Posted May 30, 2008 2:00 pm by with 18 comments

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By Judd Exley

No doubt about it, keyword research is the first, and possibly most vital, step in the Search Engine Optimisation process.

Choosing the right keywords is more than just analysing the numbers and this is a free and easy way to combine the raw data with your marketing intuition to find a successful combination sure to bring success to your site.

Here’s how to do your keyword research, FREE and easy

Start by getting a list (5-10 at least) keywords and plug them into the Google AdWords: Keyword Tool. Depending on the keywords entered, you should get back an exhaustive list (usually between 50 and 100) which you will then download as a CSV.

Your keyword research has begun…

Your Keyword Research report

Once you open up the CSV in Excel, you can sort your keywords based on their Search Volume or their Advertiser Competition (don’t forget to go through your list and delete any irrelevant keywords as there are always a few).

Now create a column for each of the criteria you’ll be using in your Keyword Research, like sites you are planning on using (“WT” for Wordtracker, “KWD” for Keyword Discovery, etc). Then, head over to each site, slap in your keyword and start grabbing that data.

Hit these sites for FREE Keyword Research and Suggestions (the ones I recommend):

You can also hit these other Free Keyword Research sites (others, most just as good):

Sure, Overture is down more than it’s up, and many of these sites use the same databases (SEO Book uses Wordtracker, for example) but it’s always good to see how different sites handle the data and it’s up to you how you use it.

There is a plus side to the number-crunching

The incredibly tedious task of submitting each of your keywords to these sites and recording the data in your spreadsheet is made somewhat less monotonous by the discovery of additional keywords that you’ve either missed the first time through, or weren’t included on the other data sets.

See a phrase that seems relevant to your research? Add it to your spreadsheet. You can always go back and check for duplicates later, and then fill in the data for the other sites that didn’t include your newly discovered keyword in their recommendations.

You can find some nice niche phrases this way.

You get what you pay for

Naturally, you can always get heaps more with a paid membership to almost any of the above, but this “How To” is aimed at the budget-conscious Keyword Researcher.

However, when you’re pretty sure you’ll scream the next time you have to enter a captcha to get one little number, I recommend you join up on these sites:

These guys offer you heaps more than just keyword research too, they’re worth it.

Keyword Competition

Now it’s time to see what you’re up against as far as competition goes. We’ll combine some of Google’s AdWords data with the number of results for Google searches on each keyword in order to get a reasonable idea of how many sites we’re competing against.

Google Guide has a comprehensive explanation of all of the Google Search Operators, but below are the ones that I recommend you use:

These results will all help give you a rough idea of how competitive a keyword is.

Estimate some traffic

Now, go plug your entire list into Google AdWords: Traffic Estimator.

This tool is nice because you can get a select a region for your data and also because you can grab the CSV and copy and paste the data from relevant columns directly into your keyword research spreadsheet.

Yeah, yeah, I can hear you now… “AdWords data can’t be trusted”.

Stress not, it doesn’t have to be, it’s just another of your indicators giving you a better idea of which keywords are more or less likely to give your client some quality traffic.

Cull the herd

Now save this “master list” so you can start sorting according to relevance and start separating the wheat from the chaff.

Start focussing on keywords that have a certain threshold of monthly searches, basically a number that makes them even worth your time. Use the other search numbers as reference for where you should make the cut-off and then start deleting any that don’t meet the mark.

Now, sort your data again based on searches and have a good look at it.

And again, using different criteria.

And again.

Getting a feel for which ones are better choices as targeted keywords? Awesome.

Now cull some more of your keywords based on your search volume/competition volume/gut instinct and get your list down to about 15-30.

Ooo, your keyword research is so trendy

Now you’re ready to check out some trends. Google Trends.

Sure you can only put in 5 at a time and you may not even get data for one search when you’ll get it with the same search after simply reorganising your list (of the same keywords).

Nothing’s perfect. This part of your keyword research, much like all the rest, is just to give you a better idea of which keywords are going to be most successful.

So, chuck your keywords in there and get a good idea of which ones have the latest hairstyles and fashion.

Now it’s time to see what your competition is doing with their keywords

First, Google one of your top performing keywords and hit all the sites in the Top 10.

Next, geek it up a bit, “View Source” and go through their code, identify where they’ve used the keyword and how, and maybe even create a whole new spreadsheet based on that.

This list is about as comprehensive of an industry standard as you can get and I’ve found it invaluable. Learn it, live it, apply it to your competition to see how strong that keyword competition really is.

Now check out their backlinks

Yahoo! Site Explorer is the best for checking backlinks. Chuck those competitor sites in there and have a cruise through the results. There will be way too many inbound linking sites to check out individually, but click on some that look familiar and check out their PageRank and the anchor text they’ve used to link to your competition’s site.

If you take a note from the 2007 runner-up for this contest, CK Chung, you’ll make contact with the linking site owner and try to not only get a link, but replace your competitor’s link with your own (not necessarily a practice I endorse, but it gets points for ingenuity).

So, check a few of your competitor’s inbound links. If you start to see the same, or at least similar, keywords being used in links to your competition’s site you can consider them winners… and probably highly competitive.

Carve out that niche

Now back to the competitor’s site to see what other keywords they’re targeting. Pull their code apart so that you can check out what other market-specific keywords they’re targeting and cross-reference them against your master keyword list.

Already delete that keyword from your list because of low search volume?

Super, then you’re smarter than they are.

Don’t happen to have that one on your list and it looks good?

Awesome, slap it in there and gather some data for it. Lather, rinse, repeat.

After all that work in the mines, you should have a fair bit o’ data to work with.

What your final Keyword Research report should look like

Now make it all pay off

This process will almost guarantee that you find not only some quality keywords, relevant and viable to your client’s site, but also that you’ll dig up some niche keywords that your competition hasn’t quite thought of yet (but your future customers out there searching certainly have).

This is an entry to Marketing Pilgrim’s 3rd Annual SEM Scholarship contest.