The first step to getting to page 1 on Google is doing your keyword research which is the process of looking for the best keyword phrases to use when optimizing your site. Being that this is the most important step in this whole process you would think a lot of time is spent here, but you would be sadly mistaken. Most people rush through this process quickly and carelessly thinking that it’s not worth the effort. Well, it is. I have seen companies waste tens of thousands of dollars on SEO campaigns that failed simply because they were not targeting the right keywords. They were either chasing phrases they didn’t have a chance in ranking for or they were driving unqualified traffic to their website because they were unknowingly going after the wrong visitor.
For fear of being a bit over-dramatic here, the success of your entire campaign relies on the keywords you are targeting. If you don’t know what phrases to optimize for, it doesn’t matter how great your website is, you won’t rank for them. Put it this way, the best GPS in the world can’t guide you to a location when you don’t know where you want to go!
Now, before you figure out which keywords to target, you need a brief understanding of how Google determines which websites rank higher than others. Put your Geek-to-English dictionary away, I’ll make this really simple for you. There are two key factors that effect how well your website ranks on Google:
Relevance: Is the subject matter of your website congruent with the keywords being searched? For example, you won’t rank well for the phrase “Landscape Architect” if you are a divorce attorney because your site is in no way relevant to that phrase.
Authority: How much credibility and online equity does your website have? For example, if you have a fairly new website, you have zero authority since you have not proven yourself in the eyes of Google, making it more difficult for you to improve your ranking. On the other hand, take a site like Amazon.com which has an enormous amount of authority and could very easily rank high for just about any keyword phrase they went after.
Keep those two words in the back of your mind when you begin your keyword research and have reasonable expectations with the words you choose. For example, if you own a mom and pop furniture store and you are launching your first website, you are likely going to have an impossible time getting ranked for a competitive term like “Furniture” because you are competing against sites like www.ikea.com and www.raymourflanigan.com whose websites have a lot of authority online. You would be better off targeting your area like “Furniture Stores in New Jersey” for a few reasons:
- The phrase “Furniture Stores in New Jersey” is much less competitive than “Furniture” which means you have a much better chance of ranking on the first page for it with a little bit of effort.
- You are likely to get a higher percentage of qualified visitors by targeting your local area and qualified visitors are much more likely to convert to customers. A guy from Seattle that happens upon your site is not going to order furniture from New Jersey.
When you begin your keyword research, there are two gauges I want you to look at in determining whether this is a phrase that you have a good chance of ranking for…three if you want to include common sense. I’ll show you where you can find these numbers in a minute, but in the meantime they are:
Competition: The more websites that are targeting a keyword phrase, the more competitive it is. The more competitive it is, the harder it is to rank. The harder it is to rank the less happy you will be. The less happy you will be…well, you get the point.
Local Monthly Searches: This tells us approximately how many people in your country are searching that keyword phrase.
So, keeping all of that stuff in mind, we’re finally at the point where you get to learn how to do this stuff! Here are today’s action steps:
1) Start with a Foundation of Potential Keywords
Before you even start searching, make a list of any possible keywords you can think of that you might search to find a direct competitor. Look through your web statistics to see what actual people have searched to help trigger some ideas. Don’t forget to include local areas as well if it makes sense. For example, if you are a roofer, write down “Roofing Contractor” but also write down “Florida Roofing Contractor” as well. Repeat for each category of product or service that you offer.
2) Search Using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool
There are lots of great resources and tools out there but I like using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool for a few reasons. We are looking to get ranked on Google, so it only makes sense to use their tool, it’s pretty accurate and it’s free. Enter all of the keywords that you came up with in the Word or Phrase box and click submit.
3) Dig Through the Results
You are now looking at some basic statistics of the words you wrote down plus some others that Google suggests. The competition column will give us an idea as to whether the phrase is very competitive or not. It’s a little misleading since this is for Google AdWords, so you may find a phrase that lists its Competition as Low or Medium when clearly it’s not. That number means it has a low competition of people buying AdWords. Nevertheless, it’s helpful. This is where common sense comes in. If the monthly search volume is 37,450,977 then chances are it’s a pretty competitive term. The next column you want to look at is the Local Monthly Searches which tells us how many people are searching that phrase on average every month within your country. Go through the list of the search terms you entered as well as the ones Google recommends and click the star to the left of all of the keywords that have a reasonable search volume and lower competition.
4) Search Any Additional Ideas (Rinse and Repeat)
If any of the suggested keywords trigger any new ideas, search those as well and repeat the process.
5) Export Your List
Once you are done going through the list and you have starred all of the keywords you thought were a good fit, click the download button and then choose “Starred” and download the file as a .csv file that you can open in Excel.
If you really want some brownie points, add a column to the end of your excel spreadsheet and include a link to the page that you feel is a strong target for that keyword. For example, “California Chimney Repair” would probably best target the Chimney Repair page on your website since it is the most relevant. Go through the entire list and put the name or link of the page that that keyword would best target. It will make your life SO much easier as we move through these next 8 steps.
This may seem like a lot to some of you and not enough to others. Stop the little voice in your head telling you this is stupid, a waste of time, too technical or not technical enough. That’s your lazy gene…we all have them. Lazy people don’t live on page one of Google (unless of course you search “lazy people” then I guess they would). This shouldn’t take you more than an hour at most, including the time it takes to read this post. Like I said earlier, this is the most important one, so get to work!