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Jun 18, 2017

Keyword research for absolute beginners

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Keyword research for absolute beginners


Table of contents

Are you a business owner or marketing manager with little technical knowledge, or perhaps just a blogger who takes up writing as a hobby? You want more people to visit your website and you heard that SEO can help but you don't know where to start? Doing keyword research is the very first step you need to take for a successful Search Engine Optimization project.

If you have no idea about SEO keyword research, this article is for you. If you need advanced keyword research techniques, tips and tricks then there are tons of articles out there on the web that can give you in-depth information about this topic. I will include some of the best articles (in my opinion) on this topic at the end of this article for your convenience.

Note: if you haven't read my article on SEO for beginners, you should check it out first to gain a basic understanding of how Search Engines work and why keywords are important.

What are keywords

Keywords, in the context we are talking about, are the words or phrases that people use on search engines to look for the things they want.
Keyword research for absolute beginners
“ Sample search keyword results on Google ”
A few sample keywords:
  1. dental services
  2. best dental services
  3. cheap dental services
  4. cheap dental services in Los Angeles

The components of keyword

Keywords are often made of root words combined with modifiers. In the examples above you can see "dental services" being used as the root keyword with descriptive (cheap, best) and location (Los Angeles) modifiers.

Keyword research for absolute newbie
“ From a single Root you can generate multiple variations by using different modifiers ”

Why you must do Keyword Research

By now, you should already know that Search Engines will rank each page on your website differently on different keywords. Since we all have a limited amount of time and resources, we cannot optimize our websites for all the keywords out there. We need to find the best keywords to rank for, these are the keywords that should yield the highest Return On Investment for you.

Keyword research, in a way, is a search engine optimization technique used to identify these high yield search terms. By finding popular search terms and optimizing your web pages for these terms you can be sure that the users looking for these topics will find your web pages.

How to do keyword research

There are many ways to do keyword research, in this article I will include only the techniques that I have tried and found working well for our websites and our clients. I will also focus on free and easy options so that you can get started right away on your website.

1. Brainstorming

You and your team know your business better than anyone else. Gather everyone, ask them to compile a list of possible words and phrases that they think the potential clients may use to describe the products or services your company is providing. Encourage your team members to put themselves in the shoes of the potential clients instead of words they hope people use.

One trick that I have found working for myself is to give myself a very limited amount of time (5-10mins) and simply jot down all the things that come to my mind WITHOUT THINKING. Once you start thinking, you will start putting your own ideas and hopes over the keywords you choose and end up with a biased list. Don't think, just do it.
Do it:
Do you segment and organize your audience into buyer personas?

Buyer persona
“ A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers ”

When creating your buyer persona(s), consider including customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals. The more detailed you are, the better (Hubspot).

Put yourself in the shoes of these buyer personas, ask yourself how would they search for your products and services. If you are selling furniture, for example, your potential customers may search for "high-end furniture", "luxury furniture in XYZ city", "discount furniture", "home decoration ideas", "leather sofa", ... At this point, don't put any limit on the list, let's say that your products are high-end and you wouldn't want users to be associated with "cheap" or "discount" or "sales, don't even worry about that for now. You are in the customers' shoes, you are trying to think like them, we will see what we can do with this list in the next steps.

Use it:
Brainstorming is a quick method to come up with a list of possible keywords that can be used as references. This method is extremely useful to define "core topics" and possible "related topics". For example, our core topic is "custom website design", but we can have related topics that may not seem very relevant at first such as "how to register a dot vn domain".
One thing to note is that keywords generated using this method are often biased because they are the words that we hope people are using to search, not words that they are actually using. You should not use keywords from this list without further verifying them using the techniques described in the next steps.

2. Extract keywords from your own website

The brainstorming method gives you a good list to start with, but unless you have a mind reader in your team you will never be able to guess the exact keywords people use. If you already have a website up and running, you can use several useful tools to extract the keywords users are using to search on Search Engines that lead them to your website. Below is a list of valuable tools you should set up on your website:

a. Google Webmaster Tools

An incredibly useful tool for Webmasters and Site owners, it gives you a quick overview of your website and possible issues that Google finds on your site.

One of the important pieces of information you can collect from this is the list of keywords people use to find you on Google.

Sample Google Webmaster Tool Keyword performance report
“ Webmaster tools give you a quick overview of the keywords users used to reach your site ”

b. Google Analytics

The most used analytics tool in the world, it is available with a FREE plan that works well for most websites. With this tool you can see how many people go to your website, where they are from, which devices and browsers they use, how long do they stay on your site, how they navigate your site, etc... These incredibly useful reports will help you to further optimize your website to increase the number of visitors and conversion rate (the percentage of visitors that turn into leads and sales).

“ Google Analytics collect traffic sources information and show you the keywords users used to reach your site ”
Use it:
Since these tools start collecting data from the time you install them, you will not have past data. For that reason, you should install them as soon as possible if you haven't already done so. Setting up Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics is extremely easy. If you are using Nilead Platform, you can set it up yourself in a few minutes (we will cover this in more detail in another article), or ask us to do that for you for FREE.

Once you analyzed your website, you should have a list of words and phrases that your visitors used that lead them to your website. You can then check where you rank for each keyword in this list and decide to optimize for keywords that you are already strong at.

3. Extract keywords from your competitors

Yes, if you want to beat your competitors, you can try to rank higher than them on all the keywords that they use. Keeping track of your competitors can also save you a lot of time doing keyword research and experimenting. Many of the tools I mention below will let you put in any domain and extract keywords with search ranks and search volumes.

4. Extract keywords from other sources

Remember that Google only includes you in the result list if it decides that your web page is somehow relevant to the keywords the users use. You still need to find the list of potential keywords that you are missing out and you must find them from other sources on the web.

5. Google Trends

Google Trends is a public web facility of Google based on Google Search, it shows you the trending search terms (based on search volume) for various regions of the world, in various languages.

Use Google Trend to research keywords
“ Google Trend is a great way to find the trending topics and keywords ”

6. Google Adwords Keyword Planner

The Keyword Planner is part of the free set of tools that Google offers Advertisers who want to use GoogleAds to promote their businesses. You do not need to advertise on Google to take advantage of this tool, however, and it's a great tool to discover keyword ideas since it utilizes data from Google itself.

Use Google Keyword Planner to research SEO keywords
“ Google Keyword Planner is part of the free tools offered by Adwords for Advertisers to research keywords ”

One thing to note is that this tool is for people who want to advertise on Google, some of the information it provides should be taken with a grain of salt.

7. Google Related Searches

A FREE, powerful, and perhaps the quickest way to gather a brief keyword intelligence. At the bottom of the search result page, you will find a subset of related searches for the given keyword. In fact, this is my go-to tool for keyword research when I need to write a new article for Nilead's blog because it's fast.

sample google related search

“ Sample related search suggestions for `Luxury furniture in Vietnam` keyword ”

Google Related Searches combine with KeywordsEverywhere extension for Chrome is god-sent for lazy people like me.

Keywordseverywhere with Google Related Search

“ KeywordEverywhere plugin can show traffic information to make quick decision ”
Other FREE tools to try
  1. Ubersuggest
  2. Insta Keywords
  3. Keyword tool
  4. SEO Book
  5. Soovle

9. Rank & Extend your keyword list

Now we will start to generate even more variations of the keywords using several methods:

10. Synonyms and typos

Are there any words/phrases that have the same meaning as your root keyword? If so, you should consider adding them to your keyword list as well. Most businesses do not consider optimizing for misspelled words, but there are lots of words that are long and complex and the percentage of users searching for misspelled keywords is high. There is an advanced article on using Synonyms for keywords on CognitiveSeo that you should check.

11. Keyword modifiers

1. Brand modifier (i.e: Sony, Canon, Nikon, etc... if your core word is "camera")
  • Canon camera
  • Sony new camera
  • Nikon camera lens
2. Location modifier (i.e: London, New York, Beijing,...)
  • Dental services in New York
  • Website design in London
  • Best clubs in Saigon
3. Descriptive modifier (i.e: best, coolest, top, cheap, high quality, etc..., If you sell cars, for example, the descriptive modifiers can be year and model such as accord 2017)
  • Reliable dental services
  • Honda Accord 2017 price
  • Luxury hotel furniture
4. Question modifier (i.e: how to, where to, what to,...)
  • How to take good care of expensive furniture
  • Where to buy Canon lens
  • What to do when my tooth hurts
5. Other modifiers (photos, images, etc...)
  • Accord 2017 interior photos
  • Car tire change instructions
Once you followed all the steps above, you should have a good list of keywords ranging anywhere from 50 to several thousand keywords. You can get a quick overview of the search volume for all your keywords using Google Keyword Planner or other tools such as https://searchvolume.io. Note that sometimes you will not be able to find search data for certain keywords for several reasons:
  1. The keyword is new (keyword reports often use search data several months old)
  2. The keyword does not have enough search data (no one searches for it)
Apart from search volume, you may notice that Google Keyword Planner assigns competition indication for each keyword, this is also called Keyword Difficulty. It's worth mentioning (again) that Google Keyword Planner's competition indication is for Advertising, not SEO. A keyword with a low competition rank can be very difficult to optimize at the same time. There are other tools such as ahrefs, SEOMoz that give a better overview of SEO Keyword Difficulty, most of them are not free, however (but if you are serious about SEO, they are well worth the money).

Do not rule out these low-volume search keywords yet, however, I will show you how they can still be very useful for you shortly.

Consider users intention

Short keywords are not always good. Low-search-volume keywords are not always bad. You must consider the users' intention when they use the keywords. Consider these 2 keywords:
  1. luxury furniture sales
  2. wood furniture maintenance
Which of the 2 keywords above would lead to more sales? Obviously, people who search for discounts and sales are looking for good deals and will probably be more willing to purchase when they find what they want. It's not to say that you should not optimize for the second keyword, just remember that users who go to your web page with that keyword are probably not trying to buy anything from you in the near future. You can decide to optimize for the 2nd keyword for other purposes such as promoting your brand.

Your first keyword research is over. You extracted keywords by brainstorming, extracting from your own website and other sources. You then filtered them by search volume, competitive level, and user intention. At this point, you should already have the list of keywords you should target. Before ending this article, however, I will add a few additional interesting ideas for Keyword Research.

Long-tail keywords

We usually group keywords by the number of words, for example:
  1. 1-word: keywords
  2. 2-words: keywords research
  3. 3-words: SEO keywords research
  4. 4-words: SEO keywords research strategy
  5. 5-words: top SEO keywords research strategy
Long-tail keywords are those 3 and 4 keyword phrases that are usually very, very specific to whatever you are selling. Whenever someone uses a highly specific search phrase, they tend to be looking for exactly what they are actually going to buy.
  1. iPhone 6: less buying intention, mostly information-seeking
  2. white iPhone 6 / 16 GB iPhone 6: users looking for the exact type of iPhone6 probably intend to buy one
  3. cheap white iPhone 6: definitely trying to buy :)
The more words the keyword has, the lower its search volume is (people are generally lazy). Most of the 1-word keywords are extremely difficult and probably not even worth ranking for (high competition, low conversion). Given the same resources, it's usually better to try to rank for a list of long-tail keywords as opposed to a single short keyword. Long-tail keyword deserves an article to cover its usage, Nail Patel did a great job explain its usefulness in his article on how he generated huge traffic with long tail keywords.

Take our case, for example, we optimize for the keyword "Web design in Vietnam" and we consistently rank #1 (or at least in the top 5) for it when searched with Google Vietnam. We also rank in the top 10 for related keywords such as "Website design service in Vietnam", "Web design in Ho Chi Minh City", etc... Even though the search volume for these keywords is low, they are invaluable for our business because:
  1. The users searching for this keyword usually looking for our service
  2. We reported the case with Web design in Vietnam that most businesses here look for cheap, low-quality service, and thus for this market, we want to target only high-end businesses. The users searching for this keyword are usually foreign-owned companies (operating in Vietnam) or at least somewhat fit the criteria.

Long tail keywords can bring huge traffice
“ Long-tail keywords have higher probability of conversion ”
Another bonus with long-tail keywords is that users who search for them are often more persistent (and desperate) to find what they are looking for. With long-tail keywords, you don't have to rank on the first page and still can generate traffic.

Validate your keywords

It's always good to validate your keywords before putting resources into optimizing your web pages for them. Enter the keywords into search engines as if you were the searcher.

1. Do you see other sites offering products and services similar to yours

If you see that, it is good, which means the keyword you selected is relevant. You can even go further by using this trick with Google: search for “allintitle: keyword” where the keyword is your keyword phrase. You will get the list of web pages that include this exact phrase in their Title and will give you an idea of how many web pages are optimizing for that keyword.

If you don't see that (or if you see mixed results), then you may run into the situation that a keyword can mean two totally different things. In this type of situation, you may want to refine your keyword since at least 50% of the users searching for this keyword may not have the intention you expected.

2. Do you see highly authoritative big brands in the top ten?

This is a difficult decision to make, but it is a signal that the keyword you chose is highly competitive and may not be worth your effort trying to rank for it. See if you can find a long-tail version of that keyword that is easier to rank for.

3. Run an Adwords campaign to validate your conversion rate

If your budget allows, GoogleAdwords and other Ads channels such as Facebook can be great channels to run test trials for your keywords before you commit your resources into search engine optimization. The idea is the SEO is often a very lengthy and resource-consuming process, what if you reach the top 3 then find out that the people who search with that keyword rarely end up as your customers? With a minimal budget, you could start a campaign on GoogleAdwords for the exact keyword you are trying to optimize, set a bid price appropriate to get the advert at least showing on the front page, and as high as you can comfortably handle. Ensure you have all the tracking and analytics in place, then run this campaign for at least 50 successful conversions (or 500 if your budget allows). The exact number also depends on the type of product and the value of each transaction, but you get my point.

I hope this article helps you to understand the role of keyword research and how to do it. There are tons of other more advanced documents out there, be sure to check them out. Don't forget to subscribe to our mailing list below if you want to get notified when we publish other articles to help you grow your online business.

Useful paid tools to consider:
  1. Wordtracker
  2. SemRush
  3. Majestic
  4. ahrefs


About the author


Vu Nguyen

Vu Nguyen is an entrepreneur, developer, and founder of Nilead. He loves backend website development and has experience in eCommerce (owning an online store as well as being a developer), Search Engine Optimization, UX Design, and Content Strategy.

Since 2005, Vu has headed and overseen UX design teams for projects in corporations, start-ups, individuals, etc., regardless of their size. He has been involved in both the creative and technical aspects of each project - from ideation to concept and vision, prototype building to detailed design, and build-up to deployment.

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