Avoid this Simple Step and Guarantee SEO Failure!

I wrote my first search engine optimization book in 1999 and have produced one every year or two since. As I sit here researching my latest it strikes me that just about every facet of the game has changed drastically over the past decade. Even the name has been shortened to SEO because it's so well known today. Unfortunately however, one aspect has not changed... Too many people still miss out on the most important step in SEO; Keyword selection!

Let's face it; without targeted keywords your site might as well be a storefront with no sign, no windows and no front door. And without the right keywords targeting is useless. In fact, worse than useless because it's five times more difficult to have a search engine reevaluate a site it has already evaluated once for the wrong keywords.

Keywords are your most important SEO asset. It's that simple. Some people will argue until they're blue in the face saying "META tags don't even matter anymore." Well, who said anything about META tags? I'm not talking about the keyword tag or stuffing ALT tags. I'm talking about keywords for your site as a whole. They define how your pages will be found online and if people will even bother to visit if found.

Here's an example... I just typed 'markers' (no quotes) into Google and see there are 37,500,000 Web pages. The number one match is for magic markers but just below it is some golf course called the Markers Golf Club. A couple spots down deals with DNA markers indicating diabetes in certain patients. And the list goes on and on. Could the results be any more random? Your site is probably more targeted but the same principles apply. And trust me; with millions of competing web pages for every word in the dictionary, you need every advantage you can get.

Think about it. You'd have to be crazy to try to beat out over 37 million competing pages about 'markers' if you were selling 'permanent markers', especially since Google only has 553,000 matches for that keyword phrase (permanent markers). Now what if you were selling a specific brand like "Sharpie"? Well, 'sharpie markers' has only half the competing Web pages as 'permanent markers'. Better still, 'sharpie permanent markers' has less than one tenth the competing pages of 'sharpie markers.'

Ready for the best part? If you check these keywords on Google's free Adwords keyword site at https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal and type in 'sharpie markers' (don't use quotes for any of these I mention) you will see that for January '08 the term 'sharpie permanent markers' is just as popular as 'sharpie markers' but has less than half the competition for people paying per click! So whether you're saving a fortune in pay per click fees or optimizing much better for organic ranking, you will have just as many highly targeted visitors with much less competition.

Remember, good keywords are nice to have but GREAT keywords are your secret weapon! If you take nothing else from this article, please know that keyword selection is still the single most important step in optimizing your web pages and where the majority of your time and effort should be spent up front.

Up until a couple years ago I even had part time staff members that did nothing but research keywords for my SEO company. Of course, today you can spend less than a hundred bucks and get a piece of software like GOOHAY Keywords (http://www.goohaykeywords.com/) or a little more for Keyword Elite (http://keywordeliteweb.com/) either of which do as much as several full time employees.

Whether manually or with software, it's also a good idea to reevaluate your keywords every so often. This is especially true if your site deals with seasonal items or topics. I use keyword software to evaluate mine the first day of each month and it keeps my sites one step ahead.

By starting with the very best keywords, you are already ahead of 99% of your competition, which gives you an incredible advantage. Best of luck!

Michael Small is a ten year veteran SEO consultant and author of numerous search engine optimization books and whitepapers including the SEO Answer Book, available at http://www.seoanswerbook.net/ .