There’s a dirty little secret in the Internet Marketing world: Keyword Research tools aren’t very good at finding keywords! Oh, they’re amazing at finding all sorts of data about a particular keyword phrase, but they are not good at all at suggesting a list of potential keywords based on a “seed” or topic.
So what does good keyword research look like once we recognize this limitation? By tweaking our process, we can out-compete all those who are just using the same keywords spit by the same tools. Let’s outline a process that works.
The Problem with Keyword Research Tools
This post has been sitting in Draft for over two months since I published an overview of Keyword Research in Part 1 of this series. I truly believe that Keyword Research is an important foundation skill. I’ve read and watched a dozen tutorials and practiced with my own articles. And I’m still not very happy with my results.
It took a long time for me to put my finger on the problem.
The problem isn’t with the search volume, commercial intent or competitiveness data. That data might not be perfect, but it’s at least consistent and we can use it to compare keywords.
The problem is with the suggestions. I watch tutorial after tutorial where somebody puts a seed word in for a niche they don’t really understand and then are impressed with the hundreds of keywords that come back.
But when I put in a word that I do understand well, like “anchor” or “boat anchor,” I get back a short list that’s missing a lot of what I know is important to sailors. I know because I frequent forums and I see similar questions come up all the time.
Here are the (free!) tools and workflow that I’m now using for my keyword research.
Keyword Research Tools
The free Google Keyword Planner tool gives us search volume and commercial intent for any keyword phrase as well as for related phrases that it suggests. You can also enter any number of keywords that you might get from another tool or from your own knowledge of your niche.
There are many paid tools that will help you do your keyword research. Most actually pull their keyword suggestions, raw search volume, and commercial intent data right out of the free Google Keyword Planner.
Where they really help is in speeding the process up and pulling in more data from elsewhere to help in competition research (which is the topic of Part 3 of this series). I haven’t yet purchased any of the paid tools, though I have my eye on Longtail Pro.
Even if you intend to purchase one of these research tools, I think it’s useful to spend some time using the Google Keyword Planner directly to learn how the process works.
Another free tool that really helps find keyword ideas is Keyword Tool. It pulls a long list of suggested keywords from “Suggested Search” data in Google. Oddly, Google’s suggested search data doesn’t coincide with the Google Keyword Planner suggested keywords (go figure).
With one click, you copy all of the Keyword Tool suggestions and plug then paste them into Google Keyword Planner to find search volumes and commercial intent.
Using Google Keyword Planner
You’re going to need to sign up for a free account to use Google Keyword Planner. This is simple to do. It will at first seem like you need to enter a website name in to even sign up. I highly recommend that you just click “skip the guided set-up” and use your gmail username and password to sign in.
You’ll need to enter your currency and time zone. You can’t change these once you enter them.
Once you’re in, click on “tools” and then “keyword planner.” Click on “Search for new keyword and ad group ideas.”
Enter you seed word or phrase (or a series of them, separated by commas) into the “your product or service” box and click “get ideas.”
You don’t need to mess with any of the other options if you don’t want to, but you can play with what results you get by changing “Keyword Options” to “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms,” for example (I prefer this option).
Once the results are shown, you can click on ad group ideas to see what’s in there or click on over to “Keyword Ideas.”
Understanding the Data
In order to understand the data that we’re looking at, you must first understand that Google Keyword Planner isn’t meant for us! It’s meant for people who are buying ads through Google Adwords.
We will ignore all but four of the columns. All we need to look at are:
- Keyword phrase
- Search Volume
- Suggested Bid
The Keyword phrase is self-explanatory. Here are Google’s suggestions for phrases related to our seed keyword.
Search volume is an estimate of the number of searches per month.
You can hover over the little graph symbol to see the variation in the last 12 months. This will tell you if a phrase is getting more or less popular with time. It will also show you if there’s a seasonal variation that you might want to take advantage of to time the release of a post (check out the seasonality of “boat anchor” above!).
I like to click on the search volume column heading which will sort all of the data by volume from highest to lowest.
The next column is Competition. Important: Most people completely misunderstand this column!
High competition is good!
This is the competition amongst advertisers for this keyword. Remember that Google Keyword Planner is designed for advertisers, not content creators. If lots of advertisers are competing to spend money on this keyword, that can only be a good thing for us! This has nothing to do with web pages that are competing with us in the search rankings.
Suggested Bid is the average cost per click (CPC) that an advertiser will pay for an ad on this keyword. Google Adwords is an auction system. Advertisers bid for ads on a given keyword. This is an estimate, based on historical data, of how much each click will cost the advertiser.
Advertisers aren’t going to be spending a lot of money on clicks if there isn’t a lot of commercial intent around this keyword.
They’re paying for this traffic, so they need to be sure that they will get a decent conversion rate (percentage of people who will actually buy their product). The higher the CPC, the more likely we will be able to make money from this keyword.
If you choose to monetize with Google Adsense, then the CPC is a very direct indicator of potential revenue. This is because you are paid 68% of the CPC if a reader on your site clicks on an ad.
Analyzing the Data
The best way to find keywords with the right combination of high search volume and high CPC is to export the data to a spreadsheet program (click the download button). I like to use Google Sheets (which is free).
We’re just looking for how the search volume and CPC interact. A low volume keyword could be a decent target if it has high commercial intent, indicated by a high CPC.
Just multiply the search volume by the CPC to get a measure of the most valuable keywords. Now sort by this new column and you have your most valuable keywords.
(If you’re going to export the data like this, then there’s no need to mess with filters in the Keyword Planner. If you prefer to just look manually in the Planner, then you can also set the filters on the left to exclude results with too few searches or too low a CPC).
I often use two other methods to find keywords in Google Keyword Planner.
- Click “Get search volume for a list of keywords” and then paste in your results from the Keyword Tool or any other source (including your own brainstorming).
Brainstorming is your most important tool, because you can use your own knowledge of your niche to come up with a list of words. If your competitors are just using the automated tools, then they’ll never try to rank for these phrases and you have an advantage.
- Click “Multiply keyword lists to get new keyword ideas” and put in two or more lists that will get mixed and matched. For example, if you input “city, urban” in one list and “guide, handbook” in the other, it will return the resulting search and CPC data for:
- city guide
- city handbook
- urban guide
- urban handbook
If you’re interested in learning more, Brian Dean has a great guide on Keyword Research that I highly recommend for even more tips and step by step instructions to get the most out of the tools available.
Part 3 of this series will concentrate on analyzing your competitors. Again, we’ll be using free tools to see who you will be competing against to rank in Google.