The 5 Essential Elements of Search Engine Keyword Research

SEO Copywriting 2.0Keyword research is cool.

It allows you to gaze directly into people’s minds.

Being able to take a look at the words and phrases people use when looking for things online is invaluable. Rather than listening to people say what they think they might do, you get to observe what they actually did. And when aggregated, you get a nice view of the words people most often use when thinking about and searching for a certain topic.

Once armed with keyword intelligence that’s relevant to your niche, you have the unique ability to create highly-relevant content that aids your site visitors and enhances your credibility. You’re speaking the language of the audience after all, and satisfying their needs.

And if you get it right, you’ll likely rank well in the search engines too, after promoting the content in a strategic way. It may seem strange to view search traffic as a secondary benefit in a Google-driven world, but that’s exactly how you should view it. Google won’t treat you as relevant until someone else does first.

The counterintuitive rule of search engine keyword research is to try to forget that search engines can send you traffic. View the data as free or low-cost market research and you’ll have the proper mindset to formulate a content strategy that has a shot at ranking well. People need to like your content before Google will.

Here are the five essential things to cover when it comes to keyword research:

1. Research Tools

Some will tell you that Google’s Keyword Tool is all you need for research. Another free option is Aaron Wall’s SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tool, which incorporates Yahoo! Search data and other useful metrics. Paid tools may be superior choices to those provided by search engines since the proprietors are not motivated to sell you search advertising, and include Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery.

2. Get Specific

“Keyword” is the term that gets tossed around, but what you’re really after in most cases are keyword phrases. For example, a real estate attorney in Austin, Texas would gain very little actual benefit from ranking highly for the single word “attorney” (and good luck anyway), but specific keyword phrases based on geography and specialty would yield highly targeted traffic (“Austin real estate lawyer”). And don’t forget synonyms.

3. Strength in Numbers

Don’t take as gospel truth the reported number of monthly searches provided by any particular tool. But do pay attention to relative popularity among search terms. You want to make sure enough people use that phrase when thinking of your niche to make it worth your while, especially if this is one of the primary search terms you want to target for your site overall. At the same time, be realistic. If you are trying to rank in a very competitive sector, aim for something attainable first, or make sure that a certain keyword combination can rank for an easier phrase if the more competitive term ends up out of reach.

4. Highly Relevant

Make sure that the search terms you are considering are highly relevant to your ultimate goal. If you are a service provider or selling specific products, keyword relevancy may be easier to determine—you ultimately want someone to purchase the product or service. Other goals may require more careful consideration, such as subscriptions to content publications and contributions to charities, for example.

5. Develop a Resource

Here’s the key element. Can a particular keyword phrase support the development of content that is a valuable resource to readers?

Something that:

  • Satisfies the preliminary needs of the site visitor
  • Acts as the first step in your sales or action cycle
  • Is worth linking to

Steps 1-4 are basic operating procedure, at least in webmaster circles.

Step 5 is what makes the difference, and that’s what explore next.

This is an excerpt from a free 28-page report called How to Create Content that Ranks Well in Search Engines. To get the whole story, head over to the SEO Copywriting Made Simple page to instantly download the full updated PDF.

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Reader Comments (56)

  1. says

    Good post. I found when looking for search terms (low hanging fruit) I try and find 4 to 6 related terms. If they only under 10 searches per day each that is still up to 40 or 60 a day. Target an article towards those terms.

    You will also be surprised at what other terms will start to bring in traffic.

  2. says

    It amazes me what useless terms I rank well for — “bald people” anyone? Getting lot of traffic from that one.

    Yes, some relevant terms bring good traffic too.

    So Brian, what % of your traffic is organic SE traffic?

  3. says

    Great post.

    I have found the overture keyword research tool really useful in past, however in recent times I havent been able to access it properly.

    For me, I am only interested in people specifically searching for computer help in my home-town (Perth). Google gives plenty of suggestions but most of them are not Perth related – I found the overture tool easier in this regard, the specific numbers were great too.

    The seobook tool doesnt seem to function for me, I tried it just then and got 0 results. Is it still working for you guys over there? perhaps they are blocking access to Australian domains.

  4. says

    Ted, I don’t pay a lot of attention to overall search traffic, because as you mention, a lot of it is silly. I use metaphor and analogy quite a bit, and search engines are not smart enough to figure that out.

    For example, it amazes me how many people search for “kids eat free” without regard for geography, and land on this post.

    I do watch targeted search traffic though, and since I’m currently #3 for “copywriting” and #1 for “writing headlines” in Google, I’m pretty happy.

    Perth Guy, I usually have to hit “search” twice to get results with the SEO Book tool. Not sure why that is.

  5. says

    The tool of Aaron’s would take a bit of education for me to understand it.

    I’m looking forward to the next installment !

  6. says

    I have noticed the overture tool has been flaky for a couple months now. I will try the search twice thing.

    Since I have started to use the Google adword tool for general research but when I really want to dig deep and gather over 1000 phrases I use Wordtracker

  7. says

    How about finding related topics, not just the niche targeting you need? If you find your customers want not only copywriting, but also HTML template formatting (or SEO, for that matter), entering this niche might be very much helpful.

    Or is it just the basic guide to keyword research or something?

  8. says

    Yuri, I’m going to touch on related keyword topics in the next post, but for the sake of clarity, I’m taking it one keyword phrase/content resource at a time. I think it will make a bit more sense after the next post.

  9. says

    I just started playing with a few hours ago. Not enough data yet, but I like it so far.

    Worth trying — took maybe 5 minutes to sign up and implement.

  10. says

    I’ve been playing with a bit – different data than the rest, but has been pretty useful for more general terms. I haven’t even explored the extra functionality yet.

    It’s interesting to note how different the results are b/w Wordtracker, Yahoo (Overture), Wordze, and Google Keyword Tool.

  11. says

    Another thing that is useful when doing keyword research is checking the supply and not just the demand.

    If you look for the term “designer sunglasses” in the overture tool you see that there is massive demand. However, you will probably not rank for it because there are a lot of sites competing for the term (a lot of supply).

    The way to check this is to use the google allinanchor and allintitle queries.

    try comparing the following

    allintitle:designer sunglasses

    allintitle:chinese tattoos

    and you will understand the concept

  12. says

    Yoav, that’s a good point. I should probably add to this post and reiterate the “be realistic” aspect of trying to rank for certain terms. I personally take that a bit for granted, so I should have spelled it out.

  13. says

    I’ve just tried myself. Not enough data yet but it provides reports that I think most bloggers would find interesting. The part that intrigued me was from Darren Rowse’s post about it – in terms of figuring out what questions people are asking in search engines that result in traffic to your site…

  14. says

    Another thing to remember is that the Overture tool (or any derivation of) does not split between singular and plural phrases, does not differentiate between word order and often misses ‘and’ ‘in’ ‘for’ type operators from its results.

    I generally use overture to get an idea and then look at all different permutations in comparison to each other using google trends. Sure it doesn’t give you volumes but if you are comparing say ‘homeowner loans’, ‘homeowner loan’, ‘loans for homeowners’ etc etc you can find out which of the search volume for each permutation of a phrase relative to each other.

    Great comment by Yoav also, this sort of extra research can be a gem in finding a relatively low competition, high volume niche.

  15. says

    Yea… I totally agree with that and more specifically #5. People don’t realize it, but google knows how long visitors stay at your site. The longer they stay, the more google likes it…

  16. says

    If I want to get really qualitative about the competition or current supply for a given phrase, I take a look at the top ten results in Google to get an idea of how those sites are using the keywords (filename, titles, etc.).

    If it doesn’t look like they’ve deliberately done much to target the phrase, then that is a good sign that my chances are good for grabbing a good ranking for it.

    It also gives me ideas of things I may need to do (or do better than them) with the phrase or content.

  17. says

    Yep, I do that too. Plus, when the content is not that good that ranks ahead of you, you can pull in the people who hit the “back” button with a nice compelling title that still displays the keywords.

  18. Pete says

    HitTail is by far the easiest way to get into the heads of your users. It literally turns your entire website into a writing topic suggestion box, with the best suggestions automatically getting sorted by HitTail.

  19. says

    Keywords are a very tricky thing to have to pull out and use. To think how would someone type in a word(s) to find my site is a challange but possible with some of the tools mentioned. I will be looking at the to see if that is a tool I can use to refer my team too for thier sites. Great information. I also have a number counter on my site that collects where people come from and what words they used to click in so I can change keywords around if I need too.

  20. says

    Tools like Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery are good but they are all paid Ones. Do you recommend any free tools that can also give a fair idea about the competition.

  21. says

    Very useful article. These keyword research tools you mention are very good. I am also using Google insights and Google Trends. In order to get more keyword ideas I also use, and I tend to do a Delicious search in order to find out what kind of keywords people use to bookmark a specific topic. Twitter search is also useful.

  22. says

    “ is CLOSED to new subscribers.” WTHeck? My search for a free keyword tool continues. Once spent a whole evening looking. Nothing useful exists. Those billed as “free” mainly serve as a marketing gimmick to get you to buy services. Hey, Wordtracker would be great, but at $329 annually, seems kinda high for an enhanced version of what G’d keywordselector does pro bono!

  23. says

    Hey Brian…I just read your article for the second time, and wanted to make sure that when you said keywords you didn’t mean meta keywords but just keywords in the body of your blogs and copy etc.

    The reason I say this is Google does not use the meta keywords in your header for determining quality of a site and positioning…

  24. says

    Brad, yep, I mean keywords in the content and title tag (which are essential) and in the meta description (which is not for ranking, but to assure searchers of the relevance of your page). You are correct that meta keywords are not used by search engines anymore.

  25. says

    Hey Brian love the article and the blog you have got some fantastic tips here.

    I am just studying keyword research and SEO trying to get my head around it.

    Could you recommend a easy to understand guide/ article that explains the basics?

    I feel I know the basics but just want to be sure I know them.

    All the best Graham

    PS keep up the fantastic work

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