I don’t like spending time beating my head against the wall. I would much rather find less competitive keywords with similar traffic to optimize for and actually get somewhere. And I bet you agree. So, to that end, below I have shared my system for generating a strong SEO keyword list. Read on and enjoy!
Initial Keyword Research
The first thing I do is check my client’s Adwords account by running a query report, sorting, and copying the best words (i.e. volume, conversions, etc.) into an Excel spreadsheet. (I know, irony that this is first since I just badmouthed PPC.)
Once I’m done with Adwords, I use a reverse rank checker and a keyword density checker. Using the reverse rank and keyword density checker, I enter my client’s domain and their competitors’ domains to see what keywords they rank and are targeted for. I will also pull any words the competitors bid on in Adwords (a list also provided by the rank checker). I add all new keywords to Excel, “the master list.”
Then I run each keyword through Google’s Keyword Suggestion Tool, adding keywords with volume, and then exporting and copying the list to my current running master list.
Based on the current master, I run each keyword through Aaron Wall’s Keyword Tool. You can use Wordtracker or Keyword Discovery, but I use this tool because it’s free. I then export the results and copy relevant words over to the master. (The only criteria I really worry about copying is Wordtracker, Google, and Total Daily Volume.) I keep doing this until I have stats on all my keywords.
I then run the highest volume words through Google Sets, an Google Labs tool that will predict other words from the ones you enter. This is a good place to find keywords that are related, but that normal keyword suggestion tools miss or won’t give you. The ones I find through Google Sets then go through the Google Suggestion Tool, and the Aaron Wall tool if it has volume. As usual export, copy, paste.
I do some final tweaks to my list, like using the “CountIf” formula to find duplicates, sorting by keyword volume, and heavy pruning of irrelevant keywords that might have snuck in. Sort and organize as you like. This is just what I do.
At this point, I have my keyword list. I also know search volume. Now I need to know how competitive the keywords are to determine which are worth targeting.
There are two methods I use to measure competition, one paid and one free.
Paid (Easy Way!)
The first is SEOMoz’s Keyword Difficulty Tool. This is the tool I personally use. It’s quite complete, giving you a firm difficulty score that makes decision making and comparing words easy. However, the tool is only available with Pro Membership, which comes with a $79/mo price tag. Sounds hefty, but you get so much with Pro that it’s worth it. If you’re an SEO or firm, I highly recommend this option. It will save you time and money in the end.
BUT, if you don’t mind taking extra time in your research, you can do it yourself manually. A word of caution though… doing it manually requires many repeat Google searches back-to-back. Doing many searches back-to-back will get you temporarily blocked from the SERPs. It isn’t harmful in any way and it isn’t a penalty. It’s just Google’s way of protecting itself from automated requests. So if you have many keywords, be sure to spread them out over the course of a few hours or days.
To do this manually, you need to find out how many pages are optimized for your keywords. I say “optimized” because (usually) pages that are optimized are harder to compete with than pages that are just there through circumstance.
To test the SEO strength, use the following search operators:
2. [intitle:"kw" and inanchor:"kw"]
Plug your keyword in for “kw.” So, if my word was red shoes, the operator would look like this:
Enter the above operators one at a time into the Google search bar and get your results.
Add columns to your keyword master list and record the number of results from your search operator search. You can get this number from the upper right side of the SERP page. The lower the number, the better. Low numbers mean that there are not many optimized pages, so it will be easier to rank.
Now, take note of the page rank of your competition. (On-page data provided by the SEO Quake browser plug-in helps a ton!) Do a normal search with your word. Write down and average the top 10 results’ page rank to get an average overall page rank. Record the averaged number on your keyword master list as well.
Note: Going into the competitive analysis portion of my keyword research, my keyword list is usually quite long. Because of this, I tend to work my way down the list, determining competition for the highest volume first. Rarely will I pull competitive stats for all my keywords. I simply stop when I feel I have found enough words of good volume and low to acceptable competition.
Choosing the “Right” Keywords
To me, the “right” keywords are words that are relevant (obviously), have healthy volume, and are low to moderately competitive. These are the keywords that you can get rankings for the fastest and where your efforts will yield the most results.
I tend to stay away from the high volume, moderate to highly competitive words. Instead, I find keywords that are less competitive with equal total volume to the highly competitive word. If I target these keywords, I will rank quicker and better than had I targeted the high volume alone, and I will not have traded any volume. Makes sense to me.
To make your choice, peruse your list. Find words that have good volume with low optimization and page rank competition. These are the words that are “right” to target. Done!
This may seem like a lot, but the extra time spent here will make all the difference. Who wants to spend hours optimizing for words your site will never rank for? Who want to promise a client rankings for a word and not deliver? Or who wants to do work ranking a client on a word that has no value or search traffic? Not me. My time is valuable and I value my clients. Do the extra work in the beginning — it will pay off in the end!