Keyword research is the most important step of any search engine marketing or optimization campaign. Therefore, you want to take this process seriously. When we conduct keyword research for a client, we use the following process:
- Step 1: Brainstorm some keyword ideas and themes
- Step 2: Use the Google AdWords keyword tool to come up with additional ideas
- Step 3: Use Soovle, Ubersuggest, relevant content we find on Google, on Quora, on competitor’s sites, etc. to come up with even MORE ideas
- Step 4: Use competitive keyword spying tools to find more keyword ideas
- Step 5: Feed our giant master list of keyword ideas into the Google AdWords keyword tool, your favorite keyword spy tool, and the SEOMoz keyword difficulty tool
- Step 6: Using the data available, assign each keyword a priority
Before we dive into this process in detail, let’s review some basic keyword research theory.
Keyword Research Basics
Learn To Recognize Keyword Themes – A single keyword can be incredibly complex, at least from the perspective of a search engine marketer. “Shoes,” for example, can have dozens of potential meanings, most of which are substantially different:
- Some of our “shoe” keywords are related to fashionable brands, like “Allen Edmonds shoes” or “Toms shoes”. These are people looking for a specific brand of shoe
- Intended use / purpose is another possible theme – someone searching for “hiking shoes” or “bowling shoes” is probably looking for a shoe that serves a specific purpose
- The theme might be automotive – a search for “brake shoes” isn’t likely to be someone looking for something to wear on their feet
- The theme could be equestrian – someone might be looking for “horse shoes” for a horse…OR, they could be looking to play a game with the same name.
The point? Keyword meanings can change dramatically with the addition or subtraction of a single word. While the differences in the examples above are a bit extreme, the examples hopefully illustrate why it’s a good idea to evaluate your keyword list thematically.
Keyword meanings can change dramatically with the addition or subtraction of a single word…it’s a good idea to evaluate your keyword list thematically.
Recognize the Limits of Keyword Volume Data – Google and Spyfu (our favorite competitive keyword research tool) both offer keyword volume estimates. The important word here is “estimates” – there’s no guarantee that any of the keyword volume data you see will be accurate. Therefore, it’s important to set your keyword priorities based on more than just relative volume.
Understand The Concept of Commercial Intent – When some words are added to your main keyword, – like the word “review” – they indicate that a searcher is probably closer to the beginning of the buying process than the end. After all, you don’t look for “supercharger reviews” unless you’re still figuring out which supercharger you want to buy.
Other keywords – such as “discount” or “coupon” – can indicate that the searcher is ready to buy today. If, for example, you’re searching for a “Vortech supercharger discount code,” you’ve probably got your credit card in your hand.
Likewise, someone searching using keywords like “instructions” or “troubleshooting” probably isn’t ready to buy. More likely, they currently own the product in question and are trying to find some help.
The point? A keyword is a window into a searcher’s commercial intent. If your searcher is using a keyword with a high commercial intent, they’re ready to buy today. If it’s a low commercial intent keyword, they might be a buyer in the future…or they might not.
Remember Regional and Seasonal Keyword Variations – There is a surprising amount of regional and seasonal variation in keywords. We’ve discovered popular search terms on the East coast of the USA, for example, that had little or no popularity on the West coast (and vice versa). A searcher using the keyword “holiday discount” in the USA is probably looking for a good price on some Christmas gifts. A searcher using this same phrase in Europe, on the other hand, is probably looking for a good price on a vacation.
Remember: There are regional and seasonal differences between keywords. If you’re not familiar with the region and/or seasons you’re researching, your keyword research results could have some major mistakes.
SEO Keyword Research Step-by-Step – Part One
Goal in Part One: Find keywords that are relevant to your business, without worrying about how popular, competitive, or attainable these keywords may be.
Tools You’ll Need: Excel, Google AdWords Keyword Tool, SpyFu (or similar, optional), and Ubersuggest.org
Time Required: As little as an hour, as much as a half a day. If it takes you longer than a half day, you’re probably trying to do too much research at once…see if you can narrow your focus.
1. Start by coming up with a list of 10-25 keywords that you feel are most important. This list does not need to be comprehensive – it’s just a starting point.
2. Next, punch these keywords into the Google AdWords Keyword tool and see what ideas Google passes back to you. Select and download the keywords that you feel are relevant.
NOTE: At this point, don’t worry about selecting “exact” or “broad” match type – you’re just trying to get some ideas.
3. Without focusing too much on volumes, choose 5-10 keywords that you believe to be particularly relevant and valuable. Plug these keywords into ubersuggest.org, and then carefully review all the keywords generated.
NOTE: If you want to be thorough, check out Soovle.com, which is similar to ubersuggest but with some additional data.
4. Now that you’ve been looking at keywords for a while, you probably have some different ideas. SO, go ahead and repeat steps 1-3.
5. Again, choose 5-10 keywords that you believe to particularly relevant and valuable. This time, plug them into SpyFu (or a similar tool) and review the list of related keywords.
NOTE: It’s also a good idea to find websites that rank for one or more of your top 10 keywords and plug these sites into the keyword spying tool as well.
6. Select 2 or 3 top competitors and use the keyword spying tool to see what keywords they’re targeting/ranking for. See if you can find any more keyword ideas you might have overlooked.
7. If necessary, repeat steps 1-6.
8. Buy yourself a latte – you deserve it.
SEO Keyword Research Step-by-Step – Part Two
Goal In Part Two – Prioritize your list of keyword ideas, but don’t delete anything. When you’re done, you’ll have a short list of keywords that you want to rank for (and that you can expect to rank for) soon, plus a longer list of keywords you can use for blog post ideas and future research/prioritization.
Time Required: 1-2 hours, depending on how fast you are with Excel.
By this point, you should have identified a few dozen (or even a few hundred) keyword ideas that are relevant to your website. It’s time to prioritize.
1. Using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool (set the keyword match type to “exact”), it’s time to get some base keyword volume data. You can cut and paste a block of keywords into the tool at one time, and then download the search volume data for each block.
Combine all your downloaded spreadsheets into one, and then sort you big long list of keywords by volume.
2. Optionally, put each of these keywords into your keyword spying tool and compare the spy tool’s volume estimate against Google’s estimate. If you compare volumes, you might consider averaging the numbers offered by both sources if you don’t want to trust one estimate exclusively.
3. Looking at the list of keywords sorted by volume (from highest to lowest volume), focus on the top 20% and ignore the rest (for now).
4. Assign the top 20% a “commercial intent score,” which can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.
Since commercial intent is either really easy to estimate or really hard to estimate, we typically use a simple ranking system. We give the high commerical intent keywords a score of 3, the low commercial intent keywords a score of 1, and everything else a 2…but that’s us.
5. Using the keyword difficulty tool, determine how difficult it will be to rank for the top keywords on your list. Each tool provides an estimate for each keyword, and you’ll want to record this estimate in your spreadsheet.
6. Sort your keywords first by difficulty, then by search volume, and finally by your commercial intent score. You’re looking for:
- Keywords that are easy to rank for relative to their volume
- Keywords that have high commercial intent relative to their ranking difficulty
Hopefully, you’ll find a good number of keywords that meet all the criteria.
The best keyword advice we can offer is that your keyword research projects should never end. You should always be looking for new keyword ideas in your website’s analytics, on your competitor’s websites, in industry literature, etc.
Additionally, keyword research requires diligence and creativity. If you try to do too much at once, you’ll get mediocre results. SO, instead of trying to find all the keywords that could possibly be relevant to your business in one sitting, just focus on one aspect of your website/business at a time.
Finally, do keyword research before you write a blog post, create a graphic, write a white paper, issue a white paper, etc. If you know what keywords people use when they search, you’ll be able to create content that uses the language your target audience is comfortable with.