Pro tips: How Kenny Hyder does keyword research

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Don't obsess on keywords, obsess on the lawn

Need to obsess? Manicure the lawn, not the keyword list — at least in the beginning, advises SEO Kenny Hyder.

Keyword research is a building block of SEO efforts. Without a focused list of keywords that can drive search engine traffic and convert visitors, any work performed on- or off-site could be wasted energy. With a well-researched and fine-tuned keyword list, you can be sure the power of SEO is focused through the content and language that will gain conversions.

To aid your efforts, I asked marketing consultant Kenny Hyder to take us through his tactics for effective keyword research. He reveals his process for valuable data points, his tool set and his insight into timing and updating—and does a little mythbusting in the process. Here’s what he had to say on best practices for SEO keyword research:

1. What are the boiled down steps of your keyword research process?

Keyword research for me generally starts before I even begin working with a client. I usually start out with some investigative research in order to determine what kind of vertical I’ll be working in, and how competitive it will be. I normally get my first keyword list from my clients by asking them what keywords they are or think they should be ranking for. Site owners or administrators should have a good idea on the types of keywords that send them traffic, via PPC or otherwise. Also, if they’re already running PPC, I try to get a list from whoever is in charge of that.

From there, I take the list given to me and start expanding/editing it as needed in order to find keywords that I organize into two separate lists. The first list is “traffic opportunity” type keywords. Basically keywords that the website has the potential to rank for that will drive the most amount of traffic. The second list is a “conversion opportunity” list; keywords that will likely convert really well. Sometimes these lists can overlap, but generally speaking, the traffic opportunity keywords are going to be short tail and sometimes vanity keywords, and the conversion opportunity list contains long tail phrases.

After I have these two lists, I sort out a third list that becomes my plan of attack. This list usually consists of keywords from the first two lists, and is the focus for link building and ranking development.

2. What stats are you looking at in your keyword research?

Well, the first thing I and I think everyone looks at is search volume and competition levels. But I also look at things like where my client already ranks and where their competitors rank. I also look for keywords that are easy to cross pollinate, meaning, if I select “payday loans” as a keyword to focus on, “online payday loans” will also benefit from any SEO and link building I do. I try to select keywords that will both be good for traffic/conversion and that I can cross pollinate with to get the most benefit from my work.

3. What tools do you use for keyword research?

For straight keyword tools I pretty much just use the Google tool. I also use other data, like analytics, in order to see what keywords are referring traffic, or I look at links to see what anchor text is being used on both the client and competitors sites. I also use Raven to keep track of everything once the campaign is up and running 😉

4. How often do you revise, update or revisit your keyword list?

I don’t really have a set timeframe to review keyword lists. Generally they get revisited when I feel it’s time to expand and start ranking for more terms. Since I generally work in niches that are really high competition, the keywords stay for long durations. When I used to do a lot of work for large online retailers, the keyword lists were constantly being revisited and refined due to seasonality and new products.

5. Are there any misconceptions about keyword research?

I think the biggest misconception is that you have to have a huge manicured keyword list to get started. I’m more of a fan of jumping in and assessing later if need be. The worst that happens is I find a better keyword to build links and rank for and then I add it. As long as I can show significant progress to my clients, they are going to be happy.

For more helpful info from Kenny, you can follow him on Twitter at @kennyhyder, or take him up on his SEO training offer at Hyder Media.