Do you enter keywords into Yoast’s SEO plugin for WordPress and optimize your pages until you get a green light? I’ve seen bloggers get all green lights and zero traffic from their efforts. How is that possible? Unfortunately the plugin relies on your keyword research.
Without keyword research, you can optimize until all the lights are green and it could make zero difference. You must use the correct keywords or all the green lights won’t result in any traffic. And that is the whole point, isn’t it?
In the beginning of our SEO adventure, we are told to optimize for ‘those words that someone will type into Google to find your article’ (also known as keywords). This is guessing – an educated guess – but nevertheless a guess. Please don’t misunderstand me – optimizing for a guess is better than no optimization at all.
What if your guess is wrong? Step one to SEO is an essential, but less sexy topic: keyword research. The ultimate guide to keyword research will make sure that you’re optimizing posts for the right keywords!
Why an Ultimate Guide to Keyword Research? Because you don’t need a full course or years of education to do this! You can begin your keyword research today. You can do a few exercises (30 minutes), fill out some blanks on the hand-out(download below) and gather up a few keywords.
The ultimate guide to keyword research will provide the introduction to everything you need to know, and if you want to dive deeper, I’ve included more links for further learning.
🔎 70-80% of users ignore the paid ads, focusing on the organic results.(source)
If you select keywords that few people search for, ranking at #1 won’t have an effect on traffic or sales. We’ll cover this in more detail later.
If you select keywords that everyone is looking for you may not be able to get to page one – the competition may be steep. Selecting keywords is arguably the most important SEO work you will do. We’ll cover this briefly in Keyword Difficulty section.
Table of Contents
In this guide, we’ll walk through these areas of keyword research:
- Current Top Ranking Keywords
- Current Top Traffic Generating Keywords
- Using Keyword Finder
- Compare Keyword Difficulty
- Note about Keyword Cannibalism
- Next Steps
Along the way, I’ll shout out some tools to speed up the process, some warnings that might trip you up, and some shortcuts.
SEO can get incredibly complicated if we have a lot of unfamiliar terms to learn. To simplify, we’re going to stick to one definition of Keywords. Whether referring to one-word keywords, two-word keywords, or complete phrases, we’ll simply call them keywords. It doesn’t matter. In every case, we’ll refer to them as keywords.
🔎 Long-tail keywords are often promoted in SEO talk. Long-tail keywords are simply phrases. Y’all. Seriously. Why can’t they just call them phrases?
Keywords, in the SEO world, are the terms for which we want to show up in search engines.
💬 In other words, if someone searches “Ice Cream Sandwiches” and that is our chosen keyword, we want to be result #1.
Discover your Current Keywords
We’re going to discover your current keywords for two reasons.
- Understanding what you rank for right now, will help you create a plan.
- Reviewing your current keywords once a week will help you analyze the results of your efforts.
Let’s look at top ranking keywords currently – your present keyword reality. These are the keywords that are near the top of search results when someone searches them. If you’re a new blogger/webmaster it is not uncommon to have very few of these. Don’t be discouraged because we’re gonna change that!
Top Ranking keywords are different from the Top Traffic-Generating keywords. Top ranking keywords are near the top of google. Top traffic-generating keywords are those generating the most traffic. It is very possible to have a result in #1 spot that does not generate much traffic: for example, “calorie-free ice cream”. A girl can dream. But shockingly, not many people search for that term.
To find your top ranking keywords right now, complete the Top Ranking Keywords exercise in this worksheet:
If you’ve finished exercise one, you have a list of keywords that are in Google’s index. Google thinks you’re an excellent result for those keywords! Congratulations!
Now – is that a good keyword to focus on?
- Check out the relevancy. Is that keyword on topic for your blog? Relevant for your audience?
- Is there any search volume?
Here’s an example of a great result, that is a poor thing to focus on. If you look closely, you’ll notice that I show up #1 for the keyword, “Edit top navigation WordPress”… however look at the monthly volume – a whopping 0 – 10 people actually search that term. Not Helpful!
(It’s not really 0 – 10 but look at all the numbers in relation to each other to get an idea of search volume. Basically 500x less than “samcart”.)
Be sure to record the search volume beside each keyword that you are ranking for. That is obviously important! We want traffic!
🔎 Optional tools: SEO Analyzer
So – let’s review!
- Are you ranking at the top for relevant keywords?
- Are your top ranking keywords bringing in traffic?
Exercise one gets you up to date on the current situation. On the worksheet, highlight any keywords that are relevant & high volume. Those are great starting points for groups of posts! The last section in the guide provides tools and tutorials for optimizing around these keywords.
Whether you have 0 keywords or 50 at this point, move on to finding the next section of keywords: traffic generating keywords.
Exercise #2: Finding some more keywords – the ones that bring traffic, this time. Record your results on the worksheet below.
- Go to The Hoth and enter your domain name.
- Patiently wait for the page to finish thinking – it takes time!
- You’ll see a list of up to 50 keywords.
- These words are the ones that send the most traffic to your site.
- Make a note of the top keywords (that you like), and the “volume” and “results” columns… these will come in handy later.
⚠ If they aren’t what you had been hoping for – don’t fret! We’re gonna make a plan to change them!
You should now have an idea of your current keywords and SEO status. Don’t get discouraged – just like everything else you have to start at the beginning! If you have no keywords that’s okay too! We’re going to build your list of ideas next.
- Is your traffic targeted to your topics?
- What does your audience search for to find you?
- Is the majority of your search engine traffic looking for your topics?
This is an example from the worksheet, for my site:
💬 Since SamCart is not the only thing I write about, I have a little work to do!
Now we get to the fun part! Let’s find the keywords that are going to drive traffic, bring raving fans and customers to your website and let your light shine!
Selecting the Most Effective Keywords
🔎 50% of all searchers use phrases that are four or more words long
I love this part because if you do it right, you’ll see immediate results! It is so rewarding that it becomes addicting! In this exercise we’re going to evaluate your keywords. But first lets make sure you have a solid idea of your niche.
Beginner Exercise: create a list of keyword ideas. Download the worksheet for some tips on finding your niche. This will help for new site owners. Or those who have lifestyle sites and broad niches. You’ll need to start somewhere and find traffic-generating keywords. This exercise will help you do that.
Ready to find those gold nuggets of keywords?
My favorite tool is KW Finder (affiliate link) so these screenshots are from there. Other tools available are listed below this section. In this exercise we’re going to start finding words that are easy to rank for, and also traffic generating. Put aside your lists from above. And start with your niche.
Exercise #3: Analyze Keyword Lists
- Enter the niche/ topic of your blog. Start broad and then narrow if you don’t find green lit results with high/medium volume (see step two).
💬 In this example, we’re using an event photographer working in and around Atlanta. So I entered “photographer in Atlanta” – United States and English is the language. (the country and language can be specified on the KWFinder website – not the above form.)
- Evaluate results. Look for KD (Keyword Difficulty) that gives you a ‘green’ result; and gets a good number of visitors. As we discussed above in your current keyword research, ‘good’ keywords and traffic-generating keywords are not always the same. Be sure to choose the ‘good’ keywords (they are green) but also ones with high traffic!
This is a subjective process / guess work. This is why I think SEO is a lot of ‘art’ and a bit of science. To help you find keywords that might work for you, answer these questions for each keyword:
- Obviously, rule out the ones that aren’t relevant. If you’re a wedding photographer, don’t use infant photography keywords.
- Do I have existing content on this topic? Am I already ranking for similar words?
- Is there significant traffic potential? (‘significant’ changes as your site grows)
- Can I beat the competition? Or at least get within the top 10? (Competition is on the right side of the results page)
- Does this have affiliate/ sponsorship/ ad potential?
💬 If you have a young blog and are starting out, choose green lit words with medium traffic. See if you can rank for those. If you can, then choose higher traffic or harder words next time.
💬 If you are seasoned blogger and have incoming links to your site, and your domain is a few years old (with active updating) I would go for a keyword with higher volume of searches and/or medium difficulty (orange).
⚠ You have 5 searches for free each day with this tool. (I use it often and subscribe for the small plan at $29/mo).
More Tools for Research
If you need to stick to the free tools, use up your five searches above, and then move to these tools which have free trials as well.
Now that you have selected some keywords you’ll need to make a plan to get from the current keyword situation to the ones that you’ve selected. Now you know which keywords you can rank for – and – will generate traffic, you need to get them on your site!
You have several options for this:
- edit existing content and insert new keywords (don’t edit high traffic posts)
- this works really well if you have posts that are related but just not using great keywords
- if you change the permalink, be sure to create a redirect from old post to new
- create new content using these keywords
- see the Bonus section below for optimizing your posts and pages
- create a cornerstone page and point all the keyword-related posts to it
This guide doesn’t include using keywords, but rather to discover the right ones. Without finding the right keywords, all your optimization efforts are in vain.
Google gives the searcher the best result it can – sending that person to one page at a time. It follows that each page should have its own keyword and be optimized. To have several articles on your site all fighting for the same keyword is known as keyword cannibalism. This is a hot topic among SEO’s.
Lots of posts on a topic might also indicate that you are an authority on the topic, that you have experience and that your content has stood the test of time. But what to do about keyword cannibalism?
My guess is that we write what makes sense for users… so if you have 3 chocolate cake recipes, they must all be different in some way, right? You wouldn’t put the same recipe on your blog three times without any differences! So if one is part of a menu, one is a celebration, one is a decorating tutorial, then optimize with that in mind. Make it clear what your post is about.
Like all search engine optimization, you can never go wrong writing for the users.
Start optimizing and let me know how it goes in the comments!