What is keyword research?
A typical definition explains keyword research as being the process of discovering which keywords people are entering in the search engines to find whatever goods or services they’re searching for.
There are several reasons why it can be valuable to do some keyword research when creating your web pages. Not least, you want to make sure that there is some demand for whatever it is you’re going to promote. Additionally, it can help you to find niches where there is low competition. You can also find out what the advertising spend is in your chosen niche by using sites such as SpyFu. I’ve only ever used the free version of SpyFu and have found it useful. However, they also offer a pro version for $79 per month. As I say, I’ve never tried that so I’ve no idea if it’s worth the outlay.
Just another SEO technique?
Some people argue that keyword research is a waste of time unless you’re building your website or business entirely around getting free traffic from Google. See the debate we had about it on the Experienced People forum.
Most people tend to think in terms of keyword research as being synonymous with SEO. They talk about it as though it’s about finding the keywords which will enable people to find you in the search engines. But that’s a narrow way to look at it. Perhaps you should expand your horizons when it comes to approaching keyword research.
I think that keyword research is useful even if you’re not pursuing a strategy of doing well in the SERPs to increase your traffic. People don’t only search for things on search engines.
Where else do people look for things? Via forums and marketplaces so they can spot trends and analyse demand. You can find out what specifically people are looking for. What terminology do people actually use when talking about a subject or a product?
So, I’m going to redefine the phrase according to my take, and fully expect people to disagree with me.
Keyword research is part of overall market research. It’s something you do to establish demand, competitors in the niche, and advertising spend in that niche.
How I go about keyword research
It may seem paradoxical, considering what I’ve just said about SEO not being the be-all and end-all of keyword research, but my starting point for keyword research is Google.
Of course Google is not the only place to do keyword research – it’s just one metric among many. But that’s how I do it. I use the Google AdWords Keyword Tool (free). Then I cross-check with the Google AdWords Traffic Estimator. And then I look at SpyFu to see what advertisers there are in the niche. (When you use the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, don’t forget to note the difference between exact match and broad match.)
Now, some people argue that this is a very Google-centric way to go about things. OK, it is. If you don’t want your keyword research to be focused on Google, then devise your own way to do it. There are plenty of other tools available, both free and paid for.
I used WordTracker for years, but they cranked the price up and added VAT at the same time so I stopped using it. It is a very good tool, though, so if you’re embarking on a new site (or sites) you might find it’s worth paying for the pro version for a limited time. You can get a free 7-day trial but they want your credit card number for that. I don’t like having to give my credit card number to access free things. Bah! Again, on WordTracker, there is a considerable emphasis on SEO, search engines and on Google in particular. I’m starting to feel as though I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t see keyword research purely in terms of pleasing the search engines.
SearchEngineWatch has a great article which reviews various paid and subscription-based keyword research tools.
Other uses for keyword research
OK, so if we’re not fixated on the search engines, how else might keyword research help to build traffic? Well, it could be useful for forum signatures, blog posts, creating videos, etc. All you’re doing really is trying to find what there’s a demand for and trying to meet that demand by providing suitable content. You target your content to what people are looking for.
Is it useful? The jury is still out. I think it is useful. Our esteemed leader over at the Experienced People forum appears to think it’s not. (No doubt he’ll let me know if I’ve misrepresented him.)
I had planned to go on with some thoughts about how to identify the keywords you want to use and how to use them – and also how NOT to use them. But this article has taken me long enough to write already, so we’ll save the how-to for another day, and those of you who do believe that keyword research is useful can check that one out separately.