Posted by laura
This post was originally in YOUmoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of SEOmoz, Inc.
Step 2 isn’t groundbreaking stuff, but it’s approached in a slightly different manner in order to use and abuse further in our strategy document. It’s your regular keyword research broken out into categories for segmentation and prioritization, and we’ll use that for prioritizing and determining gaps and opportunities in Step 3 and for competitive research in Step 4.
Before we jump into keyword research, let’s not forget the audience targeting we did in Step 1. Now that we have a good idea of the specific needs and pain points of our target audience(s), we’re ready to dive into some specifically targeted keyword research. But don’t worry if you don’t have personas built out or a good idea of target audiences and their needs, you can still start with this step and categorize based on the products, services or topics you want to dig into. Defining personas and their needs helps us laser target our audience when we do keyword research, but all is not lost if you don’t have that data – step 2 will still be an ok place to start.
CREATE A TEMPLATE
First lets create an Excel template that will hold all of our keyword lists. We’ll be categorizing keywords so the easiest thing to do is to categorize them now, rather than pouring through hundreds or thousands of keywords in excel sheets trying to separate them out and categorize them later (I’ve tried both methods and believe me, the latter can suck the life out of you). I usually open up a clean Excel sheet and start creating tabs for categories of keywords I think are relevant (go as deep or as high level as you want), and leave one tab in the front for all of your keywords combined. We’ll leave that tab empty for now.
Keyword categories can be based off of our persona types and their needs, or you can categorize keywords based on topics based on how your site might be sectioned, or if you’re really inquisitive like me, you might do persona groups with keyword subsections for each.
If you’re covering several topics per persona, or if you have an especially large site and you’re covering several topics with subtopics, you can create a different worksheet for each main topic/persona that has several subtopics within it. That will be easier to decipher than one worksheet with 40 tabs that represent topics and subtopics.
Don’t be afraid to make keyword tabs for as many topics as you want – you don’t have to use the data if you think the search volume is too low.
For example, if I’m working on my seniors’ health site, my categories might look like this:
- General seniors & elderly terms
- Senior & elderly health
- Diseases and conditions
- Weight loss, diet and fitness
- Assisted living
- Information for Caregivers
In my target audience research findings I saw that Florida, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia were the states with the highest proportions of people 65 and older in 2000: 17.6 percent, 15.6 percent, and 15.3 percent, respectively, and I thought I might want to provide local information for my visitors (ideally I’d also look up the highest numbers of seniors by state in addition to percentages). So I might also add some special interest keyword sections with some local terms. And although I made it up, (because I haven’t actually done any in-depth research) I think seniors might be interested in prescription drug plans, so I’m going to create a special interest keyword section for that too, to do some exploration:
- Local senior health
- Prescription drug plans
The more exploratory you are, the more work you might have to do, but the more insight you’ll get back as well, so feel free to make as many categories as you want, and ditch some once you’ve done the keyword research if you don’t feel they’re relevant or no one is searching for the topics. The purpose of this keyword research is to determine and discover the topics relevant to what you can provide, determine the best keywords to target and incorporate, and eventually to prioritize content and topics based on relevance and search volume.
Now that I have categorized my keyword sections in my Excel sheet, it’s time to fill them in with data.
EXPAND KEYWORDS & GRAB VOLUME DATA
Now that you have keyword categories setup in your Excel sheet, you can do some research and expansion. While you’re expanding your keyword list you’ll also be collecting search volume data.
In the end, you’ll want this data:
- Search Volume
In the next article (Step 3) we’ll be comparing your site’s referrals from Google to the Google Search volume for each keyword (with a calculation to allow for clickthrough rates) so we’ll be adding referral (and potentially conversion) columns to our Excel sheet. This is why I prefer using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, since it gives us estimated monthly Google Search volume. And it’s free.
We’ll also only be looking at Google data for this example, primarily because Yahoo and Bing currently don’t release search volume data. To be more thorough, you could estimate other search engine search volume (based on each search engine’s market share), but as I mentioned, for this example we’ll just stick with Google.
Here’s how to collect your categorized keyword data:
- Go to the Google AdWords keyword tool
- Type in a word or phrase from your first keyword category. Type in a few words or phrases if you want, but don’t overdo it in one query. You’ll get back a limited set of results, so you’re better off getting more terms based on one or two keywords than the same amount of results based on 10 or 15 keywords.
- Choose Exact from the Match Type dropdown
When I do keyword research, I usually start with high level general words, which lets me see what is popular around that topic, and what other related terms I might want to add to my lists, possibly even as another category if there is enough volume.
For example, if I start my senior healthcare site keyword research with the terms seniors and elderly, I can see how popular searches are with each of those terms in them, but I can also see that the related search results show me that Alzheimer’s and nursing homes are high volume related topics that I want to be sure I have keyword categories built out for in my worksheet (and eventually possibly content on my site).
If I had an existing senior healthcare site, this might give me insight into content opportunities that I’m currently not targeting. For example, if I didn’t have any content on my site for nursing homes, I might want to consider either adding content and/or partnering with advertisers or content providers to cover that topic.
I also mentioned I thought my visitors might be interested in prescription drug plans. When I do research for those terms, I can see that searches around Medicare topics are much more popular. I’ll add these terms into my worksheet.
- If your results look mostly good, scroll to the bottom of your results and export your results into a csv file for Excel
- Open up your CSV file and move column widths so you can see the keywords
- Do some manual filtering by removing keywords that aren’t relevant (remove the entire row). You may also want to remove any competitor brand terms, unless you’re trying to attain/convert traffic for them.
- Are you interested in global search volume or local? Whichever you’re interested in, make sure you have matching referral data later (for existing sites only). We’ll be comparing referral data per keyword to search volume in the next step (optional, but good stuff to know), so if you’re interested in global data, make sure you have global referral data. Whichever column you’re not interested in, delete it. You can also delete the Advertiser Competition column unless you want to use it for further analysis, but we won’t be using it for these examples. You should now have two columns: Keyword and either Global or Local Search Volume.
- Copy your keywords and your search volume data and paste them into your keyword category tab in your Excel worksheet*.
- Repeat this process for all keyword categories in your worksheet.
- It’s a good idea to note somewhere in your worksheet what time period the data is you’re pulling. Google AdWords keyword tool shows data in a monthly chunk, so note the month in your worksheet so you don’t forget when you’re comparing your own site referral data later.
*Alternatively, you can save each keyword list export as its own file rather than copying and pasting it into a master Excel sheet. Keep in mind that you may do several keyword list searches and exports for one topic though.
You can get even more creative in your keyword research by also looking into what your competitors are targeting. Use the Website Content tab on the Google Keyword Research tool, or other tools like Keyword Discovery to discover terms that are semantically relevant to your competitors’ websites. This might provide more insight into terms you can or should target for your own site. We’ll delve into much more competitive research in further steps.
Everyone has their own method of doing keyword research, so do what works best for you. All that matters is that you end up with categorizations that you care about, and some search volume data that we’ll use later in our strategy. This part of the strategy should end up giving you a really good idea of what’s popular and what types of terms and topics you might want to target.
We’ll look at how to prioritize and how find potential Gaps and Opportunities (for existing sites) in the next article: Step 3.
Do you have any similar (or completely different) methods for collecting and categorizing keywords? Please share!