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How to Perform Keyword Research for SEO

August 4th, 2007

keyword-research-seo.jpgWhen optimizing a website for the search engines, one of the first things that you need to do is figure out which keyword phrases you want to target for high rankings. Many site owners seem to know immediately what keywords they want to use, but it is still a good idea to step back and put a few moments of thought into it before committing yourself to any major expenses of time or money.

There are three areas to look at when choosing your favorite keywords:

  • Relevance - Are your proposed keyword phrases actually relevant to your site and its content, or are you just trying to rank for them because they “sound cool”?
  • Search Volume - How often are people actually searching for these keywords? If the traffic volume on a keyword is pitifully small, it’s probably not worth trying to get a high ranking for it.
  • Competition - How competitive is the field or niche you are trying to target? If there is too much competition, particularly from strong authority sites, you could wind up stressing yourself out by attempting to reach a goal that simply isn’t feasible for you.

How to get started - Create your keyword list

The first thing that you need to do for your keyword research is to create a list of phrases that you would like to rank well for and would also fit with the theme of your site. Some people like to use Excel for this, others use Word documents, and some even use the traditional pencil and paper, but the exact method doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that you need to do some brainstorming in the beginning so that you have enough ideas to work with before you move on to the next step.

After you have finished writing down all of the appropriate keywords that you can think of, look at the content of your existing website for further clues. Check your title tags, meta tags, and the body of your page content, recording any relevant phrases that your visitors may be searching for. You can also do the same thing for other sites that may be your competitors so that you have a better idea of what kinds of phrases are being used in your particular niche.

Find keyword tools

By using a keyword tool, you can perform some analysis on the phrases in your list to see which ones would work best for your SEO efforts. Two free tools that you can use for a quick overview are Overture and Wordtracker. If you really want to get serious about keywords and organic SEO, you can try SEO Elite. Although it seems a little pricey for some folks, this powerful software will give you a much more comprehensive, in-depth look at keyword analysis than the free tools can.

Look at the search frequency

With the keyword tools, you will be able to check the overall search volume of the phrases on your list. While recording the search frequency numbers, the tools will also show you other similar phrases within the same general category that may be relevant to your niche. If you see any keywords that you don’t already have on your list but have favorable relevance and search frequency factors, you will probably want to record these too. The exact number of searches per unit of time that is desirable depends somewhat on the industry that you are in and what types of keywords you’re targeting. If you are aiming for long tail keywords, 100 searches per month might be good enough, but if you’re in a niche where the competition is not too tough, you may want to try for more than this.

Check on the competition

After you have narrowed down the list to keywords that are relevant to your site and have a good search frequency, you can then find out how competitive your chosen phrases are. Perform a standard Google search for each of your keywords, paying attention to the number near the top right corner of the screen that indicates the total number of search results returned. As a general rule, a lower number is better because it means less competition, and most of the time it will be easier to secure a position in the top 10 or 20. If there is a very large number of total results (like 200 million or more), you will likely have a more difficult challenge ahead if you decide to target that particular keyword.

Ideally, what you are looking for as you do all of this keyword research is a phrase that has attracted a decent number of searches but relatively weak competition. Once you find such a phrase, you can then begin looking at the top ranking results in Google and make sure that your site (or at least one page of your site) is relevant enough for that keyword to hold the interest of future visitors. You can also click on the first 5-10 results and check these potential competitor sites for things like page rank, number of backlinks, and number of indexed pages. Fortunately, there are some useful Firefox extensions such as Search Status and Domain Details that can help you with this. It is important to make sure that not all of the first ten results greatly outrank you or have many thousands more backlinks than you have; if they do, the competition may be too far out of your league, in which case you should consider picking a different keyword until your SEO factors have improved somewhat.

Other considerations

Other things to consider in your keyword research are your geographical location and the particular wants and needs of your audience. If you have a business that serves a specific city or country, you can choose keywords based on that location and reduce your competition significantly. You will also be able to target more highly qualified visitors because they will be more likely to live in your local area. Meanwhile, if you think that your visitors might be interested in a particular type or brand of product, this is another way in which you can cut down the competition factor and target a narrower niche. Simply include your chosen product name in your keyword phrase, and if you manage to rank well, you will have a source of pre-qualified visitors without having to spend money on PPC or other kinds of advertising.

Conclusion

Doing proper keyword research is the foundation of a solid SEO strategy. Without it, you’re essentially flying blind and are confined to a strategy of simply throwing more words at the search engines and hoping that some of them stick somewhere in the results. If you’re really serious about SEO, you need to determine whether or not the words that you are using as the main keyword phrases in your web pages are really feasible candidates for top rankings that will deliver a sufficient amount of traffic to your site. If they are not, then you need to tweak your existing keywords if possible, and when creating new content pages, keep in mind the important SEO factors that I have mentioned in this article. This will give you a much better chance of success because each new page that you publish will represent a more significant investment in your future.


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