Keyword Research Is Highly Subjective

People often ask me how you should perform solid SEO keyword research, and guess what? I can’t tell them.

Seriously, you can grab a cool tool like Market Samurai, for example, and it can do the work for you. But I use it for validation. I don’t really mess with it until much later. I don’t start there, but you certainly can. (Yes, I use it, and if you buy it, I’m paid. But I still think it’s amazing. Great tutorials to show you what to do, too.)

Or, you can search using any number of software programs out there: Good Keywords, Digital Point’s keyword research tools, SEOMoz’s keyword tools, Raven’s tools, and on and on. But every time I do this, I have some routines I go through, but it’s different every time depending on the client. Here’s why:

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Initial preparation

But I start with just listing every keyword I can think of in the niche. I use Wikipedia, as I wrote about here a couple of weeks back. I use Google Correlate, and I use the good old AdWords keyword tool. If Google is going to give me information about who’s searching what and I’m optimizing for them, it’s a smart bet that I’ll have some good data to crunch.

I put whatever I find together into a big old spreadsheet. Then…

Is a the keyword relevant?

First, I’m looking first at relevance. How relevant is a particular keyword to the page I’m trying to rank for? For example, if I’m selling dog training, “dog collars” would be a horrible word, unless I was actually selling dog collars, too. I shouldn’t be doing both on the same page, though, so still pffft!!! Any keyword that doesn’t fit what I’m marketing specifically goes. Bye-bye. All irrelevant phrases are gone.

What’s the competition?

Next, I consider search volume and competition. (Sometimes I do it the other way around. You decide what works best for you.)

I look at the page I’m trying to get ranked in the SERPs and think about how much page rank and search oomph it has already? Some, a lot, none?  That’s important because I have to know how well a page might compete.

Once I assess that,  I look at the competition. I mean, I can probably get a page rank 5 site to rank for a keyword that’s fairly competitive. But a page rank 1 page won’t have such a great chance. Right? If I’m working on a low-ranking site, I weed out the high-competition words and put them aside for later, when our search presence is established.

What’s the search volume?

But search volume is important. Are you working a site that’s global or local? How much traffic will that keyword get? If it’s less than 100 searches a day, not interested. If it’s a well-ranked page already, I’m not interested until I see 500 searches a day. It’s all relative to the page I’m working with.

Who are the big dogs?

And then, there’s the competition on page 1 for the keywords I’m trying to kick butt for? How many high-ranking sites are already at the top of page one for that keyword? Do I have a chance at competing or will I be butting up against a wall?

Also decide how many pages exist with that keyword in them. Lower numbers are better; higher numbers may or may not make a difference. It all depends on the page you’re trying to get ranked. If I have a PR5 site already, a high number of pages won’t mean as much as it would if I’m working with a low- or no-page-rank site.

Make your choices

Finally, I choose about 5 phrases that I want to crush, and we work those until we rank. We keep adding fresh content, gathering links with anchor text that includes those 5 phrases, and so on.  Then, after you have traction with those, and you’re doing well…. It’s time for those words you put aside when you first began.

Over time, as you add links and content a site can rank for hundreds or even thousands of keywords and be getting tons of great traffic over time. When you add things that stick, like content that never goes away, you’ll see your site sticks to the search page, too.

Yes? Agree? Do you do something different? I’d love to know.

To me, finding just the right keywords is a bit of science and a bit of intution. If you can get inside the mind of your ideal customer, that makes keyword research much more effective and efficient.

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