Let’s start by saying there are as many ways to go about keyword research as there are researchers. Everyone has their own method, their own tool configuration, and ultimately there is no right way.
There are myriad tools out there, with more being developed all the time. Many of the most effective, popular tools are free and publicly available. If you are new to keyword research, start by getting these tools on your radar:
• Google AdWords keyword tool
• Google Insights
• Google Correlate
• Google Trends
• SEOmoz keyword difficulty tool
• Wordtracker keyword tool
It is worth saying that more and more new tools on the market aim to be one-stop shops for all your SEO needs. We are just going to focus on their keyword elements here, but make sure you do fully explore what each one has to offer. We touch on link prospecting in relation to keyword research, later on. For now, here a few of the tools that put the “eeeee!” into our keeeeeeyword research…
Perhaps a surprising inclusion here, but sometimes you can’t beat using your own eyes and grey matter. Tools are great to automate some of the manual processes, but there needs to be some pure human endeavour first. Not only are the kind of observations you can make first-hand really valuable, it will familiarise you with the keyword landscape and contextualise the automated results you’ll get later on. You’ll see a lot of crossover at this stage with competitor analysis, which is really useful as part of a holistic SEO overview.
To start with, you can play a fun game we like to call…
SEMRush is a tool that shows you which keywords sites are ranking for and what the volumes are for those searches. It’s great for competitor analysis, and as an effective, in-depth way to find lots of juicy keywords, with CPC data. You’ll see it can get quite addictive as you unpack and unpack keywords like Russian Dolls!
Here’s how. . .
1) Start with a Google Chrome Incognito window. Change the country to the one you are looking to rank in and type in one of your fathead keyphrases. In many cases this will be your homepage keyphrase If you have an existing site then it’ll be your title tags or your main services or products. What comes up? If lots of internal pages appear, rather than homepages, then there’s a good chance that it’ll be easier to compete against. (This is a little over-simplified, but that’s the basic gist).
2) Find the first site on the list that is most closely aligned, not just to your fathead but to your business. For instance, if you campaign is commercial with the aim of selling products, and the first entry is Wikipedia, you don’t need to worry about that. Find the first commercial site – an actual competitor. Copy the shortcut and switch to your work browser.
3) Using the SEOQuake toolbar, go to ‘costs’ and click on ‘SEMRush traffic price’ (we recommend you have a pro account, otherwise you’ll get a limited number of results). Paste the shortcut. A list of keywords will appear that that website ranks for. Just focus on the ones for the region you are targeting.
4) Export the list. You will see a heck of a lot of data has been generated. Delete the last 5 columns and tabulate the rest. Do a custom sort in Excel by ‘Search Volume’ (sort values largest to smallest). For the second level, sort CPC (cost per click) largest to smallest. This gives you a list of the best keywords.
5) Now return to your first browser, find the next best-matched site and repeat the process again. Carry on until you have a pretty lengthy list (or you have square eyes…).
6) Score all the keywords on your spreadsheet by relevance on a scale of 1 – 3.
7) Take the top phrase from your list and – that’s right – start the process all over again…
MEET YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND: Google Adwords
You are not going to be able to live without Google Adwords. Get it on your bookmark bar now. In this context, we are going to focus on the Keyword Tool (see menu box top left). Basically, you take a bulk of keywords from your new super-list, put them into the Keywords box…and get a load more!
1) Check the settings for location, language and device
2) Decide whether you want to check the little box saying ‘only show ideas closely related to my search terms’. Adwords is going to give you a whole ton of words, some of them not relevant to your search. If you don’t mind that, leave this box blank. It can sometimes be helpful to show you directions you might not have considered. But if you only want results that include your original search terms, make sure you tick it.
3) What do the metrics mean?
• Competition, rated Low, Medium or High, refers to the number of Adwords customers competing over that word. Remember the long tail phrases will have less people chasing them, so if you are looking to build a long tail campaign then go for the ‘Low’ ranking phrases.
• Global Monthly Searches shows how many times people anywhere have searched for that keyword, using a 12 month average, to give you a ballpark traffic figure. A ‘-‘ indicates not enough data.
• Local Monthly Searches is the same as above but specific to your location, language and device filters.
• The Local Search Trends bar graph plots out monthly search volumes for specific keywords
4) Refining the List
• Change Targeting options (location, language, device) and Filtering options (stats, competition, local monthly searches)
• Sort by metric, rather than relevance (default)
• Change Match Types (left hand panel). The default is ‘Broad Match’ which will inflate your search volume figures. It is worth playing around with these settings. Most of the time you will want ‘Exact Match’
• Include Terms to generate keyword ideas incorporating your original terms, or Exclude Terms for the opposite, on the left hand panel
5) Download the results once you have got a relevant list you are happy with
Things to think about…
• Adwords data is not 100% accurate so take all the figures with a pinch of salt and extrapolate general ball-park ideas, rather than specifics
• Sometimes Adwords doesn’t show search volumes for related search terms, unless you order it to
For beginner keyword researchers, the SEMRush / Adwords combo may be enough. If you want a more in-depth tour around Tool Land, then stay with us for…
RAVEN: Aiming to be a one-stop SEO shop, Raven is garnering more and more attention and is definitely worth exploring. It covers reporting, analysis, tracking, CRM for linkbuilding, keyword research…you name it…and incorporates multiple sources such as Backlink Explorer, MajesticSEO and SEOmoz, all under one roof. It’s great to centralise your processes.
For now we’ll focus on their Keyword Assistant. It combines SEMRush, Google AdWords and Wordtracker, which you can use together in one super-machine, or as individual tools. You can still set match type and conduct the same filtering as for Adwords, and on top of that you can use many different metrics to manipulate the data and report on it. Raven also tracks keyword search position in the SERP tracker, and you can unlimited amount of keywords to the keyword manager. ESEO finds it useful as a central keyword hub, as part of a broader keyword arsenal. Clients like it too, as you can easily view searches as a branded PDF report.
GOOGLE INSIGHTS: compare search volume patterns across specific regions, categories, time frames and properties. Great for comparing the performance of particular search terms over a period of time, gaining both keyword and general market insights, with really useful graphs. Depending on your industry, seasonality can be a hugely powerful influence not normally covered by most keyword tools. Generating the map under ‘Regional Interest’ can be really illuminating too.
MERGEWORDS: Great for expanding your list, generating those long tail phrases from a bunch of disparate words. Very simple, very minimalist, and sometimes a bit zany in terms of off-the-wall results, but always worth a quick go.
GOOGLE AUTO-SUGGEST: You know when you start typing a query into Google and it finishes the phrase off for you? There’s a lot of keyword harvesting power in that predictive text! Plunder its suggestions and experiment by adding adjectives like ‘best’ or ‘cheapest’ and other conditioners such as ‘buy’.
Previous Posts in this Series:
The Ethical SEO Guide To Keyword Research: Part 1
Keyword Research Part 2: Thinking About Your Business
Keyword Research Part 3: Become a Mindreader
Keyword Research Part 4: Building Personas
Keyword Research Part 5: Putting (Key)words in your mouth