How To Do Keyword Research For SEO

by Nick · 159 comments

in Conversion Optimization, SEO

Keyword Research for SEO
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Keyword research is quite possibly the most important part of SEO.

You cannot begin to plan for a campaign unless you know which phrases you are targeting, and you cannot estimate costs and returns from SEO unless you first know who you’re competing against.

This post is pretty long and I will be keeping it up to date, so I have created a table of contents to make it easier to jump ahead to a specific section.

Getting Started

The goal of this post is to approach keyword research for SEO from it’s roots and build toward the more technical aspects.

Keyword research is the practice of identifying which phrases are used on search engines when people are looking for information, and usually includes finding both the search volume and relative competitiveness of the terms.

Keyword research is a critical component for search engine optimization because when used correctly it provides a road map for both the design and execution of building websites and developing content.

Keywords are usually broken up and grouped based on the number of words within the query phrases. The more words in a keyword phrase usually the easier it is to rank for the term, since usually there is less relative competition.

Keyword search volume from head to longtail

The reason for all the “usually’s” is that this not absolute, as is the case with most things, there are exceptions…

Here is an example of how keyword difficulty relative to long tail keywords versus head and body keywords usually works:

Body keywords are more difficult than long tail

And here is an example where both the body and the long tail keywords are equally as competitive:

keyword difficulty ford mustang

And here is the exception, where a long tail keyword is actually more difficult than the body:

when long tail is more difficult than body keywords

The keyword difficulty data above was gathered using SEOmoz’s keyword difficulty tool on 1/5/13.

It’s worth mentioning that in my experience, this really only ever happens with queries that contain  brand names, 9 out of 10 long tail terms are going to be less difficult to rank for than their body and head counterparts.

2 Schools of Thought

The 2 Schools of Thought for SEO

In my opinion, SEO tends to focus on one of two areas;

  1. Optimizing for traffic, or
  2. Optimizing for conversion

Most SEO’s (and dare i say internet marketers) fall victim to optimizing too heavily for traffic, and not conversion.

It’s not necessarily bad to optimize for traffic, it depends on your goals; if you’re in e-commerce or a service based business it is more valuable to invest your resources in making sure you rank well for the terms that are most likely to lead to a sale; optimize for conversion, not just to gain the visitor.

Where as if you are in the advertising or publishing business, where your revenues are directly correlated to the number of visitors and pageviews, or in other words the volume of eyeballs, then optimizing for traffic is going to be a better strategy.

Like any good SEO campaign, your optimization strategy should be dictated by your campaign goals. If your top level goals are straight-forward, such as increase revenue, then decide which optimization path is going to be the most effective based on your business:

  1. Does more traffic directly imply more revenue?
  2. Or do you need to make sure you are acquiring more traffic for specific conversion-focused keywords?

The Value of a Keyword

Within these two school’s of thought a keyword’s value is based on either:

  1. The monthly search volume relative to the level of competition, or
  2. The revenue acquisition potential (or conversion rate)

There are a number of ways to get relative monthly search volume, but what remains the easiest is using Google keyword planner (the replacement for the now deprecated keyword tool).

It’s not quite as straight-forward as the keyword tool was, and there is a much heavier focus on AdWords, but it still provides data as a starting point for your research.

But it really does drive you focus on AdWords specific data, so be aware that you will need to stay conscious of the toggles between Ad Groups and Keywords, here are some examples:

  • After entering your seed keyword(s), you will need to switch the default from ‘ad group ideas’ to ‘keyword ideas’
  • Then after you’ve built your initial list – you need to click ‘Review Estimates,’ at which point you will need to toggle (again) from ‘Ad Group’ to ‘Keyword,’ and then enter a bid before you see any useful data.

Convoluted? Absolutely. But still useful none the less.

You need to take into consideration the  authority of the websites that are already ranking for these keywords, and get a sense of the competitiveness of that particular organic SERP.

There are a few key signals I look at when doing a 30 second synopsis of a SERP, and my favorite tool to get an on the fly sense of relative competition is the Mozbar extension for chrome, which gives you some at-a-glance SEO data at the URL level conveniently right in the SERP interface.

For a more comprehensive macro analysis of an organic SERP, I’m really liking SerpIQ, shown below:

SEOmoz has a version of this called their keyword rank report, as pictured below for the keyword parking blocks:

SEOmoz Keyword Rank Report

But this doesn’t take a look at the SERP as a whole… it doesn’t provide me with quick insight into what it is going to take to compete with these 10 URL’s and get  on page 1, at least not without some more in-depth analysis.

To get a good sense of the competition at the aggregate organic SERP level, I prefer to use SerpIQ.

SerpIQ offers a snapshot of the average Competitiveness Index (CI):

SerpIQ Competitiveness Index

An estimate of the search intent of the query:

A quick overview of the SERP including the breakdown of the competitiveness and both the on-page and off-page use metrics for the keyword (click to enlarge):

The highest, lowest, and average CI of the SERP (click to enlarge):

The highest, lowest, and average PageRank of the SERP (click to enlarge):

The highest, lowest, and average number of backlinks (click to enlarge):

And finally the oldest, youngest, and average domain age of each result (click to enlarge):

So as you can see, this offers me an at-a-glance snapshot of the both the upper and lower maximum’s in terms of overall SERP competition.

The keyword opportunity model I talk about in my SEO competitive analysis post explains the idea of taking a macro approach to dissecting SERP’s at the keyword level, which in my opinion, is necessary for enterprise SEO and growing websites to over 100,000 visitors per month.

The macro approach to keyword research is necessary for content heavy websites (and optimizing for traffic), but not ideal when doing intent-focused keyword research, as would be the case for Ecommerce, software, or other scenarios where some keyword phrases are going to carry significantly more qualification.

Update: Keyword Research Has Changed

I’ve created a completely new process to keep up. Click on the rocket ship to learn more.

Master Keyword Research in 7 Days

Researching for Searcher Intent

When optimizing for conversion, it is critical to gain some perspective into the psychographics of your target audience, and also understand the most common segments of search intent. While all 4 of the most common segments offer opportunities for conversion, only 2 are of truly high value and worth targeting; commercial investigation and transactional queries.

The best way to get a handle on all this data is to group and categorize your keywords to look at the potential stage of the conversion funnel the searcher is within. By segmenting your keywords into funnels you can begin to paint a picture with your data that allows you to disseminate search intent.

Taking this even a step further, you can begin to understand keywords as they relate to search context. Where even something as simple as word order can play a crucial role when defining the meaning behind the query and ensuring you are selecting the right keywords to target.

Time to Do The Research

You can’t build the right house without the right tools, and search engine driven websites are no different.

The good news is at this point in time SEO has been around long enough that there is a whole slew of great tools you can use to assist you with your research efforts.

Tools run the gamut in functionality from pulling search volume, to providing related suggestions, to competition in AdWords, and many other helpful bits of information.

Here are some of my favorite tools:

Call me traditional, but for getting search volume (and pretty much only search volume) I still use Google’s keyword tool.

Tip: to get a realistic sense of the average monthly search volume make sure you set the matching criteria to [exact], look for the box below in the left hand side of the tool:

Match Type

The output from Google’s keyword tool will look something like this (click to enlarge):

Keyword Tool Query Results - Keyword Research

showing you the average monthly search volume, both globally and locally. It is important to know that the term local here can be a bit confusing as it is representative of the local country index, so local in this case means United States not Philadelphia (my actual local area).

This gives you just enough data to get started building your keyword prospect list, but to really make this comprehensive (and I recommend the shotgun approach when doing keyword research – starting with a large population of targets and narrowing it down based on specifics) you need to leverage a few other tools.

The first of which is good ‘ol Excel. Use the download button in the upper left corner of Google’s keyword tool to export your list (and Google’s related suggestions) into a CSV for Excel file.

Don’t Forget to Check Plurals

One of the most common mistakes when doing keyword research is forgetting to run the numbers for both the singular and plurals versions of your terms.

I have found that often times one is significantly higher than the other, and quite often the plural version is indicative of commercial intent.

Take for example SEO versus SEO Services, the former is an informational query where the intent is most likely research or information gathering. The latter, SEO Services, is a transactional or commercial investigation phrase indicative of being further in the purchasing funnel.

Take a look at the difference in exact monthly search volume for the singular versus the plural (Click to Enlarge):

SEO Service vs SEO Services

As you can see the plural version has over 4 times the monthly search volume.

Expand Your List

Next, take your top-level target keyword phrase and throw it into a suggestion tool like übersuggest.

Übersuggest is a Google suggestion keyword scraper, which goes out and does the tedious work of running your keyword phrases along with every letter of the alphabet from A to Z, and number combinations 0 through 9, capturing the most frequently searched permutations.

Ubersuggest takes your root phrase, for the purposes of this example I’m using keyword research, and then scrapes all of Google’s suggested results, so instead of just this:

Google Suggest for Keyword Research

you get this (click to enlarge):

Ubersuggest Results for Keyword Research

This is really helpful because it captures all of the potential permutations related to your target keyword based on actual search behavior.

You can now drill down into phrases and select the child keywords to be added to a list. Then click the ‘get’ button to generate a modal window that allows for you to copy and paste.

Paste your selected related keyword back into the google keyword tool and rerun for more keyword data goodness.

Tip: I’ve found that the Google keyword tool provides more suggested keywords when you put in less than 10 keywords at a time, ideally 3 to 5.

There are also a variety of tools that provide keyword usage and competitiveness between both paid and organic search – some of which are pretty good.

SEMrush – Gives you fantastic insight into search volume, average cost per click, number of competing pages, related keywords, rank results, and even companies currently buying ad space (click to enlarge).

SpyFu – Provides search volume, number of clicks per day and their average daily cost, the actual number of advertisers currently bidding on the keyword and the actual AdWord ads that are running (click to enlarge).

Keyword Spy – Is one of my favorites for getting a quick sense of the landscape. It very quickly (through use of tabs) gives you access to data on PPC ads, related keyword phrases, your paid and organic competitors, and my favorite; misspellings!

Did you know that keyword reserach has an estimated 110,000 searches per month! See a screenshot of the dashboard below (click to enlarge).

Validate The Big Opportunities

Once you have a good list going in Excel it’s important to gain visibility into your big opportunities, or as my team has come to talk call them; your golden tickets.

First you will want to get a sense of seasonal volatility by running your top queries through Google Trends (click to enlarge):

Pay attention to the average index of interest over time, since it can be a bit confusing; 100 here represents the highest search volume there has ever been, it is not the integer for number of searches. So what you are looking for is that the current interest has not fallen off completely, looking at the graph it seems the current search volume for keyword research is down about 50% from what it was in August 2010.

Next you use a bit of a 3rd party litmus test to see how popular a topic really is, and a safe bet here is to use the worlds most popular encyclopedia, Wikipedia. Domas Mituzas has built a statistical engine that tracks Wikipedia’s pageviews.

And looking at it over the past 90 days we can see that the term has been viewed 7,554 times (hat tip to Glen Allsopp for sharing this). Click to enlarge.

Create Keyword Evaluation Model

Evaluating keywords for relative opportunities is still very tough.

Without massive stores of data and detailed insights into the competitive landscape it is easy to throw a  lot of time and money at targeting keywords that will never deliver a stable return.

In order to avoid this and instead focus only where there is rank to be had and money to be made, I believe it’s best to use an evaluation method.

There are a number of methodologies ranging from complex formulas including many different heuristics to more simplified models designed just to give you a sense of the opportunity.

I have developed a simple keyword opportunity model to help with this process, but for this post I am going to use a  simplified version.

This is meant to be more of a barometer than anything else and this data should not be used to make a business case, but more so just to give you a sense of opportunity.

I’m going to use keyword competitiveness scoring from SerpIQ, but you could also do this with SEOmoz’s keyword difficulty score or something similar.

Scoring the opportunities takes some simple math. So for this version we are going to discount monthly search volume by multiplying is against the inverse discount rate of the competitive scores (1 minus the competitiveness index percentage).

For this example I’m going to stick with our root phrase, keyword research, and use 2 other closely related variations:

Using our quick and dirty evaluation model of (exact monthly search volume x (1 – CI%) we get:

keyword research opportunity score (4,400 x (1-.68)) = 1,408

keyword research tools opportunity score (720 x (1-.65)) = 252

keyword research software opportunity score (480 x (1-.56)) = 211.2

Showing (quickly remember) that even though keyword research is significantly harder in terms of competition, it is still the clear winner in terms of keywords to target for search traffic.

This is useful because it takes into account the opportunities as related to monthly search volume and then discounts the traffic potential based on the average competition.

Keyword Research for Page Titles

Optimizing page titles for search is best done finding a balance between volume and intent.

Bringing this back to the 2 schools of thought, your title keyword composition is going to depend on your goals;

  • If optimizing for traffic you want to find combinations to maximize use of high search volume terms.
  • If optimizing for conversion you want to pay attention to intent instead of search volume.

In both scenarios I recommend looking for creative ways to combine exact match phrases to leverage strings of keywords that contain several target keywords but are not awkward or stuffed.

I go into some detail on how I find keyword combinations for page titles in this presentation:

You can watch the video presentation of my webinar on keyword research at SerpIQ ›

Closing the Loop

Part of doing successful keyword research is setting time aside each month to analyze what’s working, and adjust your content and link strategies accordingly.

Where are you seeing the fastest movement in the SERP’s?

Are some terms moving between the top 10/30/50 positions faster than others?

Which keywords are the fastest to page 1? Fastest to the top 5?

Ask yourself these questions and please share your thoughts with me in the comments below – let me know your hypotheses or better yet your actual data; share your research and tell me what worked and what didn’t, I would love to chat with you.

Once you have completed all of your research, it’s time to move onto the next step and build your keyword opportunity model »

About Nick
Nick is the VP of Digital Strategy at W.L. Snook & Associates, Co-Founder of I'm From The Future an ecommerce consultancy, and the author of this SEO Blog. Follow Nick on Google+.

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{ 137 comments… read them below or add one }

AJ Kohn January 15, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Nicely laid out Nick. I do many of the same things though I focus more on intent as a way to crack the opportunity question.

In addition, I often look at things from and SEO and PPC basis. I mix in the average CPC for a keyword and then you can come up with fun calculated metrics that tell you which terms are better targeted for SEO versus PPC.

Reply April 12, 2013 at 7:02 am

Really a great resource on keyword analysis. If you don’t have time to do the research yourself, you can always let experts do it, check for example


Nick January 15, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Thanks AJ.

That’s a very good point; intent can often trump search volume when analyzing for opportunity. I tried to separate the importance between optimizing for traffic vs. optimizing for conversion, in which case intent is all that matters.

Very smart. I don’t use CPC data enough when segmenting my keywords into related sets for content… and you just gave me another idea for a post. I love when that happens as a byproduct of commenting!


Bryon Stout January 15, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Nick always surprises me. When I think I know a lot about a subject Nick goes and writes an article that includes a handful of new information that I didn’t know. If it wasnt for Nick I wouldn’t have started to do A + B teting


Nick January 15, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Bryon – Coming from someone who has built engaged communities of insanely loyal fans and seeing some of your recent organic traffic numbers, that’s a big compliment. Thank you.


Donnie Strompf January 15, 2013 at 2:59 pm

This is a great post : )

Lately I am not sure what tool to trust. I ran a key report SEOmoz (organic) and I got a number of 47 fro competitiveness. However, the SERP had sites like,, forever21 etc… These sites are not going to be easy to overcome, and the report is showing 47. IMO it’s best to do a manuel check.


Nick January 15, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Thanks Donnie.

Honestly man I couldn’t agree more, whenever possible I prefer to troll the SERP’s myself and build a manual picture of what the competition and key conversion terms are. It’s when you get into large-scale keyword databases, i.e. 1,000+ that a macro approach becomes necessary. If you ever feel like sharing any anomalies or interesting data points I would love to hear them.



Michael J. Kovis January 15, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Nick – I already let you know my thoughts on Twitter and G+, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to praise you in a comment. After reading this I literally felt like I had no clue as to what keyword research was.

Yeah… This post was that good of read.

I believe this will be the second post I have permanently bookmarked in order to reference when educating someone in the world of search.


Mackenzie Fogelson January 15, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Hey Nick-
Extremely useful as always. I’m going to put this sucker to the test.

In case you haven’t seen this, Adria Saracino from Distilled has a really powerful conversion funnel/content post.

Thanks again.


Nick January 15, 2013 at 3:27 pm

@Michael – Thank you. As always, you are literally too kind; ;going to give me a big ego or something :)

@Mack – Please do and let me know! Reading that post now; don’t know how I missed it? Stay tuned for my next post I’m REALLY excited about “Creating an SEO Business Model”.


Jim Hobson January 15, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Very well written article! I have a special appreciation for articles that are written in a manner that can be understood by non-industry people. When we are fortunate enough to find this type of article we often share the article with our clients. I’ve found it to be helpful to provide clients with third party information that substantiates our recommendations and processes. Thanks again!


Nick August 27, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Hey Jim – Thanks, that was a key focus for me when writing this, to be able to point anyone (even those outside SEO) at it as a reference point.


nimish January 16, 2013 at 3:44 am

nice post i liked it, keep on discussing your ideas.

check my blog as well it has good stuffs regarding software solutions and political affairs.


Nick January 16, 2013 at 12:26 pm

@Jim – Thank you. I would like to really develop this into one of the cornerstone resources on this website, but need to get a lot more feedback on how this process is working for people, what could be better, and what people flat out don’t like.

So any and all feedback is very much appreciated, thanks again.

@Nimish – looks pretty cool, but I would definitely recommend re-visiting your homepage title tag, as it seems to be pretty much stuffed with brand terms that I’m sure are not helping you in search.


Matt January 16, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Thanks for the solid foundation. Needed this for a tourism site I’m getting ready to launch.


Rank Watch January 17, 2013 at 1:53 am

Never ever before, has Keyword research been more intent that in the present time. I do follow and advice many that being a good researcher is always the foundation for a better build. And certain SEO tools really helps you in carving out a planned key-word strategy.


Casimira Browning August 28, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Great delivery. Sound arguments. Keep up the great effort :)


Dan January 17, 2013 at 6:51 am

Thanks Nick.

Firstly to opening my eyes to SerpIQ which i have just started using.

Secondly for making it much easier for me to create solid lists of keywords that have more planning and thought behind them in terms of conversions per keyword.


Nick January 17, 2013 at 9:34 am

@Matt – My pleasure. Please be sure to report back and share as much as you can; would love to hear about your process of identification, any testing you do, and your results.

@Rank Watch – Yes! With more and more shopping (and purchasing) taking place online I think you are 100% right that keyword intent is at the height of it’s game.

@Dan – If you’re interested in SerpIQ make sure you sign up for my mailing list, I’m going to be sending out a coupon to my subscribers today. Thanks!


Paul January 17, 2013 at 11:38 pm

One of the best posts I have seen on keyword research if Im honest. I have copied and pasted this to a word doc for future reference and also signed up to the news letter :)

Thank You


Purna Chandra Dey January 17, 2013 at 11:58 pm

Really Wonderful Post… :)

Thank you!


Roshan January 18, 2013 at 1:41 am

looking at the SerpIQ. is it country specific CI or global?


blog August 28, 2013 at 8:10 am

Very nice write-up. I definitely love this website.
Continue the good work!


Amit Kadam January 18, 2013 at 2:50 am

Thanks Nick
for brief discussion about this topic. currently many peoples are writing about new google updates but this a very important and basic topic


Nick January 19, 2013 at 10:42 am

@Paul @Purna @Amit – Thanks!

@Roshan – CI is geography independent, but when adding new keywords you can select which specific Google index you want to capture SERP data from (i.e. or


Andy Williams January 21, 2013 at 10:44 am

Great run though.

The stand out message for me was right at the start: Optimizing for traffic, or
Optimizing for conversion. So many people miss out this important question when they start their keyword research.

Too many people focus on the traffic volumes and not the value of bringing in the truly targeted audience.

I’m going to have a look at SerpIQ. that is for sure.


Nick January 22, 2013 at 9:19 pm

Hey Andy – Thanks. What do you guys at Koozai do to help sift through intent?


Danilo Petrozzi January 24, 2013 at 6:27 am

Maybe one of the most basic arguments but that was really an awesome and comprehensive post!


Nick August 27, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Thanks Danilo – As a compliment to this post I recently published a really simple process for getting started with keyword research (and it includes a free tool to make it a bit faster).


CJ @ StrategicMarketingGuy January 30, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Unbelievably thorough, Nick! Thanks for commenting on my post on B2Community. You’ve gained one subscriber!


Nick January 31, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Thanks so much CJ, my pleasure :)


Adam January 30, 2013 at 3:02 pm

I’ve used ubersuggest and ended up with a huge list of keywords and no means to decipher what would work and what wouldn’t.

Do you dump Uber Suggest’s suggestions back into Google’s Adwords tool to check for traffic data? Or are you taking your big ole list to the 3rd party tools you mentioned?

Maybe you said this and I missed it – if so, my bad. Either way, cheers to sharing this stuff. I dig it.


Nick January 30, 2013 at 3:31 pm

You are exactly right – When using Ubersuggest if you use the little green plus signs you can build a list of relevant keywords in the right sidebar and then click the ‘get button’ which will render a modal that you can copy and paste from, very simple. I always first dump keywords into the AdWords tool to get relative [exact] local search volume, and then later supplement in other tools (like SerpIQ) but always return all data to my set in Excel.

Glad you can dig it :)


Raiden February 3, 2013 at 5:54 am

Hey Nick, Subscribed to your list. Did i missed out on the SerpIQ coupon?


Paul O'Mahony February 9, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Excellent post for keyword research tools. My favorite and best so far is Google adwords tool for keywords research. Your post suggest number of tools and very comprehensive. Thanks for sharing!


Sandeep February 18, 2013 at 6:23 am

Good post for the to improve the keyword research skills for best seo ….Thank’s to describe this information.


digital marketing February 22, 2013 at 6:50 am

this type of post really inspire to me…i am looking for this type of article….thanks to share…


teammak February 19, 2013 at 7:21 am

I agree on your blog men, in keyword research it is good if you do some variations to the keywords try to put yourself what would be the best keywords to be used by the time our clients try to search our business, and by that you will get the perfect keyword to be used in your site.


amiladdd February 20, 2013 at 6:12 am

Excellent post for keyword research tools. My favorite and best so far is Market Samurai tool for keywords research


Rachel Ramos February 28, 2013 at 10:42 am

Hey Nick,

Thanks a lot for this post. Just when I thought I know the most important things to focus on when creating a keyword list you surprised me with new stuff. The keyword opportunity model is def something I am goinf to try.

Best of luck!


Nick February 28, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Hey Rachel – My pleasure :) That’s great! I would love to hear how it goes, so if you’re open to it please consider sharing your experience and let me know if you need any help. Cheers!


LambdaSEO March 8, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Very detailed information Nick. Check out also this Long tail keyword finder.


Anbusivam March 11, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Excellent post with lots of very useful information. Thanks for sharing this.


hyderabad academies March 14, 2013 at 7:54 am

Highly interesting read. This is definitely something I haven’t done much of and could look into further…


Earn Online | Miss`C March 20, 2013 at 10:08 am

The right keywords must be the fundamental thing that you should consider when doing a blog. I am using the ColibriTool for this task — it is what I need. You might want to check it out too.


Henry Smith March 21, 2013 at 6:45 am

Before you do keyword research you must know for what purpose you are doing this. This will help you find relevant keywords for your website or client websites. I know there are many tools which can be used to get good keywords. Don’t forget that choose only those keywords which supports your company’s profile or business. Am I right?


Nick March 21, 2013 at 9:43 am

Henry – Absolutely. The best way to find your purpose is to think subjectively about your audience, the language they use to describe their problems, and then focus on finding the overlap between high search volume and high intent keywords.


Nick August 27, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Hey Henry – you are right, and actually I found that even after publishing this many folks still reach out to me asking for the best way to get started, so I recently published a super simple guide to the very first thing you should do with respect to keyword research (and I included a free tool that helps speed up the consolidation process) You can check it out here:


Anna Mawrick March 25, 2013 at 2:33 am

Very well said! Choosing a right keyword is crucial activity because all your other strategies will be based on your keyword. so keyword has to be perfect to achieve success.


Emil Petkov April 4, 2013 at 2:14 am

Hey, Nick,
Great article. But i can’t agree completely with the keyword opportunity score, when it comes to long tails it’s tricky. Let’s say i have a head with 200K monthly searches… and tail with 500 monthly searches. I’ve got CI 95 on the head and CI 15 on the long tail. According to your model i still should stick to the head. But i can get my long tail in top 5 within a week or two, and my long tail gives me conversion rate of 50% to 100%. Well, if i got 10 more long tails like that one? It turns out my long tails are my best opportunity. It’s a nice idea, but it’s relative.
Anyhow – again – great article!


Nick April 5, 2013 at 11:11 am

Hey Emil,

Thanks for taking a moment to comment.

Well, not exactly. If the long-tail keyword has a CI of 15, this is going to significantly impact the opportunity score, bringing the costs way down. And if your conversion rate is that high, this is going to show a much higher MER. Have you tried building out the actual model using the spreadsheet I link to in this post:



Emil Petkov April 7, 2013 at 11:13 am

Well, i took a look on it, with the spreadsheet ( was another great article by the way) but to be honest, maybe i did some mistake with the calculations. I’ll check it again.

I mentioned that because my conversion rate were really high on these long tails (well, tons of less visits for them, but with the ever-growing “not-provided” data from GA you can’t be sure enough). Which brings me the next question – how you filter the keywords with actual conversions? I am talking for the organic ones of course. Because it’s a hard thing to do, for example in my website i have about 80-85% “not set” keywords, 1/5 of them lead to conversion. On the website i was talking above i have about 40% “not provided” keywords, and it have about 60K organic visits/month which make about 20+K unknown keywords. How to calculate the real keyword opportunity if you are not able to check all of the keywords that led to conversion?
And thanks for the answer!


Josh Moody April 11, 2013 at 12:33 am

Thought I had seen most of the tools that aid in keyword research but then you introduced me to the Wikipedia traffic tool. So awesome!

I’ve also really liked the KOB (keyword opposition to benefit ratio, kw difficulty/benefit) analysis for keywords, but I am interested to give your formula a test drive. Have you tried the KOB analysis and if so, how does it measure up to your own formula?


Jemma Taylor April 23, 2013 at 4:58 am

Nice Guide, Doing keyword analysis is really important. I have found that it is little easier to rank if your blog is themed for a specific niche or keywords. SEO’s give preference if you have other related contents also on your blog!!


WebEmergence May 11, 2013 at 8:38 am

Thanks for this article on Keyword Research. While keyword selection is extremely important in SEO and to achieve better results in search engine rankings, one must also consider including good quality content to get website traffic. Additionally, selecting the right keywords can be a challenging task as search trends change. We like to compare keywords to womens clothing. While the article of clothing may be hot one month, it may fade out in the coming months – same goes for keywords. Again, thanks for sharing this article and providing the great tips.


Nick August 27, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Completely agree. To offset the trend factor I try to build towards root head and body terms that I verify against historical trends (using Google Trends) to make sure that while I may see a short-term boost in seasonal traffic, I can build more sustainable traffic for more sustainable keywords.


Stephen Smith May 20, 2013 at 9:59 am

Superb post. Feel a bit silly calling it a humble post, this will act as the launch pad for turning our SEO around.

I’ve always shied away from proper keyword research in the past as I didn’t understand it. However I’m now in a position to give this a real go.

Excellent post.


Nick May 21, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Hey Stephen – Thanks for reading and the awesome compliment. I’m really glad you found this useful.


Jan leeuwen May 22, 2013 at 5:59 pm

I mainly use Google keyword tool and TT, but i think this is not enough.
Anyway thanks for your blogs about SEO , will keep checking this site out.

Kind regards,

J. Leeuwen


Nick August 27, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Hey Jan – G keyword tool is a classic, and actually I just recently published a really simple guide on how to maximize your keyword research efforts using it (including a free tool) check it out here:


Noyal Dasot May 22, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Keyword research is backbone of blogging, really educated by your words, thanks for sharing.


Nick August 27, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Thanks for reading and the comment Noyal


tai game May 23, 2013 at 2:49 am

Hi Nick, what is the difference between selecting or not selecting [exact] match keywords only in Google AdWords Keyword Research Tool?



Nick May 23, 2013 at 10:38 am

[Exact] match is only going to return results exactly matching the query, where phrase would include results that include the phrase, i.e. exact for ‘mens shoes’ is only going to show ‘mens shoes,’ but phrase would include ‘mens shoes leather’ or ‘blue mens shoes.’ Broad is what it sounds like, broad match for ‘mens shoes’ would return results that just include those terms, i.e. ‘mens blue leather shoes.’ For more detailed information I would recommend reading Google’s AdWords Help Documentation


Emil Petkov May 23, 2013 at 1:59 pm

If you ask me – when you do precise keyword research – the exact match is the only one you need to look :)

tai game mien phi May 23, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Very Nice article, really helpful for me to clear the concept of “Keyword Research”, Thanks for Sharing :)


Mark Thompson June 7, 2013 at 3:02 am

Very useful article,
but what does that mean by relative search volume = individual keyword search volume / total search volume for all keywords?


Nick August 27, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Hey Mark –

Relative in terms of a baseline comparison, so to gauge how representative one keyword is… so you would divide the average monthly [exact] search volume for a single term by the total monthly search volume for the total set of identified contextual keywords you are targeting.


wp webinar June 7, 2013 at 10:59 am

First time I’ve visited your blog good find! Thanks.


SEO Utah June 13, 2013 at 12:20 am

Keyword research plays a vital role in SEO. Because without good selection of keywords SEO can’t perform well. This is very unique information in the shape of article I like this.


Chris Stewart June 19, 2013 at 10:44 pm

Almost all keyword software pull data from Googles KW tool. It amazes how many do not understand that G KW Tool is just as you said for adwords, and take the competition as how easy or tough to rank for a certain keyword.

On the other side you can find wide open niches but need to know what you are looking for first, as it is only a tool it does not have intelligence.that takes a human mind not software.


Nick August 27, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Hey Chris –

Amazing right.. it’s always interesting to hear people talk about using the G keyword tool (which I still do!) and then cite the AdWords competition as an organic ranking factor – At least now there’s SerpIQ :)


Afzal June 20, 2013 at 1:32 am

Thanks Nick,

I was starting to do keyword research for a website. I am new in the field of SEO, so I thought of getting more information on keyword research and I got this great article of yours which gave me new and powerful strategies for keyword research. And thanks for suggesting about Ubersuggest, I didn’t know about this.


Nick August 27, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Hey Afzal –

Thanks for reading, also if you’re just getting started you may be interested in a post I recently published on a super simple way to get started and maximize your efforts (including a free tool I built to speed up the process), you can check it out here:


Prabal Chowdhury July 1, 2013 at 10:02 am

Thanks for a descriptive and informative post.

Keyword research is the key of SEO. This is why selection of a good tool for keyword research is also very, very important. There are many tools in the internet for this work. And I’ve already tried most of them. But I’ve found colibri tool is the best. You can use it for keyword research and so many other SEO works. Using the function “find more keywords”, it can suggest similar keywords to the ones you are already monitoring. You can also identify keywords visitors typed in order to find your webpage. You can find them in the “suggested keywords” section on the trends panel (they’re marked as “ traffic received”).


Nick August 27, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Hey Prabal – Thanks for the suggestion.

You may also be interested in checking out a simple keyword tool I built to help combine keywords across sheets in my recent post title ‘a dead simple process for starting keyword research” – I’ve already linked to it a few times above.


Anjali Singh July 17, 2013 at 1:34 am

Keyword analyses in seo better to work on website with low competition to other sites .Thanks for sharing


Spook SEO August 16, 2013 at 11:00 am

Amazing post Nick! And I thought my method of doing keyword research is a solid one. I got tons of golden nuggets from your post. Keep ‘em coming. Cheers!


Nick August 27, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Cheers Spook – always appreciate your comments!


Jackey Worden September 1, 2013 at 6:14 am

Quite an incredible guide to keyword research. Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful ideas here. I really learned a lot of significant things about how to do keyword research. This post has been such a great help.


Justin Mifsud September 3, 2013 at 8:55 am

Great article Nick!

Very well laid out and researched

And thanks for citing my blog UsabilityGeek :)




Jason Frasca September 6, 2013 at 10:12 pm


What a tremendous resource you have provided. Many takeaways. Optimizing for searcher intent, a subtle yet important distinction. I thank you for the excellent resource you are providing.

Evernote clipped!


Queen September 13, 2013 at 6:28 am

wow. nice post. I actually bumped into it when i was about to start keyword research for the very first time. thanks for making it simple and practical for a newbie like myself.


seo September 18, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Link exchange is nothing else but placing the other person’s weblog link on your page at appropriate place and other person will also do same for you. I have gained many links this way.


Reshu Rathi September 20, 2013 at 5:15 am

Interesting take on data Nick! Keyword research is indeed the most important part of SEO. Targeting right keywords can make or break a site. But, I want to add one more important point here: After conducting your keyword research, reviewing your keyword list is very important. Here are my thoughts.


IDcreate November 7, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Great article. Its Nov now – 6 months after Emil’s post and here you go – not provided is not 100%. Thanks Google. We definitely invest in google adwords to find out keywords (not!)


Kerry November 18, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Interesting article Nick, nice to still find in-depth well researched articles. Experience teaches you what to look for and the tools make it possible.


Spook SEO November 26, 2013 at 4:10 am

Hi Nick!

I totally agree with you. Keyword research is a critical component for SEO because it provides a road map for both the design and execution of building websites and developing content. On the other hand, our optimization strategy should be dictated by your campaign goals. If our goal is to increase revenue, then we need to decide which optimization path is going to be the most effective based on our business.


wonesty November 29, 2013 at 2:01 am

good post,

this post is more useful to me, i have lot of confused for keyword research now i’m clear for KR. thanks a lot……


Cora L. Clark December 5, 2013 at 4:15 am

Greetings! I’ve been reading your blog for some time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give
you a shout out from Huffman Tx! Just wanted to mention keep up
the good work!


dog December 9, 2013 at 3:08 pm

I’m impressed, I must say. Rarely do I encounter a blog
that’s both educative and engaging, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail
on the head. The issue is something which too few men and women are speaking intelligently about.
I am very happy that I stumbled across this in my search for something relating to this.


Marian December 10, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Another great post from Nick. Very comprehensive guide, well detailed and very informative.


Brady O'Rourke December 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Thanks for the post Nick. I saw this on inbound and clicked through, I honestly wasn’t expecting much as I do a ton of KW research weekly but there was some surprisingly good info in here. I haven’t been to your site before, but I bookmarked it and will be checking it out again.


Cyrel Nicolas December 18, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Thanks Nick for this informative post you have. Indeed, if we do keyword research in a wrong manner, for sure we will lose traffic and bucks.


Cancun Girl January 3, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Wish I had read this a long time ago… :( Bad keyword research has punish my efforts badly, still, at least in my niche, which by the way is travel, there are not so many keyword options. There are many, yes, but longtails don´t bring a quarter of the normal “hotels”, “travel”, “cheap flighs”, etc. that are already taken by big budget companies plus tripadvisor :( Anyway thx for the great article. :)


santhoshhhyuvan January 12, 2014 at 7:54 am

Thanks for posting bro. This is really helped to my site a lot.

thanks again.. cheers!!!


dialuz January 18, 2014 at 2:50 am

i agree with your is good for SEO freshers to learn these things perfectly.


Martin March 12, 2014 at 9:18 am


This is a great article I’ve got it bookmarked so I can come back to it whenever I need some information.



Travis April 6, 2014 at 2:06 am

Truly amazing post and I can see why you have all the links mentioned below. I too will be sharing this post in an upcoming SEO roundup.

Would you be up for an interview?


sonesh April 19, 2014 at 3:58 am

Very clearly and breifly explained including images

Helpful for me

Thanks for sharing


shiva May 6, 2014 at 3:48 am

Really good, comprehensive, easy-to-follow explanation. I’m working more and more in SEO, analytics, WordPress and using the Yoast SEO tool. As a result, I’m becoming more aware of the intricasies of keywords and their use throughout the content process as writing, editing, design. Learning to use the keywords within the entire content structure is an important step that seems often overlooked. It is very hard for me with long tail keywords. Sometimes i never get much idea. your article is really informative. Thanks Nick!!


webtechelp May 26, 2014 at 1:43 pm

useful & great post .. Keyword analyses in seo better to work on website with low competition to other sites . Thanks :)


Online Success June 14, 2014 at 8:17 pm is a great tool, we use it along with (which is also free) and between to two, we can put together a pretty solid SEO strategy and then measure and analyze as we go with these free tools.


mahbubur rahman June 23, 2014 at 9:54 am

Hey Nick-
This is extremely useful as always. Very well written article! I have a special satisfaction for articles that are written in a manner that can be understood by non-industry people. Thanks for the solid foundation. A good researcher is always the foundation for a better build. Positive SEO tools really helping you in figure out a planned key-word tactic.


Prateek June 29, 2014 at 11:03 pm

Wow great article and easy to read and follow. Thanks Nick



Situs Gadget Indonesia July 9, 2014 at 12:30 am

Great post nick, of course that your post about keyword research is very helpul for everyone when needed SEO strategy.

Bookmarked your site, still waiting a great post from you tomorrow :)


Taras July 29, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Man, that really helped me to concentrate and have a perfect plan for startup. I’ve been in SEO/Internet Marketing industry for 4 year, but simply wanted to refresh the information about “What’s the best way to do keywords research”. Your post totally helped! ;)


Paul Quin August 1, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Nick, Just starting but had to say, it is refreshing to see that you provide sources for your data. So many writers make it up and have no sources, just their gut instinct. I tell my students, Document! It’s refreshing to see a successful SEO guy who does just that. Thanks.


Marian August 4, 2014 at 9:44 pm

This is very important indeed, finding the right keyword for your site. Great tips…


article builder August 6, 2014 at 11:12 am

Yes! Finally something about niche keyword research service.


Troy August 8, 2014 at 1:36 am

Thanks Nick for one heck of a overview of how it looks from the top down, inside and out! I like the contrast on 2 schools of thought, traffic or conversion … balance of course is the answer, but makes for a great discussion!


Izzy August 13, 2014 at 10:39 am

Very informative article, great that you raised the point about checking whats working , some people do forget about it.


Roy August 31, 2014 at 9:41 am

Hi Nick

Thanks for the article it’s awesome!

You are using SimilarWeb also for keyword research? it’s the only tool that really provided the not provided keywords


Abhinav September 24, 2014 at 3:36 am

Nice article on SEO. Keyword Research is where it all starts.This is very informative and practical.Thanks for this great tips. I have created a gig for keyword research if anyone still having (Don’t thing anyone having trouble after reading this superb article)the problem in keyword research please contact me and I’ll do it for you.


Mahdi H Nejad September 25, 2014 at 5:56 am

Hi nick!
Nice post that helps me a lot.
I am looking for better suggestions that helps me to select keywords for my business.
The points you mentioned here are great for keywords research. The mentioned points helps me take a proper keyword analysis and select those keywords which would be relevant.
Nick can you please suggest me some online tools that generates ideas of keywords.And also where i can get best ideas about the keywords with keyword multiplication.
I am looking for your response.


mykaylila September 27, 2014 at 9:22 pm

thank for the info, This is a great post


Dinn September 30, 2014 at 9:47 pm

Thanks a lot for sharing this very useful tutorial. This article is really helpful for me


Giovanni Sacheli October 2, 2014 at 7:48 am

Hello mate, I thought I had seen most of the free and paid tools in keyword research but you introduced me to this new one, super!
I’ve also really liked the kw difficulty/benefit analysis you did, thank’s this is very interesting :)


Karen E. Williams October 8, 2014 at 8:15 am

Great summary there, Nick. Great post, this is a really comprehensive article. Working on any e-commerce site is different than any other. This post is very refined, informative, very helpful and great points for e-commerce businesses. I like your blog & looking forward for more posts on such interesting topics.


Riz Khan January 11, 2015 at 1:02 pm

To top it all, we employ the use of custom-made state-of-the-art SEO tools and software that our competition only dreams about. With these tools, we can even predict with precision the ranking you will receive after we are through with the custom SEO package that we implement for you


Fabric October 9, 2014 at 5:11 am

I agree, keyword research is essential if you want to be successful on the internet. However when using it you must decide whether you want to just gain traffic to the chosen website or whether you would like it to lead to customer involvement or a sale, as if you don’t decide this before then you could just be wasting your time. Thanks for your help!


Saqib November 11, 2014 at 5:05 pm

this is really nice site :)


hitesh December 17, 2014 at 7:53 am

hey nick
New bloggers like me will be no longer newbie in keyword research after reading this article


SANDESH CHAUHAN November 24, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Such a nice article about keyword research
it is very helpful for new bloggers like me.


Jamil Khatri November 30, 2014 at 2:50 am

Nice Post Thanks…


Angelo January 29, 2015 at 9:16 am

thanks for sharing!
this post is a good starting point for SEO keyword research.


Jackson Rubem December 17, 2014 at 3:44 pm

Thank you, Nick, for share this very important tutorial.


Saif Ullah January 7, 2015 at 4:35 pm

I am learning all the tips about blogging through the link you have given in your page. Keyword research very very essential to get more traffic is what i learning now. Thanks Kristi:) I was suggested by my friend to use only limited keywords. How much i can use approximately for a 800 words article..?


Bac Minh Canh January 17, 2015 at 11:00 pm

Thank you, Nick, for share this very important tutorial.


Harsh Chauhan January 23, 2015 at 12:39 am

Superb Post Nick , But i m little Bit Confused With The fact that which keyword should i choose for example One give High CPC and the Other Gives Good Traffic ?


Adrian February 1, 2015 at 2:51 pm

Nice post Nick!

And great resources but this takes some time and that’s why I prefer to outsource it for a few bucks. I had great experience with this 5$ service:


Dinesh Kumar February 10, 2015 at 11:27 am

First thanks for this post my doubts are all cleared very informative


Bb Capri March 7, 2015 at 8:58 am

100% perfect


Subir Paul March 16, 2015 at 8:49 am

Excellent! One of the best content I have seen on market. Many things to learn from this post. Thnx for sharing. :)


Nick April 8, 2013 at 8:43 am

Thanks Emil.

That’s really a great question and not a simple or trivial problem to solve. I don’t have a great process for figuring out an approximate attribution for all converting keywords, as you put it – it’s going to be incredibly difficult to attribute conversion to ‘net set’ or ‘not provided’ queries.

Instead I focus on the keywords that I do have visibility into, and let the conversion data (revenue) drive my targeting decisions. The chances are if you have a term that is converting really well you will hopefully have at least some provided conversion data so it’s on your radar. Once you start tracking a new term that is performing well, even if you can’t see all of the conversions the keyword is generating, at least you can adjust your budget to make sure is producing a positive ROI.


Emil Petkov April 8, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Yep, i agree :) Let’s hope it won’t get to that point where the “not provided/not set” keywords get to 100% :) The real problem is that the converting keywords could be completely different that the visible ones. But i think i’m off-topic with the article now :)
Keep going with the great content you provide!


Nick August 27, 2013 at 6:02 pm

100% agree!


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