What are you targeting?
If I were to sit down with a webmaster or your average small business owner and ask that question, he or she would probably run off a list of terms, maybe even sight a few corresponding search volumes (i.e. how often the term is searched for each month) and then they would probably sit snuggly against their chair, feeling very proud of themselves.
I would then open up The Google Keyword Tool, search around for about oh, I don’t know, 25 seconds and then say: “what’s that? – are you targeting that?”. Their response would typically be something like “why would I do that? It’s only searched for * times per month”.
It’s not about search volume – well, it is, but keyword research is not ALL about search volume. In fact, while we’re at it, Search Engine Optimisation isn’t all about rankings. In any marketing strategy, you need to be thinking about two things:
That low search volume term may not drive much in the way of searches, but if it’s targeted and relevant with a relatively small competitive score (i.e. the number of webmasters who are competing to rank for that term), then what does it matter?
If you pull maybe 30 visits a month from that keyword, and 10% convert i.e. they purchase a very high margin product or service, then surely you can sacrifice some of the resources being ploughed into that unobtainable generic term you’ve been targeting?
That’s what keyword research is all about. Search volumes are great, but analysing the competition is where it’s at – if you can find a golden nugget, a term which very few of your competitors are targeting, then you’ve done what very few others actually do: you’ve done keyword research.
How to DO keyword research:
When it comes to actually performing keyword research, you need to focus on first finding the appropriate terms, and then analyzing the competition for the select terms you have chosen.
Inversions: Have you considered all possible inversions for each term you are targeting? For example, you may have analyzed the term “SEO Manchester”, but have you looked at the search volume behind “Manchester SEO”?
Plural/Singular Variations: Have you looked at both the plural and singular variations around your main target terms? i.e. “Hotel Manchester” and “Hotels Manchester”.
Conjunctions: As above, sometimes a phrase can be modified simply by including a conjunction – for example, take a look at the difference in search volume behind the terms “Hotel in Manchester” and “Hotel Manchester”.
With Keyword Research, you want to cover as broad a base of keywords as possible. One solution is to use find and replace in Microsoft Excel – for example, build up a collection of terms e.g. “SEO Manchester”, “SEO in Manchester” etc., copy and paste the selected terms and use find and replace to replace the term “SEO” with “Internet Marketing”, or “Online Marketing” etc.
Once you have pulled together a base of keywords, the next thing you need to do is analyse the relative competitiveness of the keywords you have selected – you need to answer these questions:
- How many keyword-focussed anchor text links point into the competitor’s ranked page?
- How many keyword-focussed anchor text links point into the competitor’s ranked website?
- Is the competitor targeting the term in the page title of the page?
- How many backlinks point into the competitor’s ranked page?
- How many backlinks point into the competitor’s ranked website?
Analysing these basic factors will help you determine whether or not the keyword will be “too challenging” – needless to say, you should make relative comparisons against your own visibility (some of the better tools for backlinks analysis include Yahoo! Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, Link Diagnosis and Open Site Explorer).
It’s also worth remembering that it’s far easier to shift a page two ranking onto the first page than it is to build up visibility for a brand new keyword – once you have compiled your keyword research (preferably into an Excel document with accompanying search volume totals), paste all of the terms you have researched into a ranking report (I recommend advanced web ranking for this purpose).
Why? This way you can build on existing rankings, rather than targeting brand new terms. This way you can actually research your main target terms – you’ve just done keyword research.
Gareth Mailer is an SEO Professional who spends far too much time analysing websites for extra visibility in search - you can read more from Gareth at SEO Manchester.