Easy and Effective Keyword Research

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Imagine if someone were rifling through your Rolodex, calling all of your contacts. That would be illegal, of course, because your information is private.

However, because the Internet is open, you can now see every keyword that your competitors are using for both pay-per-click (PPC) and SEO. With this information, you can know exactly what is working for them, allowing you to simply copy and paste only their most successful keywords into your own campaigns.

I had a hard time believing it myself … but it’s true. And it works.

Let’s start with the basics. Keyword research is the process of discovering the actual search terms people type into search engines when browsing online. People are generally doing one of two things on the Internet: looking for information about something, or seeking to buy something. As Internet marketers, it is those who are looking to buy goods or services that we want to connect with most.

Keywords that indicate a high level of interest in buying are called keywords with high commercial intent. To discover these keywords and phrases, a free tool is available from Microsoft

For example, type in the phrase “Dodge Caravan”, and the tool will tell you that there is a 95-percent chance that the user is looking to buy something. On the other hand, type in “blue clouds” and the result comes back with a 71-percent chance that the user is not looking to make a purchase.

Next is the long-tail keyword. This refers to a phrase made from very specific words. For example, “how to eliminate student loan debt,” is a long-tail keyword. Because there are more words, there is less search traffic for these keywords and thus fewer bids — making them cheaper to buy for PPC advertising

Individually, long-tail keywords make up a small portion of Internet searches. But when taken as a whole, they can provide significant traffic to your site that is highly targeted. They also make you a subject-matter expert for the search engines, since the long-tail terms strengthen the theme created by broader phrases.

Conducting long-tail keyword research is important because these users are usually further along in the buying cycle, resulting in higher conversions.

Geographic Targeting
Depending on what you sell, it is important to include geographic locations in your keyword research. For example, “homes for rent Miami”, “Chicago glass repair” and “Richmond Italian restaurants” all provide important qualifiers for local products and services.

Another important consideration is the ratio of keyword supply to keyword demand. Keyword demand is the number of times a keyword is searched by people in the most recent month. Keyword supply is the number of Web pages that contain that specific keyword or phrase.

“What you want to do is find keywords for your niche that have a high number of searches and a low number of pages with those search terms on them,” says Gina Gaudio-Graves, president of Directions University and 30DayIMChallenge.com, an Internet marketing university for entrepreneurs. “For example, I recently found out that the term ‘hypnosis CD’ has over 40,000 searches a month, but only 20 organic website competitors there to meet the demand. This means that there’s a huge opportunity in both pay-per-click and SEO for this term.”

The keyword research tools currently available allow you to see your competitors’ PPC ads as well as how long they have been running. Most offer a limited free trial. In addition, you will get access to your competitors’ SEO data. If you see that a competitor has been running the phrase, “DUI attorney Tucson” for the last six months, that can be a good indication that the keyword is converting profitably for that business. You can also discover and copy your top competitors’ ad structure and keyword-ad and landing page-copy combinations.

Keyword research is broken down into three basic stages:

Stage 1: Creating Your List
Stage 2: Finalizing Your List
Stage 3: Taking Action

Creating Your List
A common misconception about keywords is that you already know what terms a customer will use to find your site or PPC ad. By putting your proposed keywords into a keyword research tool, you will quickly discover how many users are conducting searches for that term on a daily basis, and how many of those searches are converting to sales. You will also discover synonyms of which you were not previously aware but could prove very valuable.
Knowing your competitors’ data tells you how much effort you will need to invest in order to rank well for that term organically, or how much money you will need to spend to be successful in PPC.

There are two questions to ask when making these decisions:

1) How many other sites are competing for the same keyword?
2) How strong are those sites’ rankings? Or, How many other sites link to those sites? and How many pages do they have indexed?

This information can be found for free by plugging your competitors’ websites into the Yahoo! Site Explorer tool. Knowing the answers to these questions will offer a good indication of the competitive nature of your selected keywords and phrases.

Finalizing Your List
Create a spreadsheet that allows you to easily see each word’s conversion rate, search volume and competition rate, as provided by the keyword research tool you use. These three figures allow you to calculate how viable that term is for your SEO and/or PPC campaigns.

The first step in narrowing your list is to highlight the terms that most closely target the subject and theme of your website or advertisement. These are the terms that you want to keep. Delete all words that are not relevant to your site or that you do not have sufficient content to support. You can not optimize for words with no supporting content. Create a mix of both long-tail and targeted keywords — you will need both to rank well for SEO and convert with PPC.

Taking Action
After compiling a final list of 20 to 30 highly focused keywords, it’s time to prepare them for launch.

If you did your keyword research correctly, some of the words on your list should already appear in your site’s content. Begin thinking about how many pages you will need to create to support new keywords, and how and where these keyword phrases will be used.

Current best practices for SEO recommend optimizing for three or four related keywords per page. Any more than that and you run the risk of diluting your page to the point where you will rank for nothing. Simply work the keywords into your pages naturally and avoid over-repetition, which can be interpreted as spamming. Your content should never sound forced.

Your on-page content isn’t the only place where you can insert keywords, however. Keywords should also be used in several other elements on your site, such as title tags, meta description tags, headings, alt text, and anchor text/ navigational links.

Keyword research can be a fun project as you discover all of your competitors’ top converting keywords and plug them directly into your own PPC or SEO campaigns. If you take your time and go through the tutorials that the keyword research sites offer, you may end up like my friend Sarkin who has the number one Google spot for 90,000 keywords. Of course, this success did not come without significant effort — he’s been at it for 20 years.

About the Author: Mike Evans is Director of U.S. Sales and Marketing for KeywordSpy. com, a PPC and SEO research firm that tracks more thank 127,000,000 keywords.

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3 comments

Zach Prez 10-05-2010 3:52 PM

Do you need to be a part of Microsoft Ad Center to do what you claim (view competition keywords)? I didn't get much out of the Microsoft general keyword tools and found the display to be discouraging compared to Google's tools. Age and gender output by keyword was fairly interesting though.

Thanks for the information about the Yahoo! Site Explorer tool. I had yet to upload sitemaps there (in favor of Google and Bing's Webmaster Tools). Yahoo had a very accurate listing of my pages, but with a sitemap they will know more quickly when I post new material. Looks like Bing is taking over the Yahoo Explorer tool soon, but a good reference in the meantime.

MarcF 10-06-2010 8:48 AM

Like @ZachP I didn't have much luck with any of the Microsoft tools. A good tool for finding PPC keywords & buget is Spyfu and the Quirk Search Status plugin for Firefox provides a quick snapshot of organic keywords - among other things.

Worker Safety Products 10-26-2010 11:53 AM

Awesome post. @MarcF thanks for the tips on the Firefox plugins.

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