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5 steps to an effective keyword - step 4

The keyword tool

There are a few of these available. Some of them are free, some of them claim to be free, some of them are chargeable.

It's tempting to use the Google Keyword tool that is offered to every logged in Adwords user for this purpose (it's free and easy so why not?) but we'd offer a few words of caution here.

Firstly, it's data drawn from PPC traffic and this might not represent real search activity, secondly some major changes have taken place to this very recently, changes that, on the whole appear to reduce it's effectiveness for SEO research. More on this in a later blog post, if anyone is interested, but suffice to say for now - take the output with a pinch of salt. It's the best free tool out there by a country mile but it needs to be supplemented with a little judgement.

Types of match

So, you've entered your chosen terms into the tool. The first thing to make sure of is that you know the difference between a broad, exact and phrase match as you'll get very different results depending on the type of match chosen. A quick example here to illuminate...

Our key term is Blue Trousers.

elvis_blue_hawaiiIn a broad match you'll get the results relating to any search activity with those two words in, so...

Buy Blue Trousers
red and yellow Trousers
that Elvis wore in Blue Hawaii

would all count as broad matches. The results you'll see will be all inclusive and may well include irrelevant stuff.

In a phrase match (this is where you will see "Blue Trousers" in speech marks) you'll see all the results that return the term in that order but may contain other words, so...

Buy Blue Trousers
red and Yellow Trousers

would all count as phrase matches but...

Trousers that Elvis wore in Blue Hawaii

would not as the words are in the wrong order.

Finally exact match [blue trousers] in brackets is just that - results for that exact term, on its own and as it is.

So - get these distinctions clear in your head before you start analysing the numbers.

All these numbers - what do they mean??

The first thing you'll notice is the little bar that ranks for competition, It shows graphically on the screen but download it on .csv and you'll see a percentage rating. This is Google's estimate of how competitive that key phrase is.

Now coming back to a point made earlier, this tool is designed to organise and design PPC (pay per click) campaigns not SEO campaigns and the data used to provide you with this figure is drawn from Google's PPC data. It's Google's estimate of how hard an Adwords campaign would be and not an SEO campaign. It's a reasonable assumption that what ranks low in PPC competitiveness would also rank low in SEO competitiveness, but it is an assumption. So proceed with caution.

Beside this column you'll see Global and Monthly search volumes and data describing trends. Download as .csv and the search data will be broken into individual months. Plenty of information for you to base your judgement on.

So - this is where you have to exercise a little judgement and where you choose your battles. What is an acceptable level of competition? What is a worthwhile search volume? It depends on a variety of things. Your level of expertise for one thing, if you are starting out it's probably not wise to chase very competitive terms. If your domain is new, then the same applies,

Fortunately there is a formula that can take some of the pain out of this it's called the Keyword Effectiveness Index and we'll talk about that when we round off in step 5.

Think laterally and keep your eyes open

One final thought though - Google's keyword tool is excellent for throwing curveballs at you. Most of its suggestions will be irrelevant and not worth consideration but every now and then, just as your eyes are beginning to sting you spot a little gem. Hidden away in the list of alternatives is a perfectly good keyword you hadn't thought of. Every now and then there's a modifier, a long tail you hadn't seen. It can be a long haul to wade through page and pages of data but it's worth the time spent.