A Fresh Look at Keyword Research – SEO Basics #2
In part 1 of our SEO Basics series we had a quick look at how your customers search and the mindset you have to get into before attempting any keyword research. In Part 2 below we will look at how to build an actual list of keywords to target in your web marketing.
Most sites make a hash of their keyword research. I understand, it is not glamorous or exciting, but well done, it can make your other SEO efforts easier and more rewarding but that provides you with an opportunity to do better and get some easy wins so read on and learn how to do the basics, only better.
Google and the other search engines are slowly improving their understanding of user intent and synonyms but they are not quite there yet so to effectively target search traffic you still have to effectively identify and optimise a wide range of keywords that your prospective customers are searching for.
A quick note about Intent and Purpose
Our goal here is to identify keywords of value and then map them to the relevant pages. Good keywords are only good keywords if they are on a page where the purpose of the page is clearly related to the intent of the search query. If I search for cheap red widgets I don’t want to land on your cheap blue widgets page just because you have a lot of them to sell – always remember to match keyword intent to the page purpose and you won’t go too far wrong.
Keyword Research Tools
There are various commercial tools on the market to help you with your keyword research and some of the best are:
- WordTracker – www.wordtracker.com
- WordStream – www.wordstream.com
- Keyword Discovery – www.keyworddiscovery.com
- SEMRush – www.semrush.com
You can do keyword research without these tools but if you are getting serious, then any one of these tools will be a solid investment (I personally favour word tracker).
Keyword Research With Google Adwords
Fortunately, Google provides a tool that we can use to do keyword research. It is not perfect, and it is really aimed at the paid search market but we can take data from this tool and use it in our keyword research. You can use this tool without signing into a Google account but you will get more from it if you sign up and sign in (and the approach below assumes you have done that).
- Sign into Google Adwords via the Keyword Tool: http://adwords.google.com/select/keywordtoolexternal
- Search for a keyword of choice
This will return a set of related keywords and some associated information including:
- Global monthly search volume
- Local monthly search volume
- Competition in Adwords
You can also add and remove columns from the results and adding the ‘Local Search Trends’ column will give you insight into how popular the keywords are throughout the year. We also tend to remove ‘Global Monthly Searches’ when working for UK clients.
Traffic Volumes – Broad vs Exact vs Click
It is easy to get excited by some of the search volume figures returned by the Adwords Tool so this is a quick reality check. First up, if you want something that is a lot closer to the real amount of search volume for a given keyword make sure you set the match type to ‘Exact’ rather than ‘Broad’.
Then, to further put this into perspective, a first place organic ranking will only get clicked around 20% of the time that keyword is searched so let’s just look at a single keyword and apply some more real world figures.
Nike Hi Tops
40,500 – broad match
3,500 – exact match
700 – likely clicks from a first place organic listing
So, as you can see, there is some disparity between the ‘oh my god, 40,500 searches‘ and 700 likely clicks for a first place listing so try to factor that into your thinking.
Figure 1.1. Results for the keyword ‘Nike Hi Tops’
Suggested Search Terms
Google also gives us various other free tools we can use for keyword research and the best of these is the search engine itself.
After identifying a keyword you find to be of relevance, let’s say ‘Nike Hi Tops’ as I am looking for some of these for my son at the moment. First up, we visit google.co.uk (or the Google local to wherever you may be in the world) and start to type out your main keyword and Google will instantly provide some suggestions as below.
So, we can see that the search term ‘Nike hi tops’ gets expanded into other popular searches which are again, all likely good candidate keywords for us to investigate further.
Related Search Terms
We can also expand upon this further by asking Google to show us all the related search queries by clicking on Search Tools and then changing ‘All Results’ to ‘Related Searches’.
Search Tools > All Results – Related Searches
Now we can see our lowly search term ‘Nike hi tops’ has fifteen related search terms all worthy of investigation.
Drilling down through search results
We can also use Google itself to drill down through the search results and find related or longer tail keyword variants. If we start with a keyword like ‘Nike Trainers’ we can then view the related searches at the bottom of the page and we see ‘Cheap Nike Trainers’. If we click on this one we can take this further to ‘Cheap Nike Running Trainers’ so without any tools at all, we have a base keyword (Nike Trainers) and two longer tail variants of this keyword.
Nike Trainers > Cheap Nike Trainers > Cheap Nike Running Trainers
We can use this approach to come up with ideas for long tail keywords for a single page or for long tail content to target specific phrases or terms and drive traffic to our more commercial pages.
Do you need the paid tools?
As you can see, utilising the free Adwords tool and doing some manual search queries gives us a wide range of information but my advice would still include the usage of a paid tool. Remember, the AdWords tool only really cares about AdWords and low traffic or very niche keywords are often not reported and this is where the paid tools can really fill in the gaps AND give you information that your competitors are not getting (especially if they only use the free tools).
Relevance and the Human Touch
Another important fact to remember is the relevance of the search term and just how specific that term is to your customers and your site. This is somewhat related to the intent and purpose of keywords but remember to review everything, Google the term and make sure the results displayed are similar to the pages you are going to optimise this term to.
Additionally, whilst keywords like ‘Nike Trainers’ may seem to have great volume only a small number of people making that search are actually going to be after the ‘Men’s Nike Hi Tops’ that you sell so even ranking for a huge but very broad phrase like that will often not bring the results you may have hoped for.
Competition and Difficulty
Once we have a list of terms to target we also need to understand just how much work is going to be involved in ranking for those terms and to do this we have to understand the competition. To do this I would firstly search for the phrase on Google (and Bing) and see what those results look like.
- How many results are returned? If there are a million results and you have a new site then this could be a long, slow battle
- What kind of sites are returned? Are they all big brands? Small shops? Blogs? Where do you fit into this hierarchy?
- Where do you rank for the term? If you are on page two already then it should not be too difficult to move the dial in your favour
- How valuable is the term? If the term is highly competitive but highly valuable you need to determine how valuable this term is to your business
- How well do the results match the search query? Is there a gap you can fill? Can you do something better?
This kind of research is essential and lets you build not just keyword research but a keyword strategy for your business. If you find that the big terms are all super competitive but the long tail is not so well represented then a content driven strategy to take control of the long tail keywords could be a better approach. Maybe you aim to own the longtail in the first 12 months and then work on the bigger terms over the longer term. Maybe you are already in position 12 for a big term and you can go after it more aggressively to get that first page spot.
Whatever your situation, you simply won’t know what the best approach is till you have dug in and done the research.
It’s worth noting that SEOMoz also provide a tool that you can use to help determine keyword difficulty. This does not factor in your current site so again it is not perfect but if you want to get some facts and figures then it can provide another useful data point for your keyword research and planning. You need a paid Pro account but they do a 30 day trial if you want to test the water.
Building your keyword list
By this point, we should have a list of keywords and some associated data points we can use to help make an educated decision about which keywords to target so now we need to start noting all this down in a spreadsheet.
I like to get as much information as possible so in my keyword research spreadsheet, I look at the following values:
- Local Monthly Volume (from Adwords)
- Global Monthly Volume (from Adwords)
- Competition / Quality (from Adwords)
- Current Rank (if any)
Then as I start to whittle my list down I also like to gather the following additonal information from the SEOMoz tools where possible:
- On Page Optimisation Score
Finally, I like to break the keywords up so they are in chunks relating to a specific page. So, if we have one page for selling ‘Cheap Nike Trainers’ then we may go after the following several keywords:
- Cheap Nikes
- Nike Trainers
- Cheap Nike Trainers
- Cheap Nike Running Trainers
- Cheap Nike Running Trainers UK
- Cheap Nike Trainers for Running
Then, we can work all of these phrases into our document where it is natural to do so and get traffic from the big obvious terms as well as the less competitive lower traffic search terms.
Keywords = Content
Many of the keywords you come across will not be directly related to your product pages and may need additional content for you to effectively target them. Providing this content gives you a way to target a wider audience and get in front of your prospects before they are ready to buy and searching for the competitive commercial search terms so don’t underestimate the value of content marketing to build leads and exposure and drive traffic to your commercial pages.
SEO can be a long term game and going after some of the big keywords can take months or even years to bear fruit. So, it is always useful to do some testing to ensure that clicks for a given keyword to a specific page will bring the results that you hope for and the easiest way to do this is with Paid Search Adverts (PPC).
It’s important to be completely clear about what you want to achieve and ensure that there are no variations to give you misleading results so – optimise the page as you would have it, ensure you have a strong call-to-action or conversion buttons and then set aside enough money to test a statistically relevant number of clicks.
Then, if this works as you hoped, add this data to the spreadsheet with conversion rate as it can provide more guidance on which terms to target with your SEO.
Putting it all together
Most sites make a terrible hash of their keyword research so by taking the time to do it properly, by truly understanding all the variations and intent behind the keywords you can get a head start on your opposition.
Free Beginners Guide to SEO
Now you’ve got down the basics, why not check out our buyers guide to SEO packages and see how we can help you find the right SEO package for your business.