Keyword research should be the basis of any online marketing campaign.
The simple goal of keyword research is to find out what your target audience is searching and what it will take to actually rank for those keywords.
Without knowing what keywords you should be targeting, how will you effectively optimize your website, target phrases for link building, or know what content to develop for your audience?
This post is a three-part series that will cover everything you need to know about keyword research.
In this first section, we’ll go through setting up a spreadsheet for your keyword research and discover the best keywords for both your main website’s search engine optimization and topics for content development.
In the next section, we’ll discuss what data will help you choose the best keywords to target.
The final section will be a compilation of the top posts on keyword research.
The first thing you will want to do is set up a spreadsheet to record your data within.
I’ve set up a basic spreadsheet that you can access. This document has columns for data using all tools mentioned in the first two parts of this blog post.
You can add or delete columns as you wish in order to match your keyword research needs. The columns included are as follows.
In this section, we’ll cover filling up the columns with keyword and Google AdWords Keyword Tool data.
In the following section, we’ll look at how to narrow down those keywords using the Moz Keyword Analysis tool (or some alternative methods if you are not a Pro member).
If you are signed into your Google account, simply use the File > Save option to save the spreadsheet to your documents and start filling it in with your information.
If you don’t have Google Docs, or would prefer to save it on your local machine, go to the Google Docs version and use the File > Download As to save it as your desired file type. I’d suggest Excel for best possible functionality.
The first phase of keyword research involves coming up with new keyword ideas.
Sometimes this is the most difficult part of the process as many people unfamiliar with keyword competition will select very broad words to target such as pizza, hotel, or Los Angeles.
Others will pick obscure phrases that no one will likely search such as SEO/Link Building/Social Media (yes, I’ve seen people trying to similarly over-punctuated phrases).
So the first thing you will need to do is find suitable, related phrases for their business.
You can always start with some simple brainstorming. Look at what the main focuses are on the website and jotting down keywords.
I would suggest doing so in Microsoft Excel or another spreadsheet application.
Then, whenever you’re ready to expand on those ideas, continue to some great keyword tools.
The following are a great collection of free and premium tools that will help you discover new keywords related to your website or business.
The free tool from Neil Patel Digital, Ubersuggest, is great for helping you discover new keywords.
To get started, simply enter the keyword or phrase in the tool.
Let’s say we’re researching Social Media Marketing.
Input the phrase and click Look Up.
You’ll get a breakdown of the keyword’s volume, cost per click, and the degree of competition you’ll be facing to rank this keyword.
You’ll also be able to scroll down and see different variations of your keyword phrase.
This gives you a wider view of what you can strive to rank for.
For low budgets, you may want to optimize a low competition, low cost per click option that still gets good results.
Or, you can pick multiple and A/B test them for the best results.
However you use it, this is a great tool to start with.
Once you have some basic ideas, you can expand upon them by using the freely available suggested search.
Simply visit Google.com and start typing in a keyword in the search box. You will then see ten phrases related to your keyword pop up below as more targeted, suggested searches.
You can continue typing to get more detailed suggestions. As you can see, this will help you with long-tail and, in some cases, even local keyword phrases.
Be sure if you are working with a local client that you change your Google settings to reflect results from their location as Google will assume you are looking for your location.
This is when it is important to be signed out of your Google account for non-personalized recommendations.
To change your location for local keyword suggestions, go to your search settings and add a city/state as your default location.
Just be sure to change it back before doing some local searches for your own personal needs.
Looking for alternative suggested search boxes?
The following search engines have similar suggested search options that appear below the search box when you start typing in keywords.
Depending on your keyword, each search engine will offer different suggestions.
Most people stick with Google as that is the main search engine to target, but it still doesn’t hurt to get additional keyword ideas from elsewhere.
The next tool up is the commonly referenced Google AdWords Keyword Planner.
If you have a Google account and, better yet, an AdWords account, I would suggest signing in to those once you arrive on the Google AdWords Keyword Tool to get better results.
To give you an idea, I searched for social media when I was not logged into my account and received 100 keyword ideas.
I searched for it again when logged in and received more than 600.
My suggestion is if you are looking for keywords just for your static website and not interested in the cost per click pricing (CPC), go with the results without logging into Google AdWords.
If you are interested in the CPC pricing and also getting keyword ideas to help with content development, go with the results while logged into Google AdWords.
Here is what each of the columns displayed in the Google AdWords Keyword Tool will tell you about each of the keyword ideas displayed.
You can learn more about the search traffic statistics shown in this tool in Google AdWords Help.
If you want a simple method to see a broader or narrower range of keywords, you can select this option in the filters on the left side of your screen.
You can also select specific Match Types by clicking the “Modify search” tab and scrolling down to the “Plan your budget and get forecasts” option.
Inputting your search term with the added punctuation will change the traffic volume for Global and Local Monthly Searches based on the approximation of traffic that a keyword gets on Google.
You can learn more about match types (and some additional ones not on this list) in AdWords Help.
You can also see the difference in data based on the three match types using the phrase social media in order of broad, “phrase,” and [exact].
And if you were to use these match types in a search, you would get 419 million results for a broad match search for social media and only 304 million results for a phrase match search for “social media.”
Going back to the generic term social media, you might want to remove certain words from the keyword ideas.
For example, you may not want to target anything about social media jobs, so you could add the word job under the Negative Keywords tab on the left side of the screen.
Now, you’ll need to export your data.
To do so, simply use the Download button under the Review Plan tab and export to your preferred format.
You can then copy the data from the exported spreadsheet to your keyword research spreadsheet.
You can also get this data for the keyword ideas you generated using SEMrush and suggested search by copying and pasting those keywords into the Word or phrase box and checking the box to only show ideas closely related to my search terms.
Then export the data for those keywords and phrases by checking the boxes next to them under the Search Terms section.
At this point, you probably have a lot of great keyword ideas.
In the next section, I will cover how to use the Moz Keyword Analysis Tool (or an alternative method to get the same information if you are not a Pro member) to get additional data and then narrow down your keywords to the ones that you should most likely focus upon for your online marketing strategy.
Now that you have a base spreadsheet to use for keyword data entry, let’s look at what’s next.
I want to show you some ways to get even more data about each keyword and further narrow down your results.
Please note that this data will take a bit of time to compile, so you might want to run through the keyword list and remove any obvious ones that you don’t want.
I usually go with no more than 100 keywords for this part of the process.
If you have a Pro membership with Moz (you can always get a 30-day free trial if you have just one keyword research project to do), then you have access to a very nice little tool called Keyword Difficulty & SERP Analysis.
This tool will show you the percentage of difficulty for each keyword, giving you an idea of how hard it will be to rank highly for it.
You will also see the top ten sites ranked for each keyword, each listed with its domain authority and the number of root domains linking to it.
The latter is really the information that will help you decide which keywords to target.
You can put in five words at a time, and you can now pick between keyword, root domain, subdomain, or page.
Using our keyword phrase “social media management,” you can see the results of the difficulty assessment, search volume, organic click-through rates, and the balance of ranking ease and end results (Priority).
While this information is helpful, it’s not really anything we don’t already know. We’ve already decided we like this keyword phrase.
If anything, this is just a double-check that confirms the basics you found in the AdWords Keyword Tool.
Below this information, you’ll find more keyword suggestions and a SERP analysis of the keyword.
The suggestions are fine for more brainstorming, but we’ll come back to the SERP analysis. That’s the real goldmine.
You can also find a short list of mentions for your keyword at the bottom of the page.
This is useful in letting you know who is using the keyword and how recently they’re created content with it.
While this information is nice, the real competitor information can be seen when you click on the SERP full analysis for each keyword, such as these results for social media company.
I like to open them in new tabs for convenience.
This is the part where you can learn a few things.
First off, you can see who you will be trying to beat.
If your website comes up in this list of the top ten, then congratulations – you’re on the first page for a keyword phrase with a highly competitive keyword difficulty of 61%.
If you’re not in these results, you can compare your own website’s domain authority and linking root domains to the stats of the sites ranking in the top ten.
Domain authority is a score from 1 to 100. The higher a website’s domain authority, the more likely it is to rank for the keywords it is optimized for.
The linking root domains is the number of unique domains linking to a website.
You can see that the site with the highest authority and linking root domains doesn’t necessarily win the top spot.
But if you want to make #1, your site may need a domain authority of 28 or higher and hundreds of linking root domains to beat the competition.
Another thing you can learn from this is whether a keyword is drawing commercial or informational results.
This means that you will learn whether your keyword is being searched for commercial purposes (meaning that someone wants to find a product or service) or whether it is being searched for informational purposes (meaning that people are looking for information, not a product or service).
For social media company, the results include seven actual social media consulting companies and agencies.
Comparatively, if I do a full analysis of the keyword phrase “what is social media” you will see that the first page of results is purely informational. All of the results are from highly authoritative domains.
So if you are a social media company, you will probably want to target the phrase social media companies for your main business homepage.
You will also want to create some content based around the phrase what is social media and place it on highly authoritative domains such as YouTube and SlideShare to see if you can get it into the rankings for a phrase searched potentially by a million people monthly.
If you’re not interested in a premium tool, then you can simply look up each keyword and look at websites ranking on the first page of the results.
If you’re interested in the domain authority stats, you can get some using another Moz tool called Open Site Explorer. You’ll get a limited amount of stats for free accounts though.
Or, you can use the free version of the SEOmoz toolbar – just use that and compare it to your own website’s domain authority.
At least with this information, you can still determine the commercial vs. informational usage of a keyword plus some basic stats to compare against your own website.
The final part of the process is taking the spreadsheet and interpreting the data.
I like to use the Conditional Formatting in Excel to highlight cells a certain color based on the numerical value in the cell.
You simply highlight the cell range you want to compare, then go to Conditional Formatting > New Rule.
Select the 3-Color Scale Format Style, and change the Lowest Value / Highest Value color when applicable.
Certain fields in your spreadsheet will need to display the fact that a higher number is good whereas a lower number is bad.
For those fields (global & local monthly searches), you will want to leave the color settings as default, as shown below.
Other fields in your spreadsheet will need to display the fact that a higher number is bad whereas a lower number is good.
For those fields (GAKT – Competition, GAKT – Approximate CPC, SEOmoz KA – Difficulty, SEOmoz KA – Competitor DA, SEOmoz KA – Competitor RDLRD), you will want to change the lowest value color setting to green and the highest value color setting to red, as shown below.
Once you’re finished, you can highlight the top row and add a filter by applying the Sort & Filter > Filter option.
I like to start with selecting the filter for the SEOmoz KA – Difficulty column and sorting it from smallest to largest.
This way you get the following (click on the image below to see a larger view):
As you can imagine, having the highlighting and sorting options would be very valuable when looking at a spreadsheet with up to 100 keywords.
You could quickly see which keywords have the most searches and least competition or the least competition but most searches.
You could then move over and look at the actual competition for each keyword if you were shooting for #1 rankings.
My suggestion when making the final choice of keywords is as follows:
Sometimes, it’s not the actual decision that is the most difficult – it is actually compiling the data that takes the most time! Also, don’t forget to take the keywords that are more informational and use them for content topic ideas!
This concludes our method of discovering keyword ideas, analyzing them, and then choosing the best for your website.
We have noticed that there are many various ways to perform keyword research, and you have to try out different analysis methods to see which ones speak to you the best when deciding on keywords.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled a master list of the top 40 keyword research posts of the last year.
In the first section of the keyword research series here at Kissmetrics, we took a look at keyword discovery and how to use a combination of several tools to discover new keywords and phrases for your website and content.
In the second section, we took those same keywords and analyzed keyword difficulty and competitors to determine which keywords would be best to target.
Since keyword research can be done in a variety of different ways and everyone has to find the way that is easiest for them, the final section is dedicated to the 40 top posts on keyword research in 2017.
This list will guide you to even more keyword research tools, strategies, and keyword optimization.
Mix and match then for the best keyword discovery and analysis for your business and clients.
I hope you have enjoyed this guide to keyword research. Now it’s your turn – what is your favorite method of keyword research and the tools you use?
About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.
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