Keyword Research Tutorial

How to Find and Use Keywords to Improve Your SEO

 

By Sarah Jamieson

Earnings, Financial, & Business Disclaimer


Performing effective keyword research is essential for getting website visitors from the three major online traffic sources:

  • Search engine organic (free) rankings

  • Pay-per-click advertising

  • Social media

Targeting all of these three major channels creates business benefits from online synergies.

For example, when a business advertises on Google AdWords, it needs to include free content, like articles, on its site.

This helps Google perceive a website as relevant to searchers and Google rewards the business with lower costs per click and better placement in the ad results.

The articles in turn help achieve high search engine rankings in the free, or organic, search results. This is valuable because with organic rankings, a business doesn't pay for traffic and rankings can stay high indefinitely.

Keyword-rich content is the only way to achieve and keep high rankings.

The search engines also monitor social media presence and how many shares, likes, and other actions followers perform. Using appropriate keywords in social media helps the search engines recognize that a business has a relevant online presence that users like and find useful. In turn, this can translate into higher rankings.

To be successful in search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, and social media, a business needs to identify the right keywords through comprehensive keyword research and deploy these keywords in a properly structured way on its website, PPC ads, and social media marketing.

Effective keyword research is faster and more accurate if you use a professional search engine optimization service, but this tutorial will show you an effective way to perform your own DIY keyword research.

Themes, Not Keywords

When you think about search engine optimization and keyword research, think in terms of themes, not individual keywords.

What is a theme? It's a collection of related keywords, including synonyms.

Search engines assess relevance and whether you should rank on a given term based on how effective your theme optimization is.

Themes make sense as a way to give searchers relevant results, because an expert in a topic will naturally use different words and cover different areas of a subject, rather than just repeating the same word over and over.

Okay, let's get cracking with our keyword research ...

1. Choose the Top-Level Keyword for Your Market

Start with a broad keyword that sits at the “top” of your market. For example: travel.

This gives you a bird’s-eye view of the market. This can uncover new themes that you wouldn’t have found if you had started with a small niche.

You may need to investigate multiple keywords that sit at the “top” of the market – the broadest terms. For example, if your product is Forex trading software, you’ll want to investigate the themes “Forex,” “investing,” and so on.

After zooming out to look at the market from the broadest point, you can then "zoom in" to decide how far “up” the market (how broad or narrow) you want to go.

You may want to start with a lower-competition niche of your market and expand into broader, more competitive themes over time.

How to Choose the Top-Level Keyword

To determine the top-level keyword(s) for your market, make a list based on your own knowledge of the market. For example, if you're optimizing a hotel website, your terms could include travel, hotel, vacation, holiday, and so on.

Next, enter the terms on your list into a keyword tool like the Google Keyword Planner to find any related terms you may have missed.

2. Find Keyword Synonyms

Adding related terms to the single keyword that you found above is the beginning of theme research. We'll use Google to find "search engine proven synonyms" to build our theme on a strong foundation.

Search engine proven synonyms are not the same as thesaurus synonyms. They are what the search engines consider to be synonyms based on current usage by websites in their databases.

If a large number of websites use two keywords together in their content, the search engines will consider the keywords to be closely related based on this high level of co-occurrence

For example, Google currently considers some of the synonyms of travel to be vacation, map, and airfare.

This shows how search engines determine what a keyword “means” by how web pages use it in relation to other words. The meaning is created by the context in which the word is used.

Finding synonyms of your top-level keyword will allow you to create the beginnings of a theme made up of multiple terms that are highly relevant to your top-level keyword.

This is how you show the search engines that you have high relevance to the topics you want to rank well on.

How to Find Synonyms

To find search engine proven synonyms, go to Google.com and search on:

 ~keyword

That is, place the ~ (tilde symbol) before your main keyword. For example: ~travel

Words in bold in the search engine results are the synonyms. For example: hotels, flights, map. Look for single words, not phrases or plurals.

Ignore any words that are too broad or not relevant to your market.

Use a Spreadsheet to Note the Top-Level Keyword and Synonyms

Microsoft Excel or a Google Docs spreadsheet will work well.

 

3. Search for More Synonyms

Do a new synonym search on Google.com (~keyword) for the first new synonym you found in Step 2. For example: ~vacation.

Add any relevant new synonyms to your spreadsheet. For example: rental, beach, tourism.

How to Search for More Synonyms

Repeat this process for the remaining synonyms you found and insert into the spreadsheet.

4. Find Search Volume for Each Keyword

Use the Google Keyword Planner to find out how many times your keywords are searched. This is an important factor when you decide on the keywords to include in your site structure.

You want to make sure that your site's primary “parent theme” and silos have plenty of searches.

How to Find Search Volumes

Go to the Google Keyword Tool and search the first keyword on your list. For example: travel

Use the Exact Match type. This will give you the most accurate search numbers, because it only counts searches for the exact word or phrase shown in the results.

Find the number of searches on the keyword in the “Global Monthly Search Volume” column. For example, travel has 368,000 searches. Note the number of searches on your spreadsheet.

Repeat this process for each keyword on your list.

5. Find the Number of Competing Pages for each Keyword

Find out the number of competing pages listed in Google for your keywords.

This is an important factor when you decide on the keywords to include in your site structure.

Your site should be organized hierarchically: terms with higher competition at the top (parent theme and silos), moving down to terms with lower competition for article pages. This helps the search engines recognize your silo structure and relevance.

A keyword with high competition shouldn’t be placed “under” a keyword with lower competition in your site structure.

For example, you shouldn’t have a silo about “Hawaii vacation rental” and put an article in it about the much broader topic of “Travel”.

The scope of the topic of “travel” as indicated by its level of competition is much larger than the scope of “Hawaii vacation rental.”

Don’t be afraid if your keywords look competitive! Most of those pages are not real competitors. They have not intentionally optimized to rank high. Also, only a small percentage of competitors will be using a solid themed and siloed site!

How to Obtain the Number of Competing Pages

Go to Google.com and search the first keyword on your list. For example: travel.

If it is a key phrase with more than one word, use quotation marks around it like this: “Hawaii vacation”. This restricts results to pages that actually use this phrase, which is a more accurate measure of real competition.

Look at the number of competing pages listed next to “Results” in the blue bar at the upper right hand side of the page. For example: travel has 3,170,000,000 competing pages. Enter this number into your spreadsheet. Repeat this process for each keyword on your list.

Next, check how many pages have the keyword in their actual page title. This is a good way to zero in on how many of the pages are real competitors that are actually using the keyword in the important page title area.

In Google, enter your search like this:

allintitle:keyword

For example, allintitle:travel

There are still 187,000,000 results, but don't give up - as you dig down further into each of these top-level themes, there will be much less competition and you'll find some "sweet spot" themes to optimize your site for.

 

6. Search for New Keywords

Go to your favorite keyword tool (the Google Keyword Planner and the free tool by KeywordDiscovery are both good options). Search the first keyword on your list, for example: travel.

Only consider the top 10 most relevant / interesting keywords returned (it takes too long to manually research more than 10 keywords).

Add the new keywords to your spreadsheet.

7. Dig to Uncover All Interesting Keywords

Now you need to search up to five levels deep on each new keyword to ensure you’ve discovered all the interesting keywords.

This means you “drill down” by searching on each new set of results that comes up.

Search on each keyword to get results, then search on any new keywords that come up to get more results, then search on any new keywords that come up to get more results.

Continue searching until you’ve gone five levels deep or there are no new interesting keywords being returned.

Example of searching five levels deep:

vacation
Hawaii vacation
Hawaii vacation rentals
Oahu vacation rentals
North Shore Oahu vacation rentals

 

How to Search Five Levels Deep

Use the Google Keyword Planner to search on the first keyword you found in step 7. For example: vacation

Note any interesting new keywords in the results in a new column of your spreadsheet.

Now search on the first keyword in this new column. For example: Hawaii vacation.

Note any interesting new keywords in the results in a new column of your spreadsheet.

Search on the first keyword in this new column. For example: Hawaii vacation rentals.

Note any interesting new keywords in the results in a new column of your spreadsheet.

Search on the first keyword in this new column. For example: Oahu vacation rentals.

Note any interesting new keywords in the results in a new column of your spreadsheet.

Search on the first keyword in this new column. For example: North Shore Oahu vacation rentals.

Note any interesting new keywords in the results in a new column of your spreadsheet.

Continue searching each new set of results until you have searched up to five levels deep for every keyword you found, or until there are no more useful new keywords being returned.

Repeat this search process for each keyword on your list.

Find search volume and number of competing pages for new keywords as discussed above.

8. Find Search Engine Competitors' Keywords

Reverse engineer your top competitors to find the main keywords they’re using.

Go to Google and do a search for your main top-level keyword. For example: travel.

Go to the home page of the first relevant website (the home page may not be the page listed in the search results).

Note down the relevant main site categories from the navigation menu onto your spreadsheet.

Don’t include any non-relevant categories like “Newsletter”.

Repeat this process for the top 10 competitors’ sites.

Clean up the list, removing any categories you feel are not relevant enough to the main top-level keyword. You can also modify categories as needed.

You may also decide to do further keyword research based on new categories you find.

Repeat the above process for the plural of your main keyword (if applicable).

Only note new categories that you didn’t find above.

Repeat the above process for each of your synonyms and their plurals. Only note new categories.

9. Organize Keyword Categories

Organize your list of keywords into a logical structure of categories and sub-categories.

This gives you a potential site structure that lets you make decisions about what themes to include in your site.

How to Organize Categories

  • Site structure – Your site should be structured in a hierarchy of silo > articles. You need at least five silos to establish your theme.

    If a silo topic is broad, you may need to create sub-silos under it: silo > sub-silo > articles.

    If a silo topic is really broad, you may need to even use sub-sub-silos: silo > sub-silo > sub-sub-silo > articles.

    However, it’s not really a good idea to go down any more levels than this because your site becomes too complex.

  • Determine major categories – Assess your keyword list and determine what the major categories are. These are potential silos to include on your site.

    Silos should have a minimum of about 5-7 million competing pages.
    This ensures there are probably enough good “child keywords” under that theme that can be used as article topics.

    Remember that at least five articles / pages are needed to support each silo theme.

  • Determine sub-themes and articles – Look at what topics fit naturally under the major categories as sub-categories or articles. For example: Vacations > Beach Vacations. Copy and paste keyword lists as needed to achieve this.

    Whether a topic works best as a sub-category or an article really depends on how broad it is. Generally you can judge how broad a topic is by the number of competitors.

    If there are at least five relevant child keywords, you can use the topic as a sub-category and the keywords under it as articles.

    However, if the topic is narrow and does not have any good child keywords, use it as an article.
    .

Category Tips

When a keyword phrase is worded awkwardly, you can rearrange it to sound better to a human visitor. The search engines will still recognize your intention and give you credit.

You can combine keywords that are almost identical into one page.

Your research may lead you into new areas you hadn’t initially considered. This is good, as long as the keywords remain relevant to your site and business.

You will need to do a ~keyword search for each page of your site, including the home page. Use the synonyms you find in your page text. This reinforces your theme by using related words.

10. Decide on the Themes to Include in Your Site

Okay, now you have some decisions to make about where you want to position yourself in your market.

Below I’ve give you some issues to consider as you choose which themes you should include in your site.

As with the steps covered above, our SEO service, which uses professional research tools, is much faster than doing the work manually. It's also more accurate in determining exactly how themes are related to each other. 

For example, 20% of pages that talk about travel also mention vacations.

What this means is that if you create a site about travel, then vacations is an excellent theme to include as a silo or section of the site, because it is highly relevant to and supports the overall theme of travel.

When considering what your site is about and what themes to include, ask yourself:

  • How relevant is this theme to my business? Are visitors who use this keyword likely to buy what I’m selling?

  • Does the keyword appear to be used early in the buying cycle, indicating a need for me to educate and build a relationship with prospects before the sale?

  • These “educative keywords” are generally cheaper to buy traffic on than “buying keywords,” and you can take prospects off the market early and stop them searching if you can meet their needs.

    However, there may be a longer lead time before you make a sale.
  • Does the term appear to be a buying keyword that could result in immediate sales?

  • Both types of keywords are useful to include on your site, but you should factor into your business model the amount of contact that may be needed before you make a sale.
  • Does the keyword seem to be “expert vocabulary” – terminology that only someone with expertise in the market would use?

    These keywords may not have high traffic or cost, but they are useful for establishing relevance. Use them in your page content to add authority.
  • What is the AdWords CPC (cost per click)? High CPC is a good indicator of money (buyers) in the market. You can view CPC on the Google Keyword Planner .

  • How many searches does the keyword get? Are you targeting a worldwide audience, or a specific country?
  • How much competition is there?

    For silo themes, you want to have a minimum of about 5-7 million competing pages on Google. This is a rule of thumb to help assure the theme is broad enough to have at least five good article themes within it.

    Five million refers to competitors that are returned with keyword phrase match (enclosed in quotation marks), if it’s a phrase. For example, “Hawaii vacation”.

    Phrase match shows more accurately the number of real competitors who have intentionally optimized to use the phrase.
  • How broad (how high up the vertical market) do I want to go with my site?

    You should aim to target your site to keywords that are highly relevant to you, with good traffic and cost per click.

    Very broad, competitive themes will take longer and be more work to rank well on. Often it's a good idea to start with a more narrowly-focused site and then expand to cover broader themes over time.

..........

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