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If you know how to write, and have followed my advice about using a fast host and fast theme, you’re pretty much two thirds of the way the way there.
The final third (although chronologically it comes after setting up your site and before writing your content) is keyword research.
If I’m being totally honest, this takes a little while to get to grips with, and you may have a few keywords that didn’t quite hit the mark, or take longer to rank than you thought they would.
My keyword research strategy is free and has worked really well for me, but there are tools available. I’ve never used one, but Reddit favours Ahrefs and SEMrush, and HATES Moz.
No one likes Ubersuggest. If I’d gone by their recommendations I’d have disregarded two of my most popular keywords. I’ll talk more about tools later one, and why I may get one in future, but they’re 100% not required.
My website is currently at 30k pageviews a month and I only paid for hosting and domain name. All other tools I used were free.
What is keyword research?
Keyword research is, in broad terms, researching what to write articles about.
There’s a lot of confusion about keywords, and long-tail keywords, I think purely because they’re call keywords, suggesting that they’re single words.
Since Google used latent semantic analysis (e.g. it knows we’re talking about rabbits when we’re calling them bunnies) you don’t need to think in terms of keywords.
Instead, consider search queries.
What exactly is someone putting into Google to find your article? What did you put in Google to find out information for your niche?
Don’t come up with flowery titles for articles. If you’re writing an article on collecting oak leaves for a centrepiece, don’t call the article ‘Autumn’s Bounty’ or something like that. Call it ‘how to make Thanksgiving centrepiece for free‘.
This may sound obvious, but think about it. If you use the Yoast plugin, you’ll need to repeat the keyword to keep Yoast happy.
It’s really easy to keep using ‘Autumn’s bounty’, but repeating ‘how to make a Thanksgiving centrepiece for free’ is going to sound a bit weird after a while.
If your article is all about how to make a Thanksgiving centrepiece for free, Google will know. You don’t need to keep repeating it. Words like ‘centrepiece’ and ‘free’ will crop up naturally, so don’t worry about that Yoast red light.
No, I do not use Yoast. Or any SEO plugin.
If you see people giving their articles pretty names, then they’ve probably had the same website for a decade and have a loyal following OR they sacrificed all thir time and money to the Pinterest gods.
We don’t have time for that.
Why is keyword research so important?
Our aim is to show up on Google when someone searches for us.
We need keyword research to find out:
- Whether people are searching for our keyword
- Whether we can rank for that keyword (competition analysis)
If you don’t take the time to find out what people are searching for, and who else is ranking for it, your website may not go anywhere.
A good example would be if you started a vegan website. You’d think that a good keyword would be ‘how to vegans get vitamin B12’, right?
Vegans don’t go vegan on a whim. They’ll research it, and usually they check out documentaries, social media channels, and medical websites (which will always outrank a non-medical website).
I knew waaaaay before I went began that I would need to take a B12 supplement.
So what would be good vegan keyword?
I’ll give you a few:
- What do vegan think of aquariums?
- How many vegans are there in the world?
- What do vegans think about guide dogs?
As a (long time) vegan, I don’t Google stuff about veganism. I go to YouTube or Pinterest, because most vegans are only interested in recipes (don’t start a recipe blog unless you’re prepared to reallly niche down).
If you want to write about vegan issues, you need to look at what’s actually being searched for, not what you assume is being searched for.
And write something that hasn’t been covered a million times before.
What tools are available for keyword research?
I’ve already mentioned that I don’t think that any of them are mandatory, and the free ones are downright inaccurate.
But I would consider buying a SEO tool for the other metrics you can measure and there are some cool tools. You can use keyword tools to track rankings, backlinks, and track your competitors keywords. Currently I’m not bothered enough about that stuff to spend money on it.
Why I don’t use traditional keyword research tools
If you’re looking for a traditional keyword tool that will identify good keywords, and give you a difficulty rating (how hard it is to rank for) and search volume (estimated traffic you could expect), there are a lot.
But Google simply doesn’t give out that data. Other search engines might, but Google, as much you may hate it, is the biggest search engine.
As I mentioned in this article about optimising your site for SEO, Google doesn’t give out information on search volume, or how to rank. It would open up the algorithm to hackers.
Google won’t even say definitively how important social media is, after revealing that nofollow tags on links are a guideline not a rule.
All these SEO tools have many features – they’re not just for keywords, so don’t think you need to invest in one.
How I use Quora and Ask the Public to begin keyword research
I start my keyword research with a pad and a pen. Then I simply put my niche into Quora and Ask the public.
Write down all the results from ATP, and as many as you can without getting sick of Quora’s irritating interface.
The reason they’re great places to start is that people ask really basic questions that you may have never considered.
Reddit is another goldmine for extremely
stupid basic questions that a lot of other websites won’t answer on a matter of principle.
I say this a lot, but it’s true: a lot of websites forget about complete beginners. You’ll know this is you’ve ever tried to grow a following on a social media platform and all the articles assume we all begin with ‘only’ a couple of thousand followers.
Why I use Google to conduct free keyword research
Because it has three key features:
Every time you type something into Google, it tries to preempt what you’re going to write.
To improve your experience, and make you prefer Google over other search engines. This only works if Google can guess what you’re going to write. And it guesses by extrapolating the data from all the other searches.
Make sure to delete your browsing data so your search history doesn’t skew the results.
This is the closest Google comes to giving us insight into what other people are searching for. Use it.
How to do free keyword research using Google
This is a bit of a skill and a learning curve. Your first attempts may come up with a couple of duds, but if they’re relevant to your niche, a few extra articles won’t hurt.
I’ve written articles that didn’t take off the way I thought they would, but then they starting gaining traction after a few months. Other keywords I thought were a bit odd have been really successful.
1. Conduct a Google search for potential keywords
Go back to your ATP, Quora, and Reddit questions, or just google a few questions you think people would ask in your niche.
Keep a close eye on what Google thinks you want to know – it shows that a significant amount of other people have searched for that in the past.
2. Check out the suggested keywords at the bottom of the SERP & the ‘people also ask box’
The people also ask box is a goldmine of keywords and search queries.
Questions that you never thought people would ask (‘what’s the maximum number of plants you can have in a room?’) can turn up there. The best thing about these questions? They don’t usually have much direct competition.
3. When you have a list of possible keywords, check out who else is ranking and check their articles – do you think you could rank higher than them?
This is your competition analysis, and it’s just as important as finding high volume search terms.
I like to start my competition analysis with my initial list of search queries from the forums, just in case there’s a good keyword that everyone else missed. This isn’t unusual in a narrow niche.
Look at who’s ranking number one, and read the article. Is the article devoted to the keyword, or is it just briefly covered in a paragraph? Is the website naturally authoritative, like a doctor, or a manufacturer?
I’ll go through how to tell if you can beat the competition later in this article.
4. Narrow the search terms until you come up with a keyword you can write the best article for
If your competition analysis suggests that there’s no way you can beat the top few search results, it’s not over yet.
It’s time to niche down further. Go back to the Google autocomplete and see if they have any more ideas about making your keyword more specific so that you’ll be able to rank.
Competitors you’re unlikely to able to rank higher than initially
It’s always going to hard to beat websites that:
- Have been around for a really long time and are authorities in your niche
- Have proven expertise, like doctors and accountants
- Manufacture products that you’re reviewing
As well as being experts, having authority, and building trust, big corporations and magazines have the budget to outsource a lot of this stuff, so it can be hard to beat authority sites for keywords like ‘top ten best computers’ when Google has no reason to think you have any idea what you’re doing.
Competitors you should be able to beat easily
Forums crop up a LOT on niched down keywords, usually because the topic hasn’t been asked that many times to crop up in SEO tool’s data.
You may not get a lot of traffic, numbers wise, from tackling keywords that generate forums results in search, but you can rank pretty easily.
Websites almost always rank higher than forum results, especially when the article is as good as your will be, and you website is super speedy.
How to narrow down your keywords
‘Top ten best computers’ could become ‘Top ten best computers in the UK’
‘Top ten best Lenovo computers’
‘Top ten best computers for teenagers’
‘Top ten best computers under £300’
There are dozens more, but obviously its pretty niche specific. If you have a dog website you could niche down by breed, if you have a marketing website you could niche down by industry and so on.
Final thoughts on doing free keyword research
Look, if it was easy, everyone would do it.
Keyword research is, in my opinion, the hardest part of this whole process. You don’t have to get it right every time – not every one of your articles needs to be ranked.
If you feel like you could never beat the competition on a certain keyword, but it really needs to be on your website, then write the article, and make sure your other posts link to it wherever possible.