Keyword optimization (also known as keyword research ) is the act of researching, analyzing and selecting the best keywords to target to drive qualified traffic from search engines to your website.
Keyword search optimization is a critical step in initial stages of search engine marketing, for both paid and organic search. If you do a bad job at selecting your target keywords , all your subsequent efforts will be in vain. So it’s vital to get keyword optimization right.
But optimizing keywords isn't something you do ONLY at the outset of a search marketing campaign. Ongoing keyword optimization is necessary to keep uncovering new keyword opportunities and to expand your reach into various keyword verticals. So keyword optimization isn't a set it and forget it process. By continuously performing keyword analysis and expanding your database of keywords, your site traffic, leads and sales will continue to grow.
Benefits of Keyword Optimization
In a recent survey, participants listed keyword optimization as one of the hardest tasks in search engine marketing . Because of its difficult nature, most site owners, marketers and bloggers don't spend enough time optimizing keywords. This is ironic since optimizing keywords is the most important aspect of SEO and PPC. If you don't choose and use keywords your customers are searching for, you won't get found. That means no traffic, no sales, no money.
So to look at the big picture, you must practice search engine keyword optimization to:
- Drive qualified traffic to your website: To drive searchers to your site, you must optimize for the keywords they're searching for
- Measure traffic potential: Analyzing the popularity of keywords helps you gauge the size of a potential online market.
- Write effective content: By incorporating optimized keywords into your website content, you can connect instantly with potential customers and address their needs.
- Understand user behavior: By analyzing the words that your customers use, you get an idea of their needs and how to service those needs.
Where Keyword Search Optimization Comes into Play
Keyword optimization plays a major role in every aspect of Internet marketing  from content strategy , to link building , to how you group your keywords in your AdWords ad groups , to how your site content is organized, a.k.a your information architecture .
SEO Keyword Optimization
When it comes to SEO, the success of your organic search efforts rests largely on how effective you are at discovering, researching, analyzing and selecting the right search engine keywords  for your website. All other aspects of SEO rely on successful keyword optimization. What's more, optimizing keywords touches every aspect of your SEO marketing efforts.
- Title Tag:  Your target keywords must be included in the title tag (and front loaded). This is the most important piece of content on your website, both on and off-page.
- Links: Keyword optimization should be integrated into your link building strategy. Internal links, inbound links, breadcrumb links, navigational links should all have your top optimized keywords. It's also important to track and manage your link text efforts 
- Content strategy: If you want to rank well and connect with searchers, you need to use your target keywords in your content. WordStream for SEO  helps combine keyword research with content authoring (just saying...).
- Images: Don't forget to optimize keywords in the pictures on your website. Target keywords should be used in your image alt attribute and file names , to name a few.
- Meta Description:  There's some debate over whether or not including target keywords in your text snippets helps rankings. But there's little doubt that having your optimized keywords here produces more clicks in searches, which is optimal.
- URL: Be sure to include keywords for SEO  in file name slugs, like I've done with this page's URL. The page is about keyword optimization, so the slug name is /keyword-optimization.
- Site Structure: Keyword optimization is also critical to how you structure and organize your site content. Not only do you need to select the right keywords, but you need to group them hierarchically and order the corresponding pages on your website accordingly.
PPC Keyword Optimization
But optimized keywords aren't just for organic search marketing. There's tremendous value in optimizing your PPC keywords . To be effective with your pay-per-click campaigns , you must speak the searcher's language. The more keywords you select that your customers are searching for, the more traffic you'll drive to your website, the more consumers you'll convert to customers.
- Creating a keyword list: Determining which keywords to target and bid on is the linchpin for all your PPC marketing strategies . Different keywords have different demand and traffic potential.
- Grouping and segmenting: Keyword optimization helps organize your keywords into tight groups that are semantically related.
- Improved relevancy: The key to a higher click-through rate  is being relevant to the searcher's query. Higher CTR leads to better Quality Score . Optimized keywords are instrumental in being relevant.
- Crafting ad text: To coax searchers into clicking on your ads, you need to integrate your keywords into your PPC ad text .
- Landing page optimization : Once a user lands on your page, your message must match the offer. So the optimized keywords that were present in your ad text, must be present on your landing pages.
You can take your PPC optimization further by evaluating your AdWords account with the AdWords Performance Grader , which grades your campaigns on important factors like ad text and long-tail keyword optimization.
Social Media Keyword Optimization
Determining which keywords to target and how to incorporate them into your messaging is also a big factor in social media marketing. This guide to Keyword Research for Social Media  is a good resource for determining which keywords your audience is using and covers everything from how to conduct keyword research for YouTube  to researching keywords for Facebook .
What to Evaluate When Optimizing Keywords
When determining which keywords to choose for your optimizations efforts, there are a number of factors you should evaluate.
Keyword Popularity  – The more popular a keyword is (meaning the more that people search for it), the more traffic it will drive to your website, should you rank highly for it, that is. When it comes to choosing keywords based on popularity, there are two lines of thinking.
- Target the most popular keywords . This seems pretty straightforward. If you want to attract the most visitors to your website, you should optimize for the most searched for keywords. Right? But the more popular a keyword is, the harder it is to rank for.
- Target less competitive keywords . It may seem counterintuitive to go after keywords that aren’t as popular, but for a new website, this is often the best approach. It’s very difficult to compete with mature websites that have achieved trust and authority for the most popular keywords in competitive ranking verticals. So sites that are young typically have more success optimizing for keywords that aren’t that popular or competitive or optimizing your keywords by integrating modifiers  (thematic modifiers or geo-targeted modifiers) and creating mid to long tail keywords .
Keyword Relevance – It’s critical to choose keywords to optimize for based on how relevant they are to your products or services. If your keywords are not intrinsically relevant to what you're offering on your website, the traffic the search engines feed your website will not be delivered a relevant message. Thus, they will be unable to complete the “search and reward cycle.” You see, searchers seek relevance and without it you're unlikely to convert them into customers.
Keyword Intent  – To determine the value of your keywords, you need to identify the intent of the searchers. Which stage are they at in the search cycle? Are they browsing? Are they ready to buy? Or are they simply looking for solutions or pursuing information?
The intent behind keywords or more specifically "search queries" can be broken down into three categories.
- Navigational: company or brand queries, domain queries
- Informational: curiosity, question-oriented, solution-seeking queries
- Transactional: looking to purchase queries
It's important to optimize for the high intent keywords rather than keywords of low intent. By identifying, classifying and segmenting your high intent keyword groups into separate baskets of intent and eliminating the low-value keywords, you’ll see your search relevance rise and you’ll generate more, qualified traffic.
Keyword Optimization Tools and Resources
Finally, since it's so important to choose the right keyword for blogging, Web copy and landing page creation, let's wrap this up with some of the best tools on the Web for researching, analyzing, discovering and optimizing keywords. I've also included some of my favorite articles on keyword optimization, analysis and research so you can learn more about optimizing keywords.
Tools for Keyword Suggestion 
If you’re starting a site from scratch, it can be difficult to know which keywords to target. The good news is there are a number of free tools to help you discover keywords .
- WordStream Suite of Free Keyword Tools 
- SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tool : Aaron Wall serves up a great tool for finding new keywords 
- Google Keyword Tool : keyword suggestions straight from the horses mouth
- Google Trends : discover new keyword opportunities based on popularity, trendiness and seasonality
- Yahoo Buzzlog : more on hot, trending search terms
- Google Search Based Keyword Tool : great keyword optimizer tool for mining the long tail of search
- Google Insights for Search:  gauge interest in pertinent search terms
Great Keyword Optimization Resources
- Free Keyword Research Tools – the Ultimate Guide  - A nice list of the keyword research tools  and optimization resources that isn't the same old same old
- Free Keyword Suggestion, Research and Analysis Tools  - Aaron Wall's keyword tools are slick and pretty sick
- Keyword Research Guide  - Practical guide to researching keywords from, well, us
- Keyword Research Master Class  - Angie Nikoleychuk schools us on how to perform solid keyword research
- Keyword Research for Bloggers: 5 Part Guide  - Optimized keywords aren't just for SEO, PPC and social media...if you want your blog to rank well in the SERPs, read this guide
- Comprehensive Guide to Keyword Research, Selection and Organization  - Stoney DeGeyter takes you start to finish on how to find, analyze, prioritize and organize your keywords
- Tools for Local Keyword Research  - Big list of tools for finding keywords to target locally from Michael Gray 
- Keyword Research Strategy Flowchart  - Aaron Wall stikes again with this fantastic keyword strategy chart