My role at Formic Media means that I talk with a lot of businesses on a daily basis. Some are current clients, but being the “sales guy” my role is really to talk to potential clients and drive new business for the team. I have a process that I go through to gain more information from each potential client. I ask a series of questions about their business, goals and objectives, whether they’ve worked with another agency in the past and what types of digital marketing the business is currently working on, to name a few. I let the conversation take shape naturally and gently guide it to obtain the answers I need to fully understand their business, goals and how Formic can help.

Once the conversation shifts more to specifics about their online efforts, I’m always a bit surprised at how often people/businesses don’t really know which keywords they should be targeting. These businesses may have been managing an SEO or PPC campaign without doing any keyword research to fully understand which keywords can drive highly qualified traffic, versus those that will cost you time and money because you are capturing the wrong audience. So, if you aren’t well versed in all things digital marketing, how does one go about finding the right keywords to target?

Competitive Research

One of the first things I’d suggest doing when beginning your keyword research is to take notice of your competition. Are your direct competitors ranking for certain keywords? If so, do some investigating to find out which keywords they are targeting, and where on the page they are placing them (side note: there are major page elements like the title tag, meta description tag, H1 tag and ALT tag where keywords will be placed if the folks behind the site have an idea as to what they are doing…so check these areas). Let’s look at the keyword phrase “men’s jogging suits” and I’ll show you how to do some quick detective work to see who’s done a good job of optimizing for this phrase. Here is a screenshot of the Google search results:

mens jogging suit google serps

You can see the top listing is Macy’s. Let’s look at that one. They’ve done a nice job of inserting “men’s jogging suits” into their title tag and meta description (Google pulls these from their website for use in the search results, so the title tag and meta description tag are extremely important). This is a good sign that they have an idea of what they’re doing. Now let’s click through to this particular page.

macys mens jogging suits

We already know that Macy’s used “men’s jogging suits” in their title & meta description tags as we saw it in the Google search results. Here I’ve pointed out they are using the keyword phrase in their H1 header tag (you can find this out by right clicking on the page and choosing “view page source,” then do a search – CTRL F – for “H1″ to find the H1 tag), another major page element. Go through this same process to see what your competitors are doing for your major keywords. This is simple and rudimentary, but it’ll give you an idea as to whether or not your competition understands the fundamentals of SEO (or maybe they’re using an agency).

Use Your Google AdWords & Google Analytics Accounts

If you aren’t currently using Google Analytics (GA), stop reading and go create an account right now. Seriously, don’t walk…RUN! OK, now that you’ve installed it you’ll have to wait to collect keyword data. For those that have GA installed already, go find which keywords are currently driving traffic to your site (from organic search) and are driving conversions. For keywords that are already producing an ROI, you’ll want to consider incorporating them into your keyword strategy. Here is a list of keywords that drove users to Formic’s website. “Social media” drove a good amount of traffic, and it’s a service we offer, so it makes sense to use that keyword in my optimization plan for our own site.

formic analytics keywords

You can do the exact same thing with Google AdWords. This is some of the best data you can get as you can begin to understand which keywords will drive a return on investment (ROI), then work to incorporate them into your website optimization plan. Look to see which keywords are driving high amounts of traffic and conversions, and ask yourself if these keywords make sense to target. Are they relevant to my business? I hope so since you’re using them in your PPC campaign. Are they relevant to my products/services? Again, I hope so, but you know what I’m getting at here. The keywords must be relevant and converting users to buyers/leads. If so, then it would be a good idea to optimize for these keywords. Also, if you see keywords that are driving a small amount of traffic, but are converting at a high rate, then I would also suggest finding a way to incorporate those as well (keywords with low clicks by high conversions usually are driving highly qualified visitors). I’d rather drive 1,000 people to my site and have a 10% conversion rate than drive 10,000 people and have a 0.5% conversion rate. It should be all about driving leads and sales, not just traffic.

Use the Google Keyword Tool

After you’ve researched your data, as well as what your competitors are doing, it’s time to do a little research using the Google Keyword Tool. This is a free tool that offers up information on real keyword searches. As you know, Google collects tons of data on users, and one of those pieces they track are search queries. This tool will tell you (these aren’t exact numbers, but can give you a very rough estimate) how much competition there is for a particular keyword, as well as how many monthly searches there are (both globally and locally in the US). Let’s look at our “men’s jogging suit” example again.

google keyword tool

You can see the phrase I typed in, then the variations that Google provides below. These variations are phrases that users have actually typed in. You see the competition column, where all of the keywords show “high” competition. Google only provides “high,” “medium” and low. Ideally you’re able to target keywords with a “low” competition designation as this means it may be easier to rank due to less competition. Continuing to the right you’ll see “Global Monthly Searches” (global meaning the world) and “Local Monthly Searches” (local meaning the US). If you are a business that operates in the US, then I’d suggest looking at the “Local Monthly Searches” column, but if you operate globally, then, well, look at the global column. With these metrics you’re looking for keywords that have the opportunity to drive a large amount of traffic, so generally you’d lean towards keywords that have a high search volume. There are exceptions to this, however. Notice the last keyword in the list, “mens velour jogging suits.” If you only sell velour jogging suits, then you’ll definitely want to target this keyword (or if you have a category/subcategory specific to velour suits you’d want to target this keyword for that category/subcategory page) for your site.

Keyword Research Considerations

When doing keyword research I’d suggest keeping these things in mind:

  • Only target one main keyword per page (never target multiple pages with the same keyword)
  • Your main keyword should go in the title, meta, H1 and ALT tags
  • Choose descriptive keywords that are highly relevant to the products/services you sell
  • Opt for keywords that get less traffic, but are highly relevant (this should help increase conversion rates and be easier to rank for)

I realize that I only scratched the surface here, but the above should give you a good idea on how to begin keyword research, as it really is one of the most important aspects of search engine optimization (SEO). Keywords are the basis of everything you’ll do in SEO, so if you don’t take the appropriate steps to really understand your audience and how they are searching, you’ve probably already lost. Best of luck, and feel free to ask questions or leave comments below.