keyword research

Starting your own SEO campaign can be exciting and educational; it can also be very rewarding knowing that you’ve successfully ranked your website at the top of major search engines and along the way managed to save yourself hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Keep in mind that there are costs involved in managing your own SEO campaign. We do not claim that you can reach the top of the search engines for free. It is also a time consuming process that requires many hours of research and repetitive tasks that can become tedious and boring for some. However, if you follow the steps in this series of articles you should be successful at reaching the top of major search engines while saving yourself a significant amount of money.

With that in mind let’s begin with an SEO secret that is very closely guarded by most SEO companies, Keyword Research. Keyword research is the backbone of any SEO campaign and should not be taken lightly. This phase of your campaign will undoubtedly consume hours of your precious time when done correctly, but should yield the most competitive keywords in your industry and more importantly identify which of those keywords have the highest search volume.

There are several methods available to ascertain this list of golden keywords and some very helpful tools which will make the process more interesting and speed things up significantly. A list of these tools follows but first I want to give you the basics of keyword research.

Search Volume

Search volume is simply the number of Internet users that are actively searching for a specific keyword, keyword phrase or topic. If your website is optimized for a keyword phrase with a high search volume and you are at the top, the amount of traffic you receive can be very rewarding.

It’s important to think like your prospects. This exercise is designed to help you get into the minds of the visitors searching for your products or services and anticipate their steps. Most people make the fatal mistake of assuming they know their customers better than anyone. While this may be true when it comes to advertising and promotions or products and services offered, the search behavior of potential visitors is very different and must be approached with an open mind and a solid plan.

Develop a Base Keyword List

When starting your keyword research you need a base keyword list. This step is comes straight out of your own mind and is based on your knowledge of your industry. Try to come up with at least 20 keywords and phrases for your base list. This list will evolve dramatically throughout this process so don’t get caught up on quality. Just come up with as many as you can within a few minutes of brainstorming.

Check our list of recommended Web Tools to help with your keyword research.

Expand Your Keyword List

Once you have your base list the process becomes a bit more analytical. You’re going to expand that keyword list into a much broader list of approximately 50 to 100 keywords. This list which we call the expanded keyword list will be very helpful for several uses later on. It’s very important that you stop relying on what you know at this point and use the scientific method provided here. No more guessing.

Use the top three search engines for this exercise, Google, Yahoo and MSN. Be sure to repeat the steps using all three search engines, as each will provide different results. Conduct a search for each keyword phrase using each of the top three search engines. This will give you a wealth of data which you may have never thought to use.

Each search engine provides a list of related searches to help visitors narrow their search but you will use this to expand your keyword list. You may have heard of “Long-tail keywords” and this is one method of finding those long-tail phrases. The long-tail is not as much of a secret as it once was, but targeting these keyword phrases can still help you out-position your competitors so do not underestimate their value. It is also much easier to achieve good placement for long-tail phrases because there is less competition targeting these keyword phrases.

The more pages you get listed the greater your websites footprint is. Search engines consider websites with a larger footprint to have a higher value for their customers for several reasons, but what’s important for you to concentrate on is the more pages your website has indexed the better.

Analyze Additional Search Data

While in the process of expanding your keyword list there are a few items of interest I should mention that can be helpful later on. First and most obvious, your search will provide you with a list of your top competitors for each keyword phrase. It’s a good idea to keep track of these websites in a word doc or spreadsheet. There are a few exercises you can run on these competitors websites to help you out-position them in the search engines. More on this later.

Another important piece of data you’ll discover during your keyword search is the number of websites competing for the keyword phrase you’re searching. You’ll find this number at the top of each search engine. In Google and Yahoo this number is displayed in the upper right corner of the search page and MSN displays it in the upper left. This number simply gives you an indicator of how many pages you are competing against for the specific keyword you are targeting.

You can also find out which websites or competitors are paying for search engine placement for each keyword phrase. These paid placements are at the top of each page and along the right side of the page. There are methods of learning what these competitors are paying for this placement but that is part of Search Engine Marketing or SEM and is not covered in this article.

For Search Engine Optimization or SEO we want to concentrate on the natural or “organic” listings located in the main body of the search page and you need to know the difference so you know which content to focus on when doing your search analysis.

Cross Analyze Your Findings With Other Tools

Another method of expanding your keyword list is to use Google’s’ free keyword tool. This helps you quickly expand your list and gives you several long-tail keyword phrases at the same time. While this is a helpful tool it is a shortcut and I don’t recommend using it as your only source for keyword research. For one your results will be skewed to Google’s’ search engine and may leave many potential keywords undiscovered.

There are a few other methods of expanding your keyword list which can be cross analyzed to create the most comprehensive keyword list possible.

Search Volume vs Number of Competing Web Pages

The goal here is to determine which phrases offer the highest search volume with the lowest number of competing pages.

Determining which keywords receive the highest search volume is tricky but the tools below make this possible. These tools offer the most convenience and flexibility, the prices are reasonable and they will make your research much easier and quicker. They also offer several features which will be used later in your SEO campaign.

Most offer trial versions which provide some information but they are limited and should not be relied upon for serious research on their own. Rather they should be used in conjunction with other sources for best results. However paid versions offer many more features and will allow you to complete several steps at a time.

Narrow Your Keyword List

Once you’ve expanded your keyword list and compared the search volume to the number of competing web pages it’s time to narrow your list back down to around 10 or 15 of the top keyword phrases.

This makes your list manageable and allows you to focus on a small portion of your website at a time. You will most likely develop pages for the full list of keywords you chose at some point but keep in mind that list will evolve even further over time as you continue analyzing and modifying your findings.

As I mentioned earlier, do not throw any of your keywords out. The remaining keywords will be used to seed your pages with relative content and further increase the value of your website.

Next Steps

We’ve identified the importance of a disciplined approach to keyword research and provided a systematic approach to obtaining a highly targeted list of keyword phrases. Next we’re going to take keyword research to another level and analyze what your competitors are doing to reach the top of the search engines. You don’t want to miss this.

Get a jumpstart and start analyzing your competitors by analyzing the top 10 ranking websites for your keywords you can learn how to beat them in the search engines.

Keep in mind each of these exercises builds on the last and are most effective when processed in the order we’ve provided, however if you feel this is enough to carry you on to success then we wish you the best.