How to do SEO keyword research
The right keywords selection to focus your SEO efforts upon are at the base of any successful SEO campaign.
This first step (Keyword selection), can make or break your SEO campaign. All the other search engine optimization steps done after this first stage are based upon the keywords that have been selected on your research: pick the wrong keywords and you risk the next 12 months of SEO return less than 20 visitors per week; pick the right keywords and your business will grow online.
Just before explaining you further on how to find and research the right keywords for your SEO campaign, it´s essential to define what is a keyword and what are the different types of keywords available.
Short Tail vs Long Tail Keywords – Which Are Better To Focus On?
When discussing keyword research and selection we have to talk about short tail vs long tail keywords.
Short tail keywords “normal keywords” usually have the highest search volume and are the most difficult keywords to rank for – these keywords usually include one or two words.
Long tail keywords “normal key-phrases” have a much lower search volume but can have a higher conversion rate – these keywords usually include three or more words.
There is a lot of debate in the SEO community on which keywords are best for an SEO campaign, but the answer is really very simple…
Focus on keyword phrases that will produce the highest number of overall conversions (sales or sales leads) rather than the keywords that provide the highest conversion rate.
Let’s take a look at a quick example…
‘Home Loans’ has a search volume of approximately 4,000 searches per month. With a top ranking you can conservatively estimate receiving around 10% of the monthly search volume as website traffic, which equates to 400 visitors per month. With a 1% website conversion rate you would receive 4 sales leads per month.
‘Home Loans Dublin’, on the other hand, has a search volume of 110 searches per month which equates to approximately 11 visitors per month for a top ranking. If the conversion rate for this keyword phrase was 10x that of ‘home loans’ (ie 10%) you would still only receive 1 sales leads per month compared to 4 for the short tail phrase. Which would you prefer?
As a general rule, the more qualified traffic you can drive to your website the more sales or sales leads you will receive. Not only because overall conversions are higher but also because it is much easier to increase the number of sales leads by improving your website’s conversion rate than it is to increase traffic through ranking new keyword phrases.
Importantly, by focusing on short tail keyword phrases you will also achieve rankings for long tail keywords phrases, but the reverse is never the case.
Understanding the Different Types of Keywords
A keyword, also known as a ‘keyword phrase’, is a combination of words that an Internet user will type into a search engine to find what they are looking for.
Keyword phrases can be one, two, three or more words such as ‘home loans’, ‘home loans Dublin’ or ‘cheap home loans Dublin’.
Generally, the best results are achieved with keyword phrases containing two words, such as ‘home loans’, but it is a little more complicated than that.
Google quality rating guidelines (page 9) break down keyword phrases into three categories:
Navigational intent – keywords used to find a specific web page (e.g. a search for ‘IBM’ should list the IBM site)
Informational intent – keywords used to find information on a topic (e.g. a search for ‘what is SEO’ should list a Wikipedia entry about SEO)
Actionable intent– keywords used to complete an action on the web (e.g. ‘send flowers’ should list a page where the user can buy/send flowers)
The key to a successful SEO campaign is identifying and selecting the highest searched actionable keyword phrases as these will produce the highest number of sales with the shortest sales cycle.
Actionable keywords should be targeted to your sales pages or optimized landing page. While informational keywords may have higher search volumes, the person searching these keywords is not in the buying mindset which means a lower conversion rate and a much longer sales cycle. Informational keywords are best targeted with a content strategy, such as writing articles for your blog. These users are at an early stage on the sales funnel and cycle.
Navigational keywords should rarely be the focus of any SEO campaign, because the user is searching for brand specific information.
But how do you know what keywords to target?
How many people are searching for a particular keyword phrase in any given month?
Researching Keyword Search Volumes
With a better understanding of the different types of keywords and whether to focus on short tail or long tail phrases, it is now time to research the keyword phrases to focus on.
The best method of researching keyword volumes is through the Google Adwords Keyword Tool which shows you the exact keyword search volume for the previous month for the country of your choice.
What better place to research keywords than the search engine where you want to rank for?
Here is the process to follow:
1. Select the country you will be optimising your website in (e.g. Ireland) by clicking on the ‘Edit’ button next to the country field.
2. Enter the keywords you are looking at implementing for your SEO campaign – keep the keyword as short tail as possible (eg ‘home loans’ instead of ‘home loans Dublin’). Google will then show you the highest searched phrases which include those words.
3. Enter the verification code and then click ‘Get keyword ideas’.
4. Select ‘exact match’ from the drop down menu to see the exact search volume for that keyword phrase. It displays the data as ‘broad’ by default, but this is for Google Adwords and is incorrect data when making decisions on SEO keyword phrases – this is the MOST IMPORTANT part of the process as the keyword volumes for ‘exact match’ are much lower than ‘broad match’.
5. Click on the ‘choose columns to display’ and then ‘show estimated average CPC’ – this will show you how much advertisers are paying per click for a top position on Google Adwords.
6. Click the ‘Local Search Volume’ heading to filter the results by highest search volume to lowest.
7. Go down the list and take note of all the actionable keywords you can find. These will be the core of your SEO strategy. A good method of telling whether a keyword is actionable or not is to conduct a search on Google for that keyword phrase and see how many direct competitors are ranking for that phrase. Ideally, you want to see a competitor ranking in the top 1 or 2 positions.
8. Then, go down the list again and take note of all the informational keywords you can find. These can be used as part of your content strategy.
Now that you have a list of actionable keywords listed in order of highest search volume to lowest, it is now time to assess how competitive the top keyword phrase is and decide whether you want to go after this keyword or not.
Identifying The Competitive Nature of a Keyword
Achieving a top ranking for a high search volume actionable keyword phrase is worth a lot of money for anybody who is ranking there, which usually means that the competition will be fierce.
One of the easiest method of identifying how much you should invest in an SEO campaign is by estimating the equivalent PPC advertising cost.
You can estimate how much it will cost you to hold a top Google Adwords position by multiplying the estimated traffic of a top position (calculated at 10% of search volume) by the ‘estimated average CPC’ for that keyword phrase (from step 5 above).
In the case of the ‘home loans’ keyword, 1,800 visitors per month at an average cost of €19 per click would cost around €34,000 per month in equivalent advertising cost. Now you wouldn’t spend that much on SEO, but don’t expect to pay €1,000 per month and achieve a top ranking for this keyword when the equivalent advertising cost is 34x higher. Established players are generating significant profits from their rankings and usually reinvest a portion of those profits into maintaining those rankings.
If budget is an issue (and it usually is) it is best to speak to SEO experts and give them the problem. Let them know your budget and ask them what is the most competitive keyword phrase they can rank your website for within that budget.
Researching, identifying and targeting the highest search volume actionable keyword phrase will produce the best results from your SEO campaign so make sure that you really spend the time making the right decision on which keyword to focus on.
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