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When Work Media is conducting keyword research for one of our SEO clients, we look for keywords that meet three primary criteria:

They are highly relevant. This seems obvious, but many business owners tend to stretch the meaning of “relevant.” If you own a used car dealership in Memphis, “cars” is not an appropriate keyword. “used cars” is slightly more relevant; “Memphis used cars” is even more relevant.

They generate adequate traffic. Regardless of how relevant a keyword, if it represents a search phrase that is NEVER used, you’re not really accomplishing anything. Don’t forget the reason for doing all of this in the first place – to generate traffic to your website, and then leads for your business. No traffic, no leads. But a warning: don’t get greedy. You have to balance the potential traffic against the amount of effort required to achieve high search rankings.

They are in a reasonable competitive situation. If I do a search for “social security lawyer,” Google returns 21 million results – astronomical, but not a true representation of competition. If we do an “allintitle:” search for the same thing, we get 395 thousand results. That is a much more realistic measure of competition. But still a very large number of websites to compete against. If I do an “allintitle” search for “Baltimore social security lawyer,” I get 322 results. Now that is a number we can deal with!

BONUS Criteria: if you have search engine rankings for any keywords that meet the traffic criteria, then those are excellent candidates for optimization. Any good keyword for which you are in the top 30 or 40 should be targeted.

To put it another way:

Low High
Relevance X
Traffic X
Competition X