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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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).

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

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.

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.

Fundamentals of a solid company blog

Most of the websites I scour on a daily basis are other marketing sites, and for the most part, they have it together. The blogs of other industries, however, are a different story; the brands don’t always see the value. I’m so used to stumbling upon a company’s blog that hasn’t been updated since its “Welcome to our blog!” post circa 2007, it often takes me by surprise to see a non-marketing company investing time and effort into its web log (a little trivia for you there). This post features three seemingly dull industries that are actually doing a great job with content creation.

Niche 1: Air Conditioning Blog

When I googled “air conditioning blog,” the first result to populate was a company called A #1 Air. Unlike the days of yore in which brands could “rank” first in the yellow pages, a name like A#1 isn’t going to increase a website’s visibility in the search engines. Google doesn’t exactly deliver results alphabetically.

Adaptation is essential

What stood out to me more than anything was this brand’s willingness to adapt to the requirements of the digital age. It takes years to build a blog that can rank well in search engines (not to mention first position for “air conditioning blog”). A#1 obviously jumped ship upon realizing no one really uses YellowBook anymore, except as a makeshift booster seat or a doorstopper.

Don’t forget local terms

The blog’s content is pretty solid for the most part. As someone who isn’t a homeowner, it’s hard for me to gauge whether the posts are super helpful or not. I applaud this brand’s use of local terms in addition to industry keywords; companies that serve a restricted geographic area are dependent upon ranking for local terms. However, I would warn against using them too often, as it tends to deflate the authenticity of the posts.

Organization is important

User experience is a significant deciding factor for whether or not a visitor to a blog stays or leaves. This blog makes it possible to search and browse for past posts in a myriad of ways, including a search bar at the top, a list of archives organized by month, categories, and tags. It’s probably not necessary to employ all of these options, but doing so doesn’t hurt.

What I want to see:

While this blog is updated pretty consistently and does a great job of targeting keywords, it would be nice to include a more tangible post. By this, I mean visualizing a problem (even a small one) with photos and then including a step-by-step explanation of how to fix it. The posts often ask readers to contact A#1 for their air conditioning needs, but I think a tactical post would help. It’s okay to give away secrets or a process because most visitors in need of service aren’t going to do it themselves anyway. Rather, they appreciate the brand’s willingness to share information. It instills a sense of trust.

Niche 2: Logistics Blog

Whatever the industry, there are people searching for answers. A blog provides the perfect platform for answering these questions. Besides shedding light on the industry as a whole or how a particular brand’s process works, brands can use their blog as a place for sharing news. Burris Logistics does exactly that.

Showing brand involvement

One way to showcase expertise is to document and share industry involvement. In this case, Burris Logistics frequents conferences and workshops to collaborate, network, and learn about the latest industry news and trends. As a visitor to the blog, I appreciate Burris Logisticsa dedication to investing in education for both the brand and its employees.

Transparency: a sweet PR move

B2B brands often struggle to generate unique content in an interesting way. In between technical or informative posts, it’s refreshing to feature articles that serve as PR-esque buffers. This blog, for example, dedicates an entire post to employees celebrating an anniversary with the company. Through the employee interviews, readers learn a lot about the brand’s devotion to employees’ growth and well-being, as well as the kind of culture this brand provides.

What I want to see:

I wish the employees in attendance to the logistics conferences had been able to share some of the information they learned. Doing so could spark a conversation with other professionals in the industry. More than anything, it would prove that the employees of Burris Logistics truly benefited from the experience. Even though the blog’s general audience may not fully understand or appreciate the content, it would recognize the brand’s interest in transferring trust and information.

Niche 3: Insurance Blog

The third and final industry I explored was insurance. The big names have a reputation for investing very heavily on television ads. Often times, the purpose of the spot isn’t even related to insurance, but to drill the brand name into the viewers’ psyche. What about those of us who are more inclined to search for insurance companies based on needs, not brand names? And those of us who don’t have a TV (looks around hopefully)? There is hope yet; Home Insurance, a mid-sized insurance company, is whipping up some pretty great, totally realistic posts on its blog.

Information is always a good start

Home Insurance impressed me with the overall quality of its posts. The latest article, for example, dives into extreme detail on the subject of water damage, including how homes become damaged in the first place (who knew clogged gutters could cause it?).

Try harder to be interesting

I know how difficult it can be to put a new spin on a subject. What’s important to realize, though, is that even a slight variation or perception of a subject can resonate with completely different audiences. One blog post, for example, could have been one inclusive article about insuring personal items, but instead, focused on record collections specifically. While my humble assortment of Pixies and Pavement vinyl may not be anything worth insuring, the post title caught my eye immediately and heightened my respect for the brand.

Think beyond your realm of expertise.

One thing I love about this blog is that it seems legitimately devoted to benefiting its readers. For example, it recently reached out to professional bloggers to assemble a list of handy money-saving tips. Is insurance mentioned anywhere? Not that I can tell a all I see are an armful of tips from normal people about saving a few bucks. These practical snippets convey to me that the brand is committed to its consumers enough to invest in a project that really has nothing to do with insurance. Home Insurance wasnat afraid to seek advice from others a and the end result is a super robust, sharable, helpful infographic.

Flash that Authorship

People generally want to know who has written the post. It’s just comforting to be able to associate a name with the words you’re reading. Sometimes brands will accrue a following due to a specific member on the blog. Don’t inhibit this by keeping blog posts anonymous (of course there are exceptions). I appreciate the latest post linking to the author’s Google+ page; it makes stalking way easier.

Allow for a response

The most effective content evokes a desire to chime in. Whether by sharing with Twitter followers or replying to the article in the comment section, a reader should be able to effortlessly take action. A proper blog should be enhanced with social share buttons and commenting capabilities. This blog gets a thumbs-up for accomplishing both a as well as a high five for adding embedding instructions to its recent infographic.

What I want to see:

Honestly, there’s not much I can really add to this one. This particular brand impressed me the most with its ability to provide industry information without trying too hard for the sale. There’s even a sweet poll that allows visitors to vote on the type of post subject they are most interested in. Wow. Well done. I suppose the one bit of advice I could dish out is to remove the dates from the post URLs; keeping keywords close to the root domain is the best approach.


Blogs are critical elements of a website. They allow brands to share their expertise with an audience that’s actually interested. How companies still see the value in expensive TV ads more than their personal domain is hard (for me) to understand. When a content strategy meets implementation, a company can experience a serious spike in authority and traffic. And let’s not forget that consistently updating a website with fresh content is a major indication to search engines of a caring website. If you’ve been struggling to understand how a brand can constantly generate content that will actually target keywords and help an audience, hopefully, this post has reminded you that it is possible, despite your industry.