Since I start my freelancing career as a search engine optimization professional, the first challenge I face was to do the keyword research with free tools. Because, at that time, I don’t have enough budget to afford a paid SEO tools as they are usually much expensive.
And, when I tried to learn the research techniques from many different online resources, I either find them incomplete or didn’t find the logic behind every action described.
So, whatever I learn, I add one point to another and build up my own system for doing keyword research manually. Here, I am going to share my technique which I still use to follow in some cases.
I hope this will especially benefit those SEO freelancers who are at their initial stage of learning SEO and also to those small business owners who’re with a tight budget for their website’s online marketing.
Why Keyword Research is Important
Marketing is all about a game of words. More you say the right thing at the right time to the right people, more chances will be there for you to get success.
So no matter whether you are doing face to face marketing, digital media marketing or online marketing, picking up the right words for marketing is always crucial. In my other post on Actionable Digital Marketing Guide for Small Businesses, I explain how keyword research in advance can help optimizing website properly.
If you have an idea in advance about the words which your target audience will probably use for searching a solution, then you surely won half of the battle.
To put yourself in a better position right the start of your marketing campaign, it’s important to find the right keywords which are highly relevant to your business. Also, build up a list of keyword database that is frequently used by your customers to search for solutions.
You can use this database either to optimize your service or product pages so that organic visitors will find your web pages easily. Also, you can use these for creating contents to educate your target audience about your products and service.
Is Keyword Research a one-time job of do you need to do it periodically?
In my point of view, this research is actually an ongoing process that you need to do periodically (usually every after 3 or 6 months) to tweak your marketing strategy. After a certain period of time, you need to evaluate the currently targeted key terms performance, then you need to do the keyword research again.
After 3-6 months, you’ll naturally have a good volume of data on your website’s webmaster and analytic property. You need to analyze them, measure the currently selected keywords performance, and find some profitable keywords to re-optimize the pages.
Anyway, before starting to learn about the process of doing keyword research, we need to know few fundamental things about keywords or key phrases. Instance, keyword structure or types of keywords and the elements that you need to focus on keywords while doing the research.
Understanding the structure of target keywords is much important to know before you plan to begin your search for key terms. If you think logically, you can understand that only two or three-word sentences don’t actually make much sense.
Instance; think that you are selling t-shirts on your online store which is particularly suitable for boys. Your product is suitable for 10 to15 age group.
Now if you target “Sell t-shirts” as your main key terms for ranking your product page in an organic search, then you may get a lot of visitors because this term surely has insane search volume.
But think, when an adult men Google this search term and land on your page, do you really think that he’ll buy your product? No! He will immediately leave your site because he is looking for t-shirts for himself.
On the other hand, let’s say you are selling blue color t-shirts for and you are targeting “t-shirts for boys” because it has good search volume per month. Now think if a customer looking for white color t-shirts for his/her teenage boy.
Now, do you really think that s/he buys your product if the visitor land on your page by searching Google for your target key phrase? No!
In this case, if you target keywords like “blue t-shirts for boys” and people land on your page by typing the same or similar terms, then your chance of selling the product will be much higher.
However, keywords with four plus words usually have much lower search volume per month, but it won’t be an issue because it can bring you the most targeted visitors.
Here is one of my posts where I explain what makes a good keyword and also different types of keywords in SEO. It can give you a much clear idea about the keyword structure.
Lists of Metrics to Evaluate a Keyword Quality
Now, what makes a keyword perfect worth targeting? Surely there must be having some criteria which make a key phrase bad or good.
There are certain metrics you have to consider while doing the keyword research. I personally consider four below factors while doing keyword research for my own blog posts and also for my client’s website.
This is, in fact, the most important quality of a good keyword. If the keyword is not perfectly reflected my niche, business or product, then it not worth targeting.
No matter if other metrics are not in my favor, I always pick the keywords which have the most relevancies with my business.
SERP refers to Search Engine Results Pages. If you type a keyword in the Google search option, in the result page you can see a number like shown in the below image. It indicates the number of websites indexed in the Google database for this particular keyword and this is called SERP.
SEO Difficulty Level
SEO difficulty level depends on the number of SERP. A Higher number of SERP indicates the more SEO difficulty level. There is a thumb rule by which you can determine a keywords SEO difficulty level by calculating the SERP info.
- Easy: 100,000 pages or below in SERPs*
- Relatively Easy: 100K –1 Million pages in SERPs
- Moderately Competitive: 1M –10 Million pages in SERPs
- Competitive: 10M –100 Million pages in SERPs
- Extremely Competitive: Over 100 Million pages in SERPs
*SERP stands for Search Engine Results Page
Keyword Efficiency Index (KEI)
KEI refers to Keyword Efficiency Index or Keyword Effective Index. It’s kind of mathematical calculation and comparison of demand and supply. Hence, Demand refers to the number of search volume of a keyword. On the other hand, Supply is the number of pages indexed by the search engine for that particular keyword. It’s also known as Competitiveness of a keyword.
Now the most popular formula for calculating KEI is, SV²/C. Here, SV refers to the number of search for any targeted keyword during a given period, whereas C indicates the number of indexed pages in search engine for that particular query.
Shane Barker explained the whole stuff of Keyword Efficiency Index nicely on his post on Business to Community. Go through it in detail if you want to learn more about this.
Now let’s begin our keyword research process. It involves a lot of work and we also need some free tools too.
Tools we need for keyword research
The main tools we need for keyword research are as below;
- Google Keyword Planner
- Keyword Tool Dominator
- Traffic Travis Desktop Software (Free version)
- Keyword Everywhere Browser Add-on
- Microsoft Office Excel
Here, I just need to mention in advance that, you should have to have fair expertise on MS Excel to do the research. Instance, you must know how to do freeze panes, filtering or search target words in huge database etc.
You also need to know few particular formulas which I am going to show in the post. So, you only need to take notes of those formulas or alternatively, you can bookmark my post for instant reference in future.
Steps to follow for keyword research with Free Tools
I break down the process into three major parts. They are;
- Seed keyword collection;
- Keyword list and its necessary information collection;
- Conduct the Research;
1. Seed Keyword Collection
This is the first step you need to follow. You must have to list down few words which are highly relevant to your niche or business. These words will be the base of whole keyword research function and also used for breaking down the keywords head and body structure.
Now you may think where and how to collect the seed keyword ideas?
You can get a list from your client i.e. the website owner or you can also examine the website to find out the best possible words.
Let me explain you a little more with an example of my previous client’s project. It’s a pharmaceutical product selling website which brand name is Cold Fix.
I go through all the pages, posts, menu bars, footer links to collect the most common words used for the website and prepare a list.
Here, while you find the seed keywords by yourself, you must need to use your common sense to finalize the list.
For the example site, I gather and prepare a list of below keywords after going through the website’s menu and page contents.
2.1 Collect keyword List from Google Keyword Planner
To use this tool you must have to have a free Gmail address. I assume that you have a Gmail account. Now you have to sign up and log in a Google AdWord account with the same Gmail.
Once you login to the Google AdWord account, you have to go to the Tools > Keyword Planner as shown in the below Image;
Then you’ll land on another page and can able to see a box on the left side of the screen like below image.
Use some combination of your collected see keywords, set specific country of your target market and hit keyword ideas.
Keyword planner then returns a huge list of keyword ideas. At this point, you don’t need to select the relevant keywords. Just download all the collection and save the file in a safe place.
Here, one thing I must mention that, Google now won’t show you the exact search volume of any particular keyword until you have a running campaign on their platform.
On the above image, you can see an approximate search volume for Global search and exact search volume in US search. The reason is, I run an Ad campaign from this account focusing the US market.
But, when you use your new Google AdWord account, search volume column will show as like the first column.
Another point is the “Competition”. In most cases, I notice many marketers consider this AdWord’s keyword competition level and use this as a factor to determine the keyword competitiveness.
In my point of view, the competition shown in the AdWord is actually for the PPC marketer. As we’re doing research for organic search, so this information will not serve our purpose.
2.2 Collect Potential Keyword List from Ubersuggest.io
Ubersuggest is an online base simple tool that can help you to collect a huge list of long tail keywords.
As like shown in the above image, you have to use your seed keywords or the combination of seed keywords in the search box, set your target country and hit the suggest button.
Ubbersuggest will return a huge list of long tail keywords. Here also, no need to bother for selecting individual key terms. Download all the keyword ideas.
2.3 Collect Potential Keyword List from Keyword Toll Dominator
This is another online base tool offer services to search for long tail keywords from Google, Amazon, Ebay, YouTube, Bing, and Etsay. We’ll use the Google option which is also popularly known as Google Auto Complete tool.
Once you land on Keyword Tool Dominator Google auto-complete search page, you only have to input the seed keywords or combination of seed keywords, set the target country and hit the search button. It’s more like as Ubersuggest.
After then, it’ll return a huge list of keywords on the first box, select them all, transfer them to the second box and download the list.
Important note for this tool is; the free version will allow you to search only 3 times a day. So you have to consider using this service wisely.
Now, with using these three free tools, you already get a huge bunch of keyword lists in three different files. Keep them in a safe place as we now need to transfer them in our main research file.
3.1 Organize the Keyword Research file and Collect Keyword Information
Now the first thing is to prepare and organize the MS Excel file which is the main ground of conducting your research.
In one particular sheet of your MS Excel file, you need to set up the columns with proper heading as shown in the below image;
Once set the column heading, simply copy paste the list of keywords under the “Keyword” column.
At this stage, you should count the number of words of every key phrase. In the above image, next to “Keyword” column, you can see the option for “Number of Words” which refers to the total number of words used to form a particular key phrase.
The Excel formula for calculating the number of words in one cell is as below,
=len(Cell Numebr)-len(substitute(Cell Numebr,” “,””))+1
Here, I must thank to Chandoo.org from where I learn how to count words in a cell using excel functions and also many other excel tricks like this.
Once you count the number of words in the key phrases, your two columns will look like this;
3.2 Collect Keyword Information and Update the Database file:
At this stage, you need to use two other free tools to collect Search Engine Results Page (SERP) information and also update the research file columns accordingly.
The first tool you need to use is the Traffic Travis. It’s a desktop free version software which will be used for collecting SERP info and the second tool is “Keyword Everywhere” for collecting “Search volume” info.
3.2.1 Collect SERP Information by using Traffic Travis Tool:
To use this free desktop SEO tool, you need to register an account with Traffic Travis. Once you sign up, you will get an email that contains a download link along with a Product Key like shown in the image.
Download the software and activate the product with the Code provided in the email. Once set this up, you also need to go to File > Program Option > AdWords to link your AdWord Account with the software.
You have to make sure that you won’t setup the 2-step verification to your Gmail account; otherwise, the software may face difficulties to connect with the AdWord account.
Now to collect the SERP information, follow below steps shown in the images.
Go to Research option and set the number of keyword list to 100. Free version of the software only allows fetching data for 100 keywords at a time.
Next, go to Advanced Setting and check for Exact Match option. Also, set your target country and language as per your choice.
Now click on the keyword box section and copy paste your keyword and start fetching. Again, you only need to copy paste 100 keywords at a time as you’re using the free version.
It’ll take approximate 5-6 minutes to collect all the data. Once complete, the result will be present to you like below image. You can then able to download all the data in the CSV file.
From the CSV file, Copy paste the SERP info to your main research MS excel file. Based on the SERP info, you can instantly calculate the keyword’s SEO difficulty level. At this stage, you Research file will look like below;
3.2.2 Collect Search Volume Information by using Keyword Everywhere
Once install the Add on, click on it and select Bulk Upload option. It will lead you to another page where you will have the option to copy paste your keyword, fetch them and collect the search volume information.
To do this, follow below steps shown in the images;
After downloading the information in an excel file, just copy paste the search volume information to you main research file.
At this stage, as you have both SERP and Search volume information, you can easily calculate the Keyword Efficiency Index.
Now if you count the KEI formula which I discussed in the above Keyword Efficiency Index section, then the calculation process and the look of you research file will be like below this;
If you want to go for more advanced level calculation, then you can mark the keyword relevancy level first and use the information to count KEI with below formula.
If you would like to learn this more advanced level KEI calculation technique, then I suggest you read this post – Shortlist your keywords on SEOinPractice.com.
I found this more logical and so I personally use this calculation method while doing my keyword research.
4. Research on MS Excel File
Now as your entire keyword list and its necessary information are ready, you can start your research.
The main objectives are to breaking down the keywords into head, body & tail and also identify the unnecessary keywords which you need to remove from the list.
To do this, you have to efficiently use the filtering option in excel. Follow the below steps shown in the image that can help you to break down the keywords.
Now after breaking down all the keywords your research file will look like below;
At this stage, you gathered all required information which is needed to filter and sort out the best target keywords. Now you only have to use the filter options to short down the lists and pick the best keywords for targeting.
Here are some thumb rules I use to follow to filtering the keywords;
- Choose keyword which has 4+ words.
- Recommended Search volume per month is 100+. But, I am open to picking keywords with much less search volume and only avoid “0” search volume.
- Choose keywords with Very Easy, Easy or Moderate SEO difficulty level.
- Keywords with high KEI level are recommended.
Keyword research is the vital part that requires maximum attention before you plan for online marketing strategy. Paid SEO tools definitely make things much easier for you, but right now, if you are not ready to invest in paid SEO tools, then you can use this technique for keyword research. This technique is, of course, very much time consuming, but if you don’t have a budget to afford an expensive paid SEO tool, then you have to invest your time and energy. So, work hard and get the best results for your own web property and also for your clients’ projects.