SEO Keyword Research
One of the most important aspects of SEO is the initial research. Many webmasters and marketers spend their time optimizing for keywords that are either virtually unattainable, or return little/no value for the effort put forth. It’s important to know where to invest your time and resources to get the most return from your investment. Like the old adage says; work smarter, not harder. So here are 5 Steps for choosing the right keywords. They will apply slightly differently based on your situation (ie. whether it’s your own website, a client’s, or an employer’s), so use the portions that work for your situation.
1- Learn the semantics ( if you don’t already know them).
The first step is to figure out the semantics of your target website’s industry. If you’re working on your own business or hobby site, chances are you’re already familiar with them. On the other hand, if you’re working on a client’s (or employer’s) site, these words may not already be apparent. Familiarize yourself with the terminology. Study your client’s site (and a couple of their competitors) thoroughly. If your client has company literature, make sure and browse through it. You can also browse through magazines and forums/blogs pertaining to that specific industry.
A simple way to find these mediums is to search for them using a keyword describing the industry and the medium you are looking for. So if you want to know more about magic tricks, you would use the following search queries;
magic tricks magazine
magic tricks blog
magic tricks forum
magic trick magazine
magic trick blog
magic trick forum
* Note – You can also use the plural version of blog and forum.
This should give you an idea of the words commonly used in relation to magic tricks, and you should now be able to compile a preliminary keyword list.
2- Expand your keyword List
Use an online Thesaurus in order to find any potential synonyms for your list of keywords.
Now take your new list of keywords and plug them into the Google AdWords: Keyword Tool (make sure you have ”Use Synonyms” selected). If you have more than 15 words and they can be separated into categories, then I suggest doing so, and plugging them in by category. The tool will return a list of related phrases that receive search volume, and will even show the volume of searches they receive. Order them in descending order under Global Monthly Search Volume and click “Download all keywords” at the bottom of the “Keywords related to term(s) entered” section. Do the same with “Additional keywords to consider” IF you find valuable suggestions there, and fold whatever valuable suggestions you come across into your other downloaded report.
You now have a broad range of keywords to work with, and the next step is to figure our which ones to focus on, put on the back burner, or ignore altogether.
3- Separate the wheat from the chaff
First and foremost; get rid of any keywords that don’t really apply to your industry. For example, plugging in the acronym BFG will return results that pertain to both BF Goodrich (a large tire manufacturer), and BFG Tech (a computer hardware company). Another example; the words “free” and “used,” are quite commonly searched with retail items. If you sell nothing but brand new retail goods, then don’t waste your time optimizing for their used counterparts. Unless you plan on giving items away or having specials where customer can in fact receive free items (ie. ‘Buy one Get 1 Free’), you may want to ignore phrases with ‘free’ in them.
4– Prioritize your keywords
Generally speaking, you want to optimize for the most commonly searched words. If you have a large team and budget, then that may be as far as you want to go in prioritizing your keywords. Of course, that may prove impractical if you’re a one-man team and you’re up against some real giants.
There are several ways to gauge a keyword’s competitiveness.
Google AdWords Keyword Tool
The ‘Advertiser Competition’ column will tell you how competitive a phrase is on Google AdWords. It’s a safe bet that that this correlates pretty accurately to organic search competitiveness.
Yahoo! Site Explorer
Find out who ranks well for a given keyword (I generally check the #1, #3, and #5 ranking sites) and then use Yahoo! Site Explorer to find out how many inbound links your competitors are getting. This will give you an idea of how strong their linking program is and you can always ‘borrow’ their ideas by pursuing links from the same sources where possible. You can download the report into a TSV file, and it shows up to 1,000 results.
Google’s Intitle Operator
Use the intitle command in the Google search box to see how many websites out there have a word or group of words in their title tag. For example, the command below will display all websites with the words ‘magic’ ‘trick’ and ‘books’ in the title;
The command below will display all websites with the exact phrase ‘magic trick books’ in the title;
5-Go forth and Calibrate!
Now that you know what relevant words/phrases people search for, and how competitive those keywords are, you are ready to make some informed decisions. Be realistic. If you have limited manpower/budget and are going up against some industry giants then it may be counterproductive to go after the most competitive keywords. In this case you may want to focus on several longtail keywords instead (and though they tend to get less traffic, they do tend to convert better). This will also give you a chance to become somewhat established (ie. domain age, PageRank, number of inbound links, etc) online before going after more competitive keywords.
Great tips Chris, thanks for sharing!
Awesome list. One other thing that I always tell clients to do is to ask customers, stakeholders, colleagues, friends and family (especially if it is a small business) to give their thoughts as to keywords as sometimes clients are simply not aware that customers will use different search terms to what they imagine to be the pertinent ones. Quite often there is an overlap and quite often the client is surprised to find out that customers will use other search terms.
Great article. I’ll be putting these tips to use. Keep them coming. Thanks!
Soh and Steve – Thank you I’m glad you liked the post
Katrina – Good point. I was explaining this to a friend and potential client who does photography and specialized in maternal pictures to consider phrases like ‘pictures’ and ‘pregnancy’ in addition to the words they’ve become accustomed to.
Thanks for the very helpful information. I enjoyed reading your article about SEO and I found it very interesting. Staying tuned for more.
Sue, thank you for the kind words. I’ll be posting more soon!