Keyword Selection: SEO, Search Engine Optimization or Search Engine Optimisation?

Keyword research is arguably the most import aspect of SEO. Selecting the most appropriate keyword phrases a website should be optimised for is ultimately the key to successful search engine marketing.SEO keyword selection

After all, if you’re not targeting the right keywords and phrases, then even the best rankings are of little value!

Selecting keywords is a balance of choosing phrases that are:

  • relevant to your web site and target audience (this is essential)
  • sufficiently popular search phrases to warrant targeting (i.e. people are actually using these search phrases)
  • and, where possible, have a low number of competing sites.

The ideal scenario is finding a keyword phrase that is relevant to your site, often searched on, but for which there are few competing web sites.

To illustrate how to go about keyword selection, let’s look at the keyword “SEO“. This is an acronym for “search engine optimisation” if you use British spelling, as we do in New Zealand, or “search engine optimization” using the US spelling (z instead of s).

All versions are relevant to our website – so which should we target?

Whilst there’s a range of keyword research tools available but to keeps this simple we’ll limit ourselves here to the very useful Google Insights for Search tool. The great thing about this tool is that it allows you to see keyword trends over time, with the option of segmenting by country & category. This is a big advantage over many keyword research tools which generally are US centric & so don’t always provide information relevant to other English speaking markets, like New Zealand.

This difference in keyword usage is reflected below in the Google Insights for Search screen grabs. The first shows the relative popularity on a global basis of “seo”; “search engine optimisation”, & “search engine optimization”.

seo global search volume compared to search engine optimisation & search engine optimization

As you can see the keyword “seo” is the most popular by a significant margin, whereas “search engine optimisation” trails way back in 3’rd place.

Based on this it’s clear that “SEO” is a term well worth targeting. However before discounting “search engine optimisation” as a keyword to target, take a look at the Regional Interest breakdown below the main chart. As you’ll see in UK, Australia, New Zealand & Ireland the UK spelling “search engine optimisation” (blue coloured bar) is more popular than the US spelling “search engine optimization” (red coloured bar).


This is difference is further apparent when Google Insights for Search is re-run with results filtered just for New Zealand, as shown below. (Note, due to the limited NZ data for NZ the “All categories” filter has to be applied because Google doesn’t have enough data when the “Internet” category is applied).

seo New Zealand search volume compared to search engine optimisation & search engine optimization

As you can see, whilst “SEO” is still the most popular keyword, its lead is not as dominant & “search engine optimisation” is more popular than “search engine optimization”. So does this mean an SEO firm targeting a New Zealand audience should ignore “search engine optimization” & just focus trying to rank well for “SEO” & “search engine optimisation”?


It’s clear that Kiwi’s are using all 3 terms & as the “Rising Searches” report shows that both “SEO” & “search engine optimization” are fast growing in popularity. (Rising searches highlight searches that have experienced significant growth in a given time period, with respect to the preceding time period). In time I wouldn’t be at all surprised if “search engine optimization” becomes more used than “search engine optimisation” by New Zealanders searching on Google.

So in this case the smart move is to do SEO optimisation for all 3 keywords with the goal of ranking well in Google for SEO, search engine optimisation, & search engine optimization.

We’re in the throes of doing SEO on our own website, so let’s see how our rankings for these keywords improve over time. Currently whilst we rank well for these terms when appended with “New Zealand”, our rankings in Google NZ for these keywords by themselves is less than stellar. As at 13 July we only rank #17 for “SEO”; #19 for “search engine optimisation” & we’re not even in the top 30 results for “search engine optimization”.  🙁

That will change. Watch this space…

About the Author Mark Sceats

Mark is a Partner and Senior Consultant at SureFire which he founded back in 2002. Prior to establishing SureFire he worked for KPMG Consulting. Today Mark heads up SEO, embracing the challenges that can come with complex website implementations. Outside of work, his interests beyond his family are running, snowsports, diving and fishing (badly).

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