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21 Mar 2014

Keyword Optimization

People think keyword research is soooo 2000.  It’s a newbie skill, right?  One you can easily forget as you gain more knowledge and skill as an internet marketer.  Guess what?  They’re very very wrong.

With every passing year, choosing the right keywords becomes much more important.  If you choose keywords that are too generic and your domain isn’t authoritative enough you won’t rank in the top 10, meaning those carefully chosen keywords won’t bring you any traffic – at all.  Think of the lost time and money that you spent creating the content and building links to it – all wasted.

On the other hand, if you choose keywords that are very targeted but have no volume, you can rank #1, but with only 5 people a month typing those queries into Google, what benefit can you see to your bottom line?

Choosing great keywords is an art, one that requires extensive knowledge of SEO, competitive analysis, strategic thinking, and a willingness to experiment.

You’re lucky though.  You won’t require extensive knowledge to learn, because I’ll be sharing with you 15 years of internet marketing experience and teach you the quick path to keyword research success.

The Balance between Relevancy, Volume and Authority

Let’s first understand the essential components:

Volume:  How many people searched for this keyword on any given month.  This data is provided directly by Google as part of their Keyword Planner Tool.  

Competition:  How many unique referring links do sites currently trying to rank for that keyword have on average? What is their domain authority? Are they trusted sites?  What about social signals?

Relevance: Is your site and domain relevant for the target terms? Do you have just one page on the subject, or is your entire site about that particular query?

The key to keyword research is understanding your own site’s authority so you know at what level you may compete.  You must keep the three factors above in mind for every keyword you target.

How do you Determine your Own Site’s Authority?

There are certain metrics you should look at to understand your site’s authority:

  • Total backlinks to your site

  • Unique referring linking domains

  • Moz Domain Authority

  • Moz Page Authority

  • SEMrush KW Domain

  • Link Velocity Trend (LVT)

  • Alexa

  • Domain Age

  • ACrank

  • PR

  • EDU backlinks

  • GOV backlinks

  • Facebook Shares

  • FB Likes

  • G+1’s

I get all of this data using LinkResearchTools’ Competitive Keyword Analysis.  To get this information, I do a search in the CKA tool with my brand name, where I know my own site is ranking.  Then the tool will pull all of this data into a report.  Once I have that information, it becomes my benchmark for competitive analysis

Baseline Keyword Research

Next, I go to Google’s Keyword Planner tool.  You need to create a Google Adwords account in order to have access to this tool.  You don’t need to have any ads running, so don’t worry about having to spend money to have access to this data – it’s free!

This is the first screen you’ll see:

keyword optimization

Click on the first link: Search for new keyword and ad group ideas.

Next, you’ll see a screen where you can customize your search:

keyword optimization

I start by using broad, generic keywords.  So if my client offers “meditation retreats” I’ll start by typing “meditation” into the search box.

If your site is brand new and doesn’t have much domain authority, you can leave all of these fields as the default.  Once you have more domain authority, you can search for keywords with a minimum monthly search volume of at least 500 or more.

Once you search, you’ll get 2 tabs, Ad Group Ideas and Keyword Ideas:

keyword optimization

Ad group ideas combine keywords into lateral, semantically and contextually related groups.  For example, in the search for “meditation”, there is an ad group idea called “Yoga”.  Google knows that people who search for meditation also search for yoga, so they suggest that you incorporate the term into your keyword plan.  Ad group ideas are valuable in that they give you other concepts to consider in your keyword research.

The next tab is Keyword Ideas.  This is a listing of relevant keywords.  You can sort these by average monthly searches, competition, and suggested bid.  If you really want to stay focused on one “keyword bucket” this is the best system to use.

Create your Keyword List

Keywords that seem relevant and with sufficient volume can be added to your plan, and later exported:

keyword optimization

In this example, I added 10 ad groups with 173 total keywords, which I then export to a CSV file.

Next, I use another tool to help me analyze the competition:

I use it in two ways:

  1. By importing keywords from the keyword planner tool and having SMM gather the competitive analysis data

  2. Going into greater depth by letting SMM give me additional keyword suggestions.

When you search for a keyword with this tool, it will pull up two different screens that contain most of the data you need to determine if a keyword is worth targeting: keyword analysis and competitive analysis.

Keyword Analysis

If you use SMM to search for keyword ideas, it will search for a broad keyword and gives you other suggestions, including search volume, CPC competition, and competitiveness.

keyword optimization

Competitive Analysis

You can click on any of the keywords in the list and it will open a page with a more in-depth analysis of the sites ranking for that keyword.

keyword optimization

These are the fields that it pulls in from varying API’s:

Mozrank: Represents a link popularity score

Page Authority:  Page Authority is Moz’s calculated metric for how well a given webpage  is likely to rank in’s search results.

Domain Authority:  Domain Authority is Moz’s calculated metric for how well a given domain is likely to rank in Google’s search results.

Juice Links: Links which count for your rankings, excludes rel=”nofollow” links and multiple links from the same domain

Total Links:  Total backlinks to the page

Facebook Likes, Facebook Shares, Tweets, Google +1’s

How to Determine Keyword Opportunity

When I look at the comparative data in the keyword analysis screen, I look for the following:

First, I look at the root domains.  Are they .gov/.edu domains? Are they highly authoritative domains/brands that Google highly values? Are there media sites in the rankings?

In the example above (mindfulness meditation), there are a few sites that I’d immediately classify as “untouchable” –,,,,,, and

At this point I’ve already lost 7 potential ranking spots, so I only have 3 possible spots open for this keyword.  Then I look at the remaining sites and compare my site’s statistics with those 3 remaining sites.  Can I compete?  On swissmademarketing, green spots are “open” to competition, orange are “possible” and red are “impossible”.

The next element I look at is Domain Authority.  How high is it? Is mine comparable? Are we in the same ball-park?  If so, then I look at “Juice Links”.  I compare that to my site’s “juice links” to see how many I’ll need in order to overtake that domain.   Finally, I look at social signals.  This is probably the weakest of the ranking signals so I take it with a grain of salt.

If there are keywords with too many authoritative domains, I won’t even target them, as it could be impossible or take a very long time to reach top 5 rankings. I recommend starting the campaign with keywords that have less volume and less competition  in order to make a quick impact and see a lift in traffic.  As we build up, I choose more competitive keywords that represent greater volume.  I track the growth so I can adjust my target keyword list accordingly.

Lastly, I look at Mozrank.  Mozrank is Moz’s version of Pagerank, and like Pagerank, I don’t give it too much validity.  It’s an aggregate number that gives me an impression of how my domain compares, but I don’t make decisions based solely on mozrank.

These basic comparisons just give me an idea of the barrier to entry – I know I will be building links and promoting the site in social media, so I know my site’s numbers will increase.  This tells me which spots are viable and gives me a sense for how long it will be for my site to rank, given the competing metrics.

Query Types

Google categorizes searches in different ways.   Some known query types are:

  • Transactional:  queries that are commercial in nature and are used when people want to buy a product or are researching for their purchase

  • Navigational: users type this in to find a particular page, they’ll enter in the domain name or brand name

  • Informational: queries that are not commercial in nature and represent a search for information about a particular subject

The reason this is critically important is that there are certain keywords that trigger 100% informational results.  If your site is an ecommerce site, the likelihood of ranking for that keyword is greatly reduced.

In other cases, Google may consider a query mostly transactional and rank sites selling a product.  Your informational site may not gain much traction.

Remember that Google makes money from Adwords, so when possible, they’ll treat queries as informational and pull results from sites with lots of content but that do not sell.  The ads on the right become the only transactional results, increasing Google’s profit.

Finally, Google will often divide the search results pages to provide a hybrid mix.  6 of the top 10 spots will be to informational sites, 1 or 2 to what I call “keyword niche” sites – sites that have the exact match domain as the keyword or that are dedicated entirely to that niche.  Then 2 or 3 spots will be transactional.

When analyzing a keyword:

  • Determine what type of query it is

  • How is Google treating the results page? As a hybrid, or one result type only?

  • Figure out how many spots are alloted to your website type

  • Analyze how competitive those sites are to see if you have a chance of beating them

Combine the Files

Remember the csv file that we exported from Keyword Planner?  Now we upload that into SMM by doing a new “Keyword Search from List” and SMM will gather the same data for the keywords that were in the “Keyword Planner” group.  I then scan through those, look at the competitive data, and determine what keywords I want to keep.  I save those in a folder and export.

Once I have my data from Keyword Planner and SMM, I combine them into just one list of keywords.  I use excel to “de-dupe” (there’s a function that will eliminate duplicates),  and re-upload the updated list to SMM.  Then once again I export that list to a file that contains a large number of keyword possibilities.

Adding SEMrush Competitive Keywords

Until now, I’ve done much of the research that everyone else has access to, given that most of the data derives from Google’s keyword tool and that’s what everyone uses.  My next step gives me a new source of data that others may not be using: competitors.

Some of my competitors may have discovered niches that are performing well for them and optimizing heavily for those terms. How can I discover additional keywords that I haven’t uncovered until now?  Say hello to SEMrush, one of my favorite SEO tools.

This area of competitive research starts with Google.  Once again I start with my broadest possible keyword and search the top 10 to find the most relevant site – or the one most similar to mine, which I can utilize as a direct competitor.  In the case of “meditation” I chose  I input this site into SEMrush and it gives me this in the overview:

keyword optimization

That number that I pointed at in the image above shows me the number of top 20 rankings that site has.  I click on that number, and it opens a screen with a listing of all the keywords that website ranks for.  Next I sort by volume so I can prioritize the keywords, in descending order.

Now since I am using competitor sites that may be focused on other types of content, some of the keywords may not be relevant at all, so this requires extensive editing.  The beauty of this tool is the additional possible keywords that generally don’t put up through other means of keyword research.  On the right hand corner of Majestic there is an export button, which I use to export this list.

keyword optimization

Once I have my csv, I add a column in excel where I mark with an X the keywords I want to keep.  Then I sort by “X” and delete all of the rows with keywords that I don’t want to keep because they are not relevant.

Once again, I take those keywords, import them into SMM, and perform my competitive analysis within SMM.  I then repeat this process with the top 5 or so most relevant competitors found on Google to expand my keyword list.

Add Keyword Varieties

Finally, I scan my list to make sure I have all of the relevant keyword varieties:

Primary Keywords:  These are broad keywords and can be considered “head” terms – the terms that will bring the most traffic from which most of the “long tail” terms will hang.  These are my most important terms.

Synonyms:  Since Google is now able to perform semantic analysis, Google can find synonyms for the terms you are searching for.  For our “meditation” keyword, this would include “meditate”, which is technically a different root term but can also be optimized for.

Keyword Qualifiers:  Keywords that make a primary term more specific.  Terms such as “best” “top 10” and “online” are great terms to consider.

Misspellings: Although Google auto-corrects most misspellings, there are occasional terms they miss which can create great keyword opportunities.

Plurals: Check some of your top keywords and see how Google treats plurals.  If you type the singular vs the plural version of a term, are the results different? If they are, you need to include both variations into your campaign.

Once you’ve added extra keywords to your list based on these variables, you can take that list and add it to SEMrush.  Then you’ll have the volume and competitive data for the remaining keywords.

At this point you can do one final scan on SMM for keywords that may be too competitive, or where the volume is JUST TOO LOW.  Delete them from your final list.  By now your keyword list may be quite large but it’s okay – you’ll still get to use every single term in that list over time.

Categorizing your Keywords

To finalize the keyword research process, I add two more columns to my spreadsheet for “category” and “keyword type”.  Then I create “keyword buckets” which are groups of semantically related keywords.  This is very similar to Google’s “Ad groups” system.

I’ll identify my “head” terms and mark them as such in the “keyword type” column.  Then every other keyword will get categorized under a head term.

For example,  one of my head terms may be “Guided Meditations”.  Secondary terms under this Head term may be: guided meditation, meditation guide, guided meditation audio, guided meditation script, best guided meditation.

I go through the entire list until it’s fully categorized and classified.

Finally, I sort by volume to prioritize the list.  Since I’ve already performed competitive analysis and have a list of keywords that are “viable” to rank for, I just sort descending by volume.

Creating my Editorial Calendar

Now that I have a categorized and prioritized list of keywords, I can move on to create my editorial calendar.

At this stage, a content audit is important.  If you haven’t already performed one, now is the time.  If you have, that information will help shape your editorial calendar.  A content audit will look at the type and quality of content others in your niche are sharing.  It helps you create your marketing strategy and definite the amount and types of articles you’ll need as part of your campaign.

The next step is to create an editorial calendar that will include various content types and appeal to visitors with different intentions for visiting the site ie at different stages of the buying funnel.  As an example, for the Gryffin blog, I could say that Mondays is SEO day, Tuesdays is Social, Wednesdays is Paid Search, Thursdays is Paid Social, and Fridays is Analytics.  Then I can go through my keyword list and try to classify them based on what broad category they fit into.

Another strategy may be to give each keyword bucket a day of the week, and every week to publish an article based on the keywords in that bucket.  This way you can vary the content type.

Finally, you can also designate this as just one part of your overall content marketing strategy and designate two days of the week to “Keyword Optimized” content.  The rest of the content can be entirely free of “SEO” and be based on industry news, topics you are passionate about, or even just fun or funny posts.

Next, I designate a date for each post to be published on the site, and create an Editorial Calendar with a due date for each post.  Once I have my topics, I select a writer for each topic and assign them a due date with enough time in advance for me to edit, format, and upload the article.

Creating Compelling, Click-Enticing Titles

Nobody will click on a blog article called “Guided Meditation”.  To make your editorial calendar effective, you have to convert your keywords into appealing titles.  This is where your creativity and lateral thinking comes in.  If you are very familiar with your target audience, you can use this knowledge to hit upon “pain points” that will entice them to click on your link in the Google results page.

If I searched for “guided meditation” and saw an article called “How to Incorporate Guided Meditation into your Kids/Family/Work Schedule” I would gladly click on the article.  You still have the keyword in the title, but you are also using this keyword to attract an audience and clicks.  Once you have a theme for every day of the week, this can help qualify how you frame your titles.

A great way to start the creative juices flowing and get ideas to help you create fantastic titles is to create an RSS feed of relevant websites.  You can then import those feeds into an RSS reader like Feedly, and scan through the topics to get an idea about what people are talking about surrounding this topic.

You can also add keyword alerts from Google Alerts or, which will include other sources such as forums, twitter and facebook.  You can then import those alerts into Feedly so you only have to scan through one source for content ideas.

Having looked at what’s popular at any given time in your space, you can use similar content or ideas, or even create “response” posts that include your target keywords.  Not only would your content then be timely, it would also elicit a potential link as you can ping the original writer and tell them about your response post (who knows, maybe they’ll include a mention to you in future posts).

Tools for Creating an Editorial Calendar

I use Podio as an Editorial Calendar tool, as it’s part of our workflow.  Every article becomes an “order” in Podio that our writers are invited to complete.  When we create an order for them, the system emails them to notify them that an order has been placed for them to write an article.

Once they’ve completed the article, they go into Podio, change the status to “Needs Editing”, and create a task for the designated editor to edit the article. Through this same system we can also keep track of who’s been paid, pending invoices, writer turnaround time, etc.

Trello is another great tool for creating editorial calendars.  You can create a board that has cards with your article titles.  Then you turn that into a physical calendar to see what content is due when.  What Trello lacks is the project management tools abundant in Podio, which is why we work within the Podio infrastructure.


Now you have an editorial calendar that is optimized with keyword opportunities within your site’s reach. If you publish a keyword optimized article every day, and let’s say every keyword has 100 visitors / day, and you rank in the top 5, then you can pick up about 20 visitors / day.  At the end of the month you’ll have an additional 600 visitors.  If you do this continuously, day after day, month after month, your site’s traffic will grow and grow and grow.

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Search engine marketing expert with 15 years of experience in the industry, working with small mom and pop shops as well as large corporate websites. I have experience with all aspects of inbound marketing, including SEO, Link Building, Social Shares, Usability, Conversions, PPC, Email Marketing, and more.