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A 6 Step Process for Keyword Research

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Keyword ResearchAny good SEO campaign starts with proper keyword identification and categorization.

Clients often ask how many keywords they should try to rank for. There is no “right” answer to this question. Different companies have different markets, products, and budgets that affect the equation.

Here is a basic strategy for how you can approach keyword research.

1. Identify Your Keyword Universe

Identify a comprehensive list of words that are relevant to your business and that indicate that the searcher may be interested in your content. Use your intuition, PPC data, competitor insight, analytics data, internal search data, Google suggest data, and any historical data from your client or your company to construct your initial "seed word" list.

2. Expand the List

Use the Google Keyword Tool (along with tools like Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery if you have access) to expand the seed word list and to understand relative search volumes of all your keywords.

Keep in mind that Google's projected search volumes are typically not accurate and are really only useful in comparing the relative popularity of one word to another. In other words, if keyword A has a monthly search volume of 5,000 and keyword B has a monthly search volume of 10,000, you can assume that keyword B is more popular. But don't assume that getting a number one listing for keyword B will bring you 10,000 users a month. It may but it probably won't.

Note: Using paid search to test the popularity and conversion rates of keywords is an excellent methodology for determining your most important keyword phrases to target with organic search if you can afford to do the testing.

3. Prioritize Your List

Your new expanded list is your "keyword universe." It is then appropriate to prioritize your keywords and choose the most important keywords that you will be targeting with your campaign.

These are the keywords that you will want to track rankings for as a general barometer of health. Additionally, these keywords will be your first priority as you begin link building campaigns in a later stage of your campaign.

Some people end up with 25 priority keywords, some people end up with hundreds (large enterprise company with multiple products and sub brands). Your priority keywords should reflect words that have the highest propensity to drive revenue.

Having said that, it’s important to keep in mind that the words you select will depend a little on how competitive you are in your industry.

For a company like Petco, it's perfectly reasonable to target a word like "dog food". But a small pet store in Pacific Beach may want to start off by targeting more specific keyword phrases like "dog food in pacific beach" and work up to more competitive terms as its Internet footprint grows. In this example, "dog food" would still be in the small pet store's keyword universe, it just wouldn't make the priority list.

4. Categorize Your Priority Keywords

Once you have a priority list of keywords for your campaign, you should categorize the keywords into segments specific to business goals. This allows for more granular reporting and understanding of performance.

At a minimum you should have all keywords categorized between brand and non-brand. Additional categories may include product type, sub brands, business group, keyword based (for example, all permutations of the keyword phrase dog food) or keywords that map to a specific business goal or customer segment.

Categorization makes it easier for people within your team to understand the impact that SEO is having at a more meaningful level.

5. Identify Preferred Landing Pages

Once you have your keywords defined in this manner you can begin mapping the priority keywords to specific pages that they are most relevant to. These pages will be the primary target of your optimization activities for your priority keywords.

You may find as you begin to do the on-page optimization (page titles, meta descriptions, H tags, and content) for your preferred landing pages that a particular page may be relevant to only one or two priority keywords. This is where you can use the additional keywords from the keyword universe that were not designated as priority words to enhance your optimization efforts and target a wider array of long tail permutations.

For example, the factitious Pacific Beach Pet Store might have chosen "dog food in Pacific Beach" as a priority keyword. But that may be the only keyword phrase on the priority list that is relevant to its dog food page.

So when they go to optimize the on-page elements of its dog food page, they will look back at the keyword universe and find additional keyword phrases like "dog food online", "dog food for sale" and "buy dog food" to augment the optimization with. These weren't added to the priority list based on how competitive they are but they still want to include them in their on-page optimization efforts. The resulting page title might be:

"Dog Food For Sale in Pacific Beach, California: Buy Online and Save"

This page title example includes the primary keyword phrase as well as other keyword phrases from the keyword universe. Remember that in a page title, words don't have to be in sequence in order to be relevant. Therefore, this page title is relevant to phrases like "dog food in pacific beach", dog food for sale", "dog food online", "buy dog food", "buy dog food in pacific beach" and many other relevant keyword permutations. This allows for targeting of a number of relevant long tail keyword phrases with the page title.

Having a priority list of keywords makes it easier to make decisions on where to spend resources, which keywords to check rankings for, which keywords to prioritize for link text, and which keywords to report on for executives that don't want to try to understand performance against hundreds of keywords.

In the case where a page is relevant to many keywords in the keyword universe, it is used to make decisions on which keywords to emphasize in the optimization.

6. Refine Your Keyword List Over Time

It's important to pay attention to your PPC data and analytics data to identify new keyword phrases that may be new opportunities for your business. This is especially true for new brands and sub brands as well as keywords that are driven by seasonal behavior.

It's good practice to review these data sets monthly to identify any new opportunities that should be integrated into your SEO campaign.

Hopefully this keyword research process will provide a good structure and solid foundation for your own SEO program. Good luck!


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