Keyword Research: The Basics

Ah, keywords. Without them, SEO is nothing more than a bunch of work with no real purpose, or direction. Your keywords (and the associated keyword research) will direct the entire site’s content for the next 6 to 12 months, or at least until you change your keyword strategy.

What? Keyword Strategy?

Right. Keyword strategy. Let’s talk about that. Your keyword strategy is the specific keywords you’ve decided to try and rank for in the search engines, their respective competition, and how you plan to beat out that competition. Aside from actually having a website, this is really the true bedrock of SEO. You need to have a solid keyword strategy to direct your content creation and SEO work for the next 6-12 months, or at least until you select a new set of keywords. A good keyword strategy will flesh out not only keywords that are well-searched and relevant to your business, but it will also spell out your competition, their pageranks, and what specific methods you can use to carve out your own space on the front page of the search engines.

But how do you develop a keyword strategy? Do you just take a wild guess at what people are searching lately and see what happens? Do you throw a dart at a wall full of words cut out of a madlibs book (are those still a thing?) ? Although these might provide some amusement for the short term, they will not provide you a solid keyword strategy for your website.

Tools of the trade

You’re in luck, oh wary keyword guesser. We live in a time of high-tech, and there are many super-free, super-good keyword research tools that will help you build a website that will drive a lot of native searches.

Google Keyword Tool (

The Google keyword planner is the industry standard in keyword research, and I’ll cover exactly how to use this as our primary keyword research tool later on in this chapter. It is simple, free, and gives you a ton of information about your keywords as you work to pick the best ones for your business model.

SEO Quake Firefox Plugin (

You do use Firefox….don’t you? If not, then switch. ( And then install the SEO quake plugin, but only keep it activated while doing keyword research: it takes up a TON of system resources (its doing some hard work, give it a break!) This is a great plugin that will show you the pagerank of the pages on the front page of google, or any other search engine when you search them. These can’t always be proven as accurate (google is pretty covetous of this information, so take it with a grain of salt) but it’s a very good tool to give you a good idea of your keywords are already pretty eaten up by the big dogs, or if there’s some space for your company to make it to the front page.

Google Pagespeed Tester ( This is a pivotal tool to make sure that your page loads quickly, efficiently, and is helpful to the users who arrive there. Google has made no qualms about saying that pages that rank poorly on this system will not be looked upon favorably for SEO, so make sure you look at this from time to time to make sure your page loads fast, loads well, and looks nice (at least in google’s eyes) Pay special attention to Mobile loading speeds and accessibility as well, as mobile makes up the vast majority of online work nowadays. Focus on mobile.

Great, I’ve got all these tools now…How do I use them?

So we’ve got the keyword planner, SEOQuake, Pagespeed Optimizer, and their bing/yahoo equivalents which are listed in the appendix of my book (lets keep it simple here, you can use those when you’re really getting into SEO) So how do we use them? Here’s the Guide:

Brainstorm some keyword ideas. Go to the keyword planner. Type in your number one, super good best keyword you hope to be listed on the front page for in google. Hit enter. This will give you a long list not only of the keyword you typed with its competition, and total monthly searches, but also a “cost” for competition for that keyword. What does that mean? Well, for google, the keyword planner is made mostly for folks who are looking for creating PPC ad campaigns. However, this is still the best insight into keywords you can get from Google. Now take heart, its really, really common that two things happen here: 1) your keyword gets a hilariously low number of searches, and is essentially worthless, or 2) it is seemingly the most popular keyword on the face of the earth. This is where the real work begins in the keyword planner Now you can go in and utilize the keyword planning tool to to organize all of those synonymous keywords in the list by total monthly searches, and also by competition. You want to find keywords that have fairly low competition, (competition: Medium is really as high as you want to go, unless you have lots of time and money to throw at an SEO campaign) and write down that list of keywords. Having 10-30 keywords is really where you want to be, as working toward just one keyword will cause a lot of issues if someone with more time, money, or SEO skill shows up and ruins your party in a week or two (it can happen) It can also be really helpful (depending on how ambitious you are) to export the entire list from google as an excel spreadsheet, and save it with the date. Then you can go back into the keyword planner at a later date and see if the competition, or monthly searches have changed.

Take your list of chosen keywords, and search them. Yep, crack open google. Turn on Seoquake, and get searching. Remember, the keyword planner is just a good rule of thumb for picking keywords that are low in competition. SEO quake will tell you if these words are useful for an SEO campaign. When you search these keywords, you’ll notice that each search result will give you a specific Pagerank, listed right beneath the search result. These pageranks will tell you how credible Google thinks they are. Pagerank ranges from n/a (0) to 10. You’ll rarely, if ever see a result with a pagerank over 7, and if you do you’ll probably want to pick a different word. If you’re a single guy or gal, planning on doing this SEO thing yourself, you really want to keep those pageranks below 3 for the entire front page. Anything with a pagerank over 3 is usually a page that has been indexed and backlinked for years and years, and is exceptionally credible. Any result on the front page with a rank that high means that this keyword can be exceptionally difficult to rank for.

Take the winners from your list, and plug them into the keyword planner again. This might seem strange, but trust me. What you’re going to get from the keyword planner this time is a list of what we call “longtail” keywords. These are far more relevant, far more useful, and are usually WAY easier to rank for, because you’re getting specific. Let’s say that you’re building a website for your gardening company, but you specialize in lilac bushes (i know nothing about gardening, run with me) you first try “gardening” as a keyword, and realize that 1) it’s full of competition, and 2) it’s really not searched all that often, because people don’t just search “gardening” They want to search “how to plant lilac bushes” or “lilac gardening”, these are the kind of keywords that will help you get far more searches, will be easier to rank for, and will get users to your site that are actually interested in your business that specialized in lilac bushes. Long tail is the name of the game, because often times a single, excellent piece of content that is optimized for a long tail keyword can get you hundreds, maybe even thousands, of native pageviews.

Take your list of longtail keywords, and your few standard keywords, and get to work. Now that you know what keywords you’ll be focusing on, its time to get to work making some great content that will get google to drive traffic to your site. You can find out more about that in my book, which you get for free just by signing up for my newsletter.

Hope this was helpful! just a general guide to some simple keyword research.

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