It seems that just about every week, I come across an article on keyword research. Most of them are giving very inaccurate advice when it comes to keyword research that could cost you a ton of time and effort. It kinda drives me crazy actually, to think of the number of people who are relying on this incorrect method.
Let me start by explaining what keyword research is and why you would want to do it. Keyword research is the process of finding keywords for your post or website that you think would be easy to rank for in a Google search. For example, an easy keyword/phrase to rank for would probably be “how to style yellow pants with chambray” while a difficult keyword would be “chambray” by itself. The idea is that if you find keywords that get a decent amount of monthly searches and have low keyword competition, you should have an easier time ranking for them. While “chambray” probably gets 50x the searches that “how to style yellow pants with chambray” does, you will probably not even rank high enough to get ANY visitors from that search. 20% of 1,000 is better than 0% of 10,000. Keyword research can lead to people finding your site through Google, which can be an amazing thing.
When doing keyword research, there are 3 main focuses: the word/phrase itself, monthly searches and keyword competition.
So where are people being steered in the wrong direction?
I’ll say this: if you are using Google AdWords as your only keyword research tool, you are probably doing it wrong.
You cannot determine the proper competition of a keyword with the Google AdWords tool.
You see, the Google AdWords keyword tool is made for people interested in using Google AdWords to purchase ads through Google, not for people trying to find good keywords to go after.
A typical query using the Googel AdWords tool looks like this:
This is where many people go wrong. They think that the competition they see here represents the competition of the keyword with regard to them using it. Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
If you click on “about this data” and then click “competition”, you’ll see this: “The Competition column gives you a sense of how many advertisers are bidding for a particular keyword. This data can help you determine how competitive the ad placement is.”
So as you can see, that “competition” column represents how many advertisers are placing bids with an AdWords campaign for that particular keyword/phrase. That has nothing to do with how easy that keyword is to rank as a website owner. I will repeat that. The “Competition” shown by the Google AdWords keyword tool has NOTHING to do with how competitive it will be for you to rank your website for that keyword.
One example of the inaccuracy of using this method is with the result above. The AdWords tool has the competition as medium. By now we know that means the advertiser competition is medium, but if we thought that meant that the difficulty to rank the keyword is medium, we’d be in for a big surprise. The reality is “keyword research” is one of the toughest keyword phrases to rank for in the world. The top 10 sites are so highly regarded in Google’s mind that you would stand no chance whatsoever of ranking. Saying that the actual keyword competition for that phrase was “high” would be an understatement.
There are keyword tools out there made for website owners who are looking for good keywords to go after. To get a good keyword tool, you’re going to have to spend a little money. The best tool I have found is Long Tail Pro. It’s well worth the money. With Long Tail Pro, you can properly check the competition for keywords. You can also get suggestions for other similar keywords, see the average payout for Google AdSense per click based on that keyword and get all sorts of other data. My favorite feature of LTP is that you can quickly and easily see key elements for the top 10 results of a certain keyword. This way you will be able to tell how easy ranking on the first page of Google will be. This is huge because let’s face it, who actually ever goes to the 2nd page of Google?!
You can also do your keyword research manually, but that will take a ton of time.
Here’s how you would do it – Use the AdWords tool to determine how many monthly searches a keyword has and to get ideas for similar words/phrases, but again, don’t use it to check competition. Once you have your keywords, head to Google and punch them in. Analyze the top 10 results to see if your keyword is in the URL, title and description of each result. If it’s not, you may have some room to work with there. You can also check the site’s Page Rank and Moz Rank. Moz Rank takes a lot of important SEO factors into account to provide a rank between 1-10. Anything over 4 is going to be difficult to top. Once you have analyzed the top 10 results, you’ll have a good idea of how easy it will be to get on that first page of Google with your selected keyword(s).
So the moral of the story is: you don’t need to buy a fancy keyword tool, but it will save you a ton of time.
Whatever you do, stop relying on the Google AdWords keyword tool to determine keyword competition, because that is not what it does.