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How to do Keyword Research – Unlocking SEO


In celebration of BBR Creative’s Digital March, I’ll be writing a series of blog posts in order to educate our readers on the process of properly optimizing a website for search engine rankings. Welcome to Intro to SEO! Our first lesson? How to do keyword research.

SEO robots

Keywords are the language of the search engines, and a crucial component in the search process. They are the basis for the entire process of retrieving search results. Instead of having one huge index comprised of billions of websites, search engines compile individual site pages into databases that are categorized  by keywords, greatly reducing retrieval time. Thus, if you want a page of your site to rank for a specific keyword, it’s necessary to include the phrase throughout the content of the whole page.

However, ensuring that the right keyword is being targeted is just as, if not more, important. This is where keyword research, the first and essential step to any SEO strategy, comes in. It determines the success of the campaign by providing a robust and valuable list of keywords, and provides fantastic insights into customer behavior.

But first, let’s talk about the different types of keywords.

Heads or Tails?

The goal of keyword research is not to find those that have the absolute highest rate of search. It’s more important to rank for keywords that lead to conversions, giving you the greatest return on investment for your business.

Long tail keywords are longer, more specific phrases, compared to “head” terms, which are incredibly broad in scope. Long tail keywords often receive less search, but gain greater click-through rates and convert much more often. For example, “guitar” is a head term. It doesn’t communicate any real intent to the search engines. The searching person could be looking for how guitars work, or researching different makes and models. Trying to rank for such a broad keyword would also prove incredibly difficult and unattainable.

“Guitar shop in Lafayette, LA” is more specific, and indicates the searcher is later in the conversion cycle and ready to make a purchase. Attaching a city or state to the keyword is known as a geo-modifier, and is necessary for any local brick and mortar business. This is just one example of a long tail keyword.

Search engines try to provide the most relevant results to searchers, including their intent and the contextual meanings of the keyword used. They do this through a system called semantic search, which takes into consideration location of the searcher, context, intent, synonyms, etc. This can complicate keyword research if the proper steps are not taken to ensure you’re gaining accurate data for exact key phrases.

You need to know the different keyword match types to do this, and which to use when performing research.

How to Do Keyword Research

Broad Match

Broad match keywords take into consideration all aspects of semantic search when calculating search volume. It includes searches for the particular keyword, as well as searches for the keyword in a different order, synonyms, singular and plural forms, and related searches.

To stick with our guitar example above, if you wanted to know the search volume for the phrase “guitar shops in Lafayette, LA”, it would also include searches for:

  • “Lafayette, LA guitar shops”
  • “Guitar shop Lafayette”
  • “Lafayette, LA guitar store”
  • “worst guitar shop in Lafayette”

This does not help us determine which of the multitude of phrases receives more searches than others, which can hinder the success of an SEO campaign.

Phrase Match

Phrase match keywords will provide search volume for the exact keyword, along with additional words before or after it. For example, results for “guitar shop in Lafayette, LA” will likewise incorporate data for:

  • “Best guitar shops in Lafayette, LA”
  • “Worst guitar shops in Lafayette, LA”
  • “guitar shops in Lafayette, LA with best prices”

Similar to broad match results, these provide little value for keyword research.

Exact Match

As the name suggests, Exact match keyword results will provide the number of searches for exactly that keyword, and only that keyword. These are the results that will provide us a detailed, accurate list of the most popular keywords related to your industry. Researching inquiries for “guitar shop in Lafayette, LA” will give information for only that phrase.

So, how do we determine this information?

The Research

There are a number of tools available for performing keyword research, the most popular being the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Originally created for Google’s online paid advertising service, known as AdWords, it has become an invaluable tool for search marketers.

The first step in research is keyword discovery, compiling a list of keywords that include the general products or services offered, and determining which have high profit margins, and those for which you’d like to increase sales. After all, who knows your business better than you? Be detailed. Get granular. You want to ensure the list is incredibly detailed and encompasses as many keywords as you can generate, including the specific geographic locations your business serves.

Keyword Research for SEO

Once complete, copy the list into the AdWords Keyword Tool, choose [Exact] as the match type and click Search. This will deliver the number of searches associated with those keywords in a given month, as well as a list of related keywords. Many of these related keywords may not be relevant to your business, but those that are can prove valuable in building a robust final list.

You’ll receive some data in these results. Since this tool was created for AdWords, some will be more relevant than others. Competition refers to how many other businesses/people are buying ads for those keywords and how much they’re willing to bid for them. It’s not an entirely accurate representation of your competition in non-paid ranking, but it gives a general idea. Global Monthly Searches are the number of searches for the particular keyword worldwide, as its name suggests. Local Monthly Searches only applies to searches within the United States.

How to Perform Keyword Research

When performing keyword research, I find Local Monthly Searches to be the most relevant in determining potential value, unless your business operates globally, that is.

Next, export this list into a spreadsheet. If the research was appropriately thorough, there will be hundreds of keyword ideas and values, so it’s imperative to stay organized. I like to create a spreadsheet divided into multiple pages. The first page is used during the discovery phase, with separate columns for the root keywords and the geo-modifiers. The subsequent sheets are then dedicated to the keyword values for each targeted geographic location for ease of reference. I created a template keyword research spreadsheet, which can be viewed here. You won’t be able to edit the document, so either make a copy or download it from Google Docs.

Choose Your Words Carefully

We’re nearing the end! Finally, it’s time to narrow this giant list to the most relevant, searched phrases for each product or service offered. Once done, search Google using each of the keywords, examining the competition to determine the difficulty in achieving first page rankings. If big-name brands are completely occupying the first page, it is an indication of the amount of effort required. If this is the case, it may be necessary to go back to the drawing board to find keywords that provide more realistically attainable rankings.

Keyword research can take time and requires careful consideration, but it’s time well spent. It can make or break the success of a campaign, but it’s far from the final step. In my next blog, I’m going to discuss what to do with these keywords, and how to make your site communicate in the language of search.

Click here for our next installment of Unlocking SEO: How to Optimize Site Content!

Rodney Hess, Social Media Strategist is the latest addition to BBR Creative’s Digital Department. Click here to see more of our online work or contact Rodney at 337-233-1515 to see what wonders he can do to promote online marketing for your business.