Matt Mullenweg, during his recent “State of the Word” presentation, fielded a number of interesting concepts that are driving development priorities for the ubiquitous open source software. The most intriguing, to me, was that of desire paths (wikipedia definition here), which Matt referenced to show how Automattic was watching the trends in plugins and themes to see what features were most in demand or lacking from WordPress.
This concept makes perfect sense for application development, but it’s also a great similitude for how we approach SEO. While I’m not an SEO expert (that title belongs to our resident Paul Fleming), I spend a good chunk of my time helping our clients understand it and keep current with the trends and developments.
A common question, which I received from three different clients this week, is to ask how we research keywords to determine if they are relevant and worth targeting. In essence: what makes a good keyword or phrase?
There are two parts to it, and the first is neatly answered by the concept of desire paths.
- Usage – Just like with a desire path, a good keyword is one that is actually used by a real live person (in our case, a prospect). A few years ago we had a client that wanted to correct us each time we proposed “non profit” as a keyword in phrases for their campaign. They insisted that the correct spelling was “nonprofit”! However, correct or not, qualified prospects were already using the spelling “non profit” so we had to position ourselves in front of them using the terminology (or path) that they were intentionally using. So, first step: look at the tracks and trails on the ground and see what people are searching for, and if those phrases are relevant to the campaign.
- Competition – There are lots of wonderful keywords out there that are simply too competitive to target, especially at the beginning of a campaign. High rankings for valuable terms like “rare books” or “christian university” take time, money, energy, and a bit of magic to attain. So, with each keyword research revision, we present both the number of searches for a particular term and the number of competitors in the marketplace that might also be targeting the same term.
The desire paths metaphor applies to other elements of internet marketing as well, including social media investments, email marketing scheduling, paid search advertising, platform usage, etc. You shouldn’t solely follow your customers around, waiting to see what they are interested in (I’m reminded of a Rupert Murdoch quote that “We don’t deal in market share. We create the market.”). However, it’s always good to know what they think is the shortest path from point to point – you may just find yourself meeting them halfway.