Keyword research. It’s a mysterious dark art used by strange SEOs trying to find a novel way to game Google’s algorithms.
Except it’s not. At its core, keyword research is basically just a method for finding out what words people are using to find the answers to the questions that you have the answers to.
For copywriters that makes keyword research a useful tool for making sure that the web content they’re writing is a good match for what their target audience is looking for (and how they’re looking for it), and that their content can actually be found by those people when they’re searching for information.
Copywriters can also use keyword research to build up lists of ideas for more content – something that’s very handy if you’ve got a blog you need to keep coming up with ideas for.
In this post I’ll walk you through some free (well, mostly free) methods copywriters can use to very quickly find good keywords, as well as how you can validate your keyword ideas to find the very best opportunities.
Step One: Brainstorm
Come up with your initial “seed” list – this will consist of just the main terms that describe what you do, what you sell or the problems you can solve for your customers.
When you have your initial list, check for common synonyms (the thesaurus is always a good place to start) and add these to your list.
You can also check for any interesting, less obvious or slightly more-distantly related words with relatedwords.org. Just enter words from your seed list and review the suggestions you get. Add any you like to your list of keyword ideas.
Step Two: Answer the Public
Answer the Public is a weird little tool for a couple of reasons. The first is the full-screen bearded, bespectacled, be-turtlenecked older gent (pictured at the start of this post) who’ll heckle you when you arrive at the site. The second is that they seem to give away a lot of great, useful information completely free.
Use Answer the Public to find more ideas by simply visit the website and entering any keyword from your seed list. That’s all. The site will spit out an inhuman amount of keyword ideas in three main categories:
- Prepositions – that use terms like can, is, for, with, to or neat.
- Comparisons – that use terms like versus, and, or or like.
Not every idea that Answer the Public gives you will be amazing, so be prepared to filter out quite a few. The really handy thing is you can use their data visualisations to home in types of keywords you want at a glance, or you can export lists straight to Excel.
Step Three: Steal from Google
Sometimes it pays to go straight to the source. This technique is really sneaky and useful if you need to come up with blog ideas or some related topics extremely quickly. Here’s how to do it, step-by-step.
- Go to Google and do a News search for any term on your seed list.
- Hit the “tools button” at the top of search results.
- Change “All news” to “Blogs”
- I also recommend changing “Recent” to “Past year” – you’ll get better quality, more relevant results this way.
- You can also change “The web” to “Country: Australia” (or your own country) if you want more local results
- Add “&num=100” to the end of the URL of the search results. This makes Google show you the 100 most relevant results on one page, not just 10!
- You can either manually look through the results to get ideas, or if you want to work super quickly, select everything on the page, copy it and paste it into the text box on https://www.online-utility.org/text/analyzer.jsp
- Hit the “Process text” button and the text analyzer will give you a list of all the different phrases and individual words that appear in the search results sorted by how often they appear.
- There’ll be a lot of chaff to sort through, but there’s usually some strong ideas in the three word phrases, two word phrases and words that you can add to your keyword idea list.
Step Four: Eavesdrop on Forums
Forums pretty much exist for asking questions, discussing problems and sharing interests; so they’re naturally a great place to find keyword ideas.
Quick caveat though: to get enough information from a forum to generate decent keyword ideas can usually be either quite time-consuming or use tools that automate most of the work, but aren’t exactly free.
Because time is our greatest resource, our tip focuses on the paid tool option. In this case that tool is a little something called Screaming Frog.
Screaming Frog is, confusingly, what’s known as a “spider”. When you open Screaming Frog and give it a URL for a website it will create a list of every page on their site, including (and this is the part that should interest copywriters) the title and metadata for each page.
Here’s how you do it:
- Find a forum that’s relevant to your business or target audience (you’ll be amazed how many high-quality niche forums there are out there).
- Grab the URL for the forum’s homepage.
- Open Screaming Frog, enter the URL and press Start to begin the crawl.
- When the crawl has finished (this can take a while, so let it run in the background while you do something else) change the Filter to “HTML” and export to an Excel spreadsheet.
- In the spreadsheet, filter out any 404, 301 or 302 pages using the “Status Code” column.
- Delete any columns you don’t need, leaving just:
- Title 1
- Meta Description 1
- H1-1 (this is the main title that appears at the top of each page)
- Clean up the spreadsheet to remove any:
- Author pages
- Category pages (including paginated categories)
- Any rows that don’t represent real, unique content (e.g. duplicates)
Copy and paste each of the Title 1, Meta Description 1 and H1-1 columns through the Text Analyzer like with the Google News results (you can do each column individually or all together), to find additional keyword ideas.
Add any ideas you like to your keyword ideas list.
Validate Your Ideas
Having a whole list of ideas is fantastic, but taking the steps to validate them is the best way to narrow them down to the keywords and ideas that are:
- Likely to attract enough search traffic for the investment in writing content to be worthwhile.
- Not too difficult to get into search results for. Only a handful of websites can appear on page one of search results for any terms, and it can get extremely competitive for some types of keywords, especially if they high search volume.
If you’re trying to find and validate ideas fast, then the number of monthly searches is the easiest way to get a usable indication of the above two things.
But first you need to think about the type of site you’re writing for to set parameters around how many monthly searches isn’t enough, and how many is probably too competitive per keyword. Keep in mind
- How established is the site you’re writing for?
- How much traffic does it get at the moment?
- Do any other sites link to it?
- What is its Domain Authority (a score from 1-100. You can find yours using Open Site Explorer.) If this number is high, you can target keywords with high search volumes, if it’s low you’ll probably have more luck with keywords with lower search volumes.
- What types of websites are you competing with?
Here’s how to find the number of monthly searches for all the keywords on your list using Google’s Keyword Planner
- Login into Google AdWords (you’ll need an account, and this works best if you already have an account that you actually advertise with. Go figure).
- Select “Keyword Planner” under the “Tools” drop-down menu.
- You’ll see a menu with four options. Select the second one – “Get search volume for a list of keywords or group them into ad groups”.
Select all the keywords on your ideas list and paste them into the field named as “Option 1: Enter keywords”. The tool will remove any duplicates on your list and arrange the keywords into groups for you.
Once you’ve pasted in your keywords (and narrowed down your location using the “Targeting” options, if you need to) just click the “Get search volume” button to generate a list of keywords with the average number of times each is searched per month.
With a list of all your keywords and their average monthly searches, you should be able to home in on just the keywords that are in or close to the target range you’ve chosen for the website you’re working on.
Keyword research can be a lot more precise than this, but it can also be much more involved than this. If your aim is to find usable keyword ideas as quickly as possible though, these tips and techniques will give you plenty to work with.