Who is in your target market? - SEO today is not about just grabbing as much traffic as possible, but instead attracting high-value visitors interested in what you offer. In terms of demographics, what is your market searching for? How are they performing web searches? Where are they located? The more specific your answers, the more valuable your investments in SEO become. Google Analytics is a good place to start your investigations!
Keywords are as much about your audience as they are about your content, because you might describe what you offer in a slightly different way than some people ask for it. To create content that ranks well organically and drives visitors to your site, you need to understand the needs of those visitors — the language they use and the type of content they seek. You can do this by talking to your customers, frequenting forums and community groups, and doing your own keyword research with a tool like Keyword Explorer.
At the moment, I don’t know you, your business, your website, your resources, your competition or your product. Even with all that knowledge, calculating ROI is extremely difficult because ultimately Google decides on who ranks where in its results – sometimes that’s ranking better sites, and sometimes (often) it is ranking sites breaking the rules above yours.
Starting with the search term dog food, I see related more specific terms like dog food reviews, dog food comparison, and dog food brands, which can help identify other keywords to focus on. Then, clicking on dog food brands, the search engine automatically expands that keyword to be another hub, with more specific keywords related to dog food brands such as nutro dog food, Purina dog food, and so on.
SEO may generate an adequate return on investment. However, search engines are not paid for organic search traffic, their algorithms change, and there are no guarantees of continued referrals. Due to this lack of guarantees and certainty, a business that relies heavily on search engine traffic can suffer major losses if the search engines stop sending visitors. Search engines can change their algorithms, impacting a website's placement, possibly resulting in a serious loss of traffic. According to Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, in 2010, Google made over 500 algorithm changes – almost 1.5 per day. It is considered a wise business practice for website operators to liberate themselves from dependence on search engine traffic. In addition to accessibility in terms of web crawlers (addressed above), user web accessibility has become increasingly important for SEO.
Keywords are important because they are the linchpin between what people are searching for and the content you are providing to fill that need. Your goal in ranking on search engines is to drive organic traffic to your site from the search engine result pages (SERPs), and the keywords you choose to target (meaning, among other things, the ones you choose to include in your content) will determine what kind of traffic you get. If you own a golf shop, for example, you might want to rank for "new clubs" — but if you're not careful, you might end up attracting traffic that's interested in finding a new place to dance after dark.
Basically, SEO keyword research should be an ongoing and ever-evolving part of your job as a marketer. Old keywords need to be reevaluated periodically, and high-volume, competitive keywords (or “head” keywords, as opposed to long-tailed keywords) can often be usefully replaced or augmented with longer, more specific phrases designed not to bring in just any visitor but exactly the right visitors. (Who visits your site – particularly if they’re people who are actively looking for your services – is at least as important as how many people visit.)