In a previous post on How to Write SEO Friendly Content that Google Loves, I discussed the importance of keyword research for identifying the needs of your readers and for developing content that speaks to those needs. I also introduced a few basic keyword research strategies and tools, but steered clear of the detailed instructions on how to apply them.
In this post we’ll get into more of the nitty gritty on how to do basic keyword research that will ultimately help you create targeted content that serves your readers and grows your business.
First of all…
What is a keyword?
Maybe this is obvious, but let’s just make sure it’s crystal clear. A keyword doesn’t necessarily have to be a single word. When we refer to keywords, or keyword research, it’s probably more accurate to refer to “keyword phrases” because we’re typically referring to a string of words rather than one single word.
More specifically, when we talk about “keywords” or “keyword phrases”, we’re actually referring to search queries – what people type into Google.
We all use keyword phrases or search queries every day now to find information. When we do, we rarely use single word queries, right? We typically choose longer phrases to help narrow down the search results and ensure that we get the information we want. Keep that in mind as we continue.
Where to Find Keywords?
- Adwords Keyword Planner
- Google Autocomplete
- Google Related Search
How to Use the Adwords Keyword Planner
Google Keyword planner is designed for Google’s paid search platform, Adwords. But it’s also a great tool for identifying keywords for Organic search. Plus, it’s free… you’ll just need a gmail address to login.
1) After you login to the keyword planner, you should see a screen like the one on the right. Let’s assume you’re writing an article on “social anxiety”. You’ll want to enter that keyword along with any slight variations you can think of into the first window titled ‘Your product or service’.
Then ignore the “Your landing page” window and other windows, leave the other default selections as is, and click “get ideas”.
2) The default screen after this is only relevant if you’re building Adwords campaigns, so click the tab labeled ‘Keyword ideas’. You should then see a screen like the following. At the top will be the keywords you manually entered, and below them will be a list of keyword ideas generated based on those you entered. This is where you’ll look to identify any keywords you hadn’t thought of, and to assess the quality of different keywords in terms of their ability to bring in traffic.
Here’s a key to the columns you’ll see:
Ave. Monthly searches: the estimated monthly google searches for your location criteria selected (default is US). Not a ton of confidence should be put into these number. But they can help you compare keywords in relation to each other.
Competition: This metric is somewhat misleading for choosing organic search keywords. It will show Low/Med/High. But that’s based on Adwords competition, not organic search competition. Typically a keyword with high adwords competition will also have high organic search competition but they’re not always directly correlated. A better way to check a keywords competition is to do an “allintitle:keyword phrase here” search in Google, which is discussed later in this article.
Suggested Bid & Impression Share – disregard. Only relevant to Adwords.
So, what are we looking for? What makes a good keyword?
Obviously, keywords that have more searches are more attractive. However, they’re also more competitive and harder to rank in Google for. Also, higher searched keywords are often times less specific. For instance, in the example above “anxiety” gets 301,000 searches a month on average. But, because it’s a very general keyword it’s very competitive, and it’s not as relevant to your topic as it could be. So, you shouldn’t choose keywords based solely on search volume.
The most important thing to consider when choosing a keyword is to find a balance between all of the following:
- Search Volume
Relevance: The more closely aligned or relevant the keyword is with your content the easier it’ll be to include it and the easier it’ll be to rank for it. Even if you can manage to rank for an irrelevant keyword, it’s somewhat useless because you’ll end up with unsatisfied users on your site, who just leave when they find out the content doesn’t satisfy their search query.
Competition: Keywords with lower impressions are typically less competitive. Especially if the estimated search volume is closer to 10-50 searches a month. That might not sound very impressive, but in some cases targeting those keywords can be far more effective than targeting high competition keywords with high search traffic.
Here’s a good quick way to check the competition for a keyword. Let’s say we have an article about “how to beat social anxiety’, and we find the following two keywords with the following search volumes ‘how to overcome social anxiety’ with 2,900 searches a day and “low” competition in the Keyword planner ‘how to stop having social anxiety’ with 25 searches a day. Go to the Google search bar, and enter the following search parameter for each of the keywords individually: “allintitle:yourkeyword”.
This will tell you how many pages contain that keyword phrase in their page title. This is helpful because the page title is one indicator of a page that’s been optimized for SEO. So, it will give you an idea of what the competition is like and what your chances of ranking are like.
In this example ‘how to overcome social anxiety’ has 3,370 pages with the phrase in the title, and there are only 114 pages with ‘how to stop having social anxiety’ in the title. So based on that evidence, the latter phrase should be far easier to show in Google search results.
Ultimately, you have to weigh the costs and benefits of the varying phrases, but knowing the competitive metrics can help you make an informed editorial decision.
Search Volume: I won’t go into too much detail here, because the importance of search volume for any given phrase is somewhat obvious. But, as the example above demonstrates, search volume has to be weighed against several other variables such as competition. The phrase “how to overcome social anxiety” has massively higher search volume, but in order for you to benefit from that search volume you’ll need to place prominently in the search results – and that can be very difficult when you have a lot of competition.
Essentially, optimizing for a high traffic keyword can be useless if there’s so much competition that you have no chance of ranking and generating any of that traffic. This is especially relevant for smaller websites just starting out. In these cases, a lower search volume keyword with low competition can actually generate more traffic for your site simply because you have a chance to rank well for it.
Using Google Autocomplete for Keyword Research
Another way to find keywords is to use Google’s autocomplete function when you’re performing a search. Unlike the Adwords keyword planner method of keyword research, this method has no data to support the keywords you find. But, don’t let that dissuade you from using this method.
To start out with just go to the Google search box and start typing your main keyword or topic. Then try a few different variations as well and record the different autocomplete phrases that come up.
This is a good way to come up with long tail search keywords, and to help you identify good topics to discuss in your articles. For instance, if I were writing an article on social anxiety, after seeing this keyword research I might plan on writing an article that included information on ‘how to beat social anxiety without medication’, ‘…naturally’, or ‘… at work’. Even if you weren’t to directly use any of these keywords, it does help you understand what kind of information people are searching for, and therefore what kind of information you should create in order to reach or help them.
Using Google’s Related Search for Keyword Research
This method is very similar to the autocomplete method above. In this method you enter your keyword phrase into the Google search box and then you scroll to the bottom of the search results page. There you’ll see a section that says ‘Searches related to *your search phrase*’.
Although there’s no search volume data associated with this method, you again can come up with a number of search phrases, and topics to include in your articles. And, if you do want to get some data to back up your decision you can always enter the new phrases you find into Google’s keyword planner and find a search volume estimate that way.