Keyword Research – Why and How

Prior to composing content for a site or writing meta data, you need to determine the keywords that your copy will revolve around. Sure, you know that your site is an e-commerce store for plasma televisions, but which keywords should you focus on? Are people searching by brand? And, if so, are they typing “pioneer plasma tv”, “pioneer plasma television”, or simply “pioneer plasma”. This is what keyword research will help you establish – a fairly healthy list of keywords that you can make sure your content and external links include.

So, where do you start? Well, I’ll go through four top keyword research tools that I use – in order of preference. They aren’t all free, but if you are serious about SEO, it may be worthwhile to expand your budget for this process.

Let’s begin:

  • Google Keyword Research Tool (free) – This is an excellent source of keyword popularity. Why? Because the data comes directly from Google! It doesn’t provide specifics in terms of exact annual searches, but gives you a range (i.e., 0.06, 0.13, 0.2, etc.). The way it works is you enter a list of keywords (max. 40), it spits out stats for those, as well as other terms that Google thinks are related. The dropdown boxes provide a host of options but I usually use the “Avg Search Volume” metric and then choose “Exact” from the right hand menu – otherwise, it gives you traffic for a phrase via Broad or Phrase match*.
  • Keyword Discovery ($600/year) – This is the better of the two paid tools, despite its higher expense. Their tagline, in terms of where they pull their stats from, is “a variety of search indices and log files” – whatever that means. However, it is a well-regarded service, and also provides concrete numbers for search volume. They do offer a free service, but it only provides search data for the top 10 most popular keywords they deem similar to the entered term. When you pay, it provides data for 100’s of phrases and you also have the opportunity to export this data into Excel. Another benefit of paying is that you can import up to 500 words and check their numbers. I use this service’s metrics in conjunction with the aforementioned Google tool for a second opinion (plus it offers hard numbers, which the boss will prefer!)
  • Google Trends (free) – Another useful Google tool which provides a graphical comparison of search traffic for multiple keywords. It also designates their popularity based on country. Provided that you are entering fairly popular terms, the results are very useful for comparing potential traffic. There is, however, nothing you can export and also no actual numbers associated with the traffic.
  • Wordtracker ($329/year) – Another tool with both a free and paid version. This one specifically tells you that it gets its data from 90 days worth of Metacrawler and Dogpile searches. Since those two engines have such tiny market shares (seriously, who names their search engine ‘dogpile’? I mean, c’mon!), the numbers spit back by searches aren’t very large. Their free version allows you to see the top 100 search terms per your input, while the paid lets you see the top 1,000 and also parse through other types of data. Just based on its sources, I prefer the larger dataset of Keyword Discovery.
  • SEO Book Keyword Tool (free) – This tool was created by Aaron Wall, who is considered one of the luminaries of SEO. He has a very highly-regarded blog, so take a look at His keyword tool pulls data from WordTracker and then estimates daily searches for Google, Yahoo! and MSN based on each engine’s market share. It’s a fairly decent comparison tool and you can export the data to Excel. My issues are that it uses the semi-weak WordTracker database and only gives you five or so alternate keywords.

Other sites may suggest that they have the ability to perform keyword research, but if it’s only a few hundred dollars (or less), I can almost guarantee that they are simply pulling data from one of the above services. Some large SEO or advertising firms may have crafted their own proprietary keyword research tool, but then you’ll probably have a multi-thousand dollar contract in order to take part in their services.

A final tip to leave you with – when you’re researching keywords, keep in mind the phrases’ legitimacy. When people use Google, they don’t always search with proper English, so be careful each phrase on your list can be appropriately used in site copy. Do keep those oddballs though, but use them strictly for your PPC campaigns.

* These terms are used within Google Adwords’ PPC program. Say you want to target the term “seo boston“. If you set Adwords to Broad match, then you will be targeting any phrase that includes any of those words – seo, seo boston, boston – the bids will be very high for terms like that. Phrase match is much more restrictive and requires that the actual keywords you are bidding on are present within all content, so an example phrase would be “great web design boston” or “web design boston ma.”

This article was written by Russ Ain. Russ is a search analyst for Overdrive Interactive. He also writes for his work blog. In his free time, he enjoys some online games.

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