Complete Guide to Keyword Research for SEO
Consider that you already own a fully functional business website, whether it’s a product based e-commerce site or a services site promoting your local business and collecting contact information with a view to making bookings and appointments.
Whichever you have, and whether or not you are the authority in the field, knowing how to do keyword research for SEO is fundamental and directly relates to the success of your site, because it’s important to know, and focus on, exactly what the top keyword trends people are usually using when they want something which you provide.
Researching what the best keywords are should be your first step when considering making new content, in this complete guide I will simplify the details and teach you an actionable method of exactly how to conduct your research using free resources, giving you a competitive edge over other search engine marketers. Even though the concept has been around for at least Twenty years, you might be surprised at how lax your competition is when it comes to addressing this essential step in the online promotion business.
By having a read of this guide you’ll discover how to compete online by writing content which people actually search for. Closely following the steps we show and using the tools we recommend, you should be able to structure your content with synonyms and much more, with a view to rising in the SERPS.
So what do we mean by what keywords people are searching for?
An example of what we mean when saying this is as follows :-
If people are looking to have a website created for them, they are likely to be using a search engine and entering keywords or terms such as ………
Example of Web Design
These are examples of keyword ideas people might be searching for and, as they are often multiple words in length, we can also describe these as search terms. They are the actual words your potential customer /audience is typing into the search box on Google (or any other search engine). The process of identifying what these words are is known as keyword research.
We can never assume to know exactly what words the public used without examining the data, not everyone enters the same search term – even though they are all looking to find the same answer.
Remember : Search terms contain keywords, keywords are the individual words, a search term may sometimes contain only one keyword.
Your business needs a keyword specific content strategy – our free guide can help.
The fact that your business needs to identify and research specific keywords and create a content strategy around them and the terms they form, is no secret to most online marketers and advertising agencies in general. However you’re at an advantage if you’re reading this guide from PhotonFlux, because researching is often seen as a cost, and no matter how hard I try to explain to business owners how important this free (if you do it yourself) research is – scepticism remains, it’s almost as though most company owners feel they know everything already.
Once they see the vast opportunities available amongst the diversity of search terms entered, their thinking swiftly changes! It is important to appreciate the value of the work undertaken, as it can actually make or break a business which is reliant on the performance of its website.
Remember : Just because marketing people know what a business needs – does not mean that every business owner has taken the knowledge on board.
What is SEO?
For the purpose of this guide, SEO or Search Engine Optimization is simply the process of doing “things” to a web page which make it rank higher in the Google search listings (known as the SERP – or Search Engine Results Page) when someone enters a given search term or single keyword.
This is somewhat oversimplified, in fact, the SERP is broken up into different sections, here we are dealing with what is known as the “natural” listings – i.e those which are not built from ads or Google My Business entries. These form the section which we are all familiar with by the way it looks – as below.
Lets take an example of the overall goal. By performing your keyword research you’ve identified that the term “web design manchester” is one which you’d like your web page to appear for within the SERP – this could be just one of a set of different topics you can begin with.
SEO is the process of now making sure that you appear high up for it. Simple as that. Well, not quite – there’s a lot of study and quite a few tasks which need performing to ensure that Google associates your web page with the chosen / targeted search term – this is known as the assignment of document relevancy. In other words – how “relevant” is your web page to that search term.
High quality content is deemed to be that which contains all the right signals which effectively inform Google what the page is about and more to the point, that the page supplies the kind of information which the searcher wanted to see – this aspect is known as the intent. Intent is the reasoning behind the keyword and the user doing their research and is important for SEO, are they looking for information or are they looking to buy?
Why do keyword research for SEO?
As mentioned earlier, it’s not good enough to assume you already know what people enter into a search engine. There are innumerable text variations on even the most basic keyword searches and knowing this is important for your SEO efforts.
Additionally, there’s the competitive aspect to think about. Your competition may have been around for a much longer period of time than you have, and may have strong rankings for the keyword terms you want. You may also be in a highly competitive niche, in which case, again, rank will be more difficult to attain for the shorter and more sought after keywords.
This is why you need to do keyword research for SEO.
First of all you need to get a feel for what people are searching for. Then you need to analyze the results to find out which of the terms people enter you have a chance of ranking for (in particular if your domain is new). A new domain will have very little to zero chance of ranking for anything remotely competitive – Google won’t allow it – this is non-negotiable. With this in mind, researching keywords will help you find phrases which you DO have a chance of ranking for. These will tend to have a lower monthly search volume (how many people per month are searching for them) – but will be easier to get a high listing for because less competitors are targeting them. They tend to be longer terms (4 or more words) and are commonly known as “long tail keywords”.
As a final step – you can also then use Google Analytics or other software to check how beneficial your research has been.
Why do SEO?
For a website to survive and grow, it is essential that it gets visitors from within its niche market. Web hosting and associated services costs money, so at the very least a site has a small cost attached to it from the word go (this is after you paid to get it designed and professionally built).
One way to get visitors without having to pay cash for advertising is to perform SEO or Search Engine Optimization. If done correctly, you will get free traffic from the search engines which will hopefully convert into sales for your business.
One thing is certain, in today’s competitive online environment, you won’t get search engine traffic (visitors) if you don’t correctly configure your web pages for the topic and terms you determine you need to rank for. Luck plays no role in this – the algorithms developed over two decades are cold and hard, a site without the proper research and development behind it will be buried in the listings and quite literally – never be seen.
Studying and performing SEO is not a task to be taken lightly, given that the outcome (where your site ranks) can make or break your business, it’s more than worth the time investment if you’re inclined to do it yourself, and if you can find a trustworthy SEO / web marketing agency, then at the very least a consultation is often beneficial.
Remember : You do SEO because if you want free visitors to your website from the search engines, instead of paying the likes of Facebook – you have to.
Understanding Keyword Competition Difficulty
Ok, now that we have the introduction, ultimate reasoning and an understanding of the terminologies out of the way, lets take a step by step guide through the process of how to go about performing general keyword competition difficulty and further research. You can apply this method to whatever you publish – whether it’s a standard single blog post or the home page of a company website.
Learn how to identify potential keywords visitors use with intent
To begin with, you should be able to identify and have a good overall basic idea about what potential keywords your visitors are most likely to be searching for when they’re intent on locating information. For example, if you are in the business of providing SEO services, then you can be sure people will be keying that in as a search string.
That is the easy part.
Get the Free Keyword Tool for Hints and Tips
For the purpose of this tutorial, go and download the browser extension for chrome called Keywords Anywhere, it’s a great little free tool that enables you to view a lot of information about the keywords you are researching. Looking at the output gives effective hints and tips and guides you in the right direction. Similar tools are available but they cater for more advanced strategies and can cost a lot of money – they may come in handy though if you have longer term goals.
Understanding ranking competition levels
Having identified your main keywords, it’s essential that you check out the competition levels so that you can establish whether or not they are too competitive to get a good ranking for by measure of the amount of time and effort you are going to be able to put into the project.
To do this you just go to Google, enter our example chosen keywords (make sure you do this without double quotes around them), and take a look at the results page (the SERP).
Once you have done a search (see above), you’ll notice additional information on your screen when browsing the results page at Google.
The four main clues you need to learn about are as follows :-
i) Volume – this is search volume per month
Volume is the number of times (approximately) a given term is entered per month – meaning searched for by users. The level of competition difficulty is directly proportional to the volume – thus the higher the volume, the greater the competition will be because more companies will be targeting it trying to get the business from such a vast base of potential customers. Successful and effective rankings for these high volume terms is often much harder to perfect than it is for the lower interest terms, especially for transactional or commercial topcis.
ii) CPC – the Cost Per Click
Again, in proportion to the volume – the cost per click (CPC) will increase (generally) with increased search counts. This figure, whilst not directly related to the natural SERP, still gives an indication of the level of competition you are up against. More advertisers will be bidding within Google Adwords for popular high volume terms (like this one) – pushing the price (known as cost per click (CPC)) up as they try and out position each other.
iii) Competition – for the keyword
This is a calculated figure which indicates the level of difficulty to rank based on a score between 0 and 1. Personally I prefer to ignore this one when forming an SEO strategy and use my own intuition as a starter guide and then learn more by digging a little deeper.
iv ) About – number of pages returned in the results
Notice the high number of pages returned (about x results). The number of pages here is a reflection of the popularity of the term (its volume). It will generally increase with the number of companies with websites in the index involved with this niche. The higher it is – the more pages you are competing against.
How to analyze the competition
What is considered “hard” search engine competition and what is considered “easy” – analyze to find out
Before looking at your own terms to analyze the search engine competition levels – try and understand the concept of “whats hard and competitive” and “whats easy”. You are up against a range of competitor knowledge levels – from basic to advanced, but this will help you identify, or at least give you a sense of what’s already out there.
Take a look again at the “about x results” in the example above – the number of pages present in Google for our searched for keywords. A staggering 1.4 billion. Clearly this isn’t going to be a keyword phrase you’ll easily rank for – no matter how much researching you do. If we go a little deeper and perform another search, the same terms but this time surrounding our term with double quotes, we get the following result.
This is effectively the same search, but this time we’ve double quoted the text which means that Google will only count pages and articles that have exactly what we searched for on them – in other words, pages with the target words split with different words in-between them will not be included in the count.
Unfortunately Keywords Anywhere cannot differentiate between this kind of verbatim search and a standard search and you will notice that their statistics are the same for each type. The key feature we identify though really lies with the About section – notice that the number of pages in the results has dropped from 1.4 billion to just 40 million.
The difference between these two numbers is incredibly important. Your keyword research should highlight terms whereby the second number is as small as possible a percentage of the first number. Lets look at an extreme example to highlight why this is so important.
Your Imaginary Term
1.5 million pages returned without quotes in the search.
1.2 million pages returned with quotes in the search.
Your Second and Different Hypothetical Term
1.5 million pages returned without quotes.
100 pages returned with quotes.
For the first example, there are a huge number of pages present which have been written where the content exactly matches your search term in relation to the number of pages which contain words from the term but not alongside each other in an exactly matching string.
For the second example, there are hardly any pages (documents) which mention your exact term compared to the number of pages in the non exact search. This is a strong indicator that means there’s less people targeting the second keyword term than the first – a lot less. Your testing is unlikely to reveal such a stark contrast but the concept remains the same.
Remember : The difference in the number of pages found when comparing exact match verbatim searches and non forced exact match searches is a marker when identifying high and low competition phrases. The bigger the difference percentage – the easier it is likely to be to rank for this keyword.
So going back to the main example, at the very pinnacle of high level search competition, we now have a rough measure of what a highly competitive search term actually looks like – this is a sort of gauge with which you can compare your own terms to see where you stand in relation to the hardest to rank keywords, before we do that though, you can repeat the above exercise at the other end of the scale – the low competition end.
As a tester – go to Google yourself and see if you can think up the most obscure (but sensible) term for which there will be virtually zero searches per month, and as few as possible pages returned in the results. You’ll soon start to get a feel for what’s competitive and what’s not, and realise what we mean by keyword difficulty.
Making a list of your own keywords
Step 1 – How to go about researching the competition for your own keywords
Now that you have established how to analyze competition levels as a whole, and have attained a feel for the broad range of competitive levels from hard to easy, you need to find out where your own keywords sit in the big picture. Collect the ones you want, and make a list of them for future use.
At this point in the guide, I suggest you go and do a few queries on Google and get a feel of the volumes and number of pages returned, just a few, you don’t need to spend too much time on it. Try and think up what the world is searching for, and compare the figures with those for searches which are far more rare or obscure. Come back here when you’re finished researching and ready to move onto the next step.
Step 2 – Start with your short keywords
For the purpose of this section of our guide, we’ll use the base short keyword phrase of “marketing services” – a very general type of term as you can see, it really doesn’t identify exactly what kind of marketing or what kind of sub-service is needed. For this reason, with this type of targeting, if you were ever to rank highly for it, you’d typically find that it had a low conversion rate. The reason for this is that it simply isn’t specific enough, there are many types of marketing services – and as you’ll see although the volume will be lower – the conversion rate will be higher.
It may very well be the case in your own keyword area that the highest level short keywords are, as with our example, also too generic – and you’ll see immediately the benefits of targeting what’s known as long tail keywords instead – we will come to that later. However, we will start with the generics and move through to the long tails, as this is the typical method of approaching keyword research using the internet.
Lets go back to Google and enter our initial phrase and take a look at what we get. Remember – we want to perform two searches, one which will return pages with our words on – but not necessarily verbatim – the other, strictly verbatim. See below.
It’s clear that this term is highly competitive, even the exact search comes back with a SERP containing over 41 million results. Marketers are paying large sums for a single click, even though the term is generic – they are probably more concerned with investing in, and building their brand than achieving actual sales conversions (although they will be getting some).
Notice also that the search volume is nothing spectacular, 880 per month is not to be sniffed at, but recall our first example at 550,000. In this case it’s because people looking for marketing services generally have enough knowledge to be more specific, and will be entering the type of services they seek.
If your shorter keywords are pretty much in the 300 per month range, you may have a chance with ranking for them – even on a new domain. So I would go for that on your index page.
Step 3 – research and study long tail keyword topics
If you hit the brick wall on the initial keywords, then its worth looking at the next step – researching your long tail alternatives. Keyword research and study is primarily all about identifying which words are best for you right now. If you have a new domain, or if your domain is old but only has a few backlinks, then the words you’ll most likely want to target are not necessarily going to be the ones which most intuitively seem to match your needs. The ones you want to target have to be a balance between at least the following factors :-
i) Competition Levels
ii) Conversion Rate Potential (managed and clarified with split testing techniques)
iii) Site Aesthetics
iv) Relevancy to Services
v) Link Attainment Potential
vi) Your Own Knowledge and Ability/Skill on the Topic
vii) Search Volume
All of the above come into play when choosing words to target.
Long tail keyword research means finding phrases which are relevant to your own main terms. These are basically longer strings of words for which there is almost always less competition (but this opportunity is an ever diminishing one – so act now). The slight downside to this is that once you’ve established your long tails, you’ll also notice they have lower search volume (generally). Don’t worry – by producing content for as many of these longer tailed phrases as you can – your traffic will soon mount up, and with highly targeted keywords, you’ll see a better conversion rate too.
To find your long tail terms – all you have to do is look on the right hand side of the screen at the boxes presented by your free software and you will see the following “related keywords” section. These are the details we see for marketing services.
The above screenshot shows how the tool can help you find the golden nuggets to optimize your website content for, and drive traffic to your sales pages. Once you understand how you can use these longer tail lists within your own business, you can go ahead and enter each of those aswell – performing a unique search for each one and breaking down the detail even further.
Scrolling down the screen from the related keywords you will also be able to see the next – “Related Searches”.
Read the above and notice that the above list shows valuable suggestions for words which are semantically related to your original base search. Look at the phrases – they include :-
d) Social Media
None of which you entered in your query, but all of which may be of use when creating your content and making it keyword rich or very highly specific.
Tip : Find Google Trends (look it up as a task). Enter your own products and services into the screens and see the search trends over time – as entered by your target audience.
Step 4 – Create your content!
Congratulations ! You now have a list of all your own keywords. The concept of creating content around the keywords you have researched and discovered is a whole different topic which I will cover in another document. But as a starter hint, you should consider placing the keywords in special tags such as headings and in the page titles to ensure your pages get the placement they deserve in the search engines.
Don’t worry if you haven’t been able to stick with me from start to finish. I understand, it’s quite a long winded guide and keyword research can seem daunting at first.
From start to end – this is a summary of what we have covered and hopefully you will have learned.
a) Keywords are what people look for online.
b) There are keywords which match the service your company provides.
c) Use free software tools to provide you with competition levels.
d) Create your own lists of keywords.
e) Develop content around your list.
If you found this guide to keyword research useful – please re-visit and learn more about SEO in general and how to rank on the search engines. Email us if you’d like to subscribe to our news letter, also email any questions you might have using the form below.