When you start doing keyword research, you know what it is you’re looking for. You have a target market in mind. It might be lawyers who handle copyright law, or travel agents, or shoes—whatever it is that you’re selling.
Keyword research is the process of discovering HOW the majority of people look for an item or service.
The best way to explain how to do keyword research is to walk you through a hypothetical example. Suppose we have a client – who has contracted with us for web development and SEO services – who wants to sell beekeeping supplies online, and they want us to rebuild the site with written content with a focus on SEO that will rank well in Google results for any searches that have to do with beekeeping supplies. The absolute first thing that we’re going to do is go to Google’s homepage, and do a search for the main topic.
In the past, when you’ve done searches on Google, have you noticed how Google auto-populates search results that start with whatever words you’ve already typed in? The search engine isn’t making suggestions at random. It’s engaging in statistical analysis. At some point, Google has already crunched the numbers, and has determined that when looking at the sum total of every instance in which a user has started a search that begins with the word “beekeeping,” these phrases are the ten most frequent phrases that were submitted: the phrase “beekeeping” on its own is in the number one position. But in situations in which a user has continued to type in more words, Google helpfully volunteers the nine most common search phrases that begun with the word “beekeeping.” The most common multi-word phrase is “beekeeping supplies.” The fourth most frequent multi-word phrase is “beekeeping equipment.” The eighth is “beekeeping basics.” Every phrase on that list that is relevant to selling beekeeping supplies is going to wind up on the website that we’re building for our client. These are the cornerstones, the bread and butter.
Our beekeeping shop is obviously going to be littered with the word “beekeeping,” so we really don’t have to think about that word on its own. But Google feels that those nine other phrases tend to pop up in searches that have a lot to do with beekeeping. So we really want to use those on the site somehow.
This is when we make the transition from keyword research to keyword targeting. On the front page of the site, we may begin with a bit of introductory text that reads, “McGonagall & Sons Beekeeping Equipment Company has been in the business of selling beekeeping supplies since 1951. If you’re a novice who is just beginning to learn the beekeeping basics, take a look at our “Beekeeping for Beginners” page, which offers a variety of beekeeping starter kit paraphernalia for those who are just venturing into beekeeping 101.”
This is a heavy-handed approach to covering some basic keyword phrases, and it reads a bit awkwardly, but in the space of two sentences we’ve managed to incorporate SIX exact phrases that Google suggested in relation to beekeeping, as well as touching upon a seventh—using “beekeeping starter kit” will help us cover searches for both “beekeeping kit” and “beekeeping starter kit.” Plus, in our menu system, we’ll probably have a drop-down menu option with a category for “beekeeping kit” (that just so happens to be heavily tied into an informational page about “beekeeping for beginners,” located elsewhere on the site). So we’ll definitely hit that exact phrase. So, how much ground have we covered at this point?
Where does that leave us? We’ve only neglected two phrases: “beekeeping forum,” and “beekeeping ftb.” That first one has to do with online discussion boards about beekeeping, so maybe when we build a page focusing on “helpful beekeeping links,” we’ll provide references to a couple of helpful beekeeping forum sites. That’ll take care of that phrase. Now all that’s left is “beekeeping ftb.” First of all, we don’t know what “ftb” is (or I don’t, anyways) so we’ve got to do a bit of quick research on that. It turns out that “ftb”has to do with a site that makes addons for the computer game Minecraft. That’s obviously not relevant to the needs of our beekeeping store, so we aren’t going to bother with that. We don’t want to hit every phrase, but rather only the ones that are highly relevant for our site.
All of the above was just step one. We found the nine most common multi-word phrases having to do with beekeeping, thanks to the generous folks at Google, and we used seven of them in the first two sentences of our page description, and we’re going to cover the rest in secondary pages. We’re going to go back and flesh out that first main page, and give it some character and extra content, so it’s not just one long litany of keyword phrases. Those couple of sentences are a nice outline for maybe three or four hundred words on the main page. But then we’re going to take a step back and ponder, “what additional pages can we add to the site to improve the chances that a Google user will find one of them?”
The second stage of keyword research is finding what specific topics will draw visitors to your site.
For starters, we already talked about having a “beekeeping for beginners” page, so why don’t we delve into that? Google’s auto-suggest feature isn’t going to be terribly useful here, because it’ll only show phrases that begin with “beekeeping for beginners.” That’s a little too specific. What we want are other words and phrases that users (and search engines!) will feel are highly relevant to that topic, but that don’t incorporate that exact and rather bloated phrase.
Thankfully, Google can help us here as well. What we do is go ahead and submit a search for “beekeeping for beginners,” but rather than looking at the top search results, we scroll all the way down to the bottom of the first page. Here, Google will provide a list of search terms that it believes are interrelated with the search term we just submitted. In this case, here’s what we get:
So what’s useful here? It’s all a bit general unfortunately. “Beekeeping basics,” “…supplies,” and “…equipment” are some good phrases, though “backyard beekeeping” is the first useful deviation from the terms we’ve been looking at. But this is just a start. We can use these searches as a launching pad for more keywords. In a search for “beekeeping basics,” Google suggests a search for “beekeeping basics beekeeping starting a beehive” and “beekeeping for dummies.” A search for “backyard beekeeping” gives us “urban beekeeping” and “top bar hive” (which is a design style for man-made beehives).
This is the first couple minutes. It goes on and on. We go back and look at those top-ranking sites and pick out keyword phrases that we think might have been attractive to Google, though we don’t have evidence for just yet. This research yields phrases and topics like “extracting equipment,” “harvesting honey,” “comb-building.” Another quick observation is that the two top-ranked sites both had discussions about the appropriate seasons for developing hives and harvesting honey. So our page will incorporate this as well.
This goes on and on, and there are a few different permutations of this type of research, so you tend to end up with massive lists of keywords for each webpage that you’re developing. That’s when you turn to keyword research tools like those provided in Google AdWords to help you cull the herd a bit. While Google’s tools are intended to help the user develop PPC campaigns, they’re also useful to us for developing our site SEO. So, we want to focus on keyword phases that are searched for relatively frequently, while at the same time making sure that they’re relevant to the topic of the given page.
Though we have a fairly small and unvaried sampling of keyword phrases, it might be worth getting an initial idea of what phrases are popular search terms. So, I compiled a list of 15 phrases from the above information and passed it through Google AdWords, sorting them by the average number of monthly searches in the state of California. The results:
Google gave us some surprises. While “beekeeping supplies” unsurprisingly was the most common search term, second place went to “top bar hive,” and “urban beekeeping” was next. Most of our phrases that specifically had to do with beekeeping for beginners had few or almost no searches. This probably warrants some major changes to our “beekeeping for beginners” page. We’re going to definitely take the time to describe different types of hives, such as the “top bar hive,” and other subsection focusing on small scale beekeeping, such as “urban beekeeping” and “backyard beekeeping.” Or, we may end up specializing our pages even more, and having a page specifically about types of hives, and another about urban beekeeping, and then another about beekeeping for beginners. Just as your site should be selling a product people want, your site should be providing the information that people are looking for in the first place. If “beekeeping season” had 200 searches instead of 10, then the focus wouldn’t be on the types of hives and urban beekeeping, but rather on the biology of bees and what seasons of the year are best for them.
In the end, it’s all a matter of how fine-grained you want to get, and how much time you’re willing to spend researching and writing content. As long as the content is good, relevant and useful, there’s no such thing as too much content.
All of the above is a simplified example, as it’s not unusual to have a list of over 100 keywords before heading into the keyword prioritization phase, and a number of additional tools are useful for developing keyword strategies, but this should give an idea of what keyword research is all about.
Keyword research is really keyword popularity research.
The purpose is to discover how the general population discusses your product, so that you can effectively develop your search marketing in order to engage in that conversation with them. By following these steps, and incorporating some reporting and tracking so we can monitor and adjust, we can effectively target the best words and phrases to get the best SEO results for the topics that are relevant to you and your customers.