What is the “correct” way to do keyword research and how do you do it? You’ve searched online and found guides, steps, how-to’s, manifestos, whatever might have you, but they all suggest different things. If you’re anything like me, searching probably left you more confused than when you started. So, which method should you follow?
Originally, my intent for this post was to present a few of the best keyword research methods, but after a week’s journey through webs of research, litres of coffee, and one-on-one’s with SEM experts – I found that all of the methods were generally the same (and technically all correct). Give or take a few “ultimate guides”, there was a tendency to follow a base structure which made the differing methods all viable ways of effectively keyword researching. There is no best way to research, but rather just an underlying method that people build on and alter to work for them. So, instead of giving you the razzle and dazzle of superfluous steps from multiple methods, I’m going to be sharing with you the bare essentials of keyword research. Think of this like a starter kit that gives you a foundation to build upon – to create a method that suits your organization and its specific SEM needs (whether it’s for organically ranking or for PPC use). My fellow search engine marketers and optimizers, I present to you the base for keyword research.
Before we dive head in, let’s go over some groundwork to keyword researching.
The goal of keyword research is to find popular terms and queries on search engines for SEM. This can be for organic ranking (SEO) or for PPC campaigns. It’s importance lies in helping you find the same search terminology your searchers are using to find your area of interest online. The end product of keyword research is to have lists of words and phrases that will match the lingo of relevant searchers. This links back to the overarching concept of inbound marketing – staying relevant and accessible to your customers when they are looking for you.
Keep in mind what your keywords will be used for in relation to your online business presence and potential searching customers. A keyword may not be relevant for optimizing a web page that’s focused on bringing awareness of general information to an individual who’s interested in buying a specific product. Keywords should always have intent for your audience, whether it’s for awareness (giving preliminary information), consideration (product info for those comparing), or for buying (customer’s looking to purchase). Intention for keywords should be at the forefront of your mind while researching. This may seem like research overkill, but it’s vital to a successful SEO strategy. Now that we’re all on the same page, shall we?
The foundation of your research, if you can imagine, is a funnel (no surprise, like the hundreds of other marketing processes). It starts out with finding general keywords, specific keywords, and then finally sifts down to determining your most optimal keywords. Broken down, this keyword research funnel can have 4 basic phases:
- Gather Some More
Most, if not all researchers begin with a brainstorming phase to collect broad and commonsensical keywords relative to the organization of keyword interest. Otherwise known as seed keywords, these are base industry topics and terms. Seed keywords along with more specifics later on in the process, should be listed and organized on a spreadsheet (or an organizer) for ease of accessibility and categorization. Quantity of words is what you should be looking for; deciding on the quality will come later.
Remember, these keywords will be used to optimize your organization’s website, so looking internally at your organization’s site for potential keywords is crucial. Ask yourself the questions, what services or products am I offering and what would a searcher type for on Google to find me?
Inserting your industry keyword into Google Search and Keyword Planner can give you suggestions to associated PPC searches that are popular on the search engine. Google Trends on the other hand can give you popular organic keyword search suggestions.
You should also look to competitors’ websites that are currently ranking well on Google’s search engine. You can do this by looking at their website and sub-page categories, or scanning their website’s source code for keyword tags, title tags, and description tags.
Alternatively, you could also use Google Keyword Planner to automatically scan a site simply by inputting the website url. This could be used for competitors’ sites as well as your own site
Possible seed keywords for the incredible Bob’s Bakery might be…
Bakery, Bread, Cake, Pastry, Pie
2) Gather Some More
After gathering comes some more gathering. We aren’t necessarily looking for gold nuggets yet, but we’re pick-axing at the rocks we gathered in the previous phase. Refined gathering is really just collecting keywords using our already-gathered seed keywords and expanding. Some of these keywords will be more specific words that stem from the seeds, branching out towards the likes of queries or long tail keywords.
With your spreadsheet you should now be creating supplementary lists to your seed keywords with modifiers – which are essentially words that create sub-categories and longer tails of your seeds when combined. These modifiers comprise of categories that change the semantic of a search (i.e. negative keywords, location, quality, type, buying, informational, etc.…) For example, searching “bakery + song lyrics” would completely change the meaning of someone’s search from a place that sells flour based goods to a song about baked goodies. Therefore, “song lyrics” as you’d expect would fall under a negative keywords modifier, as it’s probably something Bob would not want to rank for.
The Negative Modifier
Negative keywords are critical to keyword research because of their capability as anti-keywords, keywords you don’t want to rank for. From an organic perspective it’s highly beneficial if you wanted to avoid being associated with a topic or a service (ie. Bob’s Bakery might only sell cakes but not cupcakes). For PPC use, negative keywords would save you tons of wasted ad dollars on what would have been irrelevant consumers that aren’t necessarily looking for your services.
Similar to the first phase, you can input your seed keywords into Google Search, Trends, or Keyword Planner to see suggested and related long tails. Tools such as Ubersuggest can automatically give you popular suggested long tail keywords for the entire alphabet following a seed keyword after it’s typed on a search bar.
Bob at this point would have extra columns of lists that add more to his original list of keywords that are more specific. So some of his keywords may now look something like this.
Bakery Queen Street East
Bakery Greater Toronto Area
Whole Wheat Bread
With your list of keywords, you should now be filtering the fool’s gold from the good stuff – deciding which keywords will be retained. The general method is to evaluate your keywords’ search volume and competitiveness. It sounds easy enough, but there are millions of ways to be thorough and accurate when filtering, not to mention hundreds of keyword tools to pick from. Regardless, the main idea is to assess your keywords’ search volume and competitiveness, and to sort them into buckets based on future intent. By the end of this phase you should have lists of your final keywords.
Keyword research tools will give you a gauge of a keyword’s search volume and competitiveness – useful for determining if a keyword is well worth your time. Generally, you want a keyword with high search volume and low competitiveness because that means there are lots of people looking for something and not a lot of websites competing for those search rankings. However, the odds of coming across this scenario is unlikely, like a world made of ice cream and cake (maybe in Bob’s world). So you’re looking for the next best thing, which can virtually come from any combination of volume and competition (as “good” is relative to your industry and context). For example, a keyword with low search volume and high competition could be beneficial as its low volume may produce high sales and marketing qualified leads (this may be the reason for its high competition). So above all else, use your discretion because there is no exact standard of good.
Filtering can be as complicated or simple as you like. The specific tools and methods are ultimately up to your preference – it depends on what works for you. These filter tools will be used to measure your keywords’ competitiveness and search volume. Below are some popular filtering tools:
Part of the filtering process involves bucketing. This means to categorize your keyword lists even further, based on searcher intent (awareness, consideration, or buying) or broader relevance (brand terms, competitor terms, misspelled terms, etc….). It really comes in handy when you’re managing a paid search campaign, as you have better control of where and how much of your budget is invested in customers at their different purchasing stages. Regardless, PPC or not, bucketing ultimately allows for better organization and prioritization of your keywords for future use in your marketing strategy.
In most cases you want a good mix of long tail keywords and short tail keywords because they serve different purposes to different searchers. As mentioned previously, remember that intention for keywords should always be at the forefront of your mind while researching. Long tail keywords serve the purpose of targeting individuals searching for specific goods with intention to buy. Meanwhile, broader keywords are for individuals searching the web with informational intent. However, it’s really up to your judgment to decide how many of your final keywords will be long or short tail.
Phases 1 to 3 can be repeated as many times as you’d like before you have your final keywords. Thoroughness of researching really depends on your industry circumstances, SEO goals, and personal preference.
In a general sense, Bob’s keyword lists could now look something like this.
Best Bakery on Queen Street East
Best Bakery in Greater Toronto Area
Best Bakery in Toronto
New York City
Best Bakery in New York City
Best Bakery in Manhattan
Best Bakery on East 8th Street
Types of Raisin Bread
Raisin Bread Brands
Fresh Raisin Bread
How to Make the Best Cake
What is Cake
At this point, your keywords are ready for implementation in your marketing strategy. However, the process of keyword research isn’t finished just yet. Throughout the lifetime use of your keywords you should monitor your list, periodically updating. Continually go through the keyword research process to update or discard ineffective keywords, finding and adding new keywords if possible. Ask yourself, is the keyword still producing ROI? Are other keywords necessary? Has industry terminology changed? Along with these questions, use your judgement when monitoring your keywords.
And that’s it to basic keyword research. Keep in mind, that this structure for keyword research is basic. You don’t have to follow this format exactly; this is a method to help you understand the underpinning of keyword research and how to fundamentally do it. So, feel free to think outside the box when trying to fish for those keywords and start looking at more advanced methods. The one lesson I learned from researching how to do keyword research: there is no one specific way.
Thanks for tuning into the blog. If you have any questions, feedback, or comments do type some lines in the box below! I’d love to hear your thoughts on my basic keyword research structure and I’d love to hear variations on the ways you keyword research.
Special thanks to Dat To, Ken Fobert, Marc Nashaat, Matthew Hunt, and Michael Smith for their keyword research expertise.