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Basic Keyword Research

When the use of search engines on the web first began to become popular, they weren't very sophisticated at how they found relevant results for a particular search query. They relied heavily on meta data and backlinks. While these ranking factors are still a minor influence, the most important factors modern search engines take into consideration when finding and ranking results today is the relevancy of the content to a person performing an actual search, and the popularity of the sites that serve that content.

This aligns with one of the ongoing philosophies of modern SEO; cater to your audience — real human beings — and not to robots and ranking algorithms.

We refer to the contents of these search queries as keywords, and the science of figuring out the best keywords to include in your site to attract the right kind of visitor as keyword research.

From an ecommerce perspective, when someone is searching the web, they can typically be classified as being in one of three modes:

  • Browsing — In this mode, a searcher is just exploring or surfing the web. They don't have a specific goal or task they wish to accomplish. They might be searching for funny cat videos or the history of Japan. They use short, non-descriptive search queries, like "funny cats", or "Japanese history". These searches return hundreds of millions of results, making it hard to compete and be found.
  • Researching — Searchers in research mode have a specific topic in mind, and are actively seeking more detailed information about it. This could be someone who is considering purchasing something, like a camera, and might be looking up reviews and specifications for a particular model. People in this mode have slightly more specific queries, like "Nikon camera reviews".
  • Buying — As an online merchant, this is the mode you want your store's visitors to be in when they find your products. This person has made the mental commitment to make a purchase, and are performing a search with that as the end goal. Searchers in this mode are straightforward and detailed with their search queries, like "buy Nikon 16 megapixel digital SLR", "women's white long sleeve cashmere sweater", or "organic dog food in denver". These searches return fewer results, meaning there is less competition to contend with, thus making it more likely for your result to be surfaced.

These detailed searches and phrases, known as long tail keywords, are the kind of content that you want to include on your BigCommerce store's page titles and product descriptions to help make your products more easily found by search engines, and to stand out in the results.

For each product or category, you'll want to focus on groups of long tail keywords, not just one. It's more difficult to rank by focusing on a single long tail keyword; using groups will make you more visible and attract more traffic.

Take a look at the following example. In addition to having a detailed, long tail keyword product title, "Nikon 16 megapixel Digital SLR", the product description and category name also include similar long tail keywords in that group related to the product, "best reviewed DSLR" and "quality digital camera under $700".

Camera product page demonstrating the use of groups of long tail keywords in the title, description and category
Camera product page demonstrating the use of groups of long tail keywords in the title, description and category.

Words and phrases like "best" and "under $700" are known as qualifiers. Use qualifiers to help come up with new long tail keyword combinations to add to your group. Remember that your customers might not search the same way that you do, and may not use or be familiar with the marketing or industry language that you might.

With all this in mind, be aware that getting too specific with your long tail keywords can have the opposite effect, in which the search query is so incredibly specific, there's hardly anyone actually searching for it. For example, there's probably very few people who search for "best reviewed Nikon 16 megapixel camera under $700".

Another recurring theme with modern SEO is that it's a continuing, ongoing process, and that the optimization never truly ends. It’s a process of trial and error, and by making small, educated changes over time, you can maximize your potential for attracting the right kind of visitor, while minimizing the chance of hurting your existing exposure and rank.

If you're new to keyword research, start by taking the tips and advice here and applying them to some of your products. To get started, maybe focus on your top 10 sellers, then allow some time to pass and see if you get more traffic and better conversion.

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