Dominate Google: 7 Steps to Keyword Research Success

If you have a website, you should be doing keyword research. It’s that simple. Whilst you can produce a popular and successful website without considering keyword research or SEO, you will vastly improve your chances of success if you invite Google to the party.
If you haven’t previously done much keyword research (or even if you have), you may feel overwhelmed by its apparent complexity. But when first starting out, you can avoid that feeling by ignoring a lot of the so-called important datasets and focusing on just a few key variables.
Let’s push all of the complexities to one side and get started with some effective keyword research.

Step 1 – Stop Focusing on #1

I had a major mental block when I first started out with keyword research that took me a few months to overcome. I felt that if you couldn’t get to #1 in Google, there was no point in trying to rank at all. I was just plain wrong to think that.
If you rank anywhere from #1 to #10 for any worthwhile keyword, you will get traffic. The amount of traffic will be a percentage of the total number of searches, and that percentage will be affected in part by where you rank.
In reality, there are many factors that affect the click through rate – your ranking position is just one piece of the puzzle. More often than not, if you can get onto the first page of Google for a keyword, it is worth targeting.
Instead of focusing on reaching #1, consider your ranking efforts as an attempt to exceed the average. Treat the first page as a whole, rather than 10 different pages. I’ll explain the logic behind this shortly.

Step 2 – Collect Measureable Data

Whilst keyword research is often more of an art than a science, there are parts of it that you break down mathematically. So let’s do just that.
Say I was looking to rank for the keyword “freelance writing” (I have an interest in this keyword, as I am a freelance writer). There are some key pieces of information that I want:
  • PageRank
  • Domain Age
  • Number of links pointing to the page
  • Number of domains linking to the page
  • Number of links pointing to any page on the domain
  • Number of domains linking to any page on the domain
There are a number of ways in which you can get hold of this information. I personally use and recommend Market Samurai, but if that’s not your cup of tea, you can source the same link data with a free account at Majestic SEO. Alternatively, SEO Quake gives you a whole swathe of data that you can use for keyword research.

Step 3 – Exclude Huge/Brand Domains

Once you have collected your data, plug it all into a spreadsheet. If you are following my example, you should have something that looks like this:
Something should stick out like a sore thumb here – that’s right, the Wikipedia page. If we are going to take an average view of the competitiveness of a keyword, that one page is going to skew our numbers wildly. I want you to remove that from your dataset, so that your spreadsheet now looks like this:
You always should look to exclude any huge domains (such as Wikipedia) from your calculations. Additionally, be on the lookout for brand domains, which are given special treatment by Google. They should also be excluded – the inclusion of data from such sites will affect the usefulness of your results.
Of course, if your results are littered with huge and/or brand domains, you may wish to think twice about targeting the keyword!

Step 4 – Average Out Your Data

You now want to find the average for each of the datasets you have collected. In Excel you would use the formula ‘=AVERAGE(firstcell:lastcell)’.
For the purposes of ascertaining whether or not you should target the keyword, these are your numerical points of reference. You should now have a set of numbers that look something like this:

Step 5 – Analyze Your Data

Whilst PageRank and Domain Age feature as data sets, they are the least important factors. However, when you are presented with high numbers (as we are in this example), you should certainly take note. If you are a brand new site, attempting to rank amongst aged domains with high PageRanks is likely to be tough.
The rest of the data is what really interest us. What we will be mainly focusing on is the number of linking domains, rather than the number of backlinks. Google doesn’t get too excited by multiple links from the same domain – it much prefers to see multiple links from different domains.
So let’s assess the available data. According to the averages we have calculated, we will need to have approximately 8,000 domains linking to our site as whole, and some 3,000 domains linking to the specific page that we wish to rank for, in order to get onto the first page of Google.
At this point, you might say “wait a minute – the domain in 9th spot only has 983 domains linking to it – shouldn’t that be our start point?” There is an argument for that, but quite frankly, I don’t like it. If you see sites ranking well despite a relatively low number of backlinks, there is likely a special reason for it (for instance, Google loves sites with domain names that match the keyword). Don’t be fooled by potentially erroneous data – averaging out the figures is a far safer play.

Step 6 – Consider Onsite Optimization

There are a few different onsite factors you want to consider. Check to see if the keyword is featured in:
  1. The URL
  2. The title
  3. The header tags
  4. The meta description
  5. The content
You can do this manually, or use a tool such as Market Samurai, which will return you something looking like this:
How well optimized the pages are can have an impact on your analysis in Step 5. For instance, if the sites are not well-optimized for the keyword in question, you should be able to rank on the first page with less linking domains than the average.
Onsite optimization is a strong ranking factor. The better optimized your content, the higher your chances of ranking are. But please don’t take that as an excuse to use your keyword at every possible opportunity. Your content should still present “naturally” – do not resort to keyword stuffing.

Step 7 – Trial, Error & Experience

This is probably the most important step. Whilst you can read about how to carry out keyword research all day long, you will only ever truly advance your skills by practically executing the advice you have read.
This short guide serves as a good introduction to keyword research, but I’m only just scratching the surface (after all, I recently wrote a 9,000 word eBook on the topic!). In time and with experience, you will learn what works for you and what doesn’t.

Footnote – Search Engine Optimization

I have deliberately excluded any references to SEO up to this point. This is, after all, an article on keyword research, not SEO. But since the two topics are intrinsically linked, it would be remiss of me not to point you in the right direction.
by Tom Ewer


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