Keyword Research for the Novice

Our job as SEOs is to teach our clients how to be experts in online marketing. We know we have done our job when our clients no longer need us; we like that. (Even though we hate to see them go.) Hence the purpose of this post: to show non-experts how to fake it until they make it with keyword research. Keyword research is an important concept for SEO, arguably the most important. It ultimately serves as the basis for all online strategies that follow. But it is a pretty daunting task for some of us non-keyword research experts, including me. For some of us, navigating Excel or drawing takeaways from data are not easy tasks, much less getting into the mind of consumers in search. This post shares tips for other keyword research novices. Like any skill worth learning, keyword research requires practice. So let’s find out where to start when generating a keyword list.

Why Should I Care?

Keywords = People Keywords are not about manipulating search engines (or at least they shouldn’t be), and they aren’t industry garble. Behind keyword data are literal people conducting searches for products and services like yours.

Vector of person searching in Google

Making a website search friendly means making it available to those people who need it. The way we do that is to look at company goals and align those goals with keywords that are actually being searched.

But How to Find Keywords?

Keyword research is neither a quick nor easy process. But it’s also not rocket science (agencies that say so might need a humility check). By following the steps below, anyone can establish some basic keyword research to use as a foundation for website content.

1. Start with a few core terms.

Core terms are words that describe your services. These don’t have to be perfect a you can modify them and find the most searched versions of them later. However, take a few minutes to think about the most important services for which your company (or client’s company) is trying to rank in search. Think broad and high level terms, as these will serve as the basis for keyword campaigns. Put these initial ideas down in a spreadsheet and keep them in mind.

2. Compare that with the data.

Take a look at Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools and compare the data with these core terms. In Google Analytics, look at the organic search keywords driving traffic to your website. In Webmaster Tools, look for terms that are getting the most impressions and highest click through rate to your site. *Side note: You will notice a little thing called “(Not Provided)”. This represents data that Google is withholding because the user was logged into a Google account when conducting the search. You will also probably notice that it represents a large number of your visits. Unfortunately, Google still owns the rights to its data, and can continue to limit access to it, so this chunk cannot be seen in Analytics.* Not finding your core terms in GA or WMT? Translation: You are not showing up in search results for core product/service terms. This means your website might need a major rehaul in terms of content. If most of the terms people search to reach your site are your brand name or branded services, this means a couple of things. First, the traffic coming to your site is already aware of your brand, and interested. Second, by not targeting service keywords, you’re missing out on the opportunity of reaching everyone who DOESN’T know your brand. Finding your core terms? Great! But you aren’t finished yet. In many instances, the terms that people think they should be ranking for either: 1. Have little to no search volume,  meaning that people aren’t searching the same way you are talking on your website, or 2. Are super competitive,  meaning you have little chance to rank in search engines for these terms without dishing out serious cash for a paid search campaign. In order to reach a wider range of potential audience members, you will need to rank for terms that you may not have thought of initially, potentially a lot of them. The next steps will lay out the process of finding more terms relating to these core terms.

3. Analyze Competitor Sites.

A competitor in this instance refers to another website ranking for your key service terms. Conduct a Google search for some of the terms established in steps 1 and 2. Look for repetition in search results. The websites ranking for a few of your core services are your competitors. Granted, you may not have heard of them, but in the online realm, they are grabbing your potential organic search traffic, which translates to your potential customers. Once you have established 3-5 competitors, use the Keyword Tool in Google Adwords.

Google Adwords Free Keyword Tool

This is a free tool that anyone with a Gmail or Google account can use. Type the URLs of competitors into the section labeled “Website.”

Google Keyword Tool URL Scraper

This will populate keyword terms that are used throughout the site. Make sure that you select the “Keyword Ideas” tab and all three match types (seen below) in order to populate the most results.

Screenshot of Free Google Keyword Tool Match Types

Download these results in a CSV file, and scrape the terms to get rid of any that do not apply. Rinse and repeat for other competitors, combining each into one giant spreadsheet and getting rid of duplicates.

4. Back to the Keyword Tool

For any given category of terms that you discover, circle directly back to the keyword tool. This time, enter a handful of these terms into the box that says “Word or Phrase.” Separate them by one keyword per line.

Google Keyword Tool

This will populate related search terms that your competitors may not have targets on their sites. Add these results to your existing spreadsheet, de-dup, and scrub for irrelevant terms.

5. Use Google Instant (Don’t Press Enter!)

Go to Google, start entering a key term, but donat press enter. The results that show up in that drop down menu are called aGoogle Instanta results and represent the most searched variations of the term which you have started to enter. This will show you tons of variations of this term, usually all with significant search volume.

Google Instant Search Keywords

Rinse and repeat with these results until you are no longer getting new search terms. Once again, circle back to the keyword tool and add your new terms to the mix. Expand that spreadsheet and scrub samore.

6. Try “Related Searches.”

When you conduct a Google search for a key term, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page. Here you will see a list of related search terms (seen below). Related searches to find keywords

Start from scratch with each of these that apply. Enter them into Google for Instant results, and dump into the keyword tool with related terms. Continue to combine these with your existing keyword spreadsheet.

7. Use Free Keyword Research Sites like UberSuggest.org.

Ubersuggest.org is another free tool that allows you to expand on existing keywords and see related terms with significant search volume.

Ubersuggest Keyword Research Tool

Ubersuggest Keyword Lists for SEO Guide

One handy feature with UberSuggest is the ability to select a group of keywords, click aGeta and copy and paste into the Keyword Tool. This helps you easily pick out the terms that are searched often each month but are also not too competitive.

UberSuggest Keyword Lists

These are all free keyword tools anyone can use to understand their target audience and develop a content strategy. Keyword research is the core of Search success because everything is (should be) developed only after this critical step is completed. Then you can work generating content that will truly fill a need for your consumers. After that, you can leverage it for outreach, drawing more traffic and authority to your website.