Keyword research is hugely important. The success of your entire SEO engagement depends on getting this piece of work right.
Why? Because an informed client will judge you on how visible their website becomes for the terms in their SEO keyword list, and that list is the product of your keyword research.
What Constitutes Good Keyword Research?
To improve keyword research, start with a really tight definition of what successful keyword research looks like. In order to say you’re a keyword research ninja, you should be able to look over your completed keyword list and say the following:
“I’m confident we’ll be able to get the client’s site to rank well against all keywords in the list.”
“If the client’s website becomes more visible in SERPs (search engine results pages) against the keywords in my list it will have a major impact on their total traffic/conversions.”
“I know which keywords I should be focus on first and which are less important.”
Kind of sound like you? Here’s some further acid tests:
Are there keywords you’re tracking but not really making any progress against, usually because the site isn’t ranked at all for the term? This is a bad thing, and your keyword list could be improved.
Would you have the time to implement keyword-by-keyword strategies designed to boost ranking for each individual keyword on your list before the end of your engagement, or is your list too long? Are you fairly confident your strategy is going to get you into positions 1-5 for said term? If the answer is no – that’s a bad thing!
Are there keywords on your list that your client won’t refer to on their website (e.g., cheap)? If the answer is yes, that’s a bad thing!
Why is Keyword Research Not This Good All the Time?
Another prerequisite of improving keyword research is to face up to what you’re currently doing that is holding it back from being the best it can be. So much of keyword research relies on “gut feeling” so the term “dirty keyword research” is a fitting term for any process that involves making decisions in your lower digestive tract.
The classic example of a “dirty keyword research” process would be something like this:
Build massive list of keywords using keyword tool and PPC data.
Remove terms that are “no-hopers” (e.g., competitor brand terms or unrelated phrases).
Order by volume.
Keyword list is only limited by the number of keywords your rank monitoring tool can handle. Priority is any term from the top of the list where your gut instinct is you could hit the top five.
This process is bad. It doesn’t look at anything other than potential audience, it certainly doesn’t favor the long tail or secondary keywords where we all know massive gains can be made, and fundamentally it sets you up for a big fall further down the road when your client doesn’t get the results they may have expected.
Here are some of the other major pitfalls of dirty keyword research:
To rank well for a keyword, you need to have a page that deserves to be the first result on the web for that term. This means you will need a content strategy for almost every term. With dirty keyword research, you inevitably end up with a list of terms that is so long you have no chance of impacting upon them all. You will get lost and have to explain to the client why there are keywords in the list that aren’t moving.
You will be drawn into focusing on head terms where it may be impossible to generate traffic before the client’s patience runs thin. Dirty keyword research doesn’t allow you to sensibly prioritize keywords. To move beyond prioritization by volume, you have to manually assess each keyword using your gut and maybe a cursory study of the SERP. This is manual, subjective, and means you're essentially gambling that you’ve picked the right terms.
Dirty keyword research doesn’t allow for a regular reassessment of which keywords should be a priority, as search volume in Google’s keyword tool rarely changes dramatically outside of seasonal terms.
It’s understandable why keyword research is compromised in many instances; you need to get it right but can’t spend forever on it – a client is unlikely to spend large amounts of money which enables you to spend 16 hours on keyword research for a normal site. Giving junior staff keyword research projects that will take them forever is pretty boring – the longer someone spends on something they aren’t enjoying, the more the quality drops off.
The Keyword Research Dream
Imagine a keyword research process that:
Does away with the need for an SEO practitioner to manually assess keywords and make judgment calls on which keywords to include in the final list.
Puts Google Keyword Tool data into context.
Can be completed in half a day.
Can be quickly refreshed once movement in keyword position has taken place.
Make the Keyword Research Process Easy Enough for Your Grandma to Understand
This is important, because you can’t sell something your customer doesn’t understand.
Keyword research should always be broken down into two phases:
Keyword list refinement
There is lots of information on keyword discovery; people love posting about this stuff as soon as new tools become available. However, keyword list refinement is all too often neglected, or it’s undertaken subjectively. The key to building a great keyword list is applying the same rigorous tests evenly to every single keyword in order to truly understand their worth.
The light bulb moment: Great keyword research involves making keyword list refinement robust and efficient through the use of an algorithm based on several keyword metrics.
Keyword research is usually required in two client scenarios:
A standard website needs a keyword list building for a relatively straightforward SEO engagement. In this standard keyword research engagement you build a keyword list and then optimize individual pages for individual terms.
A brand has a huge volume of templated content (products, recipes, or articles are the usual suspects) and much of their site is based off a handful of page layouts. You need to drag up as many pages to a decent level of SEO best practice as quickly as possible with this programmatic keyword research, but there is no way you could ever monitor all the possible keywords in one tool.
The light bulb moment 2: You don’t have to have just one keyword research methodology. Different approaches should be used to get to the same great quality keyword list depending on the type of site you’re working with.
It’s so simple you can sum it up in one diagram!
Interested in knowing more? Congratulations! You’ve taken your first step toward eliminating dirty keyword research forever!
Next time: How to build a simple algorithm to enable standard keyword research and an excel template to help you with it.