How to research and evaluate keywords

Friday, 24 June 2011 10:33 Written by  John
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In the last article we looked at the benefits of using long tail keywords to give you the best possible chance of topping the search engine rankings. This time we look at how you research – and evaluate – these keywords.

There is a huge array of tools available to evaluate keywords, some free and some paid for. By far the most powerful (and free) of all these is the Google Keyword Tool ( This is the tool that is used to identify keywords for running Google Adwords (the adverts you see at the top and right hand side of the organic search results).

The Google keyword tool lets you type in your keywords and see how many people search for that term. This gives you the initial data you need to judge whether it’s worth pursuing the keyword in the first place. Do be aware that there are some questions regarding the accuracy of the keyword tool so please take the results with a pinch of salt. Try using it logged in (you’ll need to sign up) and logged out. The results may differ. Saying that it’s as good as anything else available.

Using the keyword tool you can enter in the generic keywords you’re looking to get optimised for. For example in our case we’re looking for ‘web design’. Below is a screen shot showing the results.


First thing to note is the ‘Global searches’ and ‘Local searches’ – in our case we are only interested in ‘Local Searches’ – searches from the UK. We can see that for the term ‘web design’ there are 1,220,000 per month. The ‘Competition’ column shows how many people are competing for Adwords for that term. This gives us a feel for how popular the term is. This isn’t rocket science and it only gives you an approximation – it’s not how many people are competing in the organic results for the term but for paid advertising.

Below this we see a list of ‘Keyword ideas’. You can sort these by competition, global and local searches, relevance, etc. Have a play around and see if you can find a relevant term that has low competition but high traffic. It can be tricky depending on what you are searching for.

Now let’s try adding in our long tail keyphrase (in our case ‘web design Cambridge’) and see what the results are:


Now we see the number of searches tail off rapidly – 3,600 local monthly searches. We know that the chances are people actively in the buying cycle for web design are more likely to add a geographic location to their search term as they look to shortlist local agencies. Although the competition is still high we can be pretty sure we’ll have a much better chance of competing on this keyword as it is much more targeted.

Try this with your keywords and long tail keywords. Try different variations: Cambridge Web design, web design Cambridgeshire, web design Essex, etc, etc. You’ll start to build up a picture of what you need to optimise your website around. This isn’t a quick process and the better the research the better the results.

Once you’ve come up with what look like good keyphrases try them out in the search engines. Have a look at the results – are similar companies to you coming up? If not then you’re barking up the wrong tree. You need to be in the results with your competitors otherwise chances are you’re looking at the wrong keywords – it’s extremely unlikely (unless of course you have a brand new, super niche product) that you will find a search term that sums up you offering that hasn’t been used before.

Other tools to use include the Google Wonder Wheel (sign into Google and it’ll be available on the left of your screen or Google it). This tool shows related searches in a graphical format (see below for web design Cambridge). We tend to find it works best with fairly generic terms, as you can see from below it doesn’t really help much in our situation.


You can also track search trends over time using Google Insights ( this shows whether keywords are becoming more – or less – popular over a set time period. This can help particularly with brand names and product names. Useful for lots of other marketing purposes as well as SEO.

There are a number of other tools available but we’ll leave this here for the time being. As mentioned there’s no shortcut to finding the right keyphrases – solid research, a bit of intuition and knowing your market all help.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 20 July 2011 14:45


John is a co-founder of SWAYsearch.