Keywords and Synonyms

A client sent an interesting question this morning: should we work on “COFA” or “compact” as a keyword? She didn’t use the terms “keywords” or “synonyms,” but she was basically asking about keywords and synonyms.

There are plenty of questions to think about in these categories. Keywords, in case you’re wondering, are the words people type in at Google when they look for information. We recommend that you have a list of keywords to work on. Your goal is to rank well with Google for those keywords — in other words, to show up when someone looks for those words. For example, a gastroenterologist might want to show up for “stomach pain” or “colonoscopy.” Those are words people are likely to type into the search box when they need to find a gastroenterologist.

Your first step is to develop a list of keywords that will bring your clients and customers to you.

Keyword Development Strategies

Our client is beyond that point, though. We’ve worked with her for a long time and her site ranks for thousands of keywords. We still add keywords to the list to work on, of course — you never stop doing that — but we’re no longer listing the most obvious choices. We’re down to deciding between “COFA” or “compact” –synonyms for specific ideas.

Which synonym do people actually use?

In some cases, a decision among synonyms is easy. You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and you’ll get more visits for “gallstones” than for “cholelithiasis.” But not all examples are so obvious. “COFA” and “compact,” for example, are both somewhat specialized terms. Our client thought that “compact” might be more familiar to searchers than “COFA,” but we weren’t sure what visitors would be more likely to use.

Google Trends is the best tool for this kind of question.

We can see that significantly more people search for “compact” than for “COFA.” If it were a question of “gallstones” and “cholelithiasis,” we could stop here. However, we think perhaps “compact” is not in most searchers minds as a synonym for “COFA” or a short term for “compact of free association.”

What are searchers’ intentions?

Sure enough, when we moved on to Spyfu, another great tool for keyword research, we found that people searching for “compact” are looking for information about compact cars, compact soil, and maybe powder compacts, but not compacts of free association.

The fact that a large number of people use a particular word doesn’t mean that they are using it to find your goods and services. People looking for “pediatrics” aren’t usually looking for a pediatrician. “Pediatrician near me” is something people search when they actually want to make an appointment.

As is so often true in life, you have to consider raw data with a good helping of common sense to come up with the right strategic decisions for keywords ands synonyms.

Who are your people?

Anybody looking for “pediatrician near me” is likely to be a good prospect for a pediatric practice. But people searching for “COFA” are often looking for information about a specific issue. We see queries on “cancer in COFA islands” and “When does COFA funding run out in Hawaii?” We may have information for these people, but they are not looking for our goods and services.

We’ve worked for adoption lawyers and for dog breeders, and we’ve seen ads set up for the two types of businesses with identical keywords. The attorney shouldn’t be paying for keywords used by people looking to adopt a dog, and the dog breeder shouldn’t be paying for keywords about adoption centers. This is one of the problems we frequently see when people set up their own paid search ads. Dog breeders may think, “Some people who want to buy a dog will use the word ‘adopt’ so that should be one of our keywords.” Adoption lawyers may think, “Anybody thinking about the word ‘adopt’ might be a customer for us.”

The goal is not to flag people with any word in any way related to your goods and services. The goal is to reach your particular prospective clients and customers. You need to find out what terms they actually use.

Tools like Google Trends and Spyfu are very helpful. But be sure to use your own first party data as well. Here are some places where you can find the words your clients actually use:

  • Comments at your blog
  • Comments in your social media
  • Emails and in-person questions from your clients and patients
  • Search terms in your Google Ads reports
  • Search terms in your web analytics reports

Use the data available to you, with common sense in mind, to choose among the synonyms searchers might use. Then watch the results. When you produce content intentionally with a specific keyword in mind, the performance of that piece of content gives you insights into the performance of the keyword as well as the performance e of the content. Is the conversion rate of the content where you expect it to be?

Track the performance metrics for the content for the new keyword, and then make strategic decisions with this in mind. Follow the basic rule of SEO: do more of what works.







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