People who write regularly for online publications generally enjoy the process of writing and many don’t want to get sidetracked into the technical area of doing keyword research.

Yet when one keyword can bring ten times as much traffic as another, we need to be very careful in our choice of words and use the best keywords wherever possible.

There are many reasons why a writer might skimp on keyword research, including:

  • The writer has a pressing deadline that means there is simply no time to do any keyword research.
  • The writer is deep in a flow of thinking and the last thing he wants to do is break the flow of his writing to check some keyword counts.
  • The writer thinks he knows his industry well and has a pretty good idea of what the best keywords are (or should that be the right keywords, most popular keywords or the top search terms?)

Keyword research dilemmas

How can a writer overcome these pressures? I’ll explain the process I use later but first I’d like to look at the very real dilemmas that a writer has to face….

  • Someone selling digital cameras online needs to know if ‘digital photography’ is as popular as ‘digital camera’ and whether someone who searches for ‘digital photography’ is more likely to want to improve their photography skills with some useful information rather than buy a digital camera.
  • A university that wants to attract ‘overseas students’ needs to think about the words overseas students will use. Are they likely to search for ‘overseas courses’, or more likely ‘UK universities’ or ‘universities in the UK’?
  • A commercial interior designer needs to know whether ‘office design’ or ‘office planning’ is the most popular search. And not only the difference in counts, but any subtle differences in meaning.

I find these choices fascinating, not just because of the different keyword counts but as an insight into what customers are thinking about and what they’re looking for, when they type some words into a search box.

So at Wordtracker we decided to have a little fun with these keyword dilemmas. We created a game for our exhibition stands and product demonstrations that would force people into having to make these choices. We used the game at events in London, New York, Chicago and Las Vegas.

Here’s how the ‘keyword challenge’ game works:

  • We selected fifteen popular industries from fashion through to computers and conducted keyword research to find popular search terms in each industry.
  • Players were presented with fifteen consecutive pairs of keywords, one pair from each industry and asked to guess which was the most popular search term.

To keep players motivated at the exhibitions we gave away a video iPod every day to the person who got the highest number correct.

We found that on average people guessed correctly only 54% of the time. The game fulfilled our objectives. In a tangible way, people could see that their guesses were often incorrect – and that therefore there was a need to do proper keyword research.

A painless way to include your best keywords

So getting back to that problem of not having enough time or inclination to do proper keyword research, what should a writer do?

One option of course is to get someone to optimise your copy after you’ve written it. That can be expensive and in my case it irritates the hell out of me. I’ve taken the time to think about what I write and I don’t want my message to be weakened through someone changing my words.

I’ll believe there is a better way.

1.    Make sure you’re aware of your best keywords. These are the words that bring you free traffic from the search engines and you should know them well.

2.    Keep a list of potential articles that you might write in the near future – I always have a list of around 15-20 scribbled in my notebook. The articles should address important or hot issues in your industry.

3.   Follow a logical process when you write an article:

(i) Decide on the subject you’re going to write about
(ii) Pick a primary and a secondary keyword phrase around which you’ll optimise your article.
(iii) Write the title meta tag of the article. This should include your primary keyword phrase and if possible your secondary phrase.
(iv) Write the description meta tag of your article. This should include both your primary and secondary keyword phrases, and can also be used as the first paragraph or summary of your article.
(v) Then outline the structure of the article and organise the main points you’re going to make. Also write some keyword rich sub-headings.

4.    Once you’ve done all that preparation I usually take a short break so that the work I’ve done seeps into my subconscious. If I’m in the office I’ll have a cup of coffee and a chat. If I’m at home, I’ll walk the dog.

5.    After that I’ll get back to my desk and try to write the article in one sitting. One of the best pieces of advice I got from an experienced journalist was never to write a ‘draft’ but get my thinking clear and write the final piece in one sitting.

As the need to publish content on websites continues to increase, more and more people are required to write for the web. Their work will be much more valuable to their organisations if they know what their best keywords are, and they follow a logical writing process that allows those keywords to pull in search engine traffic.

Ken McGaffin is the chief marketing officer of