Don’t you love that feeling that comes with keyword research?
You’re left with hundreds, often thousands, of opportunities you can target to grow your business.
If you do your keyword research well, you can even identify several relatively easy keywords to go after.
I know you’re excited.
But there’s a problem…
Which one do you go after first?
Which one do you go after second?
For the vast majority of blogs and business websites, you’ll be able to create only a few really great pieces of content a month.
That means you’ll never get to every single keyword you dug up in your research.
In fact, you may never get past 10% (but you can still be incredibly successful). So, what do you do?
Some keywords are better than others to go after for your business.
I’m going to show you a 4-step process you can follow to analyze the keywords you came up with and decide which keywords to pursue.
Step 1: Organization is key
Keyword research and analysis is not something that can just be thrown together.
You can’t randomly input keywords into tools and sporadically analyze them—it’s impossible when you have potentially thousands to go through.
That’s why organization is critical. Take the time upfront to get all your keyword research into one area.
In this case, I recommend using a spreadsheet. Once you have a list of keywords to consider, put them in a single column.
Next, get the search volumes for each keyword if you haven’t already. Just copy and paste them into the Keyword Planner if you have to.
This step isn’t hard, but it could take some time.
By the end, you should have a spreadsheet like this, with all your keywords:
Step 2: It’s time to take stock
Before you even look at your keywords, you need to decide what you’re willing to invest to go after them.
For example, if you have a $500 monthly budget, you cannot target highly competitive terms such as “home insurance” because you’ll get zero traffic. Instead, it’s better to target more realistic terms and get a steady trickle of traffic.
Since keyword research is usually tied to SEO at least a bit, you need to give yourself a fighting chance at ranking #1-3 for each keyword you target.
But put aside the competition aspect for now, and make sure you know exactly how much of the following three factors you have available.
Factor #1 – budget. To target a keyword, you’ll need two things: content and promotion (mainly backlinks).
Many businesses hire someone (or a small team) to produce content and do the promotion.
Right here, you need to be able to answer these questions:
- Do you even want to spend money on targeting keywords?
- Alternatively, do you have to spend money to do it (because no one on your team has the skills or time to)?
- If so, how much can you reliably afford to commit on a long term basis (at least 6 months)?
To get the most out of your content, you need to think long term. It takes months of consistent, high quality work before traffic starts to pick up.
That’s why it’s not enough to invest a lot upfront and then pull funding when the results aren’t amazing immediately.
If you are going to employ that approach, divide that upfront money into at least six portions, and plan your content and promotion accordingly in the future.
Factor #2 – manpower. If you don’t want to spend money to hire people to produce content and promote it, you need to do it yourself (or assign it to an employee).
Or you might want a mixture of the two options.
Either way, determine right now the maximum amount of time you, or someone on your team, can commit to working on a specific keyword.
Again, this needs to be an amount of time specifically carved out for this work. You need consistency.
Factor #3 – expectations. When I refer to expectations, I mean answering this question: How well do you need to rank in order to be happy?
Or a better question might be: How much traffic do you need if you spend a certain level of resources on your marketing and SEO?
If you’re starting from scratch, getting just 100 organic visits a day might justify the work you’re going to put in, at least for now.
But if you’re heading up this work at a large website, getting an extra 100 visits a day might be only 1% more traffic, which isn’t good enough.
The point here is to see if there’s any misalignment between the first two factors and your goals.
If you’re expecting big things with a small budget, you’re doomed before you even started. At this point, you need to revisit your budget and manpower available—or tone down your expectations.
Alternatively, if you’re expecting to get an extra few thousand visitors a month after 6 months of work with a budget of a few thousand dollars a month, that’s achievable, and you can move on to the next step.
Step 3: Competition will dictate desirability
All right, now we can get back to your list of keywords.
This step is about one thing: determining the level of competition for each keyword.
This competition level refers to how hard it will be to rank in the top 3 listings for that keyword in Google.
That being said, if you have another distribution channel (social media, forum, etc.) that you know you can get a ton of traffic from for content on a specific keyword, classify that as easy.
Essentially, we’re looking for an overall measure of how easy it will be to get a reasonable amount of traffic from each keyword.
Option #1 – assign each keyword a competition value manually: Create a column on your spreadsheet to assign a competition value in either of two ways:
- General categories – competition isn’t an exact science. You may opt to simply label each keyword with something like: easy, relatively easy, average, hard, very hard, etc.
- Specific numbers – you can also use a scale of 1-5 or 1-10, where low numbers indicate low competition and high numbers are the toughest.
I recommend the second way because we’ll be using it later on.
Here comes the hard part: figuring out the competition level for each keyword. This can take a lot of time, especially if you’re doing it all yourself.
Basically, you need to get the top 3 results (or more) for each keyword, and then look at the following factors:
- How relevant is the content? (i.e., is it clearly optimized for the keyword?)
- How impressive is the content? (can you make something significantly better?)
- How many backlinks point to the page? (only count high quality ones)
- How authoritative is the site? (e.g., Forbes is highly authoritative, potatoesarethebest.com is not)
You could also look at factors such as mobile-friendliness and page load speed, but you’ll never be able to analyze all your keywords if you include too many factors.
This doesn’t need to be a perfect analysis, but it should be at least a good estimate of what you’re up against.
Put all those together to come up with an overall competition score.
Option #2 – use a tool to gauge competition: I know I don’t have time to do the above for thousands of keywords.
The good news is that many signals can be checked automatically with tools. You can find a bunch of options in the keyword competition section of this guide.
These tools look at the above factors and then use a formula to calculate an overall competition value (usually out of 10 or 100).
This can take this step down from several hours to just minutes, which is obviously a great thing.
The one thing you sacrifice is control.
You have to trust that the minds behind the tool are weighing the factors correctly and generating a relatively good competition estimate.
I suggest trying out a tool and then manually going through a dozen keywords to see whether the tool’s competition assessment matches yours.
Step 4: It’s time to turn to math
“Oh crap, I don’t remember calculus…”
Don’t worry, you’ll need only very basic math here.
This is the final step of our analysis, where we create a score that will tell us which keywords to prioritize.
Let’s recap what we’ve done so far and, more importantly, what we’re looking for in a great keyword.
- We want keywords with low competition.
- We want to get a lot of traffic if we rank highly for it (more is better).
- It must be realistic—if a keyword has competition that clearly exceeds your budget, it should automatically be the lowest priority.
- We need a minimum amount of traffic to make it worth your time.
Part #1 – filter and eliminate: Those last two points are the easiest to start with. If a keyword doesn’t meet those conditions, it should be assigned low priority and removed from consideration.
Start with the minimum traffic level.
You’ve already decided the minimum return you need, and we’ll use that here.
If your minimum was 100 visitors per day, or 3,000 per month, a keyword with a monthly search volume of 50 will not be worth it.
Your cutoff will probably be 500-1,000 for that example. With 7-15 pieces of content, you could hit your goal, which is reasonable for most. Keep in mind that you will get only about 30% of the monthly search volume as #1 these days.
Filter out all the keywords below that monthly search volume.
Next, based on your predetermined budget and manpower, along with SEO experience, determine what competition is too high.
If you have a small budget with very little manpower or SEO experience, eliminate all keywords that are above average in difficulty.
You’ll have to judge this for yourself.
Part #2 – calculate a priority score: Now you’re left with a list of keywords that would be both good and realistic to rank for.
They should all be keywords you would target if you had enough time.
This is where the math comes in.
We’ll use the following formula:
(A*Traffic) / (B*Competition) = Priority Score
A and B are both constants that we’ll figure out in a second. Traffic and competition both come from your earlier numbers.
A high priority score is a good thing. The higher the score, the sooner you should target it.
The constants can be anything, but they mainly depend on two things:
- Risk tolerance – if you’re willing to take a risk and go for high volume keywords (that require more resources to target) make “A” larger. If you want more reliable results (small wins), make “B” larger.
- Skill level – if you’re an expert SEO, you can decrease “B” because competition isn’t as scary. If you’re not as experienced, make “B” larger.
Before you do this, I’d advise to normalize your traffic numbers. You should do this since competition is already normalized from 1 to 10 (or to 5).
To do so, take the logarithm of each number. For example:
Then, multiply each of these numbers by a scaling factor that is equal to 10 (or 5) divided by the largest number you have. If you only had the two examples above, the scaling factor would be equal to 3.33 (10 divided by 3).
Now all your traffic numbers are out of 10, and you’ll get a more reasonable set of priority scores.
Sort your list and get to work: You’ve done all the hard work. The last step is to sort your final list by the priority score, highest to lowest.
Now, plan your content and promotion schedule according to this list. Start at the keyword with the highest priority score, and work your way down.
As you can see, keyword analysis isn’t incredibly difficult, but it takes a lot of work.
While you may want to take shortcuts, don’t.
Getting your analysis right will save you from chasing the wrong keywords and wasting hundreds of hours, and it will help you target keywords that will give you the quickest results.
If you have any questions about keyword analysis, just leave me a comment below.
The 4 Steps to Keyword Analysis: How to Prioritize Your Resources