Keyword Research Basics

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Published March 17, 2013 by Brad Knutson
Keyword Research

Increasing organic search traffic and conversions is the goal of every SEO. But how do we get to a point where we are seeing results? Increasing organic search traffic can require a lot of time, work and money. It all starts with what your potential customer enters into the search box.

Keyword research a highly valuable and time worthy exercise. Let’s say that you have spent a lot of time and money on ranking highly for some keywords, but it turns out that these keywords are highly competitive and give generally low conversions – was your time and money well spent? Keyword research allows you to target better keywords to increase traffic and conversions. It’s one of the most important, valuable and high ROI activities a SEO or marketer can do.

Determining the correct keywords

A big part of Keyword research is focusing on the right keywords. Focusing your efforts on keywords that will provide higher conversion rates will be the most beneficial and give the highest ROI. If you sell garage doors in St. Paul, MN, then you want to focus on keywords such as “garage doors st. paul mn” or “where to buy garage doors in st. paul” and others.

To start, it’s a good idea to put yourself in your customers shoes. What would a customer looking for your service search for? Consider that not everyone thinks alike, and your target demographic may not describe your services the same way you do.

Let’s go back to the example of the company that sells garage doors. Let’s say that this company describes themselves as a maker of “custom garage doors.” Would a potential customer go to Google and type in “custom garage doors?” Perhaps…but it’s probably more likely that they would type in something similar to the list below:

  • where to buy a new garage door
  • replacement garage doors
  • garage doors st. paul
  • companies that sell garage doors

In order to maximize your conversion rate, you would want to focus your efforts on ranking on these high-return keywords for your products.

Think local

If you are a small local business, and not a national chain, your best bet is to focus on local keywords. Back to the garage door company example again – it would not be useful to drive traffic outside of their geographical location. If someone from Las Vegas makes there way to your website, even if they are extremely interested in your products or services, they won’t convert to sales because you cannot offer anything to them.

So if local traffic is the kind of traffic that you can convert into sales, that should be the kind you should focus on. To generate local traffic, check out my post on Increasing Local Visibility. As far as keyword research goes, you can start by adding your geographical location into your keywords.

Try turning:

  • where to buy garage doors
  • companies that sell garage doors
  • garage doors


  • where to buy garage doors in st. paul
  • st. paul companies that sell garage doors
  • garage doors in st. paul

It’s not an exact science, but you get the picture.

The Long Tail of SEO

For the uninitiated, Long Tail SEO is the term SEOs use to describe longer keyword strings that have more variation and less individual volume than popular keyword. The graph below shows, at it’s simplest level, how it works.

Long Tail SEO

Essentially the short, popular keywords (like “books”, “cars”, “computers”, “games”, etc) are the most competitive and will cost the most if you wish to rank highly for them. Longer, more specific keywords represent the “long tail” of SEO – they cost less to rank highly for and generally produce higher conversion rates. The downside to each long tail keyword is that it may only produce (by itself) a searches each month or year. The point is that these keywords are unique enough that if someone was to enter the term into a search engine, they are interested in exactly what they are searching for and are therefore more likely to convert.

It sure would be nice to rank for a high competition keyword like “books” but the fact of the matter is that high competition keywords only account for about 30% of searches world-wide, while long tail keywords take up the remaining 70%. By focusing on long tail keywords, you are opening up a lot of opportunities for your brand.

I’ll go more in depth into long tail SEO at a later date, I just wanted to quickly give you an overview of what long tail SEO is because you can definitely use it to your advantage – even with a basic understanding of it.

Keyword Research

OK, so we’ve worked out some keywords that we want to work on ranking highly for. Make a list of them in a text file or spreadsheet. Now we’ll do some data collection.

Head over to Google’s Adword Keyword Tool. Paste your list of keywords (one per line) into the box, and run your query.

Google Keyword Research Tool

A report will be generated that shows your chosen keywords, the level of competition for that keyword, and it’s monthly searches at both the global level and “local” level. Local is relative, as it’s set to a country level. I threw in some keywords that send traffic to one of my clients and generated the report shown in the screen shot below.

Keyword Research Tool Report

This information is extremely useful. You can see which keywords have the potential to send you more traffic, and if you have the time or money, you can focus your efforts more on those. Some of the data may surprise you.

If you scroll down the page, Google has another extremely useful report for you. Google has taken your keywords and generated a report that has keyword “ideas” for you. This report is chalk full of long tail keywords that potentially could send you tons of high conversion traffic.

Keyword Research Tool Keyword Ideas

At this point, you can go through and check the keywords you are interested in. You can increase your keyword list several times over by doing a few iterations of the Google Keyword Research tool. Exporting the reports not only gives you a list of your target keywords, but also useful data on monthly searches and difficulty. Build your keyword strategy using these methods.

Calculating potential gains

Now comes the interesting part. Several SEO agencies have done research over the years to determine the CTR (click-through-rate) depending on your position in SERPs (search engine results page).

I personally find Slingshot SEO’s research and white paper the most accurate and useful.

Keyword Research Click Through Rate

Image courtesy of Slingshot SEO

Of course there is a degree of variability here. Not all keywords are equal, some will produce higher CTRs for higher ranked keywords, and others will actually produce higher CTRs for lower ranked keywords. Slingshot SEO included data from other studies as well.

Click Through Rate

Image courtesy of Slingshot SEO

Lets use Slingshot’s data to calculate the potential gain from this clients single most important keyword – one that has very high competition and very low conversion rates – “handmade jewelry”.

At Slingshots ~18% conversion for ranking #1, we would estimate that this client would get 29,700 visitors a month from organic searches. Ranking #1 for this keyword is a tall order, but it’s a nice goal to shoot for.

Analyzing your long tail keywords is a little harder using this method, because most of those keywords are only searched a few times each month globally.

At any rate, there you have my intro to Keyword Research. If you are analyzing your keywords and seeing where you can make some improvements, you are potentially leaving tons of visitors and conversions on the table.


The following articles got me started, gave me ideas for this post, and are worthwhile reads.

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Founder at Inbounderish
Brad Knutson is a Web Developer in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. He has experience working with WordPress and Drupal, and also has an interest in SEO and Inbound Marketing.

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