March 23, 2010

A Beginners Guide to Keyword Research

I read a tweet today about keyword research. I decided to go nuts. Thus I also got the inspiration for this blog post. See, this is the thing with Search engine optimization, it is actually kind of an art form. Regardless of how many of the rules you know, there are always exceptions and if you don’t know these exceptions you will end up biting the dust.

This article is intended for those of you who know about SEO, but are still a bit confused where to begin your research for those words/phrases that will start to bring you qualified traffic. It is also intended for those of you who think SEO is bullshit and think that it is all about making your pages readable for the search engine spider. And remember… this is just the basics.

What is keyword research?

So. What is this thing called “keyword research”? Well, it is not about what you should put in the meta-keywords between your header tags. It is neither a process where you choose ten keywords and then try to find out how to rank for them. Keyword research is all about finding what kind of words/phrases people search for when they are up to doing some kind of thing that is beneficial to your overall business goals. Thus, keyword research denotes the process where you turn to all accessible data and try to figure out what the user search for when they try to buy your stuff.

However, it is not as simple as finding ten keywords and then you’re done. Keyword research also enclose the practice of finding related terms to one concept you are trying to sell. This means that you should try to create information that meets the user throughout their complete purchasing process.

If you manage to both find good quality content that corresponds to the purchasers and the information seekers out there, then you are a very happy person.

How to find the right keywords

I wrote an article about this a while back and it kind of sucked. However, I will write briefly how you can go about finding keywords in some bullets below. If you have any questions about this, please ask.

  1. Use your metrics tool to see what people are searching for in your internal search engine
  2. Secondly, ask yourself what words you believe you should rank for
  3. What does the search volume look like for the words that you have found
  4. What does the competition look like (search for the keywords and look where you are today)
  5. Are there any synonyms to the keywords you have listed
  6. Who ranks for those words today
  7. Get SEO Quake as a firefox plugin and check the keyword density of some landing pages of your competition
  8. Do the same for 5 top bloggers of your vertical
  9. What kind of words, phrases do they use
  10. Now that you have a keyword list of at least 500 words (oh yeah baby) you go to Google Sets to find some more

Now these ten first advice were for those of you who are working from scratch and want to get some kind of sense into what the heck you should put in your titles, links etc. to reach your target audience the right way.

When looking at competitive verticals or when you look at PPC then you should aim at finding lists of keywords that at least border the sum of 20-50 000 words and phrases. All depending upon how big of a search volume you have in your vertical. Remember that Google announced that 25% of the searches each month are new to them. This means that you should work with both content that you know generate qualified traffic (yeah… you will know from your stats) as well as experiment with new content (yeah.. you will know what works from your stats).

Tools to use that will help you out

If I were you I, which I am not, but let’s say I was. Let’s say I was you and I had a budget for marketing purposes. Let’s say that budget was at least $500 per month (I know all my readers are as poor as I am and you think; “500 dollars!!! Gosh jesper… who the heck has 500 dollars to spend in one single month…). But, let’s all pretend that we were rich and had 500 bucks to spend on tools per month.

Which tools would I recommend you chose to help you out in your keyword research? (promise affiliate link free)

  1. Webmaster Toolkit – this one is FREE
  2. Wordstream – $49 bucks if you’re a SEO, $299 if you’re a PPC:er – and you’ll understand the price difference once you have a look at it
  3. Either Cemper Link Research or Cemper Keyword Research tool – Price starts from €100 –
  4. SEOMoz Linkscape (Free) and Keyword Difficulty
  5. Google Trends and Google Keyword tool (both Free)

That’s about it if you’re looking to rank in a European or American search engine. If you’re looking to rank in other places such as in Yandex or in Baidu then I suggest you just bring out your wallet.

So what should you do with all these keywords?

Well, now you have a list of keywords that your gut is telling you to use. Always trust your gut, then you look at the data and see what darlings to kill. Now it is time for you to construct your pages accordingly.

Think about it this way. The search engine spider will enter your web page through a link from an external web page or from an internal link on one of your other web pages. Just as when you enter a room full of people at a party. Let’s say the anchor text in the external link said “bananas in pyjamas”. The search engine spider now checks whether or not your web page knows anything on the topic. Just as you would try to find out if the person was a party animal if someone pointed to him/her at the party and said “party animal”.

SO!! Try to group your collected keywords into clusters that make sense together. A page about cars should perhaps also have a link to a page about the engine. A page about wheels should probably say something about the rims. A page about “bananas in pyjamas” should probably say something about kids watching wicked and disturbing TV-shows.

You should aim at making your page as relevant and unique as possible for what you are trying to rank for. DO NOT use your main keyword excessively. Rather, use semantically related words to make the content as good and link friendly as possible.

When constructing a website you most definitively should keep this in mind as it effects the architecture of your web project. Also, nothing should be more than three clicks away. Also, your pages should have call to action over the fold and a nice design. Plus, remember that newsletter sign up and the member functionality. AH!! Don’t forget to add the reviews and ratings, plus all the social buttons. Naturally, do not miss the opportunity to embed your YouTube clips and your rich images. AND remember your page load time. 🙂 Still think that SEO is a walk in the park?

Concluding remarks

Now I am sure you’ll have stuff to do over the coming days and weeks. I am in no hurry so I conduct all my keyword research in the long tail of my Google Analytics installation.

However, if you are marketing director and you happen to stumble upon this post, then you should keep in mind that you have to start thinking keywords when planning your webproject. DO NOT BUILD until you know what you want to communicate. But since no marketing directors would ever read this far into a post, I am pretty sure they’ll continue to order stuff that blinks and make bgsound on pageload.

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