Keyword research is the first step when you’re starting your blog or affiliate niche site or when your writing a new post on your website.
But what does keyword research really mean? Well, for me it means finding those keywords or keyphrases that people are using in search engines like Google when they are looking for information, and after that analyzing each one in terms of competition and number of monthly search queries.
First of all there are 3 different types of keywords.
1. The “Head”: These are very popular keywords but there not worth targeting by their own because most of the times they’re related to big brand names, for example: Facebook, Google, Wikipedia… but also general terms like marketing, fashion, etc.
2. The “Body”: These are two or three words that form a more specific search query. For example: internet marketing or internet marketing strategies, Youtube funny videos.
3. The “Tail”: Or the long tail keywords. These usually contain more than three keywords and get less searched than the Head and Body keywords but there are more of them. They often come in the form of a question, here are some examples: how to build a blog, what are the latest fashion trends… you get my point.
Creating an Initial Keyword List
Now considering that you’ve chosen a topic on which you want to start a niche site or write a new blog post, its time to brainstorm what keywords you want to rank for. This is very important, because if you won’t focus on a set of specific keywords to rank for and just be all over the place, its more likely that you won’t rank for anything.
Creating your initial keyword list shouldn’t be hard, there are a lot of ways you can do this. The first step to this process is to find the seed keywords, these represent your niche site’s main topic. Here are 5 different strategies to help you do this:
1. Think like a customer
Ask yourself what would you search for when looking for your products/services or the information you provide. You can use a free tool such as Seed Keywords. All you have to do is create a scenario for a search query and a url will be given to you to share it with your contacts and then see the results. An example scenario would be “You’re starting a website and you have no idea how to do keyword research, what would you search for?”. Then all you have to do is bookmark the link and share it. You will find the results on the same link.
2. Look at the Google “related searches” box
You can find this box right at the bottom of the search results page. Just type in your main keyword in the search box to see related searches that include it.
3. Use the Google Adwords contextual targeting tool
You can find this in your Google Adwords account under the “tools and analysis” tab, all you need is a Google Adwords account which is free to create. It’s Google’s new Wonder Wheel.
4. Browsing Q&A sites like Yahoo Answers or Quora
As I’ve mentioned in the beginning of my post a lot of the long tail keywords are formed as a question. Yahoo Answer has a massive database full of questions and answers on any topic you can think of. Questions are most often addressing a problem, and problems can be heavily monetized by providing useful solutions.
5. Use Google Trends
This can help you establish the popularity your chosen keyword has on Google, and some additional related keywords that are on the rise. A great way to put this tool to use is to look for popular searches on specific dates, holidays, sports events and other events that get a huge media coverage. Looking at popular search queries from the past will give you a pretty good idea on what people will search in the future on a specific day or month.
Ranking your keywords based on the number of search queries
After you’ve got yourself an average of 20 to 40 keywords the next step is to rank them based on the number of monthly search queries. You can do this very easily for free using the Google keyword research tool or if you’re using Firefox you can install the SeoBook Firefox Addon which will give you the monthly searches for Bing and Yahoo along with a lot of insights.
If you’re starting a niche site I recommend that you stick with keywords that are averaging 4000 – 7000 monthly searches, these are most likely to have low seo competition.
The Google Adwords keyword tool is free to use but you should create an Adwords account which is also free. If you have a Gmail email use that to login to Adwords. You should do this because you will get 800 keyword ideas based on your initial keywords instead of only 100 without an account.
Now insert each of your keywords in the first box of the Google keyword tool.
Make sure you have selected [Exact Match] for your keywords on the left side panel. You want to find out how many monthly searches the exact match of your keyword or keyphrase gets.
So far so good, now let’s analyze the results.
In the above picture are the stats for the keywords you inserted in the keyword box at the top of the page. It will give you the number of searches world-wide, the local monthly searches based on the location you selected, the paid search advertiser competition and an estimate of how much a click on an ad containing this click would cost, in other words how much you get paid for a click on your website for that keyword.
Go through these results and choose keywords in 4000-7000 range for global searches.
If your planning to monetize your site with Adsense choose keywords that have high advertiser competition, these will earn you more money per click.
It’s also a good thing to pay attention to the search trends on each keyword, it will give you an idea on future number of searches for it.
Based on the keywords you inserted more related keywords and keyphrases will be generated for you to choose from.
So now you’ve chosen your keywords based on the number of searches they get each month, but your work is far from over.
Some keywords will be more difficult to rank for, preferably on the first page of Google and it could take you a lot of time. You should target difficult keywords only if you’re 100% sure you can get to first page, otherwise stick with keywords that are easier to rank for.
This leads us to the next step in the keyword research process, checking the competition.
Time to check the competition for each keyword
Obviously some keywords will be more difficult than others to rank for. You’re going to want to look for 3 things when it comes to keyword difficulty:
- Competition: This is the number of pages indexed by the search engine for a search query.
- Authority: This involves the webpage authority and the overall domain authority which is determined by the quality and quantity of incoming links(backlinks).
- Relevance: Is the content on that webpage relevant to the search query? This includes on page keyword optimization but also the presence of the targeted keyword in the anchor text of incoming links.
This is the number of pages Google has indexed for the specific search query. Now, this will not tell you what the competition for that keyword is, or how difficult it will be for you to rank for it. Your goal is to rank your webpage on the first page of the search results, to do that you need to analyze the top 10 pages that rank for your chosen keyword.
What to look for when analyzing the top 10 ranking webpages
This step gives you a very good idea on how difficult it will be to rank for your keyword on the first page of Google. The main factors are Authority and Relevance. So here is how you analyze each of these 2 criteria.
Domain authority and page authority, basically this tells you what are the chances for a page or a domain to rank high for any given content. You can read this post from Seomoz if you want to know more about domain authority.
Both domain and page authority are influenced by a variety of factors, what we’re interested in is the age of the page or domain and the number and quality of the incoming links to that page or domain which also influences the Google Page Rank.
You can easily check this using a free tool such as the SeoBook extension for Firefox.
You won’t need to look at all the data this tool provides you with, in the above picture I’ve highlighted what you need to investigate. OSE links means Open Site Explorer links to the page and to the domain.
Open Site explorer also shows you the authority of the page or domain from where the incoming link is coming from. Based on that you will have some idea of the quality of each incoming link. Not all incoming links carry value or in other words are “do follow” links. So what you need to look for are the do follow links that carry link juice.
The Page Rank of the top 10 positions is another thing you should be aware of which is also dictated by the number and quality of the backlinks it has. Although there are a lot of websites or pages that out rank higher PR sites, it’s better to take page rank into account too.
Now, when you look at relevance the important thing to figure out is this: is the ranking page or domain specifically targeting that keyword or it’s just randomly mentioning it in their content.
A lot of websites are ranking for specific keywords without any intent or optimization for those keywords, simply because it’s mentioned within the page’s content. If this is the case, than you should be confident that you can outrank these pages even if they have a high page rank with more relevant content and a minimal number of backlinks.
So, in order to find out if the page is targeting the keyword you will have to look at the keyword use on that page:
1. Is the keyword in the title of the page/website?
2. Is the keyword in the description?
3. Is the keyword used in the URL?
4. Is the keyword in the subheadings(H2, H3)?
5. Is the keyword in the body/content of that page or website?
6. Is the ranking page a home page or just an individual page?
If a home page is targeting that keyword its most likely the whole website is centered around it.
They are both free to use and will give you all the data you need, so you can figure out if a page or website is actually targeting that keyword and the level of optimization for the keyword or they just happen to mention it in a remote fashion.
So now that we’ve gathered all the data we need, the next step is to decide whether we want to go for a specific keyword or not, based on our keyword research data.
One more thing, insert all of the data you’ve gathered in an Excel file so you can have a clear view and make it easier for yourself to run everything through a selection process.
Keyword selection guidelines: To Be or Not To Be
This is the final stage of the keyword research process, and it involves running each keyword through a selection procedure.
The rules based on which you decide if a keyword is approachable or is too difficult to target are not the same for everyone. If you’ve got the resources to do it and your confident you would rank for that keyword you can definitely target even high competition keywords.
But if you’re starting a fresh niche site or a blog here are some guidelines you should consider following when making your final keyword selection:
Go for keywords where not all results have the exact keyword in their title
At least 2 of the top 10 results have 0 or less than 10 incoming links.
At least 2 of the top 10 results have Page Rank 0.
At least 4 of the top 10 ranking pages are not the root domain(home page).
Finding the keywords that match these selection criteria will probably take you a bit of time to do, but it will be less difficult to rank for them on the first page of the search results.
However if you’re confident that you can rank for a specific keyword and got the resources to do so you should definitely go for it, even if it doesn’t follow the guidelines above.
Free tools to help you with keyword research
I’ve mentioned a couple of tools that I use to help me find keywords and determine the competition for each one. Here is a list with all the tools:
Adwords Keyword Tool – Free tool from Google.
Seobook Firefox extensions – You need Mozilla Firefox to use this tool.
SEOquake Toolbar – Works with Firefox and Chrome.
These tools are all free to use and can provide you with all the information you need to make the decision of going for a keyword or not. The key to using these tools is to put all of the gathered data in one place where you can make comparisons between the competition for each keyword and the number of searches it gets monthly.
Paid keyword research tools worth mentioning
If you took the time to read the entire post(thank you!) and not just scan it, by this time you probably know that you can do effective keyword research without the use of any paid tools.
However paid tools have their advantages. First of all the time you spend on analyzing the competition for each keyword will be greatly reduced, because all of the information you need the make your decision is organized neatly in one place. Secondly it makes your life a whole lot easier when you’re working on multiple projects at the same time, whether we’re talking about niche sites or individual blog posts. If you’re juggling your “9 to 5 job” with blogging as I am, I’m sure you can appreciate the importance of saving time and increasing your productivity.
The only keyword research tool I use and recommend to others is Long Tail Pro(affiliate link). It drastically reduces the time I spend on keyword research and finding domains for building new niche sites.
I won’t go over the advantages of using this tool and how it’s better than other tools on the market, I’m basically addicted to it and its the keyword research tool I recommend all the time. If you’re interest in what Long Tail Pro is about, here is a video tutorial on how I do keyword research using this tool.
So I’ve reached the end of my keyword research guide, hope you found it useful.
If there is anything I left out please let me know through the commenting box. If not I’d still love to hear your thoughts on keyword research and niche marketing.
Before I end this I just want to let you know that I am an affiliate for Long Tail Pro, and if you decide to go through my affiliate link I will receive a commission without any extra cost to you, so thank you for your support and I really appreciate it.