One of the things I think is most difficult to get right and yet is the most important factor for SEO is keyword research. The research that is done for SEO is quite different from the type done for PPC even though both are for search engines. This means while your PPC agency may have done some ‘keyword research’ it needs to be focused and refined for your SEO efforts.
Good keyword research is important because of the number of other critical SEO elements it affects (as well as PPC). The on-page targeting for non-cannibalised keywords is important. That is, don’t target the same keyword on lots of pages. The link building anchor text is important. Internal links and breadcrumb trails also use keywords. The titles, descriptions and URLs are also all affected by keyword research. Keyword research supporting a well optimised page can also reduce paid search costs. This one element of anything I believe has to be done right in order for everything else to flow properly from it.
In order to do good keyword research, the first step is to be open to new ideas. While seemingly fundamental, if a word or phrase sits at the core of branding and yet few use it, it would be more advisable to use the more popular word. If you provide “cookies” and yet insist on calling them “buttery flour chips” there will be issues with non-brand search exposures to your product. Google is good at understanding semantic relationships but even it needs some direction.
Write down groups of words relating to your product or service that you use internally. Next, expand that list to include what the industry you work in calls your product/service (a little spying on the competition). Expand that to how the media talks about your product or service. If you still have a small list, use this list set as a PPC keyword campaign and set the campaign to “broad match”. Keep it tight as a short term, low cost PPC campaign in Google. Crafting a compelling and relevant ad can be tricky but the insight gained from the keywords used to find your ad will expand your understanding of the keywords.
This should give you a core group of terms. Now, use the free online tools available to expand that list, refine it, measure the type of search traffic these terms generate and create a full comprehensive list of keywords that you think are relevant. The tools you can use for free are the Google AdWords Tool, SEOBook tool, and Wordtracker has some free data.
Next thing to do is map the strength of the competition and how much there is. If there are a lot of people competing for a term, or the top 10 are all very strong competitors, it may not be reasonable to target that word. Also be sure to check relevance. If a term has a high search volume but the search results are not relevant and the competition is strong then it may not be the right target.
By mapping the competitiveness of a word against the number of people looking for that term, you will get a very accurate measure of whether you should target that word. This is more complicated than slapping words into Google AdWords and dumping a spreadsheet of search terms and volumes which is what I’ve seen far too many agencies do. This adds real intelligence to your research and keyword selection. This will give you, and your business, a competitive edge.