As a newbie to SEO, the infinite number of highly technical posts surrounding keyword research, content optimisation and link building can be very daunting. With SEO it’s particularly important that you learn to walk before you begin even considering a run – the fall that will ensue could be quite painful.

Consequently, the best starting point is to gather a basic understanding of keywords, the role they play in an SEO campaign and how you can conduct some basic keyword research.

Luckily for you, I’ve spent the past seven years improving and refining the process that I use for researching SEO keywords (amongst many other things!). Within this article I’m going to give you the answers that you need surrounding keyword research without overwhelming you with technical detail. By the end of reading this post you should have a grasp of the following:

  1. What keyword research is used for.
  2. The role that keywords play within an SEO campaign.
  3. How you can identify relevant keywords for your campaign.

Let’s Talk Keywords…

On the most basic level, a keyword is something that is searched for within a search engine that will return a list of results. These results are made up of different webpages that have been deemed relevant to the term searched for.

keyword-research-definition

The idea is that if this keyword is relevant to your website, you want your site to be appearing highly within this list of results to increase the chance of the user visiting.

You don’t need to worry about how you will get your website ranking well in the search engines at this stage; you just need to understand which search terms you’d like to have an appearance for.

There are three major factors that make up the suitability of a keyword for your campaign. They are:

  1. Relevance.
  2. Traffic Potential.
  3. Competition.

1. Relevance

In order to ensure that you’re bringing the right visitors through to your website, you need to ensure that the keywords you’re targeting are relevant to the content that you’ll be displaying to them.

If a user has searched for the keyword ‘buy car paint’ and they land on a webpage that talks about the different types of car tyres available then this is a seriously negative user experience. Even if you were to bring in a lot of traffic by ranking well for this keyword, the majority of the traffic would instantly be lost due to it not delivering the result the user is after.

This is a very important point to bear in mind. Traffic isn’t everything – sometimes less is more.

2. Traffic Potential

Alongside the keywords being relevant to the content that you’ll be displaying, there should be a significant amount of potential traffic that could be driven back to your website as a result of ranking highly for it.

You will be able to see how many times a keyword is search for each month via Keyword Eye. Based on monthly search volumes, you’re able to predict potential traffic based around ranking in various positions in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

serp_ctr

Image source: http://moz.com/ugc/how-to-get-more-clicks-with-low-rankings

There have been loads of studies into the click-through rate of search results within the SERPs. In general, a good figure to go with is between 30-40% for ranking at the top of page one.

For example, if a keyword was searched for 10,000 times every month, you could expect between 3-4,000 visits to your webpage if you ranked at #1 in Google.

3. Competition

As well as ensuring the keyword is relevant and searched for regularly, you need to be aware of the competition surrounding it within the SERPs. By this I mean, how easy will it be to achieve good search engine rankings for this keyword?

As a general rule, the higher the monthly search volume of a keyword, the higher the competition. Now, there are exceptions here but this is generally the case.

You’ll need to be able to identify when a keyword is going have a high level of competition to rank for this in order to calculate your ROI effectively.

keyword-factors

Onto the Keyword Research…

The first stage of your keyword research is to map out some ideas for what it is that you’re trying to target. Forget about search volumes, relevance and competition at this stage, just focus on the basic – what is it you’re trying to bring people through to?

Let’s use the example of a consumer electronics retailer. Before they even begin looking at the likes of the search terms people are searching for, e.g. buy plasma televisions online, they would need to map out all the different products/services/themes associated with the business.

This could look like this:

  • USB flash drives
  • Plasma televisions
  • Consumer electronics
  • Surround sound systems
  • Home cinema
  • Keyboards
  • PC monitors

You get the idea…

Once you’ve mapped out an extensive list of the different products/services/themes of your business, it’s time to drill down into the search phrases associated with them – this is where you’ll need some help from Keyword Eye.

keyword-suggestion

The first step is to navigate to New>Keyword>Suggestion. You can then search for one of the terms within your list of products/services/themes. For example, USB flash drives.

Keyword Eye will go through and find any search terms that are related to the one that you’ve inputted and supply you with a ton of extra data surrounding them. For example, monthly search volume, PPC competition and the number of webpages shown in the results (a good indication of how competitive it is).

usb-flash-drives-cloud

You’ll also have a word cloud with all of the results so that you can visualise each of the suggestions in a way that is easy to break down. You can order the size of the word based on search volume so that it becomes easy to find any keywords that are searched for regularly.

I often use this feature to get inspiration for new search terms. For example, within the above screenshot I can see that many people refer to USB drives as pen drives, thumb drives and USB sticks. This is really useful to know as you can add these terms into your main list of keywords.

The best process for gathering and analysing keywords is to go to the Grid View tab and then download the list of keywords to an Excel spreadsheet (via the Download button). I always find that it’s much easier to go through keywords once you’ve got them in Excel.

Refining Your Keywords

Once you’ve gathered a big list of keywords for each of your products/services/themes that you outlined, you need to go through and refine the list. This will include checking that they are relevant, that they’re searched for enough and also grouping them into categories.

spreadsheet-keywords

Once you’ve downloaded your keywords, they should look something like this (see above).

The first thing that I do at this stage is to go through all of the keywords and just remove any of those that are obviously irrelevant. For example, in the USB flash drives example, there were keywords like what is flash and portable office which are completely irrelevant for people coming through to buy these products. These would be deleted from my list.

Once you’ve done this, you need to separate the short tail and the long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are generally longer in length and more specific. Short tail keywords are shorter in length and are generally broader.

For example, a short tail keyword would be USB drives. An example of a long tail keyword would be what is a USB flash drive?

search-demand-curve

Source: http://moz.com/

You can see in the diagram above that there are many more long tail keywords than there are short tail (fat head and chunky middle). 70% of all keywords are long tail keywords and this is usually the largest source of overall traffic to a website. Individually they may not be searched for a lot, but ranking well for a number of them can bring in serious numbers of traffic.

You will usually have a base set of short tail keywords that you can then build out variations of long tail keywords to target alongside this. For example, with the short tail keyword, Plasma TVs, you could have a whole host of long tail keywords, such as:

  • 32 inch Plasma TVs
  • Where to buy Plasma TVS
  • Plasma TVs with free UK delivery
  • How do Plasma TVs work?
  • Are Plasma TVs better than LCD TVs?
  • Thin profile Plasma TVs

Starting to get the idea?

Once you group your keywords within your spreadsheet, you’ll make it a lot easier for you to select specific pages on your website that you want to focus sets of keywords to.

Alongside the fact that you can easily assign keyword groups to specific page of your website, you can also get an idea of the total monthly search volume for each keyword set. All this requires you to do is calculate the sum of the monthly search volume (which Keyword Eye provides) for all of the keywords related to one product/service/theme.

This will make it much easier for you to prioritise the keywords you’re targeting based on their potential ROI. Once you’ve got all this mapped out, you’re well on your way to getting a good understanding of the fundamentals of keyword research.

See, it’s not that bad!

TL;DR

  • Understand whether your keywords are relevant, have the potential to drive through traffic and that you can compete in the SERPs.
  • Map out a list of products/services/themes to identify keyword for.
  • Filter out irrelevant keywords from your master list.
  • Identify short tail and long tail keywords and group them.
  • Calculate the total monthly search volume for your keyword sets to estimate potential ROI.

Comments
Anita
Posted at 1:11 pm July 29, 2014
Anita
Reply
Author

Fabulous! Great post Matt. Thank you. I’ve just signed up to Keyword Eye and love the visuals. Looking forward to seeing more Aussie data :) Cheers! A.

    Matt Redford
    Posted at 11:30 am July 30, 2014
    Matt Redford
    Reply
    Author

    Thanks Anita! Glad you’re finding it useful. What Aussie data would you like to see more of? :)

Hillary
Posted at 9:42 am July 30, 2014
Hillary
Reply
Author

Great tips on keyword research, Matt. Thanks.

One question though.

I have seen some longtail keywords which have reasonable # of searches and very low competition but are not grammatically ‘correct’. Eg. “8 gig usb flash drives buy delivery free” (I just thought this up, not real).

I could create a sensible sentence on my page to fit this keyword as it is but is it even worth it? Do good long tail keywords have to be grammatically correct or what?

    Matt Redford
    Posted at 11:27 am July 30, 2014
    Matt Redford
    Reply
    Author

    Hi Hillary :) No problem!

    I wouldn’t fit in keywords / sentences that are grammatically incorrect. This wouldn’t be good for usability and wouldn’t read well. Using the example you provided this tells you that users are looking to buy 8GB USB flash drives with free delivery. This is a good indicator as to what users are looking for on a product page. I’d make sure that the product features are highlighted in key areas of the page (title tag, heading, product description etc.). In addition (if the business allows it) I would promote the fact that free delivery is available on the page too. This could be within key areas as well as banners for example. By doing this you’re creating a page which is good for users and one which should start to rank for long tail phrases like the example you provided.

Susan Hornbach
Posted at 5:47 pm August 2, 2014
Susan Hornbach
Reply
Author

Thanks so much Matt. I just signed up. My children’s books are not out yet but I’m looking to find the right keys for each title. There are so many different directions you can go in for a children’s book title.

Such as if the book is fun to read, but also a nonfiction, and is about science, an easy reader, for middle grade, written for two age groups and is rhyming in one pat of thebook for younger children.

I suppose you could put all of that in there but would they be the best and most powerful keywords for the subject? I have to do more research. I want to bring in the buyers with words that draw, but don’t want to disappoint at the same time because my key words were misleading. My author friend Donna McDine, did a blog post about your site. so glad she did.

Donna McDine
Posted at 12:13 am August 16, 2014
Donna McDine
Reply
Author

Hi Matt,

I’m back from vacation and I’m finally getting caught up with email and visiting blogs and commenting. Valuable information and break down. Thanks!

Best,
Donna

    Matt Redford
    Posted at 8:55 pm August 20, 2014
    Matt Redford
    Reply
    Author

    No problem Donna – glad you found it useful :)

ARROW
Posted at 8:11 am November 26, 2014
ARROW
Reply
Author

Thank You!

Richard Saling
Posted at 4:03 am December 1, 2014
Richard Saling
Reply
Author

Great information. I used to work for a large SEO agency so much of this is familiar territory. The challenge I see though as a blogger is getting ranked even after performing the keyword research and making the post relevant to what I want to be found for such as “growing my business with online marketing” or “effective social media marketing”, etc. I think getting relevant backlinks from authority sites must play a big part to the equation. Naturally, we won’t even think about using black hat tactics.

Ben
Posted at 3:50 pm March 28, 2015
Ben
Reply
Author

Hello Matt,

Great tutorial and you seem to have a very interesting tool here. So much to learn though. Is LSI becoming more important than actual keywords?

Would a large site rank for LSI keywords related to the topic without specifically targeting keywords?

    Matt Redford
    Posted at 2:44 pm March 29, 2015
    Matt Redford
    Reply
    Author

    Hi Ben

    Thanks :) Search engines have become much smarter in how they interpret keywords within web pages. A natural, well written piece of content should contain relevant keywords related to the main topic. So, rather than just focus on one you could draft a list of relevant keywords to keep in mind prior to writing copy for the web. It’s a more natural way of looking at it. Hopefully our LSI tool will help you do just that!

Nancy
Posted at 10:38 pm April 30, 2015
Nancy
Reply
Author

Thank you, Matt, for making the essential concepts of SEO so clear! I am a visual person and appreciate your graphics and word clouds very much.

    Matt Redford
    Posted at 12:01 pm May 1, 2015
    Matt Redford
    Reply
    Author

    No problem Nancy :) Glad you’re finding it useful so far.

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