A short note before you read on.  This article was written in 2015 but it’s still spot on today (2019) – no keyword stuffing, keep it as human as possible.  Find out more…

If you are a complete novice in website optimisation…read on

If you’re doing your keyword research the same way you always have…read on

If you are old hat at this optimisation game and already know it all….read on – you never know you might pick up a tip or two or you could always leave me a comment with any helpful tips you might have.

So for novices, firstly a definition. (Skip to next section if I’m covering old ground).

What is keyword research?

Keyword research helps you find out what search terms your audience are using so that you can optimise your individual webpages around those keywords (using techniques such as keywords in the content) with the aim of getting your website to the top of the rankings when someone types in that keyword. The objective is to find keywords that have lots of monthly searches but limited competition so it’s easier for you to achieve higher ranking in search engines. The downside of this practice is that usually keywords that have very little competition aren’t searched for very often while those who get millions of searches per month are very difficult to rank for.

Definition done. Now for a lesson in how to do keyword research in 2015.

Keyword research has changed in the last 5 years and the focus has moved away from keyword heavy pages and the importance of keyword research. It’s not the be all and end all of website optimisation like it used to be.

The main message in 2015 is to stop building pages that focus on one keyword. (Need I say don’t overstuff those pages either with your keyword – that’s old news.)

So why move away from a single page per keyword approach?

Google and other search engines have become far more sophisticated with the results they return. Hummingbird (Google algorithm update September 2013) pays more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query—the whole sentence or conversation or meaning—is taken into account, rather than particular words.  The objective behind this is that pages that match the entire meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few keywords.

If you couple that with the growth of voice activation search using services such as Google Now or Siri, keyword research now should focus on queries that are asked naturally – so in 2015 we need to identify both both:

  • longer-tail keywords eg “women wetsuits” might now be “best womens triathlon wetsuit” and;
  • semantic keywords – synonyms and plurals of your main keywords. So if I’m an architect, I also want to use keywords like architecture and architects.

Then having found these keywords we need to group them by the same searcher intent. Two searchers may be using two different terms or phrases but if both of them have exactly the same intent they will want the same answers from the website and their query is going to be resolved by the same content, so we want to give them one page to serve those.

So if you are with me so far and understand how your webpage should handle a set of related keywords phrases and meanings, how do you go about doing keyword research.

Here are three steps for doing keyword research in 2015

1Generate Ideas

Traditional keyword research – take a word you think your customers use, plug it into Google keyword planner, see what alternatives are suggested. Job done – list of keywords to analyse.

In 2015 that’s not enough. There’s too many reasons why this is not going to work alone and I don’t want to lose you by explaining the limitation of keyword planner. It is however a good tool and needs to be used as part of your keyword research. But it won’t generate a wealth of related keyword ideas on its own.

Try a more creative, ideas-based approach to your research. Here’s some ways to get a list of keywords:

  • keyword research 2015Start with your customers. What problems are they having that you can solve? This should provide you with some basic keywords.
  • If you have a sales or support team, find out what your customers are asking about your product/service. Interview your customers and ask for feedback.
  • Use your brain: Come up with as many associations that you can.
  • Check competitors’ sites and blogs (you can look at their meta tags).
  • Check related searches in Google, Bing, and Yahoo
  • Type into Google search box and see what the auto-complete comes up with
  • Visit Q&A sites (e.g. Quora) to see what potential customers are asking. You can also see what your potential customers are discussing on Twitter (research hashtags and use Twitter search to find potential opportunities) and LinkedIn (join groups in your niche to discover hot topics and conversations).
  • Forum discussions
  • Dictionaries and thesaurus
  • Wikipedia topic categories and articles related to your topic.
  • Your analytics and Webmaster Tools are also decent sources to discover keyword opportunities.

And of course there are still some good keywords tools to use:

Google keyword planner – you’ll need a Google adwords account but you don’t need to activate it or pay any fees.

Keywordtool.io This is becoming one of the more popular free keyword suggestion tools. With a single search, this tool can generate hundreds of keyword suggestions from Google, YouTube, Bing and even the App Store.

Niche Laboratory Free keyword tool good for finding related keywords. It crawls the top 10 search results for any search term you enter and displays a list of keyword ideas.

Übersuggest Gives many variations of a keyword or phrase

Answerthepublic Visual representation of keywords and content ideas

2 Refine and Group Your Keywords

Now you’ve got an exhaustive list, first go through it and remove the terms that don’t seem very relevant. Then group the words together into the same meanings/intent. (Google keyword planner can be a good aid to grouping phrases together if you filter results by ad group ideas).

3 Analysis the Keywords Groups

You’ve still got lists of keyword groups. The next step is to analyse them to determine which are the best keyword groups to use on your website. There are endless tools out there (and generally any decent tool will cost) but unless you are an SEO practitioner yourself or endlessly carrying out keyword research, perhaps the simplest approach is to create your own spreadsheet to analyse the keywords.

Here’s a sample one

keyword research 2015 spreadsheet


To use the spreadsheet firstly take all the keywords and put them back into the Google keyword planner and get an approximate volume of searches per month (put this into spreadsheet to give you a total score for the group).

Then you need to assess the value to the business of this keyword group. I’ve used a score between 0 to 1 so we can use it as multiplier later on. If this is a search term that your customers absolutely use and is something you provide, it’s a 1. If it’s a product related to yours but not something you do, perhaps its 0.5. If it’s business you want to avoid, it’s a 0. Don’t get too hung up on this- it’s just a guide to help you determine which are the better keywords to focus on.

Next is the hardest part – how hard it will be to outrank competitors and therefore whether it’s worth even trying to optimise for this term. At this point I would say if you are a complete novice to this and don’t intend on doing this regularly, it’s worth outsourcing this. But if you want to do it yourself, here’s a very quick guide as to what you should be judging the competition on (remember there are tools that will do all of this for you). Firstly, put in the search term on Google and make a note of the top 5 or even 10 websites and then carry out the following analysis:

  • Backlinks – Identify the backlinks to your competitor’s page. The more links your competitor has, the harder it may be to outrank this site.
  • On-page SEO – Evaluate the quality of on-page optimisation of the competing pages by scanning their titles, descriptions, content, and internal link anchors.
  • Content – Inspect competitors’ page for quality content. Google rewards for good content and so do the users.
  • Domain authority – Finally, check the age of the competing domains, their Alexa rank, and their popularity in social media.

Having looked at the competition, mark them between 0 to 1 on how hard it would be to outrank them. If you think you can easily compete because the competition is weak, put a 1 and then scale it down to 0 according to how hard it is. Only put a 0 if you believe it’s completely impossible to get anywhere near the first couple of pages of Google and therefore not worth trying.

Now use the spreadsheet to multiple the number of searches by value by ease of ranking to give you an overall score for that keyword group. Complete this process for each keyword group and you’ll end up being able rank the groups from highest score to lowest to determine which are the best keywords to use on your site, and which should be avoided.

So now I’m going to say something that may undermine everything I’ve just said and is not how a traditional SEO expert would speak. Keyword analysis can be a long and laborious process and if you really don’t have the time or inclination to analyse the keywords then I would suggest the very least is to carry out points 1 and 2 above (research and group keywords) and then just go on gut feel as to which you should use on your site. If you put together good content that answers your customers problems you may well get up in the rankings even if all the analysis says you won’t. Ultimately there is no guarantee that you will rank for the keywords and it’s often surprising where you win and where you don’t.

So what do we do now that we have this keyword group?

The approach now is to create keyword “themed” pages on your website. With keyword groups it isn’t so simple anymore to put a page together as it was with one keyword. You need to use all of the keywords of interest and mash them up. Here’s an example where the keyword group is focuses on “contents calculator for home insurance / how to value your home contents for insurance”. They can be mashed up into something like this.

  • Page Title – Home Insurance Contents Calculator. (Use some of the terms but not all. Always work towards keeping it natural and relevant).
  • Page URL – insurance.co.uk/home-insurance/contents-calculator (This again, doesn’t need to be keyword stuffed).
  • Meta Description – Need to work out the value of your home contents for insurance? Download our free handy contents calculator now. (You can use a mixture of phrases and terms here and make it work).

Then just write your page of contents making sure it contains the relevant terms and of course is informative, useful and share worthy. Keep it NATURAL.

Good luck with your keyword research in 2015 and if you lose the will to live half way through, you can always get in touch with an expert to help you out. You know where to find me…..

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