word graphic of keyword lists showing SEO

What are you looking for when you make your keyword lists?

If you read our introductory post about keyword research—what it is and why it’s important for you company—you may be wondering how to create a keyword research process so that you can improve the SEO performance of your blogs and site pages. As you’ll soon see, keyword research is a process which takes a while to master. The good news is, once you’ve learned the essentials you can streamline your research and accomplish a lot in a short period of time. We recommend identifying groups of keywords and compiling your data into keyword lists so that you can keep track of what keywords you’re targeting and which once you’ve already posted about.

Finding your keyword niche.

Keyword research is something of a search and discovery process. Essentially, you punch in words or combinations of words until you it on one that makes sense for your blog post. But what are these elements you are looking for, and how do you know when you’ve found a good keyword?

Relevancy

The first and most essential feature of a good keyword is relevancy. If you’re a tire company, the keywords you optimize for on your site should have something to do with your tires and your business. This doesn’t mean that every keyword you use has to have the word “tire” in it. There are many good arguments for expanding the type of content your company produces to include things related to the broader car industry that might be interesting and useful to your readers. But blog content that can’t be connected to a specific strategy isn’t relevant to you or your visitors, and is best left off your site. Unlike some of the other factors here, there’s no way to measure relevancy, as it’s subjective to your site and your strategy.

Search volume

The next factor to look for is search volume. This refers to the average number of times searchers google a keyword or phrase over the course of a month. For some phrases, particularly long tail keywords, there may not be enough consistent search volume to deliver good data. For others, the search volume may be quite low, and you may want to vary your phrasing to see if another related term might have higher volume.

Long tail keywords will have lower search volume, but they will also be more specific, meaning you stand a better chance of converting visitors who come to you through those search terms. The longer your keyword, the lower you should expect traffic volume to be. For instance, a fat head keyword might have traffic in the tens of thousands, while a long tail keyword may only have tens or hundreds of searchers a month. But if you blog on various long tail keywords frequently (say several times a week), and you can rank for these posts, then cumulatively they will bring in higher-value traffic than posts with greater volume.

Difficulty

Any good keyword research tool will give you a rating as to a particular keyword’s ranking difficulty. This score is created through a number of factors, mostly having to do with search volume and the strength of those pages which already rank for the keyword in question. Web pages with strong domain authority will be particularly hard to supplant in search result rankings. Or it may be hat a lot of people have already blogged about this particular topic, and your post may get lost in the noise. Either way, a high difficulty score (above 60), like low search volume, is an indication that you should search for a different keyword.

Opportunity

Some keyword tools will take a look at traffic data and difficulty and give you an opportunity score as an indication of what the potential for this particular keyword might be. If your keyword research tool doesn’t give you this information, you can figure it out mostly for yourself by comparing the difficulty score against the search volume. Low difficulty usually correlates with low search volume, and high difficulty with high volume. What you want to find is a gap between the two which you can exploit: a term which has high volume, but low difficulty. An opportunity score for a keyword like this should be in the 70s or 80s.

Can you re-use your keyword lists?

The short answer here is: no. And the reason why, is that if you re-use keywords across pages, Google won’t know which page best matches a specific searcher query. However, this is where keyword variations come into play. Remember fat head and long tail keywords? Well, if you begin by compiling a list of valuable fat head keywords that are relevant to your business, you can then build them out into long tail keywords. These keyword variations help you cast a wider net for the terms you hope to rank for. Expanding your keyword variations might leave you with a list that looks like this:

Fat head: all-weather tires

Long tail: best all-weather tires, all-weather tires for winter, winter all-weather tires, best all-weather tires for Michigan

How can you put these keywords to use for you? Well, if all-weather tires are a key product you offer, you may want to create a product page which you optimize for all-weather tires. Then use some of the long tail variations to blog your heart out.

You may have noticed that some of the above keywords were quite similar to each other. For instance, you probably don’t want to write two separate pots about “all-weather tires for winter” and “winter all-weather tires.” Because these keywords are essentially synonymous, they may end up competing against each other in page rankings (and the better Google becomes in recognizing equivalent phrasing, the more likely this will become). But you can use both these phrases in the same blog post, and the variation will help you increase keyword density without sounding like a broken record.

What kind of keyword research tools should you use?

We’re a big fan of Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool, because it gives a lot of data on all the points we just mentioned and includes a good SERP (Search Engine Result Page) analysis. That said, there are a few other tools you can use if you’re stuck or if you’d like to double-check some of your findings.

There are several good keyword finders out there, which mostly lend a hand by combining your search phrase with variations. So if you have a fat head keyword and you’re struggling to come up with good variations, you can run it through a keyword finder and test some of the relevant results.

You should also find a good SERP analysis tool. This research tool gives you a peak at what pages already rank for your intended keyword without you having to google it yourself. If your keyword research tool of choice doesn’t already provide this data (or if they only show the top few results), try SERPs rank checker for more analysis.

Building keyword lists is both an art and a science.

Finding the right keywords takes a certain knack. You need to be savvy in how you use your tools and collect data, but you also need to take care in how you incorporate those keywords in your writing. That means finding that special niche of high-value, low-competition keywords, ensuring they don’t compete with each other across pages, making sure they appear enough times and in the right places on your page to be noticed, and still have writing at the end of the day that doesn’t come across as being overly repetitive. Good analytics will allow you to find your keywords. Good writing will help you implement them on-page.

Published 04/04/17 by Laura Lynch