Q&A: How do I do Keyword Research?

May 22, 2009

I’m chatting with a marketing consultant who is looking to bring me in for the organic SEO piece for a couple of clients of his.  He is going to handle the PPC campaign as well as a few other items more on the branding, messaging side too.  Smart guy, understands lead generation, market segmentation, etc.  He wants to do some keyword research for his client this weekend and has not done much of this before, so he asks me to basically tell him what he needs to do and what tools he should use.

My reply:


It’s tough to teach “how to do keyword research” via email in 5 minutes…  But here are some resources and a rough recommendation of how to go about it:

Step 1: Brainstorm
– your client’s site
– your intuitive list of keywords you are thinking of (no tools, just your brain and imagination)
– your client’s intuitive list
– list all the “services” your client provides
– list the various sub-topics or features related to each service
– talk to sales guys and learn what the customer is looking for
– review your existing Google Analytics data for keywords currently referring traffic

Step 2: Competition
– your client’s competitors sites
– do a few searches for your initial list… check out the sites that rank well… what else are they targeting?
– use tools like www.spyfu.com and www.keycompete.com

Step 3: Organization
By now you should have a decent length list of lots of random keywords with very little structure or organization.  Look at the keywords.  Again, use your brain and no tools right now.  How can you break this list down into 4-5 different categories?  What do the keyword phrases have in common?  How are they different?  What are the common themes? What are the different “parts” of the keyword phrases?

Step 4: Keyword Combination Tool

Identify the various parts of the keyword phrase and break it down…  For example, with kitchen remodeling contractors you could break it down into two groups:

a) kitchen remodeling, kitchen renovations, kitchen remodels
b) contractors, companies, firms, remodelers

Then use the tool to create all the different combinations.  Additionally, you might want to use this to combine your root keywords “kitchen remodeling contractors” and “kitchen remodeling companies” with all of your regions like “DC” and “Maryland”.  Make two lists, and combine them.

Step 5: Google Keyword Tool
Use this to gather search volume data once you have your lists.  This tool will also make recommendations for new keywords, but don’t rely on that.  Do it yourself first via the above steps, and any new words you find here are a bonus.  Otherwise you’ll go down a narrow path and miss lots of stuff.  You need to use the human brain first, then the automated tools.  You can also use other data sources like WordTracker and KeywordDiscovery but for you purposes just use this tool for now.  Use the “average month” number for your keywords and use the “phrase” value rather than the broad or exact (its a dropdown you must select).

Step 6: Sort & Prioritize
Sort the keywords now according to search volume.  Then, starting at the top (highest volume) go through them and assign a number from 1 to 10 that indicates how likely it is that someone who searched on that keyword is a perfect match for your client.  10 means its almost a sure sale.  1 means its not very relevant at all.  I would probably give “kitchen remodeling” a 2 or 3, whereas I’d give “kitchen remodeling contractors” a 4 or 5 and maybe “kitchen remodeling contractors in Washington, DC” an 8 or 9.  Pardon the shameless plugs there, but hey they are totally relevant!

Step 7: Pick Your Targets
For PPC you will probably use most of these and then refine them out based on cost and performance (ROI) over time.  For SEO you can’t practically target a ton of keywords, so you have to pick the ones that are the most worthwhile.  You’ll also take into account 1) competition and 2) your current situation.  If its a new website you’ll need to target “long tail” keywords.  If its already pretty strong with a bunch of inbound links you can go a bit less long-tail.

Also see:  My Updated Opinion on Various Keyword Research Tools

I would typically estimate 4-5 hours per client here.  Its easy though to go much higher or lower.  Also, I would recommend that you probably do the data collection part on your keywords BEFORE adding in the various regional words.  Otherwise you’ll get a bunch of low numbers that are either “no data” which isn’t helpful to you, or they will have actual numbers but be highly prone to skew since its such a small data set.  Thus, run your data collection to identify whether “kitchen remodeling” gets more search volume than “kitchen renovation”, as well as what the magnitude is there, and then make the (relatively safe) assumption that if “kitchen remodeling” gets 3x the search volume of “kitchen renovation” than its probably pretty likely that “kitchen remodeling DC” will get somewhere in the range of 3x the search volume that “kitchen renovation DC” gets.

Okay so that was 15 minutes… helpful???

One Response to “Q&A: How do I do Keyword Research?”

  1. No doubt there are numerous fully-fledged programs on the market that can be purchased unfortunately I consider a lot of them totally wasting a lot of time to obtain real good keywords for niches. Shouldn´t all of us better go with something that makes better use of our time?

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