Keyword Research Basics For SEO

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again … there is no more important step in the SEO process than keyword research. One could make a compelling argument for link building or for architecture or for copywriting but at the end of the day – ranking highly for keywords that either don’t convert or which you close up shop waiting to rank for isn’t going to help too terribly much so in my opinion – I’d put keyword research higher in importance. In fact, when I’m building affiliate sites my first step is to look up keywords and competition levels – then I look into products and websites and this method has worked very well indeed. It insures that I choose keywords that with both convert and that I can rank for in a period of time and with an effort level that matches the return.


So – if you’re doing keyword research, where should you begin? Unless you’re an affiliate marketer you already have a product and since you’re the target audience of this article – I’m going to assume that’s the case. For the purpose of this article I’m going to pick a hobby of mine and also an area where I don’t have a client and imagine I’m doing keyword research for the imaginary online downhill mountain biking store DH Mountain Bikes.

So Where To Begin …

The first thing one needs to do is try to think up all the possible phrases that might apply. I call this my seed list … it’s the list of phrases that my research starts with and is generally based on brainstorming. In this case the list would be:

  • downhill mountain bike
  • dh mountain bike
  • mountain bike

The keyword tool I generally use first is Google’s keyword suggestion tool. There are other great tools but I’ve found Google’s tool to be as accurate as any other, the price is definitely right (free), and they’re very good about providing the information required to know just how wrong the data is if you know where to look. So let’s do just that.

Before we begin you’ll need to head over to Google’s keyword tool at https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal. In the top left (for now) you’ll see a link to a beta version of the tool. Click on the link and you’ll be at the new version of the tool which will provide you easy access to much more information – as long as you know what to look for. So let’s begin with our three seed phrases.

When you see the list you’ll first have to know what the numbers are. This tool is a tool designed for AdWords and the default number is the Broad match which means it includes every phrase with the term. For example, the term “mountain bike” has a broad match total of 2,740,000 which will include “downhill mountain bike”, “mountain bike parts”, “kona mountain bike”, etc. etc. What we want to know is how many searches are for “mountain bike”. Down the left-hand side you’ll see a set of check boxes. Deselect “Broad” and select “Exact” and you’ll get the Exact match numbers – the number of searches for the exact phrase. You’ll quickly see that 2,740,000 drop to 450,000. This is how many people searched the GOOGLE SEARCH NETWORK for “mountain bike”. Why is this in caps – because it’s so commonly misunderstood that I definitely want your attention brought to it. This isn’t the number of searches on Google.com – it’s the number of searches on all sites who’s search is powered by Google. From YouTube to Beanstalk’s blog search – it’s all in there so the data starts to get skewed from the start. Then let’s add in all the automated queries from rank-checking tools and just manual searches from you and your competitors and the data gets further skewed. This skewing will exist in all data – the thing I like about using Google is that at least we know more about what’s adjusting the data.

OK – so from there we need to organize the data into a more useful set of information. To do this one needs to understand the columns of data. The first column is the keyword, the second you’ll see is a link to the term on Google Insights. We’ll get into this later. The next is Global Monthly Searches – this is the average number of searches/mth worldwide. This can be helpful in some industries but in ours – I’m only concerned with the US market which is where my imaginary store ships to so I’m more interested in the next column Local Monthly Searches which is the number of searches in the US (or whatever region I’ve specified when entering my keyword phrases). This is the data I’m interested in. The last column is the search trend. This is extremely important but often overlooked. It is a column that wasn’t visible by default in the old/current version.

OK – let’s organize our data by search volume. Click on the “Local Monthly Searches” and you’ll see the keywords order by descending search volume. With this data in front of me I then typically look over to the Trend data to see what I can find there. In our case we’re going to see an increase in search volume in the spring and summer. This make sense of course. Think of your industry and see if the trends reflect what makes sense.

I’m also looking for anomalies. Often I’ll see phrases that jump for a single month. One has to know that unless there was a news story or other event that would spark interest in a single term or brand – a tool or some other such incident is likely falsifying the data. You need to look at these trends and see if they make sense. If not – you need to either test the phrases with PPC or just skip over them and select different phrases. There’s little worse as an SEO than focusing energies on a phrase only to find that the search volume is not what was expected based on the estimates delivered.

So now what?

So what do you do once you’ve filtered your data down to just what you’re interested in looking into competition levels on. Well – the first thing I do is to look to the trends to see if there are any phrases that obviously need to be filtered out. In this case there really aren’t any high in the search volume column. So the only thing left is to look at the competition levels to see what makes sense. For our purposes we’ll be dividing the list and research into two categories:

Major phrases – We need to decide what the long-term goals are going to be and the targets for the main pages. These will be the totally generic phrases such as “mountain bike” and “downhill mountain bike” as well as brand or type specific phrases such as “specialized mountain bike” and “full suspension mountain bike”.

Longtail phrases – We also need to look into the types of longtail phrases we’re going to want to target. In this case I know I’ll want to target specific parts which will require new research. I will spare you the details there but I’ll end up with specific models of components such as “hayes mx2”. You don’t need to know what that is – you need to know the makes and models in your industry (or other longatil opportunities such as “new york hotel with jacuzzi”, etc.)

I generally would gather together a list of 15 or 20 major phrases and 50 or 60 longtail phrases and would then head into the competition analysis to determine which phrases to move forward with.

Keyword Research Basics For SEO
About Dave Davies
Dave Davies is the CEO of Beanstalk Search Engine Optimization, Inc. Beanstalk's SEO services include full-services SEO packages, consulting, training, copywriting and link building. Dave has been involved in SEO since 2001, co-authored SitePoint's SEM Kit, has spoken at SES and SMX events and hosts a weekly radio show on WebmasterRadio.fm. WebProNews Writer
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  • http://www.preferredpersonalins.com/ SHAHIDjamil

    This will Help a lot of people in their strategies

  • http://www.ebizroi.com Rick Noel

    Nice article Dave. I couldn’t agree more on keyword research being the most important step in SEO. I stress this with all our SEO clients. For the major, popular search phrases, their is always the tension between search volume and competition. I like to use the KEI (Keyword Efficiency Index) to find some potentially under-valued keywords. KEI, for those that are not familiar with is calculated by taking the square of the traffic volume and dividing that by the competition. KEI values can be used to sort the data while providing another data point when mining for valuable keywords. Another key factor is what are your existing rankings. For instance, going from 21 to 20 gets you to the second page of search results, a line that many searchers do go beyond.

  • http://www.seodesignsolutions.com/ Jeffrey Smith


    Another great tactic to take those keywords and then find out (a) who the major players are and (b) what percentage of traffic they represent within that competitors keyword cluster are covered in this brief 3 minute video http://www.seodesignsolutions.com/blog/seo-videos/seo-tips-for-keyword-research-trend-and-competitor-analysis/

    Just thought those on the trail of low-tech SEO tactics might enjoy this one.

    All the best

  • http://www.ubisanmanagement.co.uk Colin

    Great article Dave. Really spells the basics out and I never realised the Google search figure was based on ALL the sites powered by Google – not just the main search engine. I’ll adjust my spiel to clients accordingly..

    I guess what might be daunting for people is when they are faced with 600 keywords and then have to wittle them down.

  • http://www.searchenginewizard.com Chris Lee

    We find that it pays to spend some extra effort on researching the “real” keyword competition, when choosing which keywords to use.

    For example, if you go to Google and enter a “phrase-matched” phrase you’ll get a result with the number of “competing” pages. However, even these will not be properly optimised for that keyword phrase – practiced SEO’s will at the very least include that phrase in the page title, so an Allintitle:”your phrase” search will reveal only those pages which have that specific keyword phrase in the title.

    Typically, the allintitle competition number will now drop dramatically – these are the “real” competing pages. But we’re not done yet.

    You can refine still further (and quicker) if you use the Advanced Search function in Google and select to return 100 pages rather than 10.

    By way of example, the search for allintitle:”seo software review” returns a count of 16 600 competing pages. However, scrolling through 100 results at a time and on only page 4 you get the message:

    “In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 448 already displayed. If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.”

    So, by this method on an allintitle search for seo software review we go from 16 600 to only 448 which Google thinks are the really relevant results to the search.

    Once you have isolated the keyword that you want you can use the same method on those keywords using the “Allinanchor” search – then you’ll really see which competitors are targeting that exact keyword phrase.

    You need to use this method sparingly though – Google is wise to 100 result allintitle searches and you will quickly get a captcha. We have built this method into our keyword competition analysis in Search Engine Wizard.

  • http://www.sakshiitinfo.com Hiren Joshi

    Hi Dave,

    Your article is awesome and informative. This helps a lot who is in the field of Search Engine Optimization and really want to drive traffic to their site. Keywords are important weapons for the website and helps in getting better results in search battlefield.

    Hiren Joshi

  • http://freestreammovies.net/ william

    Good keywords is also producing a good index in google

  • http://sports-car-collection.com/ Smith

    Keywords are very important, because the keywords are good and true, then we will quickly teindeks website by search engines, and much visited by people

  • http://new-car-collection.com/ Claudia

    keyword is very important for website owners who want to bring visitors to the website itself. Thus, the keyword must be right, and many people wear, so many people who visit the website.

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