One of the most important steps of search engine optimization is to make sure you are targeting the right search terms. Fortunately Google provides a free keyword research tool called Keyword Planner. This helpful tool is primarily offered by Google to encourage people to become a customer of their paid search (pay-per-click) program called AdWords. However, the tool is also very helpful for choosing SEO keywords.
Narrow down what specific product(s) and/or service(s) you wish to target and begin brainstorming a preliminary list of potential search terms. I recommend visiting some of your competitor’s websites to see if they list any keywords on their website that may spark additional ideas.
Go to the Keyword Planner page and login. If you don’t already have a Google account, click here to create one. Then click on the ‘Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category’ tab.
Now enter in your keyword related root words and click on the Get Ideas button. For example, let’s assume we are doing SEO keyword research for a realtor in Orlando, Florida. If you simply enter in a root word such as ‘Orlando’ or ‘real estate’ the results will be far too vague. Instead, your suggested list of root words should look more like this; Orlando realtor, Orlando realtors, Orlando realty, Orlando real estate, Orlando homes, Orlando property & Orlando MLS.
Now click on the Download button…
Choose Download again and then click on the Save file button. Assuming you have Excel on your computer, a .csv file should appear in your lower left hand corner.
Open this file and your raw data should look something like this:
Highlight and delete columns A, C and G through L at the same time.
Spread out the width of the columns to view the data.
Some personal formatting steps that I always like to do before presenting my research to others:
- Bold and ‘Border Underline’ the four main headers
- Change the header in column B to just read Monthly Searches
- Highlight Column B and right click on Format Cells… and then choose Number and change the decimal places to zero and click on the Use 1000 Separator (,) option.
- Highlight Column C and right click on Format Cells… and then choose Percentage and change the decimal places to zero.
- Highlight Column D and right click on Format Cells… and then choose Currency and click OK to the default setting of 2 decimal places and the $ as your Symbol.
- Highlight all four columns (A-D) and click on your Excel ‘Data’ tab and choose Sort. And then make sure the ‘My data has headers’ option is clicked on in the upper right hand corner and Sort by ‘Monthly Searches’ and change the order to ‘Largest to Smallest’.
The final results should look something like this:
Now unfortunately Google will often add additional search terms that are not 100% relevant to your goals. You can sometimes tweak this by playing with your options between Step 3 and Step 4. But I often find it easier to just take (and download) all the data they suggest and just manually delete the keywords that don’t apply. In this example, I pulled out every search term that did not include the word Orlando, as well as a few search terms such as ‘cars for sale in Orlando’ and ‘business for sale in Orlando’.
Your cleaned up and final results should look something like this:
That’s it! If you would like to learn more about Google’s Keyword planner tool, additional details and suggestions are available here.
What about measuring the ‘SEO’ Difficulty percentages?
With the above information, you now have average monthly search volumes, and some estimated ‘cost-per-click’ fees and the estimated ‘competition’ level (based strictly on people targeting that keyword through Google AdWords.
If you would like to know how competitive each search term is from an organic (non-paid) point of view, you can sign up for an account with semrush.com and/or moz.com and run these same keywords through their ‘Keyword Difficulty’ tools. When I do this, I typically rename the original ‘Competition’ column header to “PPC Competition” and add a new column (using the new data pulled from one of these resources) and name this new column, “SEO Competition”.
Happy keyword hunting and as always, we welcome any suggestions or questions you have relating to this topic. Feel free to comment below.
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