Marketers conversant in today's best online marketing strategies know that search engine marketing (SEM) is a good value for the marketing dollar. Case studies have shown this to be true when comparing acquisition costs for a number of marketing strategies, both online and traditional.

So what does it take to kick off a successful SEM campaign? First, ensure that your site is designed to make those conversions when traffic starts coming in. Then make it search-engine friendly by optimizing content and HTML tags with selected keywords. Your most important first step is keyword research, analysis, and selection.

Ten Tips for Keyword Selection

Why are keywords so important? Because they bring targeted traffic to your site as users type their queries into search engines. Careful selection and placement of your strategic keywords in Web page copy and HTML tags goes a long way toward attracting traffic that converts to sales. Following are some tips for generating the keywords and phrases most likely to drive qualified buyers to your Web site.

1. Think from a Customer Viewpoint. What words would potential customers use when searching for your offering? Get feedback from multiple sources by picking the brains of your customers and suppliers as well as your brand managers and sales people.

2. Expand Your Keywords Into a List of Key Phrases. After brainstorming an initial list, put these terms into WordTracker, which is a Web-based tool that provides ideas for additional keywords by telling you how popular your keywords are on other Web pages and how many people have searched for these keywords in major search engines within the last 24 hours.

Your best terms are those that aren't overused but are still fairly popular. Another trick is to use uncommon combinations of keywords. WordTracker's Keyword Effectiveness Index (KEI) will tell you the number of times your keyword appears in its database and the number of competing Web pages. This reveals the keywords that might work best on your pages. A high KEI means the word is more popular and less competitive. A KEI of 100 is fairly good, but anything over 400 is super.

3. Create Multiple Permutations. Vary the order of words in your phrases to create different combinations. Create phrases that ask a question. Include synonyms, word substitutes, metaphors, and common misspellings. Include brand names and models of products sold. Use additional qualifiers to create more specific terms by creating two-, three-, and four-word phrases.

For example, if broadband is one of your keywords, you might come up with phrases like digital broadband, digital wireless broadband, wireless digital broadband, accelerated for broadband, broadband news, digital wireless broadband news, broadband wireless communication, etc. From the key phrase software solutions, try traffic analysis software solutions, traffic analysis reports, traffic reporting tools, B2B software solutions, e-commerce software solutions, etc.

4. Use Concept Qualifiers to Qualify Visitors. Specify the concept in your key phrases, such as e-commerce software solutions. Be specific enough so your key phrase is not too broad, such as e-commerce shopping cart software, e-commerce digital certificate security solutions or business-to-business enterprise e-commerce software, etc.

5. If You'Re Branded, Use Your Company Name. It pays to include your company name in your keyword phrases if you're a well known brand. A site like IBM might use key phrases like IBM computers, IBM notebooks, IBM small business solutions, IBM servers, IBM workstations, etc. However, if your name is Joe Smith Realty, very few people will type that in a search query unless they know you, so it doesn't pay to include company names in keyword phrases when you're not branded.

6. Use Geographic Location. If your location is key, include it in your keywords. For instance, Joe Smith Realty in Rancho Cucamonga may find Rancho Cucamonga real estate to be a useful keyword.

7. Review Your Competitors' Keywords. It's a good idea to look up your competitors' keywords to get ideas on some you might have missed. Don't copy anyone else's material. Just look for an idea or two to supplement the keywords you've generated yourself.

8. Don't Use Keywords or Phrases That Are Too Broad. Instead, use modifiers to make generic keywords and phrases more specific. A site offering insurance-related services might use health insurance quotes, auto insurance quotes, life insurance quotes, etc. To prequalify visitors, your keywords and phrases should identify your niche because that attracts the kind of traffic you need. This is important no matter what you sell. A smaller, targeted audience is more likely to result in conversions than a large volume of traffic that came thinking you were selling something else.

9. Don't Use Single Words. Multi-word phrases work better than single words. It's difficult for search engines to return relevant results on single-word searches because there are too many answers to such a query, and users won't wade through hundreds of result pages. They learn quickly to be very specific. The user looking for an e-commerce software solution for an auction site won't be searching for software.

10. Don't Use Trademark Names Other Than Your Own. Stay away from competitors' trademarks in your keywords or you might get sued. Some companies will give permission to use their terms. An e-commerce site wanting to use Tide can contact Proctor & Gamble for permission. Manufacturers will likely give permission to use trade names to promote and sell their products on a vendor site. However, using another company's trademark or product name to profit from its brand is unacceptable and breaches federal trademark-protection laws.

These strategies can help point prequalified visitors to your site. Keyword research, analysis and selection is fundamental in optimizing your site for search engines, so take the time to do it right.

Search Traffic on the Rise

As the Web continues to grow, users search for information in greater numbers than ever before. Jupiter-MediaMetrix statistics show that search engine traffic increased rapidly over the past six months -- up 11 percent with 92.3 million visitors. But the major search portals increased even more. Yahoo! was up 20 percent with 38.4 million visitors, MSN increased 16 percent (42.3 million visitors), and Google shot up 54 percent (34.2 million visitors).

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Paul J. Bruemmer is founder of trademarkSEO ( Reach him at