Keyword research is the core of any SEO campaign, since the keywords you pick during the research will be included in your website copy, into your PPC campaigns and any other website promotion campaigns. In a sense, keyword research is similar to customer research, because you are studying what words your potential clients use when searching for your service or product.
Here is what you need to do to run a solid keyword research:
- pick valid initial keywords
- use a variety of sources
- search from the point of view of your potential customers
- get the most possible amount of keyphrases
- keep the keywords that will attract the target audience
- pick the small-medium competitive keyword phrases
- spot the topics for your content (site pages, articles, blog posts, press releases, etc)
- use keyword research data
- write website content
Alright, let's go about this in detail.
Pick valid initial keywords
When starting your keyword research, you'll need to pick the main keywords to base your keyword research on. These will be the keywords that you, your customers and your competitors chiefly use when speaking of your service or product. The valid keywords would be synonyms, different in one aspect or another - view them as the directions your website SEO will go. Naturally, you'll need to use quite a variety of sources for your keywords.
Use a variety of sources
To make sure you have the maximum possible coverage for your keywords, you'll want to use any source of customer data you can use. Those would be:
- your own knowledge: you should be aware of at least one word that your service or product can be characterized by
- your own customers: talk to your customers and see if they associate any other words with you
- your competitors: check your competitor's websites for even more keywords
Also, you may want to use other search engine data keyword research tools, such as:
Google Keyword suggestion tool can give you keywords, related to your website (if you select the appropriate tab) and offers you a wide selection of phrases real people have typed in.
WordTracker and Keyword Discovery offer free versions of their keyword research tools. They give you a list of keyword phrases with your keyword and also give you some estimation of their popularity. You can purchase a monthly subscription for about $30-50 to get full access to their data.
WordTracker uses the data from the meta search engines and KeywordDiscovery obtains data in another way (undisclosed, so far), so the online tools data can only be used in a relative aspect (to learn which phrases are more or less popular than others and also how competitive they are).
Overture doesn't offer exact results as well, so it can be used only as described above.
Over all the tools, I highly recommend a free version of WordTracker. It offers enough data to sift through (multiply the number of searches by 1.7 to get a rough estimate of daily Google queries). Google External Keyword Tool goes 2nd, as it offers lots of related words and phrases, otherwise unnoticed by other keyword research tools.
Try various points of view
The point is that there is no such a thing as 'an average customer'. You'll need to create content about various aspects of your business to make sure you are noticeable to all types of potential customers, simply because your customers use all possible word combinations to find what they want and you can't predict what they will use to find you.
For instance, your potential clients may be searching for material that will remove any doubt they have before becoming your customer or for some product or service reviews and comparison. Moreover, there may be numerous products and features that may apply to your business - you may want to cover them also.
Get the most keyword phrases
Once done with determining the valid keywords and thinking outside the box, you'll need to build a list of all possible keyword combinations you can think of. It is relatively simple to build a list of keywords yourself, from your customers and competitors, but it may require more time finding the keywords with the help of online tools.
You'll need to keep entering your main keywords and phrases into online keyword suggestion tools to get every possible keyword combination. This will ensure you cover most keywords your potential customers will use.
Keep the target keywords
Obviously, you only need keywords that will drive potential customers to your website. Additional traffic won't hurt, but it won't do you any good either and you'll be spending the extra time and efforts on doing your work for the untargeted keywords.
Basically, a target keyword is a keyword that your potential customers will be using to find you. If you are selling only widgets, you don't need people searching for gadgets and visa versa. That being said, you'll need people searching for 'how to choose a widget', 'how to choose a widget manufacturer', 'the benefits of having a widget', etc.
Pick small or medium competitive keywords
If your site is new, there is no way you can come up for a competitive keyword within a couple of years, so you'll need to target non-competitive keywords. These are usually 3-5 keyword phrases or may be even 2-keyword phrases, if both of the keywords are not competitive.
If you have an old site (over a year or two), you should know which keywords are more or less competitive. You can keep all the keywords to gain more insight what to add to your website.
Spot the topics for the content
Now the fun begins. By now you should have a huge list of keyword phrases, but you don't know how to apply it to your website or your head hurts when you think of it. Let's start small, then.
First, you'll need to group the keyword phrases by one or two main keywords they have in common. For instance, 'large light widget' and 'large shiny widget' go in one group, while 'small light widget' will go to another group, because we already have two main keywords. The end of this process would be a list of keyword phrases, grouped by common keyword(s).
The groups you divided your keywords denote the topics you should write your content on. See if you can write a topic around a single keyword phrase. If not, seek a complimentary keyword phrase from the keyword group or the whole list, and check again.
Finally, you should arrive at a list of topics that you should write about.
How to use the keyword research data?
Naturally, you'll need to use your keyword research results. The only way you can do that is to create or modify your existing content. You'll be adding your keywords to your page titles, meta tags (they are used to display description snippets in the SERPs), link anchor texts, etc apart from writing website copy.
Writing content after keyword research
One of the ways was briefly outlined before: write content for your website. But how many pages/articles/posts do you need to write? Here your content strategy comes into play. You'd be better off creating fewer pages, but of extreme top quality. This will ensure that natural links from folks that enjoyed it will point to a single place, which will add more weight to a single page, which had been targeted at numerous related keywords, which will ensure that that single page will come up for numerous related phrases in the SERPs.
Of course, you may as well create a page for each of the unique keyword phrase. But bear in mind that should a search engine regard another page for a similar keyword more important, your efforts for creating near-duplicate pages will be disregarded and you won't gain much after a thoroughly conducted keyword research.
The techniques, described above, for conducting a keyword research are viable and have been tested by a professional SEO (at least by someone who works as a SEO for a web and software development company), so it should be a good start for managing your keywords. There may be other advanced keyword research strategies, but you'll only need and find them when you are familiar with the basics of keyword research.
Such a thorough keyword research should be a good asset to the overall website success, so it should be used carefully. Keyword research can't give you substantially different data every time you conduct this, unless you find a radically different avenue for search query data, so you should use the keyword research data (modify your site, write content) cautiously. If not, you'll have to rework what you have done and will lose precious time (and, maybe, reputation) if done improperly.