In this post I will give some details on how to do keyword research using the Google external keyword tool. Of course Google changed the default tool just after I posted it but the old tool is still available at https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal?forceLegacy=true
If you feel this method is too technical or too much work then don’t worry. It is only one way to do keyword research and we will be discussing other methods in future posts. I would strongly suggest you at least give the keyword tool a chance since it is quite useful. If nothing else it will help determine if a topic has any $$ potential at all.
The goal here is not to turn everyone into keyword fanatics but rather add another tool which will help you either look for profitable topics or decide if a particular topic is worth writing.
Keep in mind as well that I am not an expert at keyword research. I have read quite a bit about it, I’ve had some success but there are other sites with people with far more knowledge than I. The goal of this post is to help bloggers use some basic keyword research to increase their earnings – not to become keyword research ninjas.
In a previous post – How to Make Money With your blog posts, I discussed how your content needs to have the following three criteria to make money:
- A topic (or keywords) that people are searching on.
- The topic can’t be too popular (too much competition) or too rare (not enough traffic).
- A financial connection between search engine visitor and a company that might advertise on Adsense.
There are a number of ways to approach keyword research. One way is to take a somewhat general topic and use the keyword tool to help you come up with a specific topic that has earning potential.
Let’s say that you like writing about debt and frugal living. You are in mood to write a post about “reducing debt” which of course could include a lot of different topics.
Let’s use the keyword tool and see what we find for the keywords “reducing debt”. Select the “previous interface” link in the upper right hand corner.
First step is to enter your keywords into the box where it says “Enter one keyword or phrase per line”.
Then fill in the kaptcha – you only have to do this once.
Then press the “Get keywords ideas” button.
You will now see the results for these keywords in the default format.
To only see the data that is relevant for this exercise then complete the following 4 steps.
1) Hide the “Advertiser Competition” column by clicking on the “Choose columns to display” dropdown box and select “Hide Advertiser Competition”.
You will now see that the Advertiser Competition column is gone.
2) Using the same method as #1 – Hide “Local Search Volume”.
3) Using the same method as #1 – Show “Estimate Avg. CPC”.
4) Change “Match Type” to “Exact” using the drop down box shown here.
Once this is all done you should see the following columns
- Estimated Avg. CPC
- Global Monthly Search Volume
- Match type should be set to “Exact”
Now we have the tool setup the way we want and have our first data results. If you want to try other keywords then just go up to the original keyword box and enter them. You don’t have to do all the setup steps again.
Before we look at our results – a bit more about the different sections of the results page
Keywords – This column contains various derivatives of the keywords you entered. You can use these suggestions to look for possible topics or to change a topic you have already selected.
If you scroll down the page you will notice that the results are broken into two sections. The first part is “Keywords” and the second is “Additional keywords to consider”.
The first section will contain derivatives of your keywords (reduce debt) whereas the second section will contain related keywords which might not contain either of the words “reduce” or “debt”. This section can also be useful for coming up with topic ideas.
At the bottom of each section is an option to download the results into a .csv file which can be imported into a spreadsheet. This is a great idea for more advanced keyword research but for this exercise we are going to keep things simple and just look at the screen.
The next column is “Estimate Avg. CPC” which is short for “estimated average cost per click” which is what advertisers would pay for clicks on those keywords.
This column tells us if there is any earnings potential in our keywords. I don’t put much stock into the actual CPC values but suffice to say if the CPC is $15 then the amount of money paid to the blogger per click is likely to be pretty decent. Probably a dollar or more. If the CPC is only $0.05 then needless to say the poor blogger isn’t going to get much.
CPC quick points:
When I look at these values I generally choose keywords with a CPC of $2 or more. This is a pretty arbitrary number – the main thing is don’t choose topics with a very low CPC value.
I also avoid CPC values that are too high. There are people who make their living doing advanced keyword research and trying to get posts to rank high for top paying keywords. They earn their money by using their skill and time to out compete. Bloggers like me make money by choosing topics with good (but not great) earning potential and with volume (lots of posts). The higher the CPC, the more competition there will likely be.
In a future post we will be doing some more research using actual examples to see what kind of values make sense for your blog. For now – just use trial and error and see what works for you.
Global Monthly Search Volume
This is the number of searches executed worldwide for those keywords. Again, I don’t put much faith in the accuracy of these numbers but it is useful to compare the volume for different keywords. This number will help you eliminate keywords that don’t have any searches on them.
Volume quick points
I generally want to see volumes of at least 200, and less than about 50,000. Again, this is very arbitrary and subject to trial and error. Suffice to say that if the volume is too low then nobody is searching for those keywords. If the volume is too high then there is a good chance that there is stiff competition.
The last part of our tour is to point out that by clicking on the column headers – we can sort by that column. For example clicking on the Volume header will sort the data from highest volume to lowest.
Now that we know our way around the keyword tool results page – let’s look more closely at our data.
There is no one perfect way to analyze the data. This is how I typically approach it.
1) Rank by CPC from highest to lowest
2) Start browsing down the list. I’ll skip past the first few since the CPC values are too high. What I will do is look at the keyword column to find a possible topic. I’ll do this for keywords that are from maybe $15 down to $2. Usually a keyword might make a good topic if it fits into a possible blog title easily. For example the keywords “reduce debt faster” could be a post called “How to reduce your debt faster”.
Once I find a keyword that sounds interesting – I’ll verify the volume to make sure it is not too high or low. Again, these numbers will be dependent on your blog. If you have a big blog that ranks well then you can use higher numbers – if you have a small blog then go for smaller volume numbers.
In this case, when I go down the keyword list the keyword “reduce credit card debt” speaks to me. I’m thinking of a post called “How to reduce credit card debt” or “9 easy ways to reduce credit card debt“. The CPC on this keyword is $10.91 which is good and the volume is 4,400 which is also good. For someone who is worried the volume is too high – just go further down the list and choose “reduce credit card debt quickly” which pays almost as much and as has a volume of only 320.
You can continue this research and find other possible topics or stop right here and move on to the next step.
When you write a post with keywords – you want people who type those keywords “reduce credit card debt” to be able to find your post. If you only rank 467th on the search engine results page for those keywords then you are not likely to get much traffic.
This is why it is important not to get carried away with the CPC and volume numbers – the keyword tool gives the illusion that you are using a fine-tuned instrument but in fact once you factor in the rankings and competition – there is a lot of guesswork.
To make money on a post, you need some decent CPC value, you need some traffic volume and you need to get a high enough rank to get some of that volume. If you are lacking in any of those 3 categories then the post will likely not make any money.
I have to be honest here – rating the competition is the part of keyword research where I am quite weak. I don’t know if it is because I haven’t done enough research or if it is the most difficult. Regardless I hope that some of the examples I’ll be using in this blog will help my own knowledge as well as yours.
The rank you need to make $$ is dependent on the CPC and the volume. If the keyword has high volume then you could probably rank in the top 20 and still see some traffic. If it is lower volume then you might have to be in the top 10 or even top 5. With a higher CPC values you don’t need to get as much traffic to make it worthwhile so a lower ranking might work for you. A lower CPC with a low volume means you need to rank high, probably top 5.
Some methods to figure out the competition
SEO for Firefox extension tool can be used to determine the pr values for your competitors. I’m going to refer to a real expert on this topic because I don’t feel like adding any more screen prints to this post. This post shows how to use the tool to look at the pr values for sites that rank high for your keywords. I’m not that confident in the accuracy of this method but let me know if you have had some success with it.
Another quick check for competition is the keywords themselves – do they form a common or obvious phrase? “Reduce debt” seems to be a good candidate based on the CPC and volume, but I know that this is a common phrase and will likely have a lot of competition.
“Reduce credit card debt” seems to be somewhat common to me but it is four words (longer keywords generally have less competition) and I’m a bit biased since I see this sort of topic all the time.
One of the methods which I like to use the most is to just do a search on the keywords and see what pops up. If the top 10 sites that come up are Wikipedia, eHow, various large newspapers, a couple of government sites and a couple of the largest blogs in your niche then you know the competition is tough.
If the top ranking sites are smaller sites – perhaps some of your blogging colleagues then you know you probably have a good chance of ranking high for those keywords.
When I search on “reduce credit card debt” I see nothing but big sites that I recognize which means I’m going to have a hard time competing. When Mint.com is ranking 14 then you know you are in trouble.
That said, at this point you can still go ahead and write the post if you are keen on it. This isn’t an exact science and the reality is that if you write a good post with lots of useful information, there is a good chance that you can rank for other keywords. We know there is traffic volume when talking about reducing debt and we know the CPC values are decent so there is still a chance of making money.
I don’t have a huge interest in writing about reducing credit card debt so I’m not going to write this post since I’m just not confident that I can rank high enough to make it worthwhile.
The next step is to go back to the keyword tool and see if I can find any more possible keywords to write about. Unfortunately it looks like all the keywords that have a decent CPC are very competitive.
Now I’m going to try a different test. I like writing about investing so I’m going to try the keywords “dividend stocks”.
I can see that the first entry is “Canadian dividend stocks” which is very interesting to me since I am Canadian and I’m quite familiar with Canadian dividend stocks so I’d be able to cobble together a post pretty easily. The CPC value is $5.66 which is fine and the volume is 1,000 which is also fine.
Now let’s check the competition.
For this search I’m going to use google.ca since that it probably used more in Canada.
The results are very interesting indeed.
First of all I don’t see any big sites in the rankings such as Wikipedia that I don’t have any chance against. Secondly I see the top six (unpaid) results are the The Financial Blogger, Million Dollar Journey and The Dividend Guy who are all fellow Canadian bloggers.
This is very encouraging because my site is similar to those 3 sites in terms of size which means I can compete with these keywords. I may not beat them, but at least I have a chance. My blog writing partner Mr. Cheap covered this topic last week and our ranking is #5 which is pretty good.
Pick a topic – money, investing, gold fish, dried beans and run it through the keyword tool to see if there is any money and traffic. Check the competition to see if you can rank decently.
So there you have it. I’ve covered some basic tools and methods to help do keyword research. Please indicate in the comments if you have any other info to add on this topic.