The Definitive Guide to Keyword Research – Part 1
Good keyword research is so often the deciding factor in a website’s success. It’s the difference between a site that hardly gets seen and a site that converts every other visitor. But how do you do it so as not only to bring lots of traffic, but also the right kind of traffic? Here is our definitive guide.
You’ve heard about keyword research, but what does it really mean and how can you harness its power?
First, a definition:
Keyword research is the process of determining which specific words and phrases people type into search engines in order to find websites related to your business.
It takes many factors into account (see below) in order to provide you with a list of the most relevant keywords for your business. With this list, you can build a website that acts as a flagship location for your company, shining brightly on the top pages of Google when people are looking for what you offer.
Here are the factors that keyword research must take into account:
- The volume of searches that a phrase gets
- The online competition that exists for that phrase
- The relevance of the phrase to your offering
- Whether the phrase shows an intent to make a purchase
- The implications of local search
- The implications of seasonality
- The possibility of the growth either of your business or of the market
When keyword research is done well it results in a kind of “bible” of phrases for your business. These phrases are used across your website and all of your online publishing. And they are updated regularly to see how the market is changing. The idea is that this bible ensures that the people looking for what you do are able to find you.
Simple, right? Well… it’s takes some work but doing comprehensive keyword research is something that every business should consider absolutely vital to their online presence.
A Three-Pronged Approach to Keyword Research
Our keyword research focuses on a few main pillars:
1 – Brainstorming
Any good research project has to begin with an understanding of the topic at hand. We start a project by talking extensively with the client, by researching the industry at hand, by reading content (lots of it), and by doing some good old creative, free-association thinking.
2 – Analysis
We use several tools to gather statistics on keyword phrases. Then, we apply a little intelligent analysis (taking all these numbers with a grain of salt) to find terms with a healthy combination of low competition and high monthly search volume.
3 – Collaboration
All this brainstorming and analysis is of little benefit if it doesn’t apply to you, to what you do, to what you are marketing, and to how you would describe it yourself. Selecting a good set of keywords to apply to your website’s content is a team effort.
Which Path is the Right Path?
Keyword research is not a science, but there are right and wrong ways of going about this work.
It’s a constantly changing field. Many guides and services talk about the path to success, how to choose the right keywords, and which tools to use. But every business and every site is unique and requires a slightly different approach.
So how can there be a right way of doing things? Well, the key is in that last statement – every website, every business is unique. So, the right way of doing things is to tailor your approach to the uniqueness of the site at hand.
Step One: A Well-Rounded Sense of the Industry.
Much of the talk about keyword research focuses on generating piles of keywords and sorting and selecting from them. But, before we jump into compiling mountains of keywords, let’s start with a brainstorming process.
Looking at your own business materials as well as the sites of direct and indirect competitors, begin to jot down the words that identify your business sector. If you’re having trouble identifying competitors, simply Google what you sell or the service you provide and see who comes up on page one. And look at similar industries as well. For instance, if you sell organic tomatoes, then you might look into other organic products as well.
In addition to Google, you might want to check these places as well:
- Social media – see what people are saying about your market on Twitter and Facebook.
- Marketplaces – if you sell products, see how marketplaces like Amazon and eBay market products like yours.
- Industry organizations – if you’re in the service industry check service organizations and their publications.
- Google’s search predictions – when you start typing “organic” into a search bar, what does Google predict you will type next?
Into the Rabbit Hole
People are getting more and more specific with their searches, and before turning to keyword generating tools, it’s useful to brainstorm, to act like a consumer, to fall into a few rabbit holes, to discover the most common intent behind a keyword phrase. It’s remarkable how far a little creative thought and a little word play can take you.
Step Two: Time to Start Making Lists.
After having opened all those tabs and jotted down all the phrases and ideas that jump to mind first, we start our “seed word” lists. Seed words are the most important general words and categories that describe a business’s offering. For instance, using the example above of an organic tomato farm, some categories might be: tomato, organic, produce, farms, and local.
We usually organize our seed words into 5-10 categories (organized by terminology, products [service offerings], or both). These initial lists are gathered from all that brainstorming: client information, existing content, social media, all those competitor websites and Google searches, and possibly even from a good old-fashioned look through the thesaurus. For each seed word category you should find between 20 and 100 words and phrases.
Step Three: Expanding Your Lists
The AdWords Keyword Tool remains a great, free resource for keyword generation. Sometimes we start with a single relevant keyword phrase looking for related ideas and discovering the words and phrases to avoid and exclude. Or, once we’ve created a more complete seed word list (often of 50-75 phrases) and are ready to move the research on to the next phase of data analysis, we’ll use AdWords to expand that list to several hundred keyword phrases.
We search for closely related terms at first. But if the results are very limited, or nothing new, we may take a few different approaches:
- Go back to the seed word lists, can we think of anything else?
- Go back to the business materials on hand (the current website or other published materials) to see if we’ve missed anything.
- Try another tool. Sometimes we’ll use relevant tools from SEMRush, keywordtool.io, Moz, or others to get new ideas, and expand our lists.
- Go over the keywords we have and weed out the overly general and least relevant phrases.
- If these options are exhausted, and we’re still not finding any ‘exciting’ new terms, we’ll then try AdWords searches without filtering out the unrelated search terms.
From here, we’ll export our new, expanded AdWords lists and start combing out more unrelated phrases.
Think about the audience, too.
Still not satisfied with the results? You might start to explore parallel businesses, or trending topics that could help inform the language and tone of the website. For example, when researching for a new brand of pet supplies marketed to the under-35 crowd, we might explore phrases related to millennial culture and buying patterns.
After reducing our list to only completely relevant terms, we sort the list by search volume. At this point, we have developed a very interesting picture of what people are searching for in the field.
Step Four: Crunching the Numbers
The most useful and important statistic to gather from the AdWords Keyword Tool is Average Monthly Searches. By focusing on keyword phrase search volume, you can get a clearer idea about what people are searching. In this phase, we can see which keywords from our seed words were on point and which ones were off (sometimes way off, you’d be surprised).
With a list of relevant keyword phrases organized by average monthly searches, you’ve got a pretty good picture of what people are looking for and how. With some sustained and intelligent marketing work, these keyword phrases could give you the traffic you are looking for. You can start categorizing and sorting them, and you can begin building a site map that utilizes what you’ve found.
This might be your stopping point…
Congratulations. Many businesses stop here and do fine. But depending on your business goals and the extent to which you rely on online traffic…
…Or you might decide to really dive in.
The one metric that is missing from this research is a real sense competition for each keyword phrase. Google AdWords’ data for competition just isn’t specific or reliable enough.
Next week, we’ll publish the follow up to this post, in which we explain our own methods for diving in deeper to find phrases that have BOTH high search volume AND low competition numbers. These golden phrases become the most important for high-level search engine optimization.
Keep reading – here is PART TWO!