Let’s do an experiment.
Think of the first word that comes to your mind when you think of SEO.
If you are, you’re onto a winner—particularly if you’re screaming the first.
That’s because keywords are considered the fundamentals of SEO.
They’re the words that tell Google what you want to be—and what you should be—ranking for.
But, sussing out these pesky words can be difficult.
Especially when there are at least 250,000 words in the English language.
And that’s not even considering a multilingual site.
Luckily for you, there’s a simple (and underused) methodology that’ll help you build the perfect SEO strategy, using keywords.
That’s what we’re talkin’ about today!
Why Do We Need to Do Keyword Research?
Just like any SEO activity that you plan to complete, it’s wise to have the reasoning behind it.
Why? Because it allows you to understand the importance of it—and the rewards, should you do it right!
The main reason why site owners and SEOs do keyword research is to see where their competitors are performing better in the SERPs.
As much as you may not want to accept that they’re performing better, identifying where—and how—gives you a better opportunity to craft a new strategy. That will allow you to steal their spots!
Keyword research also helps you to discover keywords that you might not have thought of.
You see, people use different words that mean the same thing, all the time. You’d know them as “synonyms”.
Where you might say twelve, I call it a dozen.
You might call it Fall, whereas I call it Autumn.
You might not have known that these variations existed, or they could’ve just slipped past your mind.
Keyword research will help you to find these.
Get what I mean?
Once you’ve found these new keywords, you can:
- Optimize onsite content
- Build backlinks with optimized anchor text
- Reach the coveted top spots in Google
…so, are you ready to get started?
The Magic Words: How to Ace Keyword Research and Crack the Top Spots
1. Download Your Starting Keyword Positions
In order to do keyword research effectively, you need to know what you’re starting with.
Just like building a house, you can’t rush into interior design before the walls are built. You need to lay a solid foundation, and understand what you’re working with!
Get your investigating cap on and find which keywords you’re currently ranking for, if any.
To do this, sign in to your account and head over to the Keywords tab:
Here, you’ll find a fancy lookin’ graph that shows how your keyword rankings have fluctuated over the past few weeks.
Scroll down a little further and you’ll see which URLs are currently ranking for each keyword:
Then, select the checkbox in the upper left corner, and hit the Export to CSV button:
An Excel sheet, detailing your keyword rankings, will now be downloaded onto your PC.
Don’t worry if you feel an overwhelming surge of panic when you open this file. Granted, it does look confusing—but I’m going to show you how to de-complicate it, and pick out the data you really need.
2. What Are You Currently Ranking For?
The document you just downloaded tells you what you’re currently ranking for.
But, you need more than this. You need to understand what page is ranking for each keyword, and analyze whether that’s a good thing—or a not-so-good one.
Keyword research is done on a page level. You can’t pick out the best keywords to target, and then use them across your entire website.
Why? The answer is simple, really: It’ll confuse Google.
If search engine spiders pick up on the same keyword targeted excessively all over your site, you could be seen as a keyword stuffer.
Keyword stuffers aren’t appreciated by Google as they’re seen as spammy. And we all know that penalties are handed out frequently to SEO spammers!
Because of this, you’ll need to refine your data even further.
Luckily for you, this can be done with a simple Excel function: Filter.
This button will make your life a thousand times easier. And no, I’m not exaggerating.
To find your current rankings on a page level, just head to the Page column and press the fancy Filter icon beside your column title.
Select the first URL from the drop-down list, and you’ll be left with the full keyword ranking report for your first page.
Told you it was easy!
(You might want to save this new list as a separate document. That way, you can refer back to it without needing to re-apply the filters.)
Making Use of This Data
Great job! You’ve done the majority of technical work needed to kick off your keyword research activity.
You might be glad to hear that the next part consists of good old common sense.
To make use of this data, organize your page-level results by their ranking position, from high to low.
Are you currently ranking on Page One for a keyword, already? If so, what is that? And would you consider it a “good result”?
Using the Orange fill setting, highlight any good keywords that you’re ranking well for.
You’ll want to keep an eye on these, and make sure that your new strategy doesn’t cause them to drop.
3. Find a Similar Page on a Competitor’s Site
Remember how earlier, we spoke about how keyword research can help you to spot terms you didn’t realize were important?
I’ve got a secret for you: Your competitors can help you to crack this.
Start by looking at your competitor list. Do a quick Google search for the keyword you’d like to rank for, and make a note of those already ranking on Page One.
These sites clearly have some ranking power already. They may have gotten there by using other, similar keywords!
You should also remember me saying that keyword research is effective when done on page level. For that reason, you’ll need to find a similar page on your competitor’s site—not just the homepage.
Let’s say that I’m a women’s clothing retailer. I’m doing keyword research for my High Heeled Shoes category, and I want to find a similar page on sites that I already know are my direct competitors.
I’ll do this by:
- Conducting a site search
- Manually browsing the site
So, one of my direct competitors is Debenhams.
To find the page on their site which is most similar to mine, here’s what I’ll search for:
That first one is exactly what I’m looking for. Bonus!
Now that you realize how easy this is to do, feel free to go crazy.
You’ll need at least three URLs to analyze keyword ranking positions, just to triple-check that you’re not missing any glaring opportunities.
4. Download Their Ranking Positions
I’ll take a minute for you to hazard a guess at what comes next.
Well done, and five brownie points to you, if you shouted “repeat steps one and two!” at your PC monitor.
If you’re rolling your eyes at this point, I encourage you not to quit just yet.
This part is super important, and could give you some awesome new ideas to transform your keyword targeting strategy!
Head back into the Monitor Backlinks software and add these new URLs as competitors:
Then, select the new domain from your drop-down list, head over to the Keywords section and download their keyword ranking report.
Following the same steps used earlier, you’ll need to analyze this data.
Organize by the ranking position column, and highlight—using a different color—their good rankings.
You’ll need to use these, going forwards.
5. Collate and Analyze Your Data
You might realize that the data we’ve collected is jotted all over the place.
If you’re a firm believer in tidiness (like myself), you might feel a bit panicked here. But, don’t worry. That’s what the next step is all about!
Create a new spreadsheet to work from. This will get rid of other distractions—especially if you’ve collected tons of data, with each page ranking for multiple keywords.
Copy and paste the page-level ranking positions into this new sheet, and combine your results.
Now, you’ve got a compact list—with important cells already highlighted—to concentrate on.
Can we get three cheers for organization?
What Conclusions Can You Draw?
Now, let’s take the organizational aspect a step further and sort your sheet from high to low search volume.
This’ll show you every keyword that’s currently ranking on yours and your competitor’s sites, sorted by those which have the largest volume of people searching for them, per month.
So…what do you do with this data, now?
The answer: You’ll sieve through and draw some conclusions.
Take a look at the (possibly) hundreds of rows of data you’ve collected and answer these two questions:
1. Are you ranking for a high search volume keyword already?
If you followed this guide to a T, you should be able to see keywords highlighted in orange. These are the keywords you’re already ranking for, with that page.
(If you can’t see any orange and did follow the guide, then you may not have been ranking for any!)
Look above the fold of your data sheet.
Spotting yellow cells here means that you’re already ranking for a term that’s searched a lot.
But, just because you’re already ranking for it, doesn’t mean you should forget about it.
You’ll need to refer back to these later, but understanding where you’re currently ranking for highly searched keywords will allow you to get a grasp on the current effectiveness of your keyword targeting.
2. Are you already including any of these keywords in your strategy?
Let’s say that the most searched-for keyword in your combined data sheet is “fireplace guard”.
Head back over to the live page on your site. Can you spot the keyword being used anywhere?
The answer to this could open the floodgates for your SEO strategy.
If you’re not using the keyword, it makes sense to not rank for it.
…but, if you’re using the keyword and still not ranking for it, it could signal:
- A lack of backlinks pointing to the page
- A Google penalty
Any of these issues will mean that you’ll have to put in a bit of extra legwork to boost your keyword ranking positions.
Want some good news? Even with the worst Google penalty, it’s not impossible!
6. Pick Your Primary and Secondary Keywords
Still with me? Awesome! Let’s move on to the fun part.
You deserve a bit of fun after this extensive task!
Go through your list of analyzed, sorted and concluded data and pick the one keyword that best suits your page.
Yes, the search volume of your primary keyword is important… but relevancy overrides it.
There’s no point in choosing a keyword that doesn’t relate to your page, for the sole reason of reaching more people.
This one keyword should be uber-targeted, with a decent number of monthly searches.
Highlight this in green. You’ll use this as your primary keyword.
Next, you’ll need to use the keywords you chose as your primary and secondary options. After all, you can’t rank for them if they’re not actually being targeted.
When optimizing your page, you’ll want to include your primary keyword in:
- Meta description
- Page title
- On-site content (multiple times, without stuffing)
- Image alt text
- Backlink anchor text
Google—much like any other search engine—is smart. It understands keywords and phrases that mean a similar thing, and has built this into its algorithms.
The fancy name for it? Latent Semantic Indexing.
In simple terms, you can cater to Google’s algorithm by purposefully selecting other keywords that compliment your primary one.
We call these secondary keywords.
Choose 2-4 keywords that also have high search volumes, but are relevant to your page.
You’ll want to use your secondary keywords less frequently in:
- Meta description
- On-site content
- Appropriate heading tags
- Backlink anchor text
Granted, they’re less important (and will be used less) than your primary keywords, but they could help you hit the SEO jackpot… if you get it right.
However, this step comes with a warning. Avoid over-optimizing your site and creating a page that mentions your keywords too frequently.
This comes across as spammy, both to your audience and to Google.
It’s not good, and won’t give you the best results.
Remember that quality—and relevancy—are key. Not quantity!
Tracking Your Results
I’m going to give you a chance to let out a sigh of relief when I say this: We’re almost finished!
Just like any successful SEO strategy, you’ll need to track the results of your changes. After all, you can’t see the outcome of your keyword research attempts if you don’t measure the impact it’s had on your site.
Once implementing your new keywords and using them throughout your SEO strategy, allow 3-6 months for the changes to take effect.
With Monitor Backlinks, you’ll receive regular updates on your keyword ranking positions, which makes tracking your results super easy. All you have to do is check your inbox!
If your site has been optimized well for the keywords you picked, you should see some slow but steady improvements.
Heck, you might even find yourself ranking in the top spot if you’ve really put your all into it!
Ready for another bold statement?
Keyword research isn’t a one-off task. It needs to be done regularly.
That’s because keywords are always changing. New terms are coming into play. Did we know the word “selfie” existed 10 years ago? How about the word “hangry”?
Although these are extreme examples, your current keyword targeting strategy isn’t future-proof.
For that reason, add keyword research to your list of yearly SEO to-dos.
That way, you won’t miss out on new terms that are increasing in monthly searches, and you’ll be onto a winning strategy that serves your site well for years to come.