Effective Keyword SEO Research, Part 2

In part one of this series, we reviewed keyword research at a high level. In part two, we’ll take an in-depth look at how to conduct keyword research. You know the theory, now let’s put it into practice.

Understand Customers’ Information Needs

Each person in your audience may have a different motive for searching. If you sell a product or service, people likely undergo a decision-making process before they make their final selection. For some products, this can be very quick (e.g., buying shampoo). For others, it can be very extensive and drawn out (e.g., buying a car or a house).

A simplified decision-making process involves:

  1. Initial research

  2. Consideration
  3. Evaluation
  4. Election/purchase.

Knowing these steps, we get an idea of the type of information needs users may have at each stage. Let’s revisit the real estate example from part one. Say you’re a home builder trying to determine what type of information users might search for. You might come up with the following:

1. Initial research:

  • What type of house do I want?
  • What area do I want to live in?
  • What size home can I afford?
  • 2. Consideration:

  • Which builders offer my desired attributes at a price I can afford?
  • Which builders have communities in my preferred area?
  • 3. Evaluation:

  • Which builders have the best reputation?
  • How long must I wait for my new home to be built?
  • 4. Selection/purchase:

  • How do I purchase a home?
  • How much will my mortgage be?
  • Develop Initial Keyword Lists

    Once you have a good idea of what your audience might look for, you can start to think about keywords they might type in a search engine.

    Some sample keywords to answer a couple questions from earlier:

  • What type of house do I want?
    • Detached homes

    • Semi-detached homes
    • Townhouses
  • What area do I want to live in?
    • Toronto area homes

    • GTA homes
    • Homes in Toronto
  • How much will my mortgage be?
    • Mortgage calculator

    • Mortgage amount
    • Home mortgage rates
  • By undergoing this exercise, you begin to formulate lists of keywords that may interest your target audience. You might later decide some aren’t relevant to your site, but the point here is brainstorming, so anything goes.

    Try to build out these themed lists by brainstorming with a variety of methods:

  • Scan your site page by page for potential terms.
  • Look at your analytics to see which search terms are actually used to find your site.
  • Poll coworkers and the sales team.
  • Interview your customers.
  • You should emerged from this process armed with multiple lists of keywords that could be relevant for your business. If you started with step one, these lists should be somewhat themed by information need. You may want to begin to group the terms into more focused topics. Loosely aligning these lists with the various content site areas can help down the road.

    Employ Keyword Research Tools

    Now that you have a good idea of what keywords your audience might search with, enlist the help of an online keyword research tool to find out what keywords people actually search with. (Some useful keyword research tools are suggested in part one.)

    Copy and paste your themed lists one by one into the keyword research tool. If you do hundreds of keywords at once, you’ll likely miss some important niche terms because they’ll be overshadowed by the high-volume terms.

    Each time you run a search, the tool will return a variety of different queries that relate to those initial terms (plurals, misspellings, related terms, synonyms, etc.). Some will be well suited to your business; others will be irrelevant. Don’t try to scrub the results now. Instead, immediately export the results to an Excel spreadsheet.

    Scrub the Lists

    Armed with your results spreadsheet, go through the lists to narrow them down to the most appropriate and desirable terms. There’s some manual labor here, but use Excel’s many sort and filter functions to help automate some tasks. Some tips for scrubbing the list:

  • Filter results to show only unique records, and eliminate any duplicate keywords.
  • If you used a tool that gives you search volume and competition data, set a threshold for each metric and eliminate any keywords that don’t meet them. You might immediately eliminate any terms that have less than 50 searches and more than 1 million searches (competition), for example.
  • To target longer tail terms, eliminate any single keywords.
  • Manually skim the lists and delete anything that jumps out as inappropriate, out of context, or irrelevant. Keep misspellings, however; you don’t want to miss potential customers just because they can’t spell.
  • Remove any terms that are grammatically awkward that you don’t see fitting into your site’s copy.
  • Once done, you should be left with a relatively decent list for each area. Depending on how popular your market is, you could be left with 10 terms in each list or 100. If it’s 100 in each, you’ll need to be more ruthless with your scrubbing.

    Make Selections and Allocations

    Start to determine which keywords you’ll actually use for SEO (define). That means choosing which keywords you’ll target for which pages on your site. Check out “Doing It Right” in part one for help with selecting the best terms.

    You ideally want two or three terms per site page. Create a new column in your spreadsheet called “URL or Page,” and enter a potential page that may be a good fit with each keyword. Then sort by page, and see which pages require more or less keywords. Further edit and refine until you get to the final list.

    Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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