Keyword Research 101

  |  March 8, 2010   |  Comments

A look at tools in search marketing and social media to assist with keyword research to help inform online marketing campaigns.

Keyword research is near and dear to my heart because it is the foundation for Internet marketing, including social media. Keyword research can be the glue that holds your Internet marketing campaigns together and provides strategic oversight. If you skip this important step, you could waste resources, time, and money.

Keywords and the Buying Cycle

Keywords tell us a lot about people. They help us understand intent or where a searcher is in the buying cycle. There are four segments that represent each phase in a searcher's buying cycle: research, shop, buy, and inform. Really, the first three are part of a "purchasing" cycle, and the last one is more for searchers who are just looking for information like tips or how-to info.

I am an avid cyclist, so I like to use cycling examples. To illustrate this, let's look at a searcher who types the word "bicycle" into Google. Using a broad search term tells me he is starting his research and is trying to get his bearings.

Next, as he learns more about the topic, the searcher will use more specific or detailed search terms like "Trek 6.9 Madone." This searcher now knows what he is looking for and is probably looking for specific details and starting to shop. Once he has decided he's ready to purchase, he will likely use a keyword like "trek dealer boston." This puts him in the buying phase and he is looking to pick up the bike at a local store.

Understand Your Audience

Another important aspect of keyword research is to understand your audience. Try to anticipate keywords they might use, not keywords you or your industry would use. In conducting a keyword research project for a furniture client, I came across two related keywords - sofa and couch. Within the furniture industry, "couch" is not the correct terminology. However, after doing the research, I found that "couch" was searched for almost as much as "sofa." By leaving out this keyword, we would have missed a good opportunity.

Keyword Relevance

Another very important principle is keyword relevance. When a person types in a keyword, he already has a certain expectation of what he will find. If your ad or organic listing includes that keyword, you are helping to make a connection with the searcher and building on their expectation. The next step in the process is for the searcher to click on a link to a Web site or destination page.

If at this point you don't deliver with quality and relevant content, then you are probably going to lose the searcher. Be sure you include relevant content that is rich with targeted keywords in copy and with properly tagged images and video. This will help to provide continuity across the whole searcher experience, thus assisting in searcher conversion. So, drive-to-site channels like SEO (define) and PPC (define) help establish an expectation and your Web site or blog helps to deliver on that expectation.

Keyword Tools

I wish I had the time to go through all of the available tools for conducting keyword research. There are many, but I will provide links to those that I have found most useful. The top three paid tools you should look at are Keyword Discovery, Wordtracker, and WordStream. Note that each of these will allow you a trial or a lite version that you can use while evaluating them.

There are tools out there you can use that are free of course, and Google is the place to go for most of them. Start at Google Keyword Tool. You can enter keywords manually or submit a URL and have the tool identify keywords for you based on the content.

If you base your keywords research only on searches from the previous month, you may be missing some opportunities. Search patterns change throughout the year. Factors that might affect this could be weather, tax season, holidays, sports, etc. Google Insights and Google Trends are excellent tools to learn more about seasonality. In the example below, I compared two keywords: "road bicycles" and "mountain bikes." You can see that the spring and summer are where most searches come from and that there has been a slight decline since 2004.

Other Google tools you may want to look at are Google Sets and Google Wonder Wheel. To use Google Wonder Wheel, do a search on Google and then select "more options" right under the search box. This will enable more features, one of which is the Wonder Wheel. It's a type of mapping tool that can help with brainstorming more keyword ideas.

Keyword Research and Social Media

Social media has certainly turned a lot of heads in the past couple of years. Keyword research used to mainly be useful for SEO and PPC. Now, with many marketers looking at leveraging social media, we need to consider how keyword research figures in.

First of all, social media can be a great research tool. Earlier, I discussed the importance of understanding searcher behavior. What better way to do this than to monitor social media sites? Specifically, you can:

  • Understand user behavior and user intent
  • Identify specific points of engagement
  • Better understand the demand for certain keywords
  • Learn more about interest and sentiment around various topics
  • Track popular topics and identify trends

Let me introduce to you some social media tools that can help you with your keyword research. One of the great things about Twitter is that there are many tools that expand the functionality of what Twitter can do. Specifically, they give you insights to identifying and tracking targeted keywords. Here are some that are related to keyword research:

  • Hashtags.org - provides information on #hashtag use
  • TweetBeep - lets you save targeted keywords and receive e-mail alerts from tweets with those keywords
  • TweetVolume - enter keywords to see how often they appear on Twitter
  • Trendistic - see trending keywords in Twitter

Next, let's look at Facebook. If you want to get some general insight into the use of keywords in Facebook you can do a search using its search tool. To get a complete picture select "posts by everyone" and you will get more information that can then be sorted by language and type.

Similar to Hashtags.org, there are other sites that provide similar information on tagged based conversations. You have probably noticed the #tag after some conversation on Twitter. Another form of this is bookmark tagging. Sites like Delicious, StumbleUpon, and Technorati provide tag clouds that represent the popularity of the tag.

Then, if you want to drill down more you can do a search on targeted keywords to learn more about conversations and bookmarks related to those keywords.

For video, the YouTube Keyword Tool can provide some good insight to relevant video related keywords and tags. This tool functions like the Google Keyword Tool but pulls data from YouTube videos.

If you want to look at images and image related keywords you can try Flickr, which provides a tool called Flickr Trends. This tool allows you to compare two keywords and their use over time. See the example below where I compared road bikes to mountain bikes.

There are of course many tools I didn't mention, but I wanted to at least get you started with understanding the wealth of keyword research information you can sink your teeth into within the realm of social media. Look for more tools to come down the road.

All in all, keyword research is essential to building a solid search campaign strategy. After conducting keyword research, I have seen company's incorporate their keywords into positioning statements, new product names, etc. Because you are learning about human behavior, that knowledge can be used for purposes beyond just SEO and PPC. I would recommend revisiting your keyword list at least once a year if not more. You might find new ones or realize some keywords are not performing as planned.

Please feel free to add any further keyword tips or resources that have worked for you in the comments below. Also, as I said at the beginning, if you have topics you would like for me to cover in future 101 articles, please let me know.

Addendum

It is great to join the ClickZ family after writing for a Search Engine Watch column for a couple of years. As you can tell from the ClickZ's column title, my purpose is to write about the basics of SEM (define) topics. If you are one of those who are just getting their bearings on Internet marketing and need a place to start, then this 101 column is for you. Additionally, if you have specific topics you would like me to cover in this column, please drop me a line and let me know.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ron Jones

Ron was president/CEO of Symetri Internet Marketing, which provides strategic SEM consulting and training. Ron was actively involved in the SEM community and spoke and trained at conferences and seminars. Ron also served on the Board of Directors for SEMPO and was one of the authors for the SEMPO Institute Fundamentals and Advanced courses.

Ron also published a book called Keyword Intelligence: Keyword Research for Search Social and Beyond. This book outlines various methods and tips for conducting keyword research but more importantly outlines many ways to use keyword research for social media, site design, content development and marketing, and even traditional marketing and branding.

Ron passed away on June 30, 2012.

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