The one thing I insist you must do relative to SEO is extensive keyword research. A typical site owner can tell you what keywords are needed to win traffic but those answers are usually very general terms.
Keyword research is market research. I can’t stress this enough. Regardless of whether you know your business or not, you can’t guess which keywords will work for your particular case. There are too many parameters you need to consider. NOTE: I said the best terms. Not the most popular. Keyword research gives you insight into the customer that you have probably never seen in traditional marketing channels.
There are many keyword research tools on the market and for the most part, they all seem to work. That’s mostly because they’re all getting data from the same place. For example, if you type “allintitle:keyword” (substituting the keyword with the one you’re researching), it is possible to determine the number of web pages that use that keyword in the title. Including keywords in the title at least offers a clue that that page is attempting to rnk for that search term. Therefore, that represents some indication of your competition for that keyword. If I just type the same keyword in quotes, Google will tell you how many pages are indexed for that same keyword. If you calculate allintitle/total indexed, you have some index relative to competition for that keyword. The lower the number the better. This is just one of the many competitive parameters you can use to determine if that keyword is something you should be chasing.
This is not all you have to do. You just need to appreciate that there is a lot of information that the search engines will give you relative to your market. Google will even provide search volumes for related keywords used in your market. To find the Google tool to do this, just Google: “Google free Keyword research”. The first organic result will get you to that tool. It’s a pretty cool tool but it doesn’t help you much in the way of correctly targeting competition. Still it’s a good start.
The biggest mistake I see most businesses make, and many SEO firms for that matter is not targeting keywords for which you KNOW you can rank for. I’m not suggesting you choose some really obscure keywords that never get used…anyone with half a brain can make you rank for those. It’s also a devious trick of some less than credible SEO companies. I’m saying that it’s possible for you to rank for keywords associated with your business ONLY IF your keywords deliver on three principles. They are relevant, they produce traffic and they are relatively non-competitive.
There are three factors you need to consider for every keyword. Relevance, volume and competition. A keyword is relevant if your page represents what the visitor is looking for relative to the search. The volume is represented by the number of searches for that term and the competition is determined by a number of factors including those mentioned above and a review of the current top ten search results to see if you have site parity.
Having website parity means that your site carries as much weight as some of the other site in the SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages). If you can beat some of the sites in terms of page rank and in-bound links than it is likely that you can optimize to beat at least some of the current sites.
Ultimately, SEO should be a very predictable process. It does not mean you can be guaranteed a first position but with the right tools you should be able to characterize how difficult a first place position would be to achieve for a particular key word.