I've been under pressure lately to come up with more advice on organic search engine optimization. Specifically, readers want to know more about how an effective keyword strategy can improve Web site conversion rates.

Well, here is my take on it—based on the Web analytics evidence of our own keyword strategy.

Use the Correct Lingo… Comprende?

Have you ever been in a room where people are talking but you don't understand a thing about the topic, or perhaps even the language?

Take it from one who knows, it can be quite frustrating. I live in Finland and speak only a little Finnish. Daily I'm subjected to conversations and have only a slight idea about what is being said.

I'm a curious (some would say nosy!) soul, so this infuriates me. Especially if I'm on a bus and see grannies cracking up with laughter at a private joke I'm too ignorant to be in on.

It's similar online. You have to start communicating on your Web site using the terminology that your visitors use.

If you use the right terminology and phrases, not only do they find you… but (to use my analogy) you also let them in on the joke! If you're using the wrong terminology, then you're leaving your visitor a bit confused, a bit foggy, feeling a bit left out of it all.

How do you avoid this on your Web site? When selecting your keywords, follow three simple guidelines:

  • Gauge the traffic potential of the keywords in terms of quantity.

  • Gauge the visitor's intent when using those phrases in their search query.

  • Measure traffic potential from those keywords in terms of conversion.

1. The Traffic Potential of Your Keywords

Obviously, you want the search engines to drive lots of traffic to your Web site. However, I would argue that quantity should never be your first objective. Quality traffic should be what you're looking for. Your goal is to optimize your pages for the keywords that bring the highest numbers of prospects.

Find the keyword phrases related to your industry that your target market is searching for. So, first, find out the terms that are being used by the general public by using a tool like the Overture keyword suggestion tool. There are others available, such as the one at Google. Wordtracker is also worth the investment.

But before you rush off and start optimizing your site for the keywords you find, take heed of the second guideline: gauging visitor intent.

2. The Visitor's Intent

Test the phrase in the search engines you're going to optimize for. For instance, our own keyword research showed that "conversion Web site" is a phrase people are using in the search engines; however, if you search on Google using this exact phrase, you will see that people are actually looking for money conversion, religious conversion, weights and metric conversion, etc.—not sites about converting site visitors to buyers.

This is why you need to look for the real reason why people are searching. In our case, "conversion Web site" might be worth testing on pay per click, but it's not worth optimizing our organic pages for that phrase.

3. Traffic Potential in Terms of Conversion

The next step is keyword measurement and experimentation. We decided to optimize for "improving Web site conversion" because this phrase showed that there should be reasonable traffic levels, good intent and a high number of conversions. We found that 27.8% of people using that search term end up subscribing to our newsletter.

When a person enters those keywords into a search engine, we're speaking their language, because our entire Web site is a resource about what they're looking for.

To do this yourself, identify keyword phrases that you think fit well with the first two guidelines above, and then measure the result. It's about selecting the keywords immediately relevant to what your audience is looking for.


To improve the conversion rate of your Web site, first find the keywords people are using related to your industry; make sure that the search results from the keywords you select are relevant to your industry; and, then, optimize your site for those phrases.

Finally, measure and test those phrases so that you have the best chance of converting your search engine visitors into customers, clients or subscribers.

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Steve Jackson (steve@conversionchronicles.com) is editor of the Conversion Chronicles and CEO of Aboavista, a Finnish company that improves Web conversion rates.