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Keyword research - a beginner’s guide

Keywords - A beginner's guideYou can increase the levels of traffic to your website by researching and refining the right keywords and phrases to help you get higher up the rankings in Google. John Straw offers a beginner’s guide to keyword research

You might already be on the top of Google if you search for your company name, but what about the customers who don’t know your company’s name and are searching for a specific product or service?

What words and phrases are your customers typing into search (keywords)? Which keywords could and should you be found for? And which keywords will make you money?

Keywords and the long tail

A relatively small number of the total searches in any market come from the top ten keywords. The vast majority are made up from longer, more specific combinations of keywords. And the most popular search terms don’t always translate into visits to your website.

So, for example, there are thousands of searches for dentist but the conversion rate is low. There would be far fewer searches for “best Oxford dentist”, for example, but the conversion rate would be high.

Did you know that in your market there will be thousands of potential keyword combinations that get less than 100 searches a month, yet convert at a very high rate because they are very specific? This means that there are likely to be thousands of keyword phrases that convert well and are relatively uncompetitive in your market.

In fact, research conducted by Hitwise suggests that a growing number of searchers are using four, five, six and even seven words in a search query in order to find results that are specific to what they are looking for. The use of shorter keyword variations is actually on the decline.

It’s important to understand this concept because a lot of websites are competing to rank at the top for the head keywords. And only a few of them can win. In fact most of the time, you are much better off ranking at the top for a mid or long tail keyword than at the bottom of page one for a head keyword.

Keywords and conversion

The more specific the search term, the higher the chance of a relevant result and the higher the chance of converting a search to a sale. Another variable in a search term’s likely conversion is the intention of the searcher. There are three types of search — the general search (for dentists in Oxford); the purchase search (for best root canal dentist in Oxford) and the destination search (for dentist R Smith, Central Oxford).

Identifying and ranking for purchase searches is how your business can quickly increase traffic and money, but in the medium to long-term, capturing general searches is going to be important too.

Selecting keywords for your business

One of the tasks you will find in our task manager is to create a list of keywords you want to rank for. Keyword research is not too difficult but very important. Here’s what you need to do.

1. Brainstorm keywords you want to rank for

Brainstorm and write down keywords and phrases that describe your products and services. Include the keywords you think your customers search for to find you and your competitors. Use a thesaurus to look for synonyms. You might want to ask a couple of customers or people who don’t know your business what they would type into Google if they were searching for the products and services you offer. Don’t forget to also add your brand and business names.

2. Add current keywords successes

To your list add any keywords that currently bring visitors to your website.

You would get this information from Google Analytics or other website analytics software.

3. Research keywords using a free keyword tool

Now use this list to begin researching what your potential customers really do type to find businesses like yours. Using tools like Google Adwords Keyword Tool allows you to:

  • view keyword data by specific countries and territories
  • view search volumes and trends
  • view keyword competition levels
  • view data by match type (broad, “phrase” and [exact])
  • use specific pages of your website and have Google analyse the page and suggest relevant keywords

Tip: Enter your keywords into both tools in brackets like this – [keyword]. The brackets represent 'Exact Match'. Using an exact match search ensures you get data for exactly the term you’re considering targeting and you can compare terms in a meaningful way.

When you’re finished you should end up with a short-list of keywords with their local monthly search volume.

4. Finalise your list of keyword targets

You should now have a good list of keywords you want to be found for.

Make a note of whether you have a relevant page already on your site, or whether you think you’ll need to build one.

5. Start tracking your rankings

Keeping an eye on your rankings is important as rankings help direct your strategic and tactical efforts. For example if you find that you have a selection of relatively low competition keywords ranking in positions  3–10, then the chances are that pushing some great content out that links to those pages will give those pages the boost they need to get to the top.

Keyword research checklist

Now you can start discovering the keywords that are going to grow your traffic and revenues. When you’re done you should know:

  • which keywords you want to target
  • your site’s current rankings for those keywords
  • which pages are relevant on your site for your keywords
  • which keywords you want to rank for that don’t have content yet


  • Keyword research is not difficult yet it is very important to your business, so invest the time needed to do it properly.
  • More specific long tail phrases convert better than short tail terms.
  • Keyword research tools help add science to the process.
  • Keyword research is not a one-time task and should be frequently reviewed.

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