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Keyword Research


Keyword research is a critical part of any SEO campaign, and just as successful offline advertising appeals to a certain target demographic, successful websites use keywords with high relevance. Research for choosing your keywords is therefore important because:

  • It will bring in valuable search traffic to the site
  • Enhance user's experience
  • Help you find other areas of opportunity for a site's success

Search Queries

Based on the data below, you can see that search users overwhelmingly choose a few keywords when searching for products and services.

  1. 2 Word phrases - 28.91%
  2. 3 Word Phrases - 27.85%
  3. 4 Word Phrases - 17.11%
  4. 1 Word Phrases - 11.43%
  5. 5 Word Phrases - 8.25%
  6. 6 Word Phrases - 3.68%
  7. 7 Word Phrases - 1.59%

These users also want to find what they are looking for quickly, and according to a recent stats by Jupiter Research (2006), 62% of users clicked on a result that was listed on the first page, and 90% click on a link within the first three pages. Therefore if a site doesn't appear within these pages, it is unlikely they will receive much traffic.

Step 1 - Brainstorming

The first stage of researching keywords for your site is to generate a list of terms and phrases relevant to the industry and what the site or business offers. This could produce a list of between a dozen to several hundred keywords.

How to brainstorm

  • List all of the most important words and phrases currently on the site
  • Record important valuable words and phrases on your competitor sites
  • Put yourself in the mindset of the client's customer and vendors and think about what they would search for to find the service or products you provide
  • Use a thesaurus to research synoyms for your core keywords

Step 2 - Estimate numbers

Get a count for the keywords in your list using some of the following tools:

You will need to be conscious of the fact that since each tool can provide data over different time periods, you'll have to adjust the data so that they all represent counts over the same time span.

Because each tool takes their data from different sources, it is difficult to accurately compare one tool's search count versus another's. So it is advised to take an average. For example, if Keyword Discovery reports 2427 searches for the keyword "shoelaces", Word Tracker reported 5424 searches, and another tool reported 3503 the average would be 3785. This number will serve as a good metric for comparison.

At this point, your keyword spreadsheet will have one column for the keyword, a column for each keyword research tool and a column that lists the average count for each term.

Step 3 - Add expanded phrases and new terms

Expand your current list of keywods and phrases by adding a new term that the various research tools suggest. Try to compile a large variety of keywords and phrases from the tools and get search estimates for each of these additional keywords. Remember, only add relevant keywords that will bring valuable traffic.

Step 4 - Give the keywords a relevancy score

Once you have built your list of potential keywords go through each term and estimate what you think its relevancy is to your site [0% - 100%, with 0% being the least relevant keywords and 100% being the most relevant].

For example, say you are selling wedding dresses. Your list of keywords includes wedding dresses, wedding gowns, bridal gowns, bridsmaid dresses, bridesmaid gowns and prom dresses. "Wedding Dresses" and "Wedding Gowns" will have 100% relevancy score because that is exactly what the site provides. The terms "Weddings" would probably have an 40-50% relevancy score because although the site sells wedding dresses, it does not sell other wedding related products, like "Wedding cakes". Lastly, if your site doesn't sell prom dresses, then the keyword would get a 0% score.

Conversely, if you notice that "Prom Dresses" gets a lot of search traffic you may have identified a potentially good opportunity.

Estimating keyword relevancy not only eliminates the least relevant keywords but it also highlights opportunities for expanding your services in order to capitalize on less relevant, highly trafficked terms.

Step 5 - Estimate competition and difficulty

There are various ways to estimate how competitive a keyword can be:

  • Use keyword research tools - KeyCompete, SpyFu, Adwords Keyword tool estimator and Keyword Discovery all have features that allow you to see how highly competitive a keyword is.
  • Search for a keyword and see which sites are being displayed in the top 10-30 results. See what terms these sites have in their title tags and anchor text. Pay attention to sites that repeatedly rank in the top results as these sites are your main competition.

Give each a percentage based on what you percieve their difficulty to be:

  • 0-15% - Non competitive, top rankings achievable with well optimized on-page keyword use.
  • 16-30% - Low competition, top rankings achieved with well optimized on-page keywords and light weight link strength.
  • 31-45% - Slightly competitive, top rankings require well optimized on-page use and moderate link strength.
  • 46-60% - Competitive, top rankings achievable only with highly optimized on-page content and substantial link strength.
  • 61-75% - Highly competitive term, top rankings require on-page optimization, well established history and robust link strength.
  • 76-90% - Exceptionally competitive term, top rankings only achievable with highly established site and overwhelming link strength.
  • 91% + - Among the most competitive terms on the web, only the most powerful sites can achieve rankings.

Step 6 - Choose the keywords you want to compete for

It is crucial to know each keyword's difficulty and competitiveness, as choosing competitive keywords will require more work, and will be much harder.

Often, the greatest amount of value in search referrals comes from the "long tail" or rarely-searched, low volume keywords. So, when choosing your keywords, you need to take into account how long the site has been around and how much time is going to be put into link building.

It is suggested that you choose up to 10 keywords and focus on these to start with.


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