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SEO Enhancement Series: Keyword Research

October 4th, 2010 | | Uncategorized

This post is part 1 of a month long series on SEO Enhancement.

Keyword research is not the most glamorous part of Search Engine Optimization, but it is the necessary first step of any effective search marketing strategy. It is also a task that can quickly take on a life of its own where after hours of diligent research you now have a list of thousands of keywords to choose from. So how do you know where to start? This post will give you guidance on how to efficiently uncover the top keywords you want to target.

Step 1: Keyword Discovery

Identify Your Audience

You cannot effectively build a list of keywords until you figure out who you are marketing too. You have to think of what words your customers would be searching for and these may be different than the words you use internally. For example, a client may have a product titled “toss pillow” while customers may be searching for the term “throw pillow.” Think about how you would describe your business to a customer in order to begin creating your keyword list. This is often times different than your industry “intuition” so for a creative twist try asking friends and family how they would find your site while searching, and take what they say to heart. After all, they have the valuable outside view that your knowledge will block you from having.

Review Company Material

Once you’ve brainstormed on your own, the next place to research keywords is in your company’s current materials. Go to your website and look at the titles used on each page and the descriptions of products to identify words you are already focused on. You can also read through print material, such as brochures and sales letters, and highlight any keywords you find. Your marketing team has worked hard on these documents, so take advantage of what’s already there!

Keyword Research Tools & Analytics

Now that you’ve brainstormed a list of keywords it’s time to figure out what terms consumers are using. There are a number of tools, both free and paid, that can be used for keyword research.

Google’s Adwords Keyword Tool – This is a free tool you can use to enter your URL and see what searches your site will show for.


This tool also provides you with search numbers as well as the amount of competition associated with each keyword. This information will be important in determining which terms to focus on later.

SEOmoz Term Extractor – This is a tool we subscribe to which analyzes the content of the site you enter and extracts the terms it appears to be targeting.


These are the two tools I use most frequently, but there is no one tool that works best and we try to use many different ones to generate a range of words. Remember more research up front is better, and the more tools you use the larger the list you will be able to produce, which will help ensure that you don’t miss a “golden nugget” of a term. Below is a list of other common keyword research tools:

Competitive Analysis

After you’ve analyzed your site, the next step is to take a look at the competition.  Go right to their websites and scan their web pages to see which words they are targeting. This is also a good way to see how you can set yourself apart from the competition. You can utilize the tools above in the same manner to see how people are searching for the competition.

Step 2: Create Content Silos of Keywords

Now that you’ve compiled an undoubtedly long list of potential keywords the next step is to sort the keywords into content silos. Unlike PPC, a good SEO marketing strategy isn’t built around thousands of keywords, but rather targets specific, unique terms. I love using excel for keyword organization and give each silo its own tab. I then pull the best words from my list and sort the terms into the different silos.  Remember each silo must be narrowly focused to optimize results, and you should be able to find two or three terms that a single page could be optimized for. Make sure keywords are closely related and include any variations of terms so you can be sure that you have identified the most rankable terms.

Step 3: Keyword Evaluation

You now have a complete, organized list of potential keywords but which ones should you focus on?  If you choose very popular and competitive terms you will end up targeting terms which thousands if not millions of other pages are targeting and will never get a top ranking. What’s the point in that?! However, on the other hand, if you choose too narrow a keyword your terms may be so specific that users never actually search for them.

A good measurement to use is the Keyword Rankability Score. For each keyword you generated you can apply this formula to calculate the opportunity for ranking, which in the end is the most important:

Search Volume / Number of Competing Pages = Rankability Score %

The higher the percentage, the more potential you have of ranking for that term. This is just a guide to help in your decision-making and should not determine the final decision.

The best SEO keywords have the following qualities:

  • High Search Volume – people are actually searching for the keyword.
  • Low Competition – every site is not also targeting this keyword – try to target it!
  • Relevant – only target keywords for which you have supporting content on your site. Keywords should be used in your titles and H1 tags a well as throughout your descriptions.
  • High Rankability Score

A good rule to follow is to have no more than 3 or 4 keywords per content silo. Once you’ve chosen the keywords you want to target you are ready to start optimizing your website!

Bethany is an Account Executive at Hanapin Marketing, a search engine marketing firm focused on generating results through PPC and SEO.

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  • http://seowebsitehero.com CJ Roberts

    Love this. I come across people that need this everyday. A client wants to rank for a certain set of keywords perhaps thinking that google recognizes those keywords as having some type of magickal power and will categorize the site appropriately. People new to SEO never seem to grasp that they need keywords that are client targeted. For instance I get Real estate people all the time trying to rank for “this or that” county but nobody searches for anything by county unless its a courthouse so why waste your precious keyword time on it? Or the opposite. They sell belt buckles but they want number one for the keyword “clothing”. Seriously?

    PS: Love the Keyword tools though I wish Google’s legacy tool was still operational.