SEO: Beyond the Basics

Charles "Wired Guy" Michael
One of the most important aspects of SEO is to stay on top of current trends and keep up with what surfers are searching for on an ongoing basis. Whether it's a new celebrity scandal, political mayhem or a hot new movie hitting the big screen, being able to forecast new trends can translate into an enormous competitive edge. Imagine being the first person to obtain the top spot on search engines for Paris Hilton shortly after her sex tape hit the newswires when there was relatively no competition.

Being able to determine trends in the news, hype in the media, what's new and hot can mean the difference between watching the top searches and being in the top searches. This kind of market advantage can yield an incredible edge over your competition, and knowing the tools and resources to identify these trends and discover actual keywords surfers are searching for can be a priceless advantage for the average online professional.

There are many suggestions for determining what's popular in search engines. For almost anything put into the public eye — whether it's via news agencies, tabloids, gossip columns, television or radio — hype is created all the time, and this equivalently translates into searches. For example, the release of the "The Da Vinci Code." In conjunction with news, ads, celebrity shows and all the gossip surrounding the movie, Internet searches saw a massive surge for keywords related to the film.

But instead of speculating on certain events, there are many resources that the leading search engines offer webmasters to help figure out what people are looking for.

One such tool is the Yahoo Buzz Log. The Yahoo Buzz Log is a continuously updated blog of what's making headlines on Yahoo. It includes the most searched-for topics of the day, the biggest movers, and it even breaks down trends based on topics, including celebrities, movies, music, sports, television and video games.

Clicking on the top movie buzz link shows that "The Da Vinci Code" is the No. 1 most-searched result under movies and entertainment. The Yahoo Buzz tool also can be used to regionally target topics within certain countries by specific topic. It even offers RSS feeds to instantly deliver this information to webmasters.

Not to be outdone by Yahoo, Google also has a similar tool, the Google Zeitgeist. While this tool is only updated monthly, it does provide a plethora of information including the top searched keywords based on online rumors, performers, sports, news headlines and much more. Furthermore, the country breakdowns include a much wider scope of countries and topics than Yahoo's Buzz Log, though the freshness of the data is much less since it is only updated monthly.

Recently, Google announced a beta version of its new trends analysis tool, Google Trends. This search tool shows a lot of promise as it is able to break down keywords by city, country and even by language showing from where people are searching. Additionally, this tool offers the ability to benchmark keywords over time to determine if a keyword is becoming more or less popular. This tool shows an incredible amount of information when performing comparative searches on related topics and even correlates news media spikes directly on a histogram to illustrate why a spike occurred.

So far, the focus has been on three unique ways of determining what topics people are looking for and the means to benchmark their recent search volume based on news events. Once you determine the keywords that surfers are searching on, you'll be able to optimize your websites to land your pages in the top of the search results. There are several free and commercial tools out there that can provide suggestions on which keywords to use, but for the purpose of simplicity, we'll focus on the two most common tools — the search engine's own suggestion tools.

Google provides an excellent keyword suggestion tool that allows you to get various keyword suggestions and even includes search volume and historical data.

In keeping with our existing search of "The Da Vinci Code," this tool yields more than 200 suggestions. As an SEO, this wealth of information can be used to create an optimized site based on keywords that people actually are searching for and on a topic that has shown to be very popular.

Another tool that provides quantifiable search volume, though delayed by one month, is the Overture Suggestion tool. This tool provides more concrete numbers into search volumes but can be slightly skewed since plurals, misspellings and other permutations are often grouped together. For example, "The Da Vinci Code" and "Davinci Code" are grouped under the same keyword.

After examining various methods of identifying trends within the search engines and how to translate these trends into tangible and actual keywords that surfers are searching for, we need to tie all this data together. Once you've identified keywords from the above process, you now need to filter out those that are relevant. The keywords provided from the suggestions tools are mere recommendations; you still need to manually filter them to ensure they are on topic to the pages you are creating. While you may be creating a site that's specific to "The Da Vinci Code, you also need to ensure that each keyword you pick is on topic to your site. The keywords provided could include a wide range of topics such as the soundtrack, the book, lawsuits, debates and much more that are off topic from the actual story. It's very common to explode your initial keyword suggestions from just a few to a couple thousand.

Once you've filtered down your keywords to those that are specific to your site, you can start optimizing your website. Being able to identify a growing trend before hitting its peaks means you have a much better chance in landing your pages in the top of the search engines before the trend hits its saturation point.