RESEARCHING KEYWORDS FOR YOUR WEBSITE - SEO For 2013 & Beyond: SEO Made Simple For Beginners (2013)

SEO For 2013 & Beyond: SEO Made Simple For Beginners (2013)


We come to the most important part of search engine optimization. Knowing the search term that people use to find the information on the web is pivotal to all the actions you take to make your site’s pages rank high in search results.

In the previous chapter I have briefly touched upon the fact that if your webpages do not have the KEY-phrases that people type in to look for information, then even Google cannot help you in any way.

All the quests for search engine traffic ultimately boil down to just one thing – knowing the ‘popular’ keywords for your business. The emphasis is on keywords for business, and not website. The difference is just an indication of the approach you ought to take in this important work.

Keyword research should in fact come right at the beginning of planning a website. In this chapter we will look at some of the tools that tell you the keywords people mostly use.

The emphasis is on free keyword tools, because frankly you may not need paid tools for your requirements, till at least your business grows really big.

I am not suggesting you should not pay for paid tools, but for a small enterprise, the free tools give enough information to act on and you may not need the paid tools right away.

There are about 7 free tools discussed in the following pages, of which 3-4 are from Google's stable. They are together, in my opinion, quite formidable to start a small website on the path of keyword research for search engine optimization.

Okay, let me dive straightaway to discuss the fact that the number of words per search term is increasing, and know the reasons behind it.

Words per Search Have Increased

In the township close to where I stay there were once just a few houses, a post office, and surprisingly, a public laundry. Whoever used to come those days to the place would inevitably be directed to their destinations with respect to the 2 easily identifiable landmarks, the post office and the laundry.

Today the township is a concrete jungle. No one remembers where the laundry is, and the post office too has remained a small entity. Each house has now its own address (as it should be), and the lanes and the roads have names for easy identification.

Whoever goes there now, search houses by their addresses, but there are a few exceptions. Some houses are found easily with respect to new landmarks, like the building next to the one with glass façade and a red top, or the building 2 lanes behind the supermarket, or suchlike.

The web reflects a similar scenario. When websites were few, just one search term fetched the results one wanted.

Today, if you type a generic term like ‘shop’ or ‘school’, you’ll likely be avalanched with lots of results, many of which you may not want to see. You’ll have to refine your search to make it more specific like ‘medicine shop locations’ or ‘kindergarten schools’, etc.

This evolving concept is not far-fetched as evidenced by some of the findings that confirm that the number of words per search is increasing every year.

The reasons for the increase in words per search can be explained in 2 ways. First, as explained above, since the number of pages have increased dramatically, searchers are learning to refine their queries to the extent they feel feasible. Why, I often use 5 to 7 words in my search query to get the most relevant results.

The second reason is however more relevant. It ascribes the phenomenon to the contribution by Google’s famed PageRank technology. This was explained long back by Eli Goodman, comScore’s Media Evangelist, who wrote3.1:

With the launching of Google's PageRank technology, incredibly relevant search results launched a revolution in both marketing and consumer behavior that has forever changed our economic and behavioral landscape. Because this technology, pioneered by Google, generated more relevant results, searchers began to feel comfortable with extending the length of their search phrases, in effect being more specific about their needs.

Whatever the reason, the growth in words per search has continued to increase in the years.

The following graph (Figure 3.1) taken from comScore3.2 clearly shows how between July 2008 and March 2010 the words per search in the US have grown from less than 2.9 to nearly 3.2.

Figure 3.1

The same phenomenon is reflected in the study by WordStream3.3 of top 20 most expensive keywords in Google AdWords advertising. Two such expensive keywords are ‘auto insurance price quotes’ and ‘consolidate graduate student loans’, both having 4 words in them.

In this connection you may have to pay attention to what is referred to as the ‘long tail keywords’. The importance of long-tail keywords is explained by Google’s Matt Cutts in this video3.4. He says:

…it’s not temporary. This is something where we’re trying to assess the quality of sites, we’re trying to find the best sites that match up to long-tailed queries, and it’s an algorithm change that changes how we assess which sites are the best match for long-tailed queries.

This is a very significant change. Google has for quite a while started assessing the quality of websites in terms of long-tailed queries.

It is apparent that long-tailed queries are indicative of the spread and depth of the contents in a website. and it can be said that manipulating short keywords in a webpage in absence of quality contents does not help anymore in better rankings.

A Keyword Too Many Is Like a Red Rag

This perhaps is a no-brainer. In the next chapter I have covered the topic, Using Keywords Naturally, explaining how and why it is a good practice to include just a few keywords in the page copy.

Many people routinely emphasize on repeating keywords again and again in the hope that this will get the page a top rank and fetch good number of visitors. Even if that were so, don’t you think the visitors will get disgusted with the page copy and leave the page in a huff?

That is indeed what happens in reality. But wait! This doesn’t happen really...because of the fact that the search engines will never rank a keyword-heavy page high in search results. You guessed the reason.

Search engines won’t spare any effort to eliminate all that leave bad impression with the surfers. It is their business to do so, and they do it stringently.

As mentioned in the previous section, there are lots of opportunities for you to try out long tail keywords in your page copy. And yes, do use the top keyword as well, but subtly.

Seasonality of Popular Keywords

When a major event – whether planned or unplanned – happens like the FIFA World Cup or the floods in Germany or the US presidential elections, you will find that certain related keywords are consistently figuring in the top overall searches worldwide. These search terms retain the top slots for quite a few days, sometimes even weeks or months.

Events like the ones above, or those concerning the celebrities have the potential to attract the attention of surfers worldwide, creating a spike in certain related keywords lasting for a short period. When these happen, not all websites can cash in on the opportunity, because primarily they may not be relevant to their businesses.

Another example of popular seasonal keywords can be those that are related to technology. New gadgets, new software, and suchlike dramatically alter the usage of related keywords in a short span of time. Thus, with the release of the latest editions of gadgetry like smart phones, people increasingly search more for terms that are related to those items.

While many seasonal keywords are difficult to predict, there are some that become popular following a regular pattern. Take the example of events like the Christmas every year, or the football World Cup every 4 years. In such cases, the keywords connected with them remain highly relevant and popular for a longer period of 3-5 months.

If your business is even remotely associated with those occasions, you must try to harness and use the likely popular keywords to cash in on the sentiments.

Keyword Relevance Vis-à-vis Your Web Business

Researching and finding the right keywords take time and good amount of effort. It is not unusual to find that the keywords that were once popular, give way to different sets of keywords as time passes.

This may happen due to improvement in technology, change in people’s perception of which keywords may likely give more relevant information, depth of Internet usage as more people across age, gender, and nationality look for information, and so on.

The change in the keyword pattern, seasonal or otherwise, may mean that the websites will also start reflecting it by way of optimizing the webpages for the changed keywords. This may gradually result into piling up of highly optimized pages for keywords that may not properly represent the actual web business.

When this happens, it may change the course of the web business, especially if the website represents a niche business.

A friend of mine had started a website about 6 years back in which she gave her own recipes of eastern Indian foods. She was doing well and in fact sold her recipe e-book to many interested customers. People from far beyond the Indian shores came to visit her website, and praised her efforts.

The change happened about a year back after she started writing other recipes that were not connected with the food habits of eastern India. She says she did that because she found that the search terms for other recipes are being used in large numbers.

She shifted her priority, and since she wrote less and less about the eastern Indian foods, the number of visitors to her site also started dwindling little by little.

Fortunately, she realized fast that her web business is losing focus, and so she has of late begun to revert to her core competence once again. She could have continued with the other recipes but she figured that it would take her a long time to establish herself in the new field.

Moreover, she would risk losing her loyal readers bit by bit, even as the tough competition in the new field would not help her getting new readers anytime soon.

Such incidents are fairly common with many web businesses. And so it is important to not go astray all of a sudden with new sets of keywords that are seemingly relevant, but in reality are not.

What to Look for in Keyword Research

Popularity of a keyword is not the only parameter in keyword research. The reason is simple. With thousands (if not millions) of websites chasing the same keywords, it is well-nigh impossible to rank well for those keywords. Therefore, a second parameter becomes important to know.

This is called the competitiveness or effectiveness of the keyword. It seeks to find out the imbalance between the demand and supply of the keyword.

For example, if 10,000 users are using the search-term ‘online video editing’ (demand), but there is not enough supply of web pages for it, then the effectiveness of this search-term is very high.

If a keyword is highly popular and its effectiveness is less, then the next parameters to look for are how many pages have the keyword in page title, what is the average PageRank of the top-ranked pages, and so on.

To put in a nutshell, the following 4 are the minimum steps in any keyword research:

1. For a seed word – like seo, video, diet, blogging, etc. – which are the different key phrases or search terms being actually used by the searchers?

2. What are the demands or number of searches made per month for the respective key-phrases in different geographic locations?

3. What are the supply figures of web pages for each of these key-phrases? This will give the effectiveness of each key-phrase, also called Keyword Effective Index or KEI.

4. How many pages have the chosen key-phrase in the page URL, and page title?

When you do all the 4 steps diligently it is quite likely that you will be able to narrow down your quest to profitable keywords in your chosen niche. There are quite a few keyword tools that can give you all these information to help you in keyword research, but nearly all the good ones do not come free.

If you don’t mind paying for them, my suggestions would include Wordtracker3.5 or Market Samurai3.6. Keyword Eye3.7 is a comparatively low-cost visual keyword and competitor tool, but some of its features are more useful for an established website that has Google Analytics installed.

For beginners – especially websites with small budget – it may be a good idea to use the free online tools to find the desired keywords.

Google Trends Explore

At different times Google provided free keyword tools that helped the small website owners, but it discontinued them at regular intervals.

They include Wonder Wheel (demise in July 2011, replaced by related search terms at the bottom of search result pages), search-based keyword tool aka SKTool (demise in late 2010), Google Insights (demise in September 2012), etc.

The Google AdWords Keyword Tool, which also acted as the External Keyword Tool (for those without AdWords account) is an ideal tool, but it will very shortly be available only to AdWords account holders. There is also the talk of new Keyword Planner being made available to AdWords accounts.

Google however hasn’t totally orphaned the small website owners. Presently, as of this writing, it is offering a new avatar of Google Trends, which I rather call Trends Explore.

This is because out of 3 options – Hot Searches, Top Charts, and Explore – it is the last one that I believe is more useful for the beginners. This has similarities with the now-withdrawn Google Insights.

Take a look at the following image (Figure 3.2).

Figure 3.2

In this new Trends Explore tool you get the option to search for up to 5 terms at a time. Once you choose the search terms, you have the option to further filter the results in terms of categories, time period, country, and the field of search.

In the field of search you have 5 options – Web Search, Image Search, News Search, Product Search, and YouTube Search. Notice that YouTube Search data is available as a separate option, and not as video search. This may mean 2 things.

1. YouTube by itself is a massive search platform, and so it demands a dedicated section for keyword results. As per statistics3.8 more than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month. 70% of them are from outside US. YouTube is thus the second biggest search engine after Google.

2. The second point is simply that YouTube is so big (Facebook comes a distant second – about 2.5 times less in terms of viewership – but it doesn’t allow search information) that there is no other video website worth a separate search platform.

Coming to the example in the image above (Figure 3.2), ‘seo tips’ is the most popular on the web worldwide among 5 search terms, far outflanking the others, while ‘seo blogging’ is the least popular.

For each keyword and for each search option the Trends Explore tool provides related terms, and their popularity. In the following image (Figure 3.3) the related terms for ‘seo blogging’ and their popularity are shown.

Figure 3.3

AdWords Keyword Tool Gives the Demand for Search Terms

While supply figures for the keywords are easily available by searching for them, the demand (or the number of searches per month) for these keywords are not known from the search results.

Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool is a free tool that gives the demand figures for the search terms. But as of this writing Google plans to discontinue the external Keyword Tool in the coming months. Instead, for getting keyword ideas you need to sign in to your AdWords account, and then tryKeyword Planner.

The AdWords Keyword Tool (aka Keyword Tool External3.9 for those not logged in to AdWords account) offers a snapshot of important factors for the benefit of the advertisers to laser-focus their ads to the targeted customers.

To use it type in one or more search terms in the Word or phrase box – one in each line. You may keep blank or type in any website URL – even the one of your competitor – in the Website box for finding out the search terms used. To further narrow the search criteria select the option Category.

Finally, the Advanced Options and Filters let you select the country for which you need the data, the language, and also the display device like computers and laptops, mobile device, etc.

If you now click the Search button you’ll get a long list of keywords with respect to the selection criteria chosen by you. The usual columns for data display are Keyword, Competition, Global Monthly Searches, and Local Monthly Searches.

Figure 3.4

Once the data are displayed, you can further narrow down your search by opting for Exact Match or Phrase Match (by default the data are displayed for Broad Match) in the left pane under Match Types. The image above (Figure 3.4) shows the data for Broad Match for the term PowerPoint Video.

There are other filtering options available on the left pane allowing you to include or exclude specific terms from the keyword list.

Try out various options and combinations to get a feel of the tool. The more you do, the more you have ideas on how best you can use it for your needs. If you are considering AdWords campaign for your products or services, or if you wish to know more about how AdWords functions, do read the help articles3.10 provided by Google.

Benefitting From Instant Search

You may have seen that as you start typing a search term in Google’s search box, you automatically get a list of terms in a dropdown. As you continue typing the list keeps on changing depending on what you’ve typed thus far.

When this is happening Google also gives you a list of search results corresponding to the term typed until then. This feature, called Google Instant, was introduced in September 2010 in the US, and later incorporated elsewhere.

Google has estimated3.11 that this feature, if used by everyone globally, has the potential to shave off 3.5 billion seconds a day or 11 hours every second from the time spent on search.

The road shown by Google quickly became the norm. Now YouTube, Amazon, and eBay too have their versions of instant search feature.

It stands to reason that the instant search feature reveals the most popular key-phrases when someone types in the words seeking information. This is important because if you do not have the demand figures for the search terms, then perhaps instant search is a good option to choose your keywords.

The image below (Figure 3.5) shows the feature in eBay.

Figure 3.5

Bing Ads Intelligence (BAI)

Bing Ads Intelligence or BAI is in many respects similar to Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool. You need to sign up as Bing Ads customer (even if you do not spend for the ads) to use this tool.

BAI is a powerful keyword research tool that works in Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, or 2013. As mentioned here3.12 the tool allows you to build and expand on your keyword lists, and enables you to easily gauge the performance of relevant keywords on the Yahoo! Bing Network.

When you use the tool, you get the lists of suggested keywords on actual Yahoo! Bing Network data, including relevance, volume, cost history, demographic, and geographic data.

Based on these rich inputs you’ll be able to develop informed keyword strategies for your website and other campaigns.

YouTube Keyword Suggestion Tool

Given the massive number of search queries landing up at YouTube, it will be a good idea to explore keyword research with YouTube Keyword Suggestion Tool3.13.

The tool is however quite bland though it is easy to infer popularity of keywords as it is based on just one figure, the Monthly Search Volume. The results from this tool can be tailored to languages and countries that you choose, and can be based on YouTube’s video URL, or one or more core keywords.

An important point to keep in mind is that people largely use YouTube looking for videos in the fields that naturally have videos, like entertainment, music, movies, sports, etc. This means the search queries are highly skewed in favor of keywords related to those fields.

For example, when I wanted to find out the search volume for the 5 SEO-related key-phrases referred in the previous section, the YouTube keyword tool drew a blank, stating there are Not Enough Data available.

The best way to use YouTube as a reference for search terms is to find the keywords with instant results. Fortunately, due to advancement in technology, the instant results option can be used in all search engines…as explained in a previous section.

Amazon Keyword Research Tool

Just as Google is the world’s most popular search engine, Amazon is the world’s biggest online marketplace. Many experts feel that the keywords used in Amazon are the most relevant commercial search terms because people go to Amazon only to buy items.

Amazon’s instant search feature does reveal the popular keywords. Like Google – and unlike eBay – Amazon follows the logic of incremental search3.14 or real-time suggestions. This means when a user types text, one or more possible matches for the text are found and immediately presented to the user.

Figure 3.6

In the image above (Figure 3.6), as I type the word ‘powerpoint’, I get 10 keyword suggestions, and all of them start with the word ‘powerpoint’. In contrast, out of 12 keyword suggestions in eBay (see Figure 3.5), there are 5 among them that do not start with the word ‘powerpoint’.

In other words, the term ‘wireless powerpoint presenter’ as in eBay will not come up in Amazon unless you start your search with wireless, and not powerpoint.

In spite of this shortcoming, Amazon’s instant search is quite popular to ferret out relevant and useful keywords. But you have to agree this is a painstaking, long-drawn process since you have to try out all the alphabets one by one to discover the golden nuggets you never imagined.

The importance of keyword research with Amazon cannot be overstated. A couple of keyword research tools may indeed become handy in this work.

Here they are:

1. The free tool by Keyword Tool Dominator3.15, and

2. $20 worth (as of this writing) FreshKey Keyword Analyzer Software3.16

Points to Note

Keyword tools like any other software are constantly evolving. A keyword tool that works great today, may in a few months turn out to be inferior to one launched fresh. It is therefore a good idea to scout the market for the best available tool suitable for your purpose, if you decide to buy one.

Using Twitter

Twitter, the popular micro-blogging site, is the destination of a wide cross-section of people across the world, busy sending their 140-character snippets to one and all. Twitter’s catchwords are to ‘discover what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world’.

And the key to unravel the trends of keyword usage is by mining the archives of tweets. Twitter is an excellent source of instant information, but more importantly, it’s an excellent source of knowing how the human minds have collectively worked in the past.

Twitter Search3.17 is obviously the place to start looking for what all is contained inside Twitter, and finding out the combination of words used most. For example, from the search results for the word PowerPoint I get to know that people relate it with presentation.

However when I search for presentation, very few tweets mention PowerPoint. This could mean that for many people wanting to create a presentation, PowerPoint may not be the preferred tool.

Hashtags.Org3.18 makes an automatic record of the words in the tweets that have the symbol ‘#’ before them. As Twitter informs3.19, hashtags is a Twitter community creation that has come to denote a category for different groups of tweets.

Thus, #youtube is a category called 'youtube’, and it is expected that those who tweet anything about YouTube will use the hashtag #youtube in their tweets.

In practice this may not happen, and many people may not use hashtags at all. Yet, it can’t be denied that the popularity of different hashtags does indicate relevance of the associated words. This in turn is a relevant point with regard to spotting keywords for the purpose of SEO.

Übersuggest Keyword Suggestion Tool

Übersuggest3.20 is an exciting and useful keyword tool that imitates Google Suggest and gives you a list of search terms beginning with the word or phrase you have typed.

As the site says, Übersuggest is Google Suggest on steroids!

Suppose you’re looking for key-phrases for the term ‘online’. Übersuggest will add an alphabet (a to z) or a digit (1 to 9) after ‘online’, and for each alphabet or digit it will extract all the keyword suggestions scraping the Google Suggest data.

There are more that can be done. Each phrase suggested by the tool can be clicked on to get further suggestions based on that phrase.

Übersuggest proclaims that:

With the free keyword tool you can instantly get thousands of keyword ideas from real user queries! (And you can then) Use the keywords to get inspiration for your next blog post, or to optimize your PPC campaigns.

Try the tool…you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Other Free & Paid Tools

It is likely that as a small website owner you won’t need any other keyword research tool.

For your needs Google’s tools may prove fairly extensive in providing information, and they do help, especially since they come from Google itself, the original custodian of the search data.

You may however want to dig in for more information as your business grows.

You may for example require elaborate keyword research for paid search marketing to exploit say seasonal demands in different demographics, or suchlike.

In such situations, when the need is to squeeze out as much information as possible including those of your competition, it is time to switch over to sophisticated paid keyword tools.

There are some paid keyword tools worth exploring. Other than Wordtracker3.21 (and its newly launched Scout for Chrome browser) and Market Samurai3.22 – both mentioned earlier – WordStream3.23 and Trellian’s Keyword Discovery3.24 are also popular on their individual merits.

All have their benefits, and so which one is the ideal for your needs can be known only after you have tried out all the four.

As for free keyword tool, other than those mentioned above, I’d suggest trying Aaron Wall’s SEO-Book Keyword Suggestion Tool3.25 that aggregates data culling from Wordtracker’s basic keyword tool.

You need to open a free account to be able to use this tool.