Where to start with SEO'ing your brand new site? Here's a simple SEO process for planning that site and finding appropriate keyword niches to target.
What is SEO?
SEO (search engine optimization) is the process of attracting organic (ie, non-paid or PPC) search engine traffic in order to push your website up the SERPs (search engine rankings pages)(in other words, get to the top of Google or Bing). In this article we'll be giving you a simple process for finding and using the keywords that people actually use to get your site to appear more often in SERPs.
Your site will have three layers to its structure: a home page, category pages (homes for content about different subjects) and content pages (which contain articles, posts, product information, etc).
The process has the following four stages:
1) Identify the site’s Target Niche
2) Find Target Sub-Niches for category pages
3) Find further Target Niches for content pages
4) Find Target keywords for each page
Let’s look at each of those ...
1) The site’s core Target Niche (and home page)
Keep things very simple when starting keyword research for SEO for new sites.
First find a single keyword that summarizes your site’s target market. So, if you are selling luxury chocolate then you might use chocolate.
You can use that single keyword to start your keyword research. This is your site’s core Target Niche.
Keyword research tools like Wordtracker Keywords and the Google Keyword Tool make it easy to find keywords to target because they give you direct access to large databases of real searches made on search engines.
I’ll use the Wordtracker Keywords tool here because it gives us:
- Access to both Google’s and Wordtracker’s databases of real searches. (Wordtracker’s data comes from two smaller search engines, Dogpile.com and Metacrawler.com)
- Measures (metrics) of the size and quality of the Competition (competing websites) that must be beaten to get visits via the keywords shown.
- The ability to save target keywords in Lists in Projects and Projects in Campaigns. Lists and Projects can be developed over time and used to plan your website’s structure and its PPC campaigns.
- Tools to track our site’s ranks on Google search results pages for up to 100 target keywords.
- Tools to help write Google-friendly metadata (such as title tags and descriptions) for pages, using saved target keywords.
- Site audit tools to find potential SEO problems on your site(s).
You can take a 7-day free trial of the Wordtracker Keywords tool at https://www.wordtracker.com/trial There’s no contract and you can cancel at any time in the first week and pay nothing.
Let’s get started. In Wordtracker Keywords, first click the Keyword Research tab and Create a Campaign:
You’ll then be taken to the Dashboard, from where you can create a Project by clicking the ‘+’ button on the Keyword Research box on the left. Name your project carefully. Ideally use your site’s core Target Keyword Niche, as discussed above. Eg, if you are selling gourmet tea then use tea.
This is because the name will automatically be used to start finding possible keyword Niches to target.
Your project name will also be used as the default (you can change it later) target keyword Niche for your site’s home page. You’ll see this is part of planning the site structure that follows.
Keyword research has long been used to plan a site’s structure. But Wordtracker’s new keyword research tool now takes this to a new level of convenience - it integrates your keyword research process (not just the results) into a visual site map.
You can use the tool to plan the detailed structure of your site. To illustrate the point, the following image shows a simple site structure with a home page, linking to category pages and then content pages.
Going back to planning our new Gourmet Tea site, after creating the Tea Project, the journey to a finished plan of the site’s structure (and its matching target keyword Niches) starts with the map view seen in the following image:
Tea is the site’s seed Niche (the core Niche).
And we can see the tea Niche at Level 1 in the map. Think of tea (Level 1) as the site’s home page and core keyword the home page will target with SEO (although we’ll likely refine that later to something less competitive as this is a new site).
The left-hand column in the image above is a collection of ‘Unassigned Niches’ the tool has suggested for consideration. If we are interested in them, we can use them for further keyword research or as Target Niches (and therefore pages on the site).
2) Find Target Sub-Niches for category pages
A site’s content should be organized into categories, aka different subjects. For example, a gourmet tea site might have categories for ‘tea gifts’ and another for ‘how to make tea’.
Each category has a category page that lists links to relevant content. These category pages are the next level (Level 2 in your site’s structure). Each is a Target Niche.
Let’s continue planning our gourmet tea site’s structure by finding its category pages’ Target Niches ...
‘Go inside’ the tea (home page) Niche by clicking its dropdown arrow (on the right of its icon) and then ‘Open Keyword List’ (we’ll refer to this as visiting a keyword Niche’s List).
The result is a search of Wordtracker’s database of real searches using the Niche name as the seed keyword. The image below shows the 10 most popular (of 2,000) keywords containing tea.
We’ll look below at how to refine that list to find Targets. First, here’s a guide to the main features of the Wordtracker Keywords tool report above:
- Wordtracker. The volumes in this column are taken from Wordtracker’s database of hundreds of millions of searches. It constitutes just under 1% of US search for the last 365 days. The keywords are shown exactly as they were entered into a search box by a human searcher.
- Google. This tab will show Exact Match volumes from the Google AdWords database. The numbers shown are from the last available month’s data. The keywords are presented by Google according to their search popularity and whether Google considers them relevant (ie, synonyms and other related words).
- Related Search. The Related Keywords tool mines existing websites for keywords related to your seed keyword. You’ll see up to three hundred suggestions every time you use it. Wordtracker doesn’t report on search volumes or competition for these keywords as they’re for ideas and inspiration rather than hardcore research.
- Volume. The Volume column gives an indication of relative search popularity - the higher the number, the more heavily searched the keyword is. Look at this number as a relative value within the Niche, as volume figures will vary from market to market.
- Competition. Gives an indication of the amount of competition that already exists for a keyword. The Competition figure is based on the number of pages directly optimized for each keyword. The higher this number, the more competition there is.
- Live Competition. Compiled on request, the Live Competition figure gives a measure of the strength of the competition you face. Live Competition is based on not only the number of competing pages, but also how well the top ten competing pages are optimized. The higher this number, the stronger the competition is. Live Competition is presented for up to 30 keywords at a time.
- KEI (Keyword Effectiveness Index). A measure of the potential a keyword may have, based on the relationship between Volume and Competition. The higher this number, the better potential a keyword is likely to have.
- Targets. Targets are a good way to track keywords you are interested in. Click the ‘Target’ icon to target a keyword; click it again to untarget a keyword.
- Add Niche. Grow your keyword map with a single action by clicking on the ‘Add Niche’ button for a keyword. A Niche based on that keyword will be automatically placed on the keyword map and the keyword List compiled automatically.
- Filter Keywords. Show or hide keywords that contain or don’t contain certain words, or that have certain Volumes or Competition figures. Filter by Targets to see keywords that have interested you, or filter by Questions to see what people in your Niche are asking in search engines.
- Targeted Keywords. Shows a list of keywords that you have chosen to target. Click the red icon by each keyword to untarget that keyword.
- Sub-Niches. Shows a list of Niches that already exist on your keyword map for the Niche you are viewing.
Build a shortlist of Targets
Now let’s find some Target Niches for category pages for the site ...
If you see any Potential Target Niches:
- Click their grey ‘Targets’ buttons (they’ll become red).
- You’ll see them get added to the ‘Targeted Keywords’ list (at the bottom of the right-hand column).
We’re using the Targets feature to build a temporary shortlist of Potential Targets. When you choose your actual Target Niches, click ‘Add Niche’ (we’ll get to that in a short while).
If you see some keywords’ ‘Add Niche’ buttons are already green (as above) this is because they have already been added as Niches in this Project (you can see them back on your Project’s map view).
Use the Filter to show keywords you are not interested in. Eg, keywords containing tea party, boston, bagging, leoni. Then delete the results (the unwanted keywords) with the Actions dropdown menu:
With so many possible keywords (up to to 2,000), as you delete the unwanted, new potential targets will come into view. Again, make any you like ‘Targets’ by clicking that red button.
Go to the Google tab and repeat the process with results from Google’s keyword research tool.
Related Keywords search
Continue building the shortlist of possible Target Niches with a Related Keywords search.
Go to the Related Search tab to find keywords that are related to a List’s seed keyword but don’t necessarily contain it. For our example tea Niche, we’ll find keywords like pot and kettle.
To add any related keywords to the List you are working in, simply check the box in their row and click ‘Add to list’.
Choose your Target Niches
For our new gourmet tea website, without trying very hard, I’ve found a shortlist of 28 Potential Category Page Target Niches (and temporarily made them Targets).
From this shortlist, we must choose those we will first target (or at least investigate further). Here’s one way of doing that (the tool is so flexible you can devise your own methods) …
Go to the Google tab.
Use ‘Filter Keywords’ (top right of page) to show Targets only.
(We’re using the Google database because it gives an estimate of the number of searches with each keyword.)
Choose 5-15 keywords (the specific number isn’t important but think about how much work you can handle) to be your site’s Category Page Target Niches.
Remember we are keeping our process as simple as possible. So, for now, use just two criteria to choose your Category Page Target Niches. (Later, we’ll use the more sophisticated metrics when looking for Targets for each page and for pages for articles and other pieces of content):
1) Relevance. How likely do you think it is you can sell your products to those searching with keywords in the potential market’s keyword Niche? Eg, can our gourmet tea shop sell iced tea, organic tea, japanese tea, cream tea?
2) Volume (number of searches). Big markets offer big potential. Don’t worry if you’re thinking they may be too competitive – the bigger the market, the more likely it is that smaller, less competitive Sub-Niches can be found inside it (we’ll find these when finding Targets for pages).
Save your choices by clicking their ‘Add Niche’ buttons (which will turn green). See these in the right-hand column in the image below.
Go back to the map view of our tea Project and we see some magic has happened. Our chosen Target Niches (those we ‘added’) are displayed as Sub-Niches on the map:
We’re starting to build our site’s structure ...
In the image above, think of the Level 1 tea Niche as your home page.
Think of the Level 2 Niches’ as category pages that will be home to content and links to other pages about their subjects.
3) Find Target Niches for content pages
For each of those Level 2 niches, repeat a similar process to that for the home page. But this time look for keyword Niches to target with articles and other pages of actual content (rather than the category page we just found).
This will give us a simple site with three levels (like the one we looked at above): Home page > Category pages > Content Pages.
Other sites might need more levels to their structure to organize their content (and some need less). Plan your site structure to match the size of your ambitions and the level of your resources.
You can use Wordtracker Keywords tool’s features in different ways, depending on what type of page you are planning. And you can adapt how you use them (they are very flexible).
Each of the target tea Niches we added is a reasonable sized keyword Niche. For example, all keywords containing green tea, all keywords containing ginger tea. And each will have its own category of content on our site.
Each of those categories needs to link to some content pages (eg, articles, blog posts, collections of photos, whatever is appropriate to your site). We’ll choose about five to get started.
Each of those content page targets its own Niche. We can find this further collection of target keyword Niches by looking inside each Category Page Target Niche. This is done by again clicking ‘Open Keyword List’ (see image in step 'a)' below).
Important: at this stage, you aren’t just looking for keyword Niches to target, you are looking for content ideas. Always remember that:
- A target keyword Niche is nothing without quality content to attract visitors and links (and so get results from search engines).
- Quality content without a target keyword Niche is a wasted opportunity.
Using green tea as an example category page (Level 1 Target Niche), here are some steps to follow to find more Target Niches (Sub-Niches) for content pages ...
As you go through the following process, as above, build a shortlist of Targets (using that Targets button):
a) Search Wordtracker’s database for possible targets.
b) Assess the most Popular keywords.
c) Assess the most Competitive keywords.
d) Assess Popularity: Competition ratio with KEI.
e) Get advanced ‘Live Competition’ metrics for your shortlist of Targets.
f) Consider keywords with high search Volumes and low Competition.
g) Repeat steps a-f with Google data in the Google tab.
h) Choose final target Niches.
We’ll now go through those steps using green tea as our example target market.
Wordtracker’s tools are very flexible. You may find other methods that work well for you - this process, however, will enable you to find the Niches and keywords to set up your site effectively.
a) Search Wordtracker’s database for possible targets
On the Project map view, click ‘Open Keyword List’ for the relevant Niche.
The following image shows the first 10 of 2,000 results from this search.
Many of the keywords listed in your results will be potential targets. You can prioritize the most promising using the following steps ...
b) Assess the most Popular keywords
As the list above is sorted by Volume, the keywords we can see are the most Popular (meaning they are searched with the most).
c) Assess the most Competitive keywords
It makes little difference how popular a keyword is if you can’t beat the competition. So you need to find out about the pages you’ll have to beat if you want to be found on search engines for your target keywords.
We’ll do that in more detail below in step (e) but for now we’ll use a simple-looking but smart metric (Competition) to see the keywords that have the most serious competition to beat.
Sort your report by the Competition column by clicking ‘Competition’ to put the high numbers at the top. A high number means there is a lot of tough competition to beat.
Study these toughest of keywords. Wise warriors choose their battles carefully so don’t go competing for these exact keywords without a good reason to think you can win.
d) Assess Popularity: Competition ratio with KEI
Sort by the KEI (Keyword Effectiveness Index) column. KEI metrics combine Popularity (Volume) and Competition metrics into one new (KEI) value. You can use KEI numbers to choose which keywords might be the best to invest in.
Keywords with high KEI scores are interesting.
e) Get advanced ‘Live Competition’ metrics for your shortlist of Targets
Filter to show your (possible) Targets. For our example, I easily found 32 possible green tea Targets.
Click the ‘Live Competition’ button.
The ‘Live Competition’ metric takes assessing the competition for a keyword to a new level of usefulness. For each of the top 30 keywords in your List, Wordtracker Keywords finds the top 10 pages on a Google search results page and uses a detailed algorithm to assess how optimized they are.
So you’ll know how hard it is to beat the competition you actually need to beat (the current top 10) if you are to get any results for a keyword. You need to beat the top 10 because only then will your site be on the first page of results and get significant visits.
Low Competition numbers are good (because they are easier to get results for).
f) Consider keywords with high search Volumes and low Competition
If a keyword has low Competition then you have more chance of beating the competition, ranking well, and getting some visits to your site.
And if there are a lot of searches made with a keyword (Volume is high) then ranking well will bring lots of visits.
So ideally you want to target keywords with a high Volume and low Competition. Or a good ratio of Volume to Competition (meaning, for example, that a very high Volume would make targeting a higher Competition keyword more interesting).
KEI uses a set formula to help you find keywords with an interesting Volume : Competition ratio.
But with the Keywords Filter you can build your own ‘formula’, filtering your List for whatever levels of Volume and Competition are relevant to your List’s results.
If you’re already working with a heavily filtered and subsequently short list of possible target keywords then you might not need the filter. But it’s perfect for long lists and can be used to explore a keyword Niche for potential targets at any time.
g) Repeat steps a-f with Google data in the Google tab
Now go to the Google tab and repeat the process with Google data. This is worth doing for two good reasons ...
All keyword research tools use samples of real searches and so have different keywords and numbers in them. This means you might find different keywords to consider targeting.
Finding the same keywords using two sources of data is strong verification you’ve found a ‘winner’.
h) Choose final Target Niches
Review your shortlist of possible Targets.
Try to save a range of different types of keywords to help you create a range of interesting content. Remember you are planning a website that needs to interest its visitors.
Click ‘Add Niche’ next to the five (not an exact number) you think are most appropriate to create content for and get results from search engines with.
Go back to the map view of the Project and we see that magic again - the Niches we added appear as Sub-Niches of the green tea Niche.
Now repeat the process for each category page (aka Level 2 Niche) in your site’s structure.
You’ll end up with a well-planned, well-structured website.
Advanced tip: In the above image, you’ll see one of green tea’s Sub-Niches is called green tea parked. I created this Niche to list and research Niches I might want to add content for later. This is possible because, from within any Niche’s list, a keyword can be moved to another Niche’s list.
4) Find Target keywords for your pages
There’s an important job left to do. Each page is targeting a keyword Niche but we need to take our planning to another level of detail and find some specific keywords for each page to focus our SEO on. Here’s how ...
For each page (starting with your Level 3 Content pages) ...
- Click on Open Keyword List on the page’s Niche, as shown in the flat view:
- Use Volume, Competition and KEI metrics to choose Target keywords for the page (just as we used those metrics above to find target Sub-Niches for our category pages.
- Click the red Targets button next to those you choose.
- Although we recommend you focus a page's SEO on just two keywords, save as many relevant targets for a page as you like (up to 10 is good guide).
Try Wordtracker Keywords free for 7 days
That’s a quick overview of how you can use the Keywords tool to find your site’s Target Keyword Niches and plan your site structure. There’s lots more to discover - find out for yourself by taking a free 7-day trial.
We’ve only just begun
Keyword research often stops here. After all, you’re busy, you’ve got lots of other stuff to do and you’ve found your target keywords, right?
Stopping too soon is a mistake a lot of novice marketers make. We’ve only just begun, so don’t stop yet.
The serious work is coming up, starting with verifying and updating your keyword research with real traffic and response. After we’ve created the first content for our site, we’ll do this in two ways:
- PPC will prove the existence or otherwise of the searches that keyword research has reported.
- PPC visits will give real response rates for your site with those target keywords.
Only then will we start seriously optimizing pages for organic searches.
Create first content
Build a page for each of your chosen Target Niche on the map view (home page, category pages and content pages).
If that’s five keywords for five target markets then you’ll be creating 25 pages (plus category pages).
These pages are needed for PPC testing. Let’s call them ‘landing’ pages as they’re the pages where visitors land on your site.
They don’t have to be the perfectly designed pages you’ll use later for your organic SEO and other visitors. I’ll call those your ‘editorial’ pages.
Your PPC landing pages should be built with the objective of getting a response from your visitors (whether that’s a sale, harvesting the visitor’s email address, or simply getting the visitor to navigate to somewhere else on your site).
I recommend building landing pages for PPC testing first because:
- They can be built quickly and cheaply.
- You can create a template and make small adjustments for each page.
- They can be built for response, whatever that is, on your site.
- If results for a keyword are poor and you decide you don’t want to target it then your costs for finding that out will have been minimized.
We’re working at maximum speed and minimum cost to get the results you want – a list of keyword Niches that are likely to bring good results if we invest in them with content and SEO.
More help with maximizing response
To learn more about how to maximize response on your landing pages, try the following (highly recommended) resources:
Conversion Rate Experts http://www.conversion-rate-experts.com
Test with PPC
You should test your new site’s target keyword Niches before you invest significant money in optimizing your site.
There are two reasons for using PPC advertising to test keyword Niches ...
1) To prove that your new site’s keyword Niches are searched with as often as the research tools predict.
If a keyword Niche is much smaller than predicted you have to decide whether or not it’s still worth investing in. Perhaps you’ll still invest, but do less work.
2) To ensure that those searching with your target keywords are interested in whatever your site is offering.
If a keyword Niche delivers little response you can drop it from your targets list. You’ll have saved a lot of money and effort that you might otherwise have invested in trying to optimize your site.
If a keyword Niche passes these two tests you can invest in SEO to try and beat the competition on the organic search engine results pages (SERPs).
The principle and process are simple:
- Use Google AdWords to bid to have your adverts displayed to those who have searched with the keywords you’re targeting.
- Use the AdWords impression metric to see how popular your different target keywords really are. An ‘impression’ means your advert showed when the keyword was searched for. You’ll be able to compare this figure with the predictions from your keyword research.
- Make sure your PPC bids are high enough on results pages to get your site some visits.
- If those visitors don’t respond on your site and you’re sure your marketing isn’t the problem then choose new target keywords.
- If those visitors do respond, start to invest in some SEO for your target keywords.
If you’ve got comments or questions, please let us know below:
Try Wordtracker’s Keywords tool today
Sign up for a 7-day free trial today and we’ll send you $136 in SEO bonuses (videos, books and a webinar). You’ll learn how to find the best keywords for your business, how to optimize a page, and much more. You can find out more by clicking on the button below:
About Mark Nunney
Mark Nunney has been a successful professional SEO since 2000. He is CEO of The Website Marketing Company and he publishes Leadership & Management Review from ThinkingManagers.com, the business management website.
Mark wrote SEO for Profit, Wordtracker Masterclass: Keyword Research book and co-wrote Wordtracker Masterclass: Link Building with Ken McGaffin. He is also the founder and project manager of Wordtracker Strategizer.