Tips for Conducting Keyword Research – Part 1

Last week Stephanie wrote about (post) the importance of considering specific facets of search engine optimization in helping taxonomists guide clients in choosing the right keywords. To further that discussion, I thought I’d put together a series of posts to speak in more detail about using keyword research as a tool for determining (or at least being consciously aware of) the language being used by those searching for your content, products and/or services online.

Preparation – Creating Your Master List
The first step in the process is the groundwork. I always allocate a certain amount of time up front to plan and prepare the list of initial keywords to be used as a basis for conducting keyword research. You need to have an inventory of words or phrases to get started, so why not put some thought and effort into generating a solid list to work from. From my perspective, the better the plan, the better the results. So let’s get to it.

Preliminary Evaluation & Client Input
Conduct a brief audit on the existing content to determine what, if anything can be used to help get you started. I’ll take a quick look at the site and start a list of keywords found in page titles, metadata, headlines and body copy as well as those appearing in site navigation. In addition to providing a place to start, it also gives me the opportunity to become more familiar with the client’s content and how it has been structured.

The next task is to meet with a variety of stakeholders from throughout the organization with the intention of soliciting the keywords they would typically use to describe the content being targeted on the site. This helps to uncover internal language use and identify marketing jargon or industry speak.

Competitive Analysis

While surveying stakeholders I also normally ask for a list of who they believe their competitors are online. I say “believe” here simply because the competition for a keyword may or may not come from a direct competitor, but perhaps from a blog post, industry article or association website. This information also becomes an important part of the overall plan and is a good way to see if their direct competition is actively pursuing their own keyword strategies.

Next you start plugging some of the initial terms into Google (or another search engine) to see what you get. This is somewhat of an iterative process but has the potential to provide some valuable insight into the industry. Items of interest found on competitor sites along with those from the search results are documented and added to the list.

Search Tip: Placing a tilde (~) immediately before a keyword when conducting a web search using Google will return the search term in addition to synonyms for that keyword.

Recursive Term Expansion
Now that we have spoken with the client and gathered data from the competition and the search index, we have a fairly complete list to start our research with. There is, however, one last thing we need to do to make it slightly more comprehensive. We need to expand our root words to include things like prefixes, suffixes and plurals (a process also applied to our synonyms and related concepts). Any new or related terms added to the list are also put through this same process until the results have been exhausted, hence the name recursive term expansion.

Finally, our list of keywords along with the synonyms and related concepts are then integrated with what I call descriptors, which assist with further defining the words and phrases to better describe the content we’re trying to target. This includes things like consultants or consulting if the company is offering a service or a list of brand names if it is for a product. I’ll use a tool like the SEOBook keyword list generator to combine it all together into a single master list.

Let me walk through a simple example to illustrate the whole process.

Example: “Digital Forensics”
Take for instance, a company that employs techniques in forensic sciences to solve computer crimes. This company intends to create content on their site targeted at a specific keyword. Let’s look at the phrase “digital forensics” and follow the method outlined above to build a master list of keywords. A brief competitive analysis and term expansion leads to the following:

Root Terms: Digital, Forensics

Related Concepts [Digital] – electronic, computer

Related Concepts [Forensics] – evidence, examination, examinations, investigation, investigations, science, sciences

Related Concepts [Digital Forensics] – firewall forensics, database forensics, mobile forensics, data remanence

Term Descriptors [Corporate] – business, businesses, engineer, engineers, company, companies, service, services, expert, experts, specialist, specialists, professional, professionals

Term Descriptors [Actions] – analyze, analyzing, collect, collecting, collection, identify, identifying, identification

After putting it all together we get a total of more than 700 keywords in our master list! That’s a far cry from the single two-word phrase we began with. Examples from the master list include:

  • analyzing digital evidence
  • digital evidence experts
  • digital forensics companies
  • digital investigations
  • electronic evidence specialists
  • electronic forensics

Don’t get me wrong, this may sound like a lot of work but it really isn’t. To complete the process, the final copy of the master list is sent to the client for review before the keyword research is started to ensure what’s been added is relevant to the organization. The next article in this series will discuss methods for using this master list to conduct your keyword research.

2 Responses

  1. […] for Conducting Keyword Research – Part 2 Posted on December 22, 2008 by carrjeff In my last post I discussed a process for putting together a broad list of keywords intended to act as the starting […]

  2. […] Integrating Perspectives Posted on February 14, 2009 by carrjeff My last few blog posts on keyword research tips have generated interest from our readers regarding the relationship between the SEO task of keyword […]

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