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February 9, 2010

How to Conduct Keyword Research Like the Pros

Ever wonder how the pros find the perfect keywords for their website? What secrets or proprietary tools do they possess mere mortals like us do not?

The truth is, most search gurus don’t use any special keyword research tools. They employ the same set of tools available to you or me—most are even free to use.

This article will show you how to find high-volume keywords and determine if the competition warrants a realistic attempt at ranking for these phrases.

But before learning the tools of the trade, you need to get organized. Open an Excel spreadsheet and create six columns using the headings listed below:

  • Keywords
  • Average Monthly Searches (broad)
  • Average Monthly Searches (exact)
  • Advertiser Competition
  • All in Title
  • Word Tracker

Or you can download the keyword research template here to get started even faster.

Each column will serve a purpose in the keyword research process. Some identify competition levels, while others determine search volume.

Getting Started with Keyword Research

Keywords: The first step is to identify the keywords to analyze within the first column of the spreadsheet. The best place to start looking for keywords is the Google Adwords: Keyword Tool.

Begin by compiling a list of relevant phrases and add them to the Keywords column of the spreadsheet. To begin, find 20 – 30 keywords to analyze. You can get more in-depth later.

Average Monthly Searches (broad): When you enter a query into the Google Adwords: Keyword Tool, the suggested keywords will automatically be in broad match. Broad match in Google can includes synonyms, plurals, and other variations of the selected keyword so be aware that the results are generally bloated.

Nevertheless, average monthly searches is still a good indicator of high or low search volume for a keyword. Record this number in the Average Monthly Searches (broad) column of your spreadsheet.

Average Monthly Searches (exact): Within the Google Adwords: Keyword Tool, change the match type from broad to exact match. All suggested keywords should now be surrounded by [  ].

As the name suggests, this will give you the exact number of impressions per month for the keyword listed. Copy and paste these results into the Average Monthly Search (exact) column of the spreadsheet.

Advertiser Competition: You’ll also want to check the Google Adwords: Keyword Tool to get a rough idea of the advertising competition. While this tool does not directly reflect the competition within organic search results, it remains a valuable indicator. If there’s tough competition on the PPC side, it’s usually difficult on the organic side as well.

Within the Advertiser Competition column, record your findings from very low to very high advertiser competition for each keyword.

All in Title: The allintitle: search operator is a technique used to discover the number of web pages targeting your exact keyword phrase in Google.  As you probably know, SEOs include important keyword phrases in their title tags to rank for specific keywords in search engines. This is yet another way to help determine the level of competition for a specific keyword.

Here’s how to use this advanced search operator. Let’s assume one of the keywords you’re considering is the keyword phrase: dog walking. Go to and enter the following query into the text box:

allintitle:”dog walking”

After clicking the search button, look to the right side of the results page to find the total number of web pages targeting “dog walking” within their title tags. Here are the exact results I found in Google:

Results 110 of about 293,000 for allintitle:”dog walking”. (0.26 seconds)

For the phrase “dog walking” there are about 293,000 other web pages targeting the term. Record the number 293,000 under the All in Title column of your keyword research spreadsheet.

Wordtracker: There is a free and paid version of the Wordtracker keyword discovery tool online. You can find the free version here: Like the Google keyword tool, Wordtracker can help you figure out how much search traffic a keyword might deliver.

When you enter keywords into the free Wordtracker tool, remember the search results are based on a 365 day period. You should divide this number by 12 to make an apples to apples comparison to the Google estimated monthly search volume.

It’s smart to use a tool like Wordtracker or Keyword Discovery to double check Google traffic results. Google traffic estimates are extraordinarily high for certain keywords. By verifying search volume with another source, you can be more confident about the accuracy of projected numbers.

Analyze Your Data

You should now have enough information to decide which keywords should stay and what will go. Remember to keep in mind things like searcher’s intent when selecting keywords. The intent of a query  like dog walking tips is very different than hire dog walker. Also, remember the inbound links and age of an existing website will be an enormous factor when determining the odds of ranking for a desired key phrase.

Add Your Own Metrics

Don’t limit yourself to the keyword research tools listed above. More columns are easily added to your keyword research spreadsheet more in-depth reporting. Experiment using metrics from Google Analytics or testing additional advanced search operators like the allinurl: query for deeper analysis.

Remember, each SEOs keyword research formula is a little bit different, but almost every optimization expert uses a mutation of this basic strategy.

So there you have it. The “secrets” to performing keyword research like the pros are now in your hands. Now get out there and start researching for your website!

Brett Lindenberg is the owner of, a website providing instruction and templates for starting an SEO business. Lindenberg also consults and develops internet marketing strategies for a number of small businesses.