Keyword research is like market research for an SEO or PPC campaign. It is used to determine what users are searching for on search engines and which of these queries are most likely to convert to leads and/or sales.
It is the cornerstone of any campaign and should be carried out at the very beginning. Ideally this means before your website is even built. This way you’ll be able to determine where the demand lies and create webpages to satisfy this demand. This doesn’t mean that if there’s very little search volume for a product or service, that you leave it out, but it does enable you to make sure you’re not missing anything and that you are targeting the right selection of keyword phrases with each page.
Before we begin our research I’d like to introduce 2 key concepts:
- Content-Centric & Keyword-Centric keyword research
- Long Tail & Short tail keyword phrases
Content-Centric & Keyword-Centric Research
Keyword research can be divided into 2 different types of approach: content-centric and keyword-centric.
Content-centric is based around existing content on your website such as products or services pages and aims at identifying the best keywords to target with these pages.
Keyword-centric identifies potential search terms first, then aims to build keywords around them.
So which should you use? A little bit of both is the frustratingly vague answer. You should begin with a content -centric approach but always be open to new opportunities.
Long-Tail vs Short-Tail
Short-tail refers to general, 1-2 word keyword phrases. These type of phrases generally have a higher search volume but have high competition and less potential to convert. For example ‘windows’ is a short tail keyword.
Long-tail refers to longer keyword phrases that tend to be more specific. These type of phrases have a lower search volume but are less competitive and more potential to convert. For example ‘pvc windows dublin 5’ is a long-tail keyword phrase.
It’s better to focus on long-tail keyword phrases with the aim of converting more users into customers.
Now, lets get onto the actual process itself….
The first thing you should do is brainstorm keyword phrases based around your products or services. This sounds obvious but a common mistake is to jump straight into research using a keyword research tool (see below) and miss important relevant keyword phrases.
Grab a pen and paper and start jotting down ideas.
You should ask for help from colleagues and friends at this stage because often they will think of ideas that you may have missed.
Using Google Autosuggest
Google Autosuggest is great to get an idea of what users are looking for. Start typing your keyword phrase and see what is suggested in the box below.
Using the Google Adwords Keyword Research Tool
The next step is to expand and then fine tune your list using a keyword research tool. There are a number of different tools out there. The obvious choice is the Google Adwords Keyword Tool because it’s free to use providing you have set up an Adwords account. Depending on your needs there are also a number of commercial keyword research tools out there although this post focuses on the Google Adwords option.
If you enter your initial list of brainstormed keywords this tool will generate related phrases and display some useful data that will help you to choose between them.
For greater control over the keyword ideas generated you have the choice of entering your website address and industry category.
You also have the option of specifying a language and location.
Advanced Options and Filters
Its important to filter your data depending on where your target market is. For example if you’re market’s in Ireland use the location filter to specify Ireland. This is important to see data specific to a particular country.
You may also wish to specifically target mobile devices. This is interesting because users will generally use shorter keyword phrases when searching on mobile. Also, mobile queries are often geographically related as users are…well, mobile!
The keywords you choose will depend on the data provided by the keyword research tool. It is important to recognise that this data is never precise and should be taken with a pinch of salt. Data provided includes:
- Local Monthly Search Volume – Average monthly searches for targeted country over 12 months
- Competition – Advertiser competition within Google Adwords. Not necessarily accurate for SEO but good as a rough estimator.
- Approximate CPC (Cost per Click) – The amount you might pay if someone clicks on your ad in Google Adwords. This gives a rough idea of the value and conversion potential of a given keyword phrase.
Choosing a match type
These ‘match types’ refer to how your keyword list relates to the search queries entered. There are 3 match types:
- Broad Match – The search query contains all the words within the keyword phrase, including synonyms in any order.
- Phrase Match – The search query contains all the words within the keyword phrase in the same order they appear in that phrase.
- Exact Match – The search query is identical to the keyword phrase.
For example for the phrase ‘online marketing services’ the following would be examples of broad, phrase and exact match search queries:
- Broad Match – ‘marketing services online’, ‘marketing for online services’ , ‘tips on marketing your service online’
- Phrase Match – ‘online marketing services dublin’, ‘best online marketing services’
- Exact Match – ‘online marketing services’
I always recommend using exact match as it gives a better indication of which phrases will convert and a more accurate idea of traffic.
Now for the hard part. You have a list of 100s of relevant keyword phrases that you need to reduce down to a manageable number. As a general rule of thumb you should be targeting 2-3 keyword phrases per page on your site.
With this in mind you need to start choosing your keywords based on the metrics above. The ideal keyword phrase will have a high relevance, search volume and potential to convert, but low competition. Needless to say this is extremely rare.
Select keyword phrases that you think you may target within the Adwords Keyword Tool. You will be able to download this data to a .csv file which you can open up in Excel. You’ll need to go over this list with a fine toothcomb before you begin to whittle it down and map your chosen keywords to pages on your site.
The Nitty Gritty
For more of an insight into the potential of your keywords at this point you should move beyond the data supplied by Google Adwords Keyword Tool. The figures for Competition and Approximate CPC (Cost per Click) should only be used as rough guidelines.
To get a better idea of competition I would recommend using the SEOMoz Keyword Difficulty Tool. This tool provides you with a percentage keyword difficulty figure based on analysis of the Google SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) for a particular keyword phrase.
You can even drill down to see a full analysis of the SERPs for specific terms, allowing you to see Page titles, URLs, page & domain authority and linking domains of top 10 results.
Note: To access this tool you’ll need to sign-up for an SEOMoz account. The free account should give you access although a lot of the time it’s only available to PRO members due to demand.
At this stage you should have a much better idea of what keywords you want to focus on. The next stage of the process is mapping your chosen phrases to pages on your site which I hope to write something on next week.
Keyword research is a vital part of any SEO campaign and can determine the success or failure of a given campaign. With this in mind it’s important that you get it right. If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you ASAP. Cheers!