Learn the Basics of Keyword Research

Imagine that you were about to embark on a cross country drive from New York to Los Angeles.  Now imagine that you have no GPS, no map and no idea where you’re going.  That is exactly what trying to optimize a site without doing keyword research is like.  Nothing is more important to your initial SEO strategy than keyword research. Many small business owners don’t even know where to begin, so the effort put into optimizing a site to perform well in organic search results is often wasted and the ultimate result is a great deal of frustration.

It would be pretty easy to rank in the number one position for “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious cupcakes”, but how many people actually use that term in a keyword search?  I’ll answer that question for you:  none.  Step one of any organic SEO strategy must be to identify the keyword terms that apply to your site and determine which of them generate the greatest number of searches.  Without keyword research there is no way to properly optimize the title, META tags, text content, etc.

Step 1:  Finding Popular Keyword Terms

Choosing and sticking to some good search engine marketing software is the key. There are a large number of keyword suggestion tools to choose from.  I have selected the three that follow for their ease of use…and it doesn’t hurt that they’re also free.

  • Free Keyword Suggestion Tool from Keyword Discovery – this is the most simple and straight forward of the featured tools.  Rather than reporting the average number of searches from each search engine individually, it consolidates the number of searches from various search engines into one, easy to understand average number.  It’s a good tool to use to get an idea of the popularity of a particular search term in a very general sense.This tool also provides a list of terms based on the seed keyword you start with.  For example, if you input the term “ipod”, this tool will report the average number of searches done for that specific term, as well as the average number of searches for other terms that include the original seed keyword – like “ipod touch”, “ipod nano”, etc.
  • SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tool – this tool operates under the same premise as Keyword Discovery’s free tool, but it provides much more detailed information.  The SEO Book tool provides results from Google, Yahoo! and MSN separately, rather than combining the estimated searches into one all-inclusive number.  SEO Book also provides links to other useful research tools like Google Trends, Google Suggest and Google Insights.Like the Keyword Discovery tool, this tool provides a list of related terms that include the term input in your initial query.  While the amount of information provided by this tool can seem overwhelming initially, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with this data – if not right away, then at some point in the future.  This is one of my favorite tools.
  • Google Adwords Keyword Tool – perhaps the most noteworthy feature of this tool is that it actually comes from Google.  Essentially that means that you’re gleaning the data right from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.  Yes, you do have to have and be logged in to your Google Account.  If you don’t have a Google Account, sign up for one.Google’s keyword tool is particularly useful because, unlike the other two, it also provides a list of related terms that don’t necessarily include the actual seed keyword.  What does that mean exactly?  In short, it means you may input the term “ipod” as the seed keyword, but the Google Adwords tool will provide you with search volume data for related terms like “mp3 player” and “4th generation”.  This is a just a glimpse into how search engines have evolved over time and that organic search results are generated based not only on the specific term used in the query, but on semantically related terms.

Step 2:  Assessing Keyword Term Competition

Now that you’ve created a list of popular terms that apply to your site, the next step is determining how competitive those terms are.  Let’s be honest…”ipod” may be the most popular term that applies to your website, but that doesn’t mean it is a good term to target.  The competition for that term is ridiculously high.  That said, there are several ways to assess the competitiveness of a search term so you can choose realistic terms that apply to your website.

First, simply do a Google search using the term.  This is a very basic approach, but it can provide useful information and help you avoid wasting time doing more in-depth research into a term’s competition.  When you input “ipod” into a Google search the query returns about 240 million results.  Move on.  Focusing on a term with such enormous competition is not realistic for most websites.  Targeting a more specific term, like “refurbished ipod nano”, increases your likelihood of success substantially.

Once you’ve checked out the terms by doing a normal search, it’s time to take things a step further.  Rather than simply using the term itself in the search this time, input the term preceded by “allintitle:” (i.e. “allintitle:refurbished ipod nano” – without the quotation marks, of course).  This query will let you know how many website pages exist what that particular target term in the page title.

Similarly, doing a query for the same keyword term preceded by “allinanchor:” (i.e. “allinanchor:refurbished ipod nano” – again, without he quotation marks) will let you know the number of pages linked to with that particular anchor text.  Because the search engines use the anchor text of links to a page to help them to determine what a given page is about, anchor text is very important them.  Search engines also take the anchor text and number of links into account when ranking a page for that term, so knowing how many pages are linked to using that term is very useful.  As you would expect, the larger the number of results for the allintitle: and allinanchor: queries, the greater the competition is for that term.

Putting the Pieces Together

Once you’ve gathered useful competitive data on the list of applicable target terms for your site, the question becomes what to do next.  Rather than trying to optimize a page for an unrealistic term, like “ipod”, you can use the data you’ve collected via the allintitle: and allinanchor: queries to choose terms that are popular, but not ultra-competitive.  That is the key to developing a successful organic SEO strategy for your website – not only as it relates to on-page SEO factors titles, META tags and text content, but to link building strategies, as well.

Written by
Alysson Fergison
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