Keyword Research for Non Rocket Scientists

By Thursday June 18th, 2015

Keyword research can be very time consuming, challenging and cumbersome, but it serves as one of the most important first steps of SEO.

Keyword research can be very time consuming, challenging and cumbersome, but it serves as one of the most important first steps of SEO or content development. Although the exact keywords’ impact on search ranking has changed over the years from keyword stuffing to content themes, the idea of keyword research still remains the same.

Through this article, I’ll identify where to start, some awesome time saving tips and advice for selecting the right themes and keywords for you.

If you’re writing content for digital marketing purposes, you’re probably not a rocket scientist

Getting Started

In most cases, you will begin with a few assumptions about the content you are planning to write. You can typically use these assumptions to give you a general direction to start developing your keyword lists.

But what if you don’t have any clue?

For subjects that you don’t understand or subjects that are overly technical, I recommend starting with the Google Keyword Planner and an informative source like Wikipedia.

A great example of this is spaceflight. If you’re writing content for digital marketing purposes, you’re probably not a rocket scientist, so you won’t understand the ins and outs of spaceflight.

Rather than reading through copious resources and interviewing people for information, plug the Wikipedia page for spaceflight into the Keyword Planner as your landing page. This will send the Google Ad Bot to the page to crawl it and it will identify top keyword themes for the page as well as top keywords for each theme.

When I enter the Wikipedia page for spaceflight into the Keyword Planner I receive 791 of the most relevant keywords relating to spaceflight, at least according to Google.

Keyword List Refinement

What’s next?

Unless you have a few free hours on your hands, you shouldn’t manually comb through the 791 results. Instead, cross of the terms that you know you don’t want from the first page of results.

Let’s say I’m developing content for SpaceX. According to Wikipedia, SpaceX’s goal is “creating the technologies that will enable humanity to reduce space transportation costs and enable the colonization of Mars.”

With an organizational goal as futuristic as this one, I will have no interest in writing about the history of spaceflight. Based on that, under the targeting parameters on the left side, add ‘history’ and ‘early’ as negative keywords. This will filter out all of the phrases that are geared toward the history of spaceflight.

This reduced the keyword count to 771 keywords.

Still too long.

Based on SpaceX’s goals, I also know that I want to specifically talk about people using spaceflight as a means of travel. To refine the keyword list further add ‘travel’ as a keyword to include on the right side under the option “Customize Your Search.”

This reduces the keyword count to 53 keywords.

That’s much more manageable, but you can still let the tool work a little bit harder for you.

If you’re spending the time to develop the content, it’s important to make sure there is search traffic for the keywords you’re optimizing for. Filter your results further by adding a “Keyword Filter” for greater than 50 searches a month.

This reduced our keyword count to 24 keywords.

As a general rule of thumb, try to get your total keyword count down between 25 and 250 keywords, depending on the topic.

Once your list of keywords is within that range, you have two options:

Option 1: Use the most appealing keywords from that list to refine your list further.
Option 2: Select your winning keywords and begin developing content.

Option 1: Refine Further

If you choose to refine further, you need to first select the keywords that you like the most from the list that you have.

Enter a few of those keywords into UberSuggest to attempt to gather a few more keyword options to increase your search parameters. This tool will return the top searched phrases that begin with your keyword.

For example, I entered “civilian space travel” and received 55 suggested phrases.

Review the suggestions and determine if any apply to the subject matter that you are considering.

From UberSuggest, I selected the following keywords:

civilian space travel cost
civilian space travel companies
civilian space travel price
civilian space available travel
first civilian space travel

Combine these new keywords with the phrases that you already selected from the AdWords Keyword Planner and re-enter them into the Keyword Planner. Don’t include the Wikipedia article as your landing page on this query.

With the inclusion of the previous negative keywords (history and early) we have a total of 583 keywords. The initial process of reducing the keyword count must now be repeated.

Negative Keywords: history, early, facts, games, kids
Keyword Filters: Avg. monthly searches > 50
Keywords to include: space, interstellar

Result: 198 keywords

With this result, you can begin honing in on the keywords you’d like to feature. Take note of any keywords that may differ from your current content piece, while still representing good opportunity for future content development.

For example, “space hotels” looks like a great phrase with 480 searches, but it wouldn’t fit with a general space travel content piece. However, it could fit into a future article about civilian space travel’s impact on other industries for instance.

Option 2: Select Your Winning Keywords

At this point, you should have a pool of keywords that could have a serious impact. How do you chose the best ones for you?

It’s important to find a balance between traffic volume and competition. If a keyword has 20,000 visits a month, it would be awesome if your site could capture it. But what are the chances that you actually rank for that term?

Unfortunately, the competition metric in the AdWords Keyword Planner only measures the search advertising competition. If your keyword is lacking commercial intent, the competition will likely be listed as low, but that does not guarantee minimal opposition for top organic search engine ranking. That being said, a high competition metric and a steep suggested bid will indicate exceptional potential value with that keyword if you can outrank the competition.

The next step is to select a few keywords from your list to analyze further.

Sort by the average monthly searches to figure out what range of traffic you are working with. You should select a few of the higher trafficked keywords (+1,000 monthly searches) to see how competitive they really are. I also recommend selecting a few keywords on the lower end of the spectrum (40-250 monthly searches) for some potential easy wins. Last, select a few keywords that have medium traffic volume that you can try to optimize for in the short to medium term.

All of the keywords should be very similar to each other, if not synonyms. The keywords should also describe the content piece that you plan on writing. Search for a few of the keywords you’re considering optimizing for in Google. Ask yourself these two questions:

1. Are there any articles listed in the results?
2. Would the content that you’re considering make sense with the other results on the page?

If the answer is no to either question, select different keywords. The goal here is to swim with the tide of Google, instead of trying to beat the system.

In my example, I wouldn’t want to optimize for “NASA space shuttle” if I’m actually planning on writing about civilian space travel.

Once you have keywords that make sense with your topic and that have search traffic, you need to analyze the organic search competition.

To best evaluate the competition of a keyword, I recommend adding the MozBar to Chrome and heading to Google. With the MozBar activated, begin searching for your selected keywords. Moz stats will be added under each search result.

I searched for “space travel.” Pay particular attention to the volume of links and the DA (Domain Authority) metrics.

space travel - Google Search

If the link count for the pages that rank well is incredibly high, you will likely be facing intense competition. Also, if the domain authority is significantly above your site, it’s very unlikely that your piece of content will rank on the first page anytime soon.

Run a search for each of the keywords that you selected from the Keyword Planner. Keep track of how your site stacks up against the competition. Select some winning keywords that are well within your reach for short term rankings. For these keywords, your site should have more links and a higher DA than at least a few of the results on the first page.

Make sure to also select a few keywords that are just outside of your reach to give you some home run potential.

Develop Your Content

Once you have selected your winning keywords, it’s time to write your content. Make sure to include a keyword in your title, and casually use your winning keywords throughout the content piece.

As a general rule, don’t force keyword placement. If it doesn’t sound natural, don’t use it.
Do you have any other keyword research tips? Include them below or reach out to me on Twitter at @BryceLiggins.

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About the Author

Bryce is the Senior Marketing Strategist at Brolik, a digital marketing agency based in Philadelphia. Bryce uses his diverse background in marketing and finance to develop marketing campaigns that are both human and data driven. Bryce is also an avid home-brewer, and is working on building an Arduino into his kegerator as we speak.