SEO’s cut their teeth in the keyword research process. The first few months of an SEO’s development is often spent in the “saltmines” researching and testing nearly endless variations of words and phrases in Keyword Discovery, Wordtracker and Google’s keyword tool. Are users searching for “trash cans” or “trash bins”? We learn that the spectrum of keyword inventory has both a head and a (sometimes long) tail. Title tags, meta descriptions and page copy alike are thoroughly advised by massive excel docs, organized by topical nodes and user search volume.

We strive for a golden ratio of content relevance, old-school ad copy “hook”, and maximized search inventory weighed against attainability. SMX Advanced’s Keyword Research Artistry session promised to examine  keyword research as a holistic process.

Session Moderator Chris Sherman of Search Engine Land explained that while past keyword research focused heavily on tools, best practices keyword research requires examination of user behavior. This session was about exploring the  ways of discovering the unique & compelling keywords that people search for. Presenting first was Christine Churchill of Key Relevance with Tips to Expand Your Keyword Galaxy. She explained her presentation was not just about tools but techniques. Christine asked how many audience members regularly look at site search data.

She is an advocate of examining site search data to see what users are looking for and what they can’t find. Google Analytics allows you to incorporate Site Search, although many other analytics packages allow for integration. Christine really likes keyword trend tools, especially Google Trends. Watch for changes in the search volume index in step with events like the economic downturn. She gave “coupons” as an example.

If you are signed in, Google Trends allows for granular examination and keyword extrapolation, and most people don’t go this far. You can even examine keyword frequencies by city area. She said to examine the top searches but pay special attention to rising searches.

Export it all to a CSV. Google Hot Trends is another tool with valuable search user insight. Christine gives an example of looking through Hot Trends results to advise blog posts, examining branching topic buzz surrounding the Preakness winner.

She also likes Yahoo Buzz as a one stop shop for advising research based on the most popular topics being searched for on Yahoo. She also uses Facebook Lexicon, which gives amazing insight to follow trends being written about on user Facebook walls.

Christine also likes several Twitter tools, and while she acknowledges their keyword tools are in their infancy, she expects great things in the near future. Twitter search is real time search results and trending topics. 3rd party tools such as Twitscoop do real time graphical topic trending and weighted tag clouds. Tweetvolume provides insight on the “phrasology” people prefer to use on twitter.

She did a search on Hybrid car vs Hybrid Auto vs Hybrid Vehicle and she found the results to be surprising. Site Volume aggregates trending data in Digg, Myspace, Youtube, Flickr and Twitter; it’s a valuable tool for monitoring brand-specific chatter as well.  Other briefly discussed tools included TweetBeep, Twhirl, and Tweetdeck. Christine presented some of her favorite Wikipedia tools. Wikirank displays the most popular trends in Wikipedia.

It also allows you to key in phrases and it will display how many times a topic was viewed during a period of time. VisWiki and Eyeplorer are visual tools to provide additional insight with a graphical display of  your keywords. Christine stressed that you shouldn’t just use these keyword tools in isolation, develop a process of combining multiple tools to feed each other for additional keyword inspiration.

Next was Gab Goldenberg, owner of SEO ROI Services. Gab wants to take us through long tail keyword research, stuff that doesn’t show up typically in keyword research tools. Gab says he will trade insoles for constructive criticism on his presentation, genius. Gab presented a case study on a client of his in the scrapbooking industry.

The average CPC for competitor’s was in the $1.00-2.00 range,  but Gab found long tail keywords that brought his averaged CPC to around $.24. How did he find these keywords? Gab explains, “he’s literate”, he actually reads client industry publications and product pages for keyword insight.

Gab used the exact same ads on Google search and the Google search network and he got identical positions, yet he had a 3x higher clickthrough rate on the Google search network. Gab provided his longtail research techniques:

  • Gab showed a picture of a red Ducati 1098 motorcycle and asked the audience  to spend a minute describing what they saw to their neighbor. Each person on the panel had different ways of describing the bike, Christine saw shock absorbers. Use this technique to tap into long tail keywords with low competition.
  • Find user generated content sites and just read them. A more efficient way of doing this is SEOmoz’s TermExtractor Tool, you can make a custom scraper to identify these longtail words on a large scale.
  • There is a hidden market for keywords, much like you can find in Compete and SpyFu. However, Gab says they suffer from “broken telephone syndrome” , something is lost in translation. You can solve this problem by going direct for user perspective. Buy, trade and barter with indirect competitors, bloggers and non-profits. Make sure you pay these people a decent amount and provide an NDA.
  • Be aware that some people give away their data, look at popular items and related topics in You can create search operator footprints for popular searches, bestseller lists, and hot trends in Google.
  • SEO-Savvy competitor’s navigation – look at what categories your competitor’s use, what the top content is within competitor’s sites and publications. You can use the Google keyword tool to extract terms from top content URL’s to gain insight.

Speaking next was Taylor Pratt, search marketing specialist with nFusion. Taylor presented a 6 part recipe for the keyword research process. Taylor puts things into perspective by explaining that every company, be it Microsoft or a small non-profit needs to do keyword research.

Ingredient 1 – Start with the right ingredients Look at the following keyword research metrics: Search volume – how often is a keyword searched for per month? Relevance – if a user clicks will they find what they need? Competition – what can be realistically attained in the SERPs? Taylor gives an example of his algorithm where he ranks each metric for a specific keyword on a 1-10 scale and then gives an average score for that keyword.

Ingredient 2 – Use the right cookware Taylor likes Raven SEO Tools, Google Adwords Tool, Google Suggest and SEOBook. You can export these keyword lists to an excel spreadsheet and then run them through the algorithm. Ingredient 3 – Check the Oven: Analytics Look at the keywords sending the most conversions, examine your long tail organic and paid keywords. Examine user behavior with your site’s internal search. Watch your top referrers and look at your top content.

Ingredient 4 – Who’s at the Table? Use Yahoo Answers to see how your audience describes your product. Listen to how users on your Facebook group describe the product to their friends. Try and leave the branding stuff at the table, you’re going to rank for it anyways, don’t waste the precious real estate.

Ingredient 5 – Kitchen help: Customers and Employees Talk to your customer service employees and tech support. Ask them what language and words customers used to describe their issues. Don’t overlook the knowledge of people that deal firsthand with the customers. “Contact us” forms are also a goldmine for insight into how users communicate their needs. Run user tests, offering a 30 dollar gift card for valuable user perspective is a bargain.

Ingredient 6 – Did it taste all right? Use PPC testing results to examine success in conversions across the entire targeted keyword spectrum. Look at time on site within pages, how long are people interacting with the site per keywords?

The Number One ingredient to avoid is professional blindness: experts in the industry alienating search users with specific acronyms and cryptic industry language. Show the results of your tests to steer your clients in the right direction when it comes to these keywords. I found the Keyword Research Artistry session to be an extremely interesting blend of classic SEO tool techniques with fascinating conceptual practices for understanding what your customers are saying in real time. A truly holistic process.

  • Lauren

    Great recap, Matt. Perfect blend of the factual goodies shared by speakers and your own eloquent take on it all. Thanks for the edifying glimpse into what seems like an awesome session!