I’ve always believed that the most important part of any SEO or PPC project is the research phase. It is important to discover exactly how your target market is searching online and develop a scalable, actionable strategy to target an audience likely to buy your product or service.
Although this blog post touches on how to carry out keyword research, it’s more about how you organise and prioritise keyword data so that you can create a strategy for your business or your client.
This is a process I was introduced around 10 years ago and I have been constantly refining and improving it over time. It was originally developed for SEO purposes but with some tweaking, it can also be applied to PPC.
I have used this method on small companies turning over £100k per year right up to businesses turning over £5billion+ and with some tweaking, it should work with just about any business.
This research phase of a search engine marketing project can take as little as a few days right up to a few weeks depending on the size of the business. In my opinion, it is absolutely crucial as it ensures that your SEO or PPC strategy is fit for purpose and is in line with your business’ or client’s expectations.
If you currently offer SEO or PPC as a service, this can be a fantastic upsell for your clients. If you work in-house, then it could help you better understand your target market, and perhaps save your business some cash.
This research piece can be sold as a separate service before a client commits to a monthly retainer. It will help both you and your client have a better understanding of your target market and the competitive landscape.
I’ve charged as little as £1000 to carry out the following type of research for a small business right up to £10,000+ for larger blue-chip companies.
For the purpose of this tutorial, I shall pretend that I have a client called The Furniture Shop and that they sell home furniture online and they wish to specifically focus on improving their search presence of search terms likely to sell furniture online.
They have specifically tasked me with finding ranking opportunities for keywords that are likely to convert online.
Compile Your Keywords
As mentioned previously, this blog post isn’t a lesson on how to discover new keywords, its more about organising the data and making it actionable so I will keep this section as brief as possible while also providing some insight for people new to the subject.
There’s a selection of keyword research tools available but for this blog post, I have chosen my favourite – SEMrush.
SEMrush has a number of functions, and by far the best thing about it (in my opinion) is that it gives you a fairly accurate insight into how people are searching online and it allows you to carry out competitor analysis.
Quick Competitor Analysis
I like to start keyword research by carrying out some brief competitor analysis to give me a feel for the landscape and gather some initial keyword ideas. For demonstration purposes, we will pretend that one of our fictional client’s main competitors is MADE.COM.
This information can be very useful, but I actually want to see which keywords MADE.COM sponsor via Google Ads as it will show me exactly which keywords are the ones likely to be generating revenue. Most of the time if a company is paying to show for a particular search query – it’s because they are making money from it.
To view this information, I simply click the ‘Advertising Research’ link and I am then presented with a report showing which keywords MADE.COM sponsor via Google Ads as can be seen in the screenshot below.
The above screenshot shows how the SEMrush Advertising Report looks.
If you would like a closer look at the reports available, simply drop a domain (try MADE.COM if you wish) into the search bar below.
After I have a good feel for how people are searching online, I start quickly filtering the information to see if we can find other keyword ideas. For example, in the screenshot below I have filtered column ‘A’ so that it only returns me examples of keywords that contain ‘coffee table’.
After discovering that there is a wide range of keyword opportunities related to coffee tables which requires further investigation, it’s time to jump back to SEMrush and drop the keyword ‘coffee table’ into the keyword magic tool as can be seen in the screenshot below.
The keyword magic tool produces a report that gives me a list of keywords that contain ‘coffee table’ including plurals such as coffee tables.
Notice how to the left of the screen, SEMrush also provides a list of filters to allow you to drill down further.
For example, if you click ‘glass’ it will give you all coffee table keywords that include the word ‘glass’.
I then simply choose the export option and based on the plan I have with SEMrush, I can download 10,000 keyword ideas in Excel format – I believe you can download more with a higher-tier plan but 10,000 is normally adequate
Once I have gone through this process I simply rinse and repeat until I am comfortable that I have spreadsheets containing an ample amount of keywords relating to my clients offering. For example, the client also wishes to sell sofas, I would repeat the process but focus on sofas.
A Little More Filtering In Excel (Using Keyword Magic Data This time)..
I normally get rid of all of the columns that I don’t need and only really focus on columns relating to keywords and search is a list of keywords in the format.
I also include a column called ‘Relevant’ and mark anything relevant with the letter Y, during my first sweep I normally do this pretty quickly and use the filter options to help me. For example, if I know glass coffee tables are important to the client, I’ll simply filter every keyword that contains the word ‘glass’ and fill down with the letter Y.
When I feel like I have an adequate volume of opportunities, I will simply apply a filter to the ‘Relevant’ column so that I only see keywords that have been tagged with the letter Y as you can see below.
Organise & Visualise Data Using Mind Maps
The next step I like to take is to order the keywords into a mind map. Why use a mind map you ask?
A mind map is a graphical way to represent ideas and concepts and they provide an excellent way to organise and visualise keyword data making large volumes of keyword data far more manageable.
I use FreeMind as my mind map tool of choice, mainly because, well it’s free, and it works. You can download FreeMind here.
Once you have installed FreeMind, simply take your keyword list that contains both the keywords and search volume data and drop them into FreeMind.
To do this I like to first copy and paste them from Excel into Notepad, and from Notepad into Freemind – for some reason regardless of what CTRL+V combination I use, I just can’t get branches copied from Excel into FreeMind properly so the Notepad step is required.
If you’re following along, and all has gone to plan, you should now have a mind map that looks like this.
Here’s where the real fun begins…
One of the great things about using mind maps is that it gives you the ability to create layers of data that can be quickly viewed or hidden.
Say, for example, you discover a large volume of long-tail keywords related to ‘round coffee tables’ – it would be very cumbersome to present them on a single node, so all you do is simply create a sub-node to show this data.
Check out the following screenshot to see what i mean.
This subnode can be expanded or collapsed with ease meaning that the person viewing the data, or the person reviewing the data, can quickly drill down into each keyword type with ease.
Once you are happy that you have a comprehensive list of coffee table related keywords, you simply repeat the process for other types of keywords.
When I am confident that I have discovered enough keywords for the project I’m working on, I simply start labeling each keyword to determine their priority based on my knowledge of the client’s business.
In the first instance, I like to label each keyword with a 1 or a 2. For me these numbers highlight the keywords that I think are top priority and less of a priority. In the case of this project, a top priority keyword is one I consider that will likely generate the highest amount of revenue for my client.
You can also choose to label keywords based on competitiveness if you wish. If you discover a keyword that appears especially important, perhaps it has high search volume and low competition, you may wish to choose to highlight this with an icon that makes it stand out such as a star.
The gif animation below demonstrates how the end result might look.
Viola! Keyword data is now organised and priortised.
If you work in-house, having a document like this can be a great way to visualise and prioritise SEO & content requirements.
In previous roles, I would meet with my content and SEO weekly and we would discuss which branch we should tackle in our next content/SEO sprint. This worked incredibly well as it gave you a simple systematic approach to content production and on-page SEO.
It was also a great document to show key stakeholders and it often helped get buy-in and budget for SEO campaigns.
If you sell SEO as a service, this information can be compiled into a word document or presentation and can then be discussed with your client.
Although this may sound slightly time-consuming, it’s a great way to demonstrate the time and effort that goes into keyword research and it allows you to discuss exactly which keywords are likely going to generate revenue for your client’s business which can prevent expensive mistakes from being made and allow you to prioritise your work depending on their goals.
For larger clients, I often break the keyword opportunities down to short, medium and long term goals and produce a document that proposes targets over a 3, 6 and 12 month period, the targets depend both on the competitive landscape and business goals.
From an agency perspective, this approach can work quite well as once the client has seen the initial research work, they will often choose to understand that they need to commit working with you for a long period of time.
So, although you may deliver this kind of research at a cost of between £1000 – £10,000 – it will likely lead to a longer-term commitment and a monthly retainer.
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