manufactured, because it felt the word was too common, and not evocative of the high class of its product line. "Car" was summarily banned from its Web pages, keyword buys and promotional materials, and replaced with the word "vehicle."

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The problem? Many, many more people were searching for "cars" than "vehicles"--on the order of millions of searches per month. By attempting to project its own perceptions of its product onto its audience, the auto manufacturer was missing out on a huge amount of qualified traffic.

In paid search marketing, buying keywords that no one searches for can be a huge misstep, causing marketers to miss out on valuable traffic and reduce the impact of their campaign. In search engine optimization (SEO), creating website copy and title tags (the words that show up on the top bar of the browser only) that don't resonate with searchers means the site is less likely to come up when it's most relevant to the audience.

Instead, marketers should learn from the mistakes of brands like Wachovia, which includes a page for vehicle loans on its site. Though it's an accurate umbrella term for what Wachovia offers, the phrase "vehicle loan" just doesn't have the same volume as "car loan." Again, while this may be how Wachovia defines its services, it's not what customers look for.

Ultimately, it's very easy for marketers to forget to figure out how their customers are searching for them. Savvy marketers who are planning search engine marketing campaigns and tweaking copy for their sites will remember to do their keyword research.

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