Good keyword research is imperative for organic SEO. We SEO consultants typically view this practice as common sense, but it’s only because we do it all the time. In the real world, keyword research isn’t necessary easy for the average marketer or webmaster.
But keyword research doesn’t have to be some big crazy formula. I read a lot of SEO articles and blog posts and the internet is full of great content and advice for performing elaborate keyword research. While this works, the activity of keyword research doesn’t have to be so convoluted that the average person can’t do it. It just needs to be a methodical.
I’ve worked with or developed both large and small websites. Some have 20 keywords and some have 2,000 keywords. Regardless of the volume of keywords or web pages, my process remains the same because it is scalable. More importantly, it is a process that the average person can perform.
Fifteen Steps to Developing a Targeted List of Keywords
- Write down keywords and/or phrases you would use to search the internet for your products or services.
- Now go to Google and input those terms into the search box. Look at the bottom of the page of search results and review what Google is suggesting as “related” search terms. Write down those words too. You can also look to your left on the page to see if Google is suggesting “something different”.
- Your next step should be a visit to Google’s Insights for Search, which shows related terms and trends for a given search term or word. Input your top keywords and document anything of interest.
- Now consider your existing website. Go to your Google Analytics account (if you have it) and review your keyword traffic for the last year. Don’t just look at high volume traffic, but also consider the lower volume traffic that you’re not doing very well on from a search standpoint. Document any keywords that you would like to score well on in search.
- Next you should head over to Google Webmaster Tools and look at your Search Queries. Similar to that of the Analytics data, don’t just look at keywords your performing well on. Look at everything and document any words or phrases that you should score on.
- Now visit your competitors’ websites and write down any keywords and/or phrases your competitors are targeting. If you’re not sure what these are, look at their page titles, sitemap, and actual page URLs. Note this will only work if your competitors have a good SEO strategy.
- By now you have a fairly long list of keywords. We need to see how these fit into the real world of search. If I’ve learned anything over the last nine years of SEO work, it’s that I don’t know what people search on. I can only make assumptions and then validate my thoughts against actual search volumes. I validate my suspected keyword list in Google’s Adwords Keyword Tool. To do this, all you have to do is input your list of potential keywords into the box and let it rip. You can either go broad with results or narrow it down to exact. Just make sure you stay consistent.
- As I pull my keyword volumes, I put them into an Excel spreadsheet and I create one very large list. I don’t pay much attention to volume at this point, because I don’t want to get distracted. I just keep loading up the list with keywords, volumes, and competitiveness.
- Now that I have my list of potential keywords and volumes, I set is aside. I walk away and move onto something else, because at this point I’m fairly burned out on keyword research. When my mind has cleared, I return to revisit my list. If the list is really long, I remove any keywords on the list that are below a certain level of volume. If I have thousands of keywords, my pain threshold may by 500 searches per month. If it is a small list, this may be reduced to 50. It is very relative and based on the industry and target market.
- The next step is to score each word for relevance. You need to look at each work and think about it’s relevance to your actual products or services. You can give this a high, medium, and low or you can use a number scale. Whatever works is fine, just make sure it clearly shows which words are important and which words are irrelevant or less important.
- Once I’ve scored my list of relevance, I create a weighted score for each keyword. I typically take the relevance score and multiply this by the actual volume. You don’t have to get overly fancy; you just need to be able to see a combination of relevance and traffic volumes.
- Now I start ditching keywords. I’d like to say I don’t, but I do. I’ve been going this for so many years, I can just “see” issues or anomalies. I see trends and I can see if something is just not right. Maybe the keyword has other unrelated meanings (you can check this my Googling it) and the traffic volumes are distorted. In other cases, it could be it is so broad it just doesn’t work. This is where I start overriding my client’s wishes and I do so because my instincts tell me to do it and they’ve hired me because of my experience. So far no one has fired me for this practice.
- Now I take a step back and I look at the list. What keywords have strong volumes, are closely matched to the client’s offering, and are not polluted with excessive targeting by competitors. I view this as “picking your battles”, which is similar to what I do with my kids. You can only win in so many places, so you have to target what is important. This comes back to my gut.
- Now I pick three really competitive words with good volumes that I believe we can win on with effort. Long-term effort and not overnight effort. These are our big boys and the words we will hammer until we win. Note that the number of three could be 100 if your website is much larger. Again, this process is varied based on industry, geography, and target market.
- Next I pick about seventeen secondary keywords. These are long tail or less competitive words that are still good, but not necessarily the biggies. These phrases we’ll be able to win on quicker, but they won’t have as high of volumes as the three we just picked. Just as I mentioned above, this number varies. It may be seventeen or it may be 2,000.
- Finally I go through the list to see what is left. I try and assign these to blog posts, tags, or categories. Wherever possible, I provide clients with suggestions on possible titles for blog posts so we are capturing the keywords.
Okay I had 16 steps. I tried really hard to stay at fifteen, but it didn’t quite work.
So you have your list of keywords. Now what? Now you have to take a step back and look at that list and decide if you can create web pages to support the keywords. If you compete in any level of ca ompetitive environment, you’ll need to have only one or two keywords focused per page. In other words, for every keyword you need a page of content. And not only do you need web content, you need to be able to weave those pages (aka keywords) into a sitemap that makes logical sense.
If this is your first go around at this process, you probably don’t have a list that can easily be whipped into a logical sitemap. That is okay. Just revisit the last three steps and adjust.
This is Your Plan of Attack
You have a list, which means you have the start of a plan. This list and your future sitemap should be the basis for all internet marketing activity. From your company or personal profiles on social networks to your inbound links on press releases, you need to consult this list.
And remember, you need to revisit your list and this process, because people change and search traffic trends shift. Remember Web 2.0? Well no one talks about it anymore and it has morphed into social media. If you browse my website you’ll see references to Web 2.0 have gone away and social media is all over my website.
The important point is that you have a list of keywords and the start of a real plan. Congratulations! You’re off to a great start.
Brendan Delaney says
You should add an “email this” link to your blog. I was talking to someone on Saturday about how SEO is a “dark art” (which I meant in positive way) and this is a great post that illustrates that.
Rebecca Gill says
Thanks for the excellent feedback. An option has been added to print, email, or save to PDF.