This is part 4 of a 12 part series on keyword research. This series will guide you through four distinct phase of the keyword research process, providing you step by step guidelines to help you gather, sort and organize your keywords into an effective marketing campaign.

Yesterday I discussed three steps in finding core terms: looking through your website, brainstorming, and then scouring your competitors' websites. These three steps can give you a wealth of information and you'll uncover some very important core terms. If you missed yesterdays post, that quickie recap above doesn't do it justice so be sure to go back and read. Today I'll finish up with the steps in core term research before concluding phase one of our keyword research process tomorrow.

Step 4: Use keyword research tools

Keyword research tools

Site owners often begin the research process by first going to the available tools. There are numerous keyword research tools available and it really doesn't matter which tool or tools you use, so long as you're getting the results you need. Since every tool is slightly different it's a good idea to use multiple tools to ensure you're getting a wide range of data.

But you can't really use these tools effectively--or to their fullest potential--until you have some information in which to actually research out, which we've covered int he first three steps of core term research. In this step we want to take core terms that we've already discovered and plug them into the tools to help us find core terms that have still remained elusive.

It's tempting to skip the first three steps and jump right to the tools, but that's a mistake. While you'll undoubtedly see many of the same core terms you've already documented, it's unlikely you would be able to produce the same list having used the tools alone. In this case, the tools are used as confirmation for what you've already found and to fill in the gaps of what you were unable to uncover so far.

Using the tools is pretty straightforward. Select a core term from your list and plug it into the tool's search box. Scan the results and look for core terms that you don't already have on your list. If you've performed the first three steps sufficiently then you might have to scan quite a bit to find something new, but don't be afraid of the scroll bar!

Beside looking for completely new core terms, you also want to look for new words that can be used to create new core terms. For example, you might find "waterproof wheeled bag". Let's say that "wheeled bag" is already on your core-term list, but "waterproof bag" or even "water proof bag" isn't. This gives you one or two new core terms to add to your core term list.

Continue this process with different core terms from your master list. You won't have to research every single core term you've documented, but you do want to search enough of them to be confident that you won't get anything new or valuable by performing further research. Randomize your core terms by selecting those that are different enough that they are sure to produce differing results, and therefore more likely to give you new terms not yet uncovered.

Step 5: Dig into analytics and server logs

What analytics answers

Server logs and analytics can provide a wealth of keyword information that you can't get anywhere else. Here you will find keywords already being used to drive people to your site. There is no better keyword intelligence than what you can find in your own server logs. But be cautioned; the data from your server logs is incomplete.

Server logs only tell you how people are finding you today. Too many times I've had people tell me, "I don't get any traffic from those terms, so let's not optimize for them." OK, but the reason you're not getting any traffic from them is because you're not yet optimized for those keywords. What server logs don't show you is the dozens, or even hundreds, of other keywords that people are searching for but not finding you with. And you're not being found because you are positioned poorly on the search engines for those terms.

But server logs can provide some information that you won't get with any other tool, and this is what makes server log information extremely valuable:

How people find you: Not only do you get to see what keywords are being searched, but you get to see how often any particular keyword leads someone to your site. You can see what engine they came from and what pages the searcher ultimately visited before leaving your site. For keywords that you know are ranked similarly, you can determine which is more effective at driving traffic. Or, having search volume numbers, you can again determine if more often searched keywords are actually better for your bottom line.

What keywords convert: Some keywords convert better than other. Server logs give you excellent information on conversion data. By analyzing your logs you can sort out poor performing core terms from those that are more likely to lead to a sale. But as with any such data, don't just rely on the surface info. Some keywords may not convert all that well because your site isn't build to convert for them. Often some minor adjustments are all you need to change that.

What qualifiers are used: Server logs will also let you see dozens, hundreds, and sometimes even thousands of additional qualifiers. Many of these qualifiers can be used to create entire new core terms as we noted above. There is a good bet that a little optimization for these additional qualifiers can boost your traffic numbers significantly.

How many core terms should you have?

Question markThe core term research process in itself can be very time consuming. The question arises, at what point do you stop researching and move on to the next phase? Is there a minimum or maximum number of core terms you should have documented before determining you have enough?

The goal in completing your core term research isn't so much to walk away with a pre-determined number of keywords, but to be confident that you have exhausted all research avenues sufficiently that you're unlikely to find anything new.

You could walk away with with a dozen core terms or several hundred. You might find more or less than this number depending on your industry and how many different ways there are to search for the same thing. You can never find too many core terms.

Just as a quick example, we performed core term research for the term "duffel bag". From that term alone we came up with 36 more:

  • duffelbag
  • dufflebag
  • duffle bag
  • back pack
  • brief case
  • briefcase
  • volume bag
  • emergency bag
  • conference bag
  • luggage bag
  • cargo bag
  • gear bag
  • duffel bag
  • fannypack
  • fanny pack
  • waterproof bag
  • water proof bag
  • wheeled bag
  • promotional bag
  • first aid bag
  • custom bag
  • imprinted bag
  • gym bag
  • athletic bag
  • sports bag
  • travel bags
  • wholesale bags
  • messenger bag
  • roll bag
  • garment bag
  • logo bag
  • printed bag
  • embroidered bag
  • athlete bag
  • backpack
  • leather bag

One thing to keep in mind is that while you want to perform comprehensive and exhaustive core term research up front, you will likely be discovering new core terms all the time. Just keep adding these new core terms to your spreadsheet. In fact, your core term list should constantly be evolving.

Not every term you find will end up producing good results. One of the keys to the research is to be able to quickly determine whether a core terms is going to be valuable or not. This will become more and more intuitive over time as you learn how to drop a qualifier to create a core term, or to grab another qualifier to create a new core term altogether. But you'll also need to spend some time prioritizing core terms to determine which ones are more likely to produce the return on investment you need.

In Part V we'll look at the process of prioritizing your core terms so you have a starting point for the rest of the research process.

Missed one of the steps in this series? Click here to go back to the introduction and follow the links at the bottom.

October 14, 2008

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


I found a great list of free keyword research tools for those of use who can't afford wordtracker.

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Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > Comprehensive Guide to Keyword Research, Selection & Organization, Part IV