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Keyword Research: Under-rated and Under-loved

Keyword research, the step-child of SEO. Considered a tedious step in the SEO research process by many, keyword research is as critical to search as links are to rankings. Let's take a minute and discuss how the actual keyword research process plays out and take a guess as to why it's under-loved, but also why it's so valuable...

Step 1: Brainstorm and research

How does the keyword research process even begin? Initially, we use the old noggins, our heads, history - you name it - to start thinking of keywords to investigate and variations to look for. Then, we use keyword research tools to determine a list of popular and searched keyword terms. This is a very manual process of plugging in keyword ideas, reviewing the similar keywords, variations, alternative terms and reviewing the client's site(s) to make sure we've hit it from all angles. Keyword researchers who get into this process often wake up dreaming of keyword variations they forgot to research, and dive back in the next morning (or maybe I'm just an odd phenomenon?)!

Step 2: Drilling down the keyword list

Once we have a comprehensive list, we start to narrow it down, determine our targets and ensure we're on the right track using multiple keyword research tools to compare. We look at global monthly search volumes, relative search volumes compared to the number of searches, searching trends and regional or geographic search volumes.

Step 3: Defining your targeted phrases

When it comes to keyword recommendations, relevancy determines which words we choose to target – for the entire site and individual pages.
Step child, step!
We typically compare relevant terms or variations of terms in order to get a gauge on which terms are more searched or trending to be more heavily searched. We evaluate search traffic trends and volumes for the keyword and its variations in order to determine which words make the most sense. We research, justify, graph, screen shot and compare, over and over again. What we don't do:
  • Compare terms that aren't relevant to one another
  • Compare broad terms with long tail keyword phrases
  • Choose a keyword and never change
Once we have a batch of commonly searched words to work from, we will also look into current rankings, on-page optimizations, what search results are showing up for the terms and the feasibility of gaining the ranking before determining which word would be the best to target (looking at what the site is ranking for and the number of sites competing for the same terms).

Step 4: We have our keywords. Now what?

When keyword research is complete, what we're left with isn't one or two terms that we target for the site. We're left with a matrix of relevant keywords that include broad phrases, long tail phrases and variations.
Google Insights serves keyword researchers well...
Some terms are meant to target one category of pages or a single page on the site. Some terms are meant for areas yet to be developed, but that need be targeted for SEO or built into new PPC campaigns or ad groups. Most of the final keywords all have an underlying relevant theme but are also different from one another. At this stage what we've essentially done is develop the on-page keyword strategy for the website. This is why it's so important for PPC and SEO teams to talk to each other!

Step 5: The Good, the bad, and the realistic

The Good: Initial keyword research is done. The Bad: Keyword research is an on-going process, so you're never really done! The Realistic: Once a keyword strategy has been put into place and results have started coming in, keywords and strategies should be optimized to ensure optimal performance and ROI.

Step 6: The Challenge

The challenge with keyword research comes in educating and explaining to clients that it's an evolving process. Educating clients on how targets are chosen and why they may change - that's the challenge. Getting a client to understand that strategies need refinement (whether it's for keyword research or internal linking) in order to find a sweet spot - that's the challenge. So, why all of the nay-saying around keyword research? In short, it's tedious work and can be considered entry-level. But, without it, SEO, PPC, link development and any online optimizations would be fruitless. The keywords are what we monitor, we bid on, we use every day and relate our strategy to. Keywords are the glue to all things relevant and the words that bind websites with users. Keyword research, that's the fun part. Explaining the many nuances and changes? That's the hard part.
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