Knowing how to do keyword research is one of the core pieces of an effective SEO strategy. Having an accurate idea of which keywords are attainable, which are just not worth going after, and the keywords that might be worth the long-term effort is invaluable information. Follow these essential steps to perform thorough keyword research.

It All Starts with a List

Start by making an initial list of what words and terms potential customers or visitors to your website would use to describe your business, or type into a search engine to find you. Include different ways to phrase things, different word orders, and some with regional keywords added, like “shoe repair phoenix” (if applicable to your business). Before you want to look at competition and search volume, first make sure you are wording things in ways that search engine users would.

Next, plug your terms into a service like SEOMoz or SEMRush and see what keywords are suggested based on your initial ideas. A free way to do this is to google your term and glance at the suggested searches at the bottom of the first page, but I recommend a paid tool. This will either tell you a more common way to phrase that keyword or can give you ideas for similar search terms to expand your list.

Modify and add to your list based on these suggestions until you have a list of terms you feel pretty confident are commonly searched and relevant to your website. These “keywords” can vary from one word to a 3-4 word phrase.

Narrow and Refine Your List

What you are Looking for in a Keyword

Ideally, you want to find that sweet spot of a keyword with high search volume and low competition (that are of course relevant to your website). These are your low hanging fruit and should be given priority as they won’t take a lot of time or effort to rank for. You don’t want to ignore really good keywords for your website thought that might have a lot of competition if they also have a high search volume. These will take longer to rank for and are more work, but if you have big plans for your website, what better time to start working towards those high value keywords than now?

Research the Volume of Searches

Before we start eliminating keywords we want to rank them by how often they are searched. Search volume has to be weighed against how stiff the competition is, so either create a scale to rate keywords on or just write down if the search volume seems high, low, or medium. Do take notes though, because in a moment we will compare the volume to the competition and start whittling the list down.

One way to check search volume is to type your keyword into Google Trends, but I prefer a paid tool like SEMRush or SEOMoz. However you do it, search volume is key to the strategy.

Look at the Competition

Next, to gauge the competitiveness of a keyword, you need to get an idea of who is ranking for a certain keyword and how good the page they are linking to is, and how good their entire website is. The weaker or less relevant the people already ranking are, the easier it will be for you to sneak in there and grab a top spot.

The long (free) way to do this is to type your keyword in a search engine and click some of the top 10-20 links. If all of the results are strong, healthy websites that are linking to pages directly relevant to the keyword, competition is stiff. If by search results 2 or 3 you already start to see web pages only vaguely talking about the search term, and websites that don’t seem updated often, competition is weak.

A tool that will do this for you will often have a scale of 1-100 gauging difficultly, or will tell you that competition is high, medium, or low for certain keywords. They take everything into account mentioned above (and then some) to arrive at these ratings.

Picking Your Priorities

Before you start picking the keywords you want to go after, take into account how strong your website is, how much time and resources you have to work on SEO, and what your goals are for organic traffic.

With all of that in mind, I recommend picking a handful of the low hanging fruit (high volume with low competition) keywords and a few of your extremely relevant keywords that probably have more competition. You can sort your keywords into groups based on priority, by how you want to implement them (these are for the blog, these are for website copy), or however works for you and your SEO strategy. Remember, the trick here is weighing search volume against competition, all while still keeping in mind how relevant of a keyword this seems to your website.

Update the List Every Few Months

The internet is a fickle place, so make sure you update your list often and re-arrange your priorities based on changes in competition in volume. These metrics are generally slow changing but can have major disruptions depending on current events, fads, websites shutting down and starting up, etc.

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