12 Questions to Ask When Performing SEO Keyword Research

February 17, 2011: Keyword research is the life-blood of a search engine optimization campaign. Effective keyword research can lead to high quality traffic and leads. Poor keyword research leads to frustration and leaves site owners questioning the value of SEO.

I find the development of keyword research being part marketing savvy, part data analysis, and part experience working with SEO over time.

Since we’ve recently been working with several organizations on new keyword research projects, I thought I would share twelve questions I ask myself when performing effective keyword research.

Part 1: Keyword Discovery

  • Do I understand the value proposition of the website?

    In my opinion, the basis for effective keyword research hinges on how well one understand the products and solutions a website (an organization) really offers. If you do not have this in place, you are throwing darts blind-folded at a dartboard, hoping they hit their mark.

  • Do I understand the value proposition of the page?

    That sounds simple enough but in reality can be quite challenging. For example, B2B solution pages certainly offer complexity. Not only must one follow the objectives of a solution but how that solution fits into the market.

  • How many ways could a visitor search for this content?

    Part of keyword research is exploring all of the paths a potential customer might use if they wanted to find your web page. Think about synonyms, adjectives, root keywords, etc and then use keyword tools, to uncover approximate search volumes for the possibilities.

  • Did I review competition and industry sources?

    Seemingly obvious but this certainly gets overlooked. Not only can one find keyword targets, but a deeper dive may reveal content strategies and link opportunities as well.

  • Did I research and cover the existing copy?

    Sometimes we (search engine marketing consultants) get so entrenched in detailed keyword research that we forget to evaluate the words the client actually wrote on the page! While marketing speak might get in the way, or obvious in the lack of search potential, it is critical to cover all the bases and come prepared with detail.

  • Did I really cover as many ways as possible?

    And yes, it is always worthwhile to revisit your research a second (maybe third?) time. Take a break, walk away, and dive back in with a fresh perspective.

Part 2: Keyword Evaluation
Now that you have a wide range of keyword opportunities, the next step is making recommendations for what keywords to prioritize.

  • Where in the site navigation, is the page located, that I am applying keywords?

    As a general rule, more competitive terms should get placed in more visible (and viewed) locations. Content buried three or four layers down in a navigational stream rarely stands a chance to rank well for highly competitive keywords, unless it’s meant to attract inbound links or get referenced consistently in other locations.

  • Do I understand the type of search results that appear for a particular keyword opportunity?

    Knowing a keyword is searched regularly and the type of results that currently perform well in search engine results are two different things. In other words…

  • Does the content on the page resonate with the intent of the search engine query?

    Your content needs to be appropriate to the perceived intent. One may argue that search results are not appropriate; that you’re content written is truly what is appropriate. Just keep in mind that that is a tougher hill to climb to achieve success (though it can be accomplished with perseverance).

  • How competitive are the sites that rank well for a particular keyword?

    “Never bring a sword to a gunfight”. Make a realistic evaluation of just how difficult it might be for your page to rank, in comparison to the web pages already ranking well for a particular keyword opportunity. Do you have the right tools, assets, and strategy in place to compete?

  • Is there really a better solution for applying a particular keyword?

    I guess I might be asking the same questions in a different way. However the key is in the understanding of the right direction moving forward. It is better to make a recommendation for new content to be developed, than an attempt to squeeze an indirectly related keyword to an existing page.

  • Has a benchmark already been established?

    The final question is simply where or if the page or website currently ranks for the keyword opportunity. And in relation, how will improvement be defined and/or observed going forward (somewhat rhetorical).

Twelve questions to think about when performing keyword research for search engine optimization. The more effective the keyword research, the more likely one will achieve success with SEO initiatives over time. Did I miss something important? I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback, via the comments below.

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