Keyword Research for SEO
Keyword research is the process of identifying keywords most suitable for your website and target market in organic search. This simple sounding process involves so much more then the standard approach of plucking keywords from the website or going for anything with large traffic volumes. Choosing the right keywords from day 1 is essential as the work involved after the keyword research stage is time consuming and can become expensive. Changing your keywords down the line is incredibly difficult, and almost a no go area for websites with established link profiles, content profiles and longevity.
There are hundreds of ways keyword research can be carried out, and hundreds of free tools and resources that can be used during this process, this article looks at the most efficient ways of conducting keyword research, points for consideration and measuring success and keyword value. Starting with the basics, keyword research is where your SEO campaign will gain its foundations and targets. After selecting keywords for the campaign, the website and content will require adjustments / creation to fit the keyword profile chosen, alongside this is the websites off-site profile which will also require keyword integration.
So, starting out, let's break down the process of keyword research:
Sourcing Seed Keywords
The first initial batch of keywords are known as seed keywords because they provide the foundation for researched keywords. Seed keywords are important because they are at base level the most relevant keywords to the target websites theme. At this stage it is important to remember that the seed keywords do not need to contain every product, service or feature that your website has to offer, instead, the seed keywords should be high quality, high relevance keywords formed from the websites theme.
Try to coin the best terms in relation to the websites overall theme, the later stages of keyword research will refine the list into keywords with varying competition levels, traffic levels and conversion potential.
Let's take an example:
Mindy's Hair Salon
The hair salon itself offers lots of services from hair cuts to perms, hair colouring etc. For the purpose of keyword research we will look at the websites overall theme to produce a seed keyword list
| Hair Styling
| Hair Salon
| London Hair Salon, Premium Hair Salon
| Hair Styling
|| Hair Cuts
| Cheap Hair Cuts, Kids Hair Cuts
| Hair Styling
|| Hair Colouring
| Cheap Hair Colouring, Hair Colouring Salon
| Hair Styling
|| Hair Perming
| Hair Perming Services, Quick Hair Perms
Don't worry about the potential sub keywords for now, these are just an example of the sub keywords that can be generated later. With the seed list keywords, you will want to tackle all the top level categories / themes for the website. This may involve a little or a lot of work depending on the size of the website and the target markets.
You will want to ensure you understand the websites theme separation and categorisation to ensure each top level part of the website is given the best possible keywords.
Remember, SEO is about working your way through a structured hierarchy, top level pages will do the hard work for competitive key terms, whilst lower level sub pages will deal with a combination of niche keyword searches, long-tail keyword searches & more. This method prevents excessive time spent assigning high value keywords to pages that will have very little potential to position for them.
Key to optimal keyword research is understanding that a websites top level hierarchy will inherit more link weight, exposure, social activity and more, and for this reason alone, choosing keywords with higher traffic levels is going to be the best course of action. Keywords with higher traffic levels are likely to be more competitive, which is why top level site structures need to be assigned these keywords.
Consider using an EXCEL spreadsheet in a similar format to the table above to create your initial seed keyword list.
Mapping Top Level Seed Keywords
Once your keyword seed list is ready, you will then need to map the keywords to their respective URL on the website. Remember, seed keywords need to be assigned to top level URL structures and not to pages that are buried amongst other pages within the website.
In your EXCEL spreadsheet, simply add another column titled "URL" and begin mapping the URL's to the respective seed keywords.
Once this has been completed you are ready to move onto the next stage.
Research Seed Keyword Value
With your seed list complete, you now need to look at the traffic potential for the keywords you have chosen, alongside this you can also look at pay per click data which can be used as a measurement of keyword value. For this stage we recommend using Google Adwords, either sign up for an account or sign in to your existing account to get started.
Google Adwords: https://adwords.google.co.uk
Once logged in you will need to select the keyword tool from the drop down menu. This tool is going to be used for the population of traffic volumes only.
Firstly, you will want to copy all of your seed keywords from your EXCEL spreadsheet and paste them into the "Word or Phrase" entry box in Google Adwords Keyword Tool. Next, you will need to look on the left hand menu for a feature called "Match Types" which by default is set to "Broad", untick this box and select "Exact"
This provides more accurate data about the actual volume of searches being conducted for each keyword, leaving this option set to broad match will mean that all keywords that include the seed keywords will count towards search counts, which is not what you want for effective keyword research.
Once you have selected exact match, click "Search" to populate the keyword data for your seed keywords. You will then be presented with search data for your specific "Seed Keywords" along with "Keyword Ideas". With the data returned, you can then customise their order based upon global or local monthly search volumes.
Global monthly search volumes should only be used for analysis if your website is targeting a global market i.e. UK, USA, Canada, Europe, Asia etc. Otherwise, only pay attention to "Local Monthly Search Volumes".
Click on the "Local Monthly Search Volumes" header to first arrange highest traffic volumes to lowest. With this data you will then be able to see the potential traffic generated for each of your seed keywords. Not all of your keywords may present data, if this is the case, revisit the first steps above and consider modifying the seed keywords until you find enough with search volumes.
You could also use the "Keyword Ideas" section to identify better seed keywords that have sufficient traffic volumes, do not go targeting every keyword you may deem as relevant just yet as the secondary stage of keyword research and selection will allow you to do this. Targeting lots of highly competitive keywords in one go is often an unrealistic approach.
To the left of each keyword is a check box, tick each checkbox under "Search Terms" ensuring you only select the keywords from this section and not keywords from the keyword ideas section (Unless you can identify more suitable seed keywords from this list) . Once you have done this select the DOWNLOAD button and choose the selected item. This will download as a CSV file which you will copy data from shortly.
With the CSV file open, you will now want to conduct a "Search and Replace" function in excel. Perform a search and replace on the "[" character and replace it with a blank space, do the same with the "]" character. This removes the brackets surrounding the keywords highlighting that they are "Exact match" terms. Once you have done this, highlight and copy all of the seed keywords ready for the next stage.
Analysing Keyword Value
With the seed keywords copied, you will now need to evaluate their value with traffic volumes, relevancy and the average cost per click value. The reason we recommend that you use the pay per click cost is because of the potential conversions from the keywords. Higher value keywords with higher conversion potential are likely to cost more, which is a simple yet effective measurement. You may see that some keywords have high traffic volumes but a low cost per click, meaning that the recognised conversion potential is likely to be lower.
Paste the keywords into the "Word or Phrase" box, in the MAX CPC box just enter an amount above £5, we usually enter £10, this way we can be sure that we get all the traffic data and that nothing is limited by CPC cost. Do not enter anything in the "Daily Budget" box.
Now click "Advanced Options" which is just below the word or phrase box. Under Match Types select "Exact". You may also wish to change locations and languages depending on your websites target market and location.
Now click "Estimate" and the data entered will return keyword information. From the returned data you will want to look at "Local Monthly Searches" and "Estimated AVG. CPC". Look for high levels of local monthly traffic alongside a higher CPC. There is no specific rule for what is right and what is wrong, but based upon the data, you will need to weigh up keyword value using these metrics.
Here are some guidelines:
- Aim for higher traffic volumes coupled with higher AVG cpc costs.
- Remove any keywords which do not present enough search data or traffic volume.
- Selecting your final keywords should involve considerations for page assignments, remember that highly competitive keywords will generally need to be split across pages. Do not attempt to target large volumes of highly competitive keywords in one go, choose a handful of the most valuable and set them as primary keyword focus.
- Take your websites content into consideration, try to match keywords that will fit your websites content profile.
- Be prepared to put in lots of time and effort for optimisation when selecting highly competitive, high value keywords.
Once you have completed keyword extraction for the seed keyword list, be sure to copy them into a spreadsheet or document ready for implementation.
With your chosen top level keywords, you can now progress onto page by page keyword research.
Keyword Research at Page Level
Keyword research at page level involves the same process as above but not in as much detail. Internal website pages will usually suit less competitive keyword phrases depending on their content profile and accessibility from the websites navigation. Many webmasters will utilise internal pages for longer-tail keywords as the lower levels of competition mean that the page is more likely to position well.
For an effective approach to page by page keyword research you should take the following steps:
- Analyse the page and the content theme, establish an understanding of keyword to content relation.
- Look at the page as if you was a new website visitor, would you associate the keyword phrase with the content?.
- Only target 1-2 keyword combinations per page, stuffing excessive keywords into pages will dilute the pages value.
- Look at both keyword search volumes and pay per click data.
- Consider populating keywords for groups of pages to speed things up.
- Does the keyword selection fit with the pages internal and external anchor text profile?.
- Is the keyword selection for the page similar to other pages within the website? try to minimise on similarities.
Remember keyword research can take time, but will set the foundations for an effective SEO campaign.
Using Spreadsheets for Data
Excel spreadsheets are a great way to store data from your keyword research. Consider creating an advanced spreadsheet which includes fields such as:
Keyword, Priority, Local Monthly Searches, Average Cost Per Click, Target URL, Page Anchor Text (Internal), Page Anchor Text (External).
Here are some useful plugins, tools and resources for Microsoft Excel to assist with your keyword research:
- Alchemy API VB Script for Microsoft Excel (Macro Based)
This plugin can help you save lots of time by processing a list of URL's which you can receive a list of keywords from. This data can be used for both core keyword research and page by page keyword research.
- SEO Tools for Excel (Macro Based)
This plugin is another time saving feature which can help populate lots of additional data for your keyword research stage. With the SEO tools for excel plugin, you can analyse onpage elements, create scorecards and reports, look at backlink data, scrape websites and web services sourcing the data into Excel directly, carry out domain research, import analytics data and lots more. SEO Tools for excel also runs on functions (VBA) allowing for custom data imports, data manipulation and many other data types.
- Microsoft AdCenter
This tool can also be used to evaluate keyword search volumes, cost per click data and more. AdCenter is the equivalent to Google analytics and provides a wealth of data which can be used for keyword research.
Save time when performing large scale keyword research. Websites quickly grow in size, making the keyword research process quite long winded and time consuming. MergeWords can help reduce the time needed to look at large volumes of keyword data along with suggestions & more. By entering strings of keywords into each mergewords box you can generate hundreds of keyword combinations which can be placed straight into adwords for keyword research.