Keyword and Niche Research
How important is it really?

I cannot stress more how important this topic is for a successful website. People just jump in and start to create a website without proper planning. I know, cause I did it once.

Before we start, let me just tell you a little story about my first website.

I just heard about affiliate marketing and adsense and how you can make money. I started right away to create a website without proper planning. Halfway through building the site, I realized that I have no clue on what I'm doing.

I just created page after page and thought I did a good job. After some months I checked my visitor stats on Google. It was dismal. I had one or two visitors a day, sometimes none at all! I was very disappointed. I did not know what I was doing wrong.

I had good content and made sure everything was easy to read on the site. I could not understand what was wrong. I decided to do some research and found some very interesting facts.

It had nothing to do with my content, that was fine. It had to do with the keywords I used and my site structure. It was all wrong. The search engines did not know how to index my site. The spiders crawled my site, but found it hard to pinpoint what it was about.

Search engines have these little programs called spiders that crawl websites to find out what they are about. The spiders then take this information back to the search engines and this information is put in the search engines database. If people search for stuff using a search engine, such as Google, the engine will return these results based on what it has in it's database. Search engines also uses an index to return information faster.

It's much like the index of a book. You can find a specific chapter without the need to read the whole book. You just look in the index, and go directly to that page. This is what the spiders look for. They look for those words that people search for so they can put the terms in their index.

This also relates to another term called, rank or how well your site ranks with the search engines. This is where keyword research comes in. You need to find words that relate to your site. If your site is about computers, then your content needs to be about computers.

What's the use if your site is called, www.all-about-computers.com, but you write about coffee and maths. The poor spiders will get confused and tell the search engine database that your site is poorly structured. Your site will not rank well with the search engines.

Also remember that there are millions of websites out there. They all compete with the search engines to be on the first page of the search results. If you rank low with the engines then your site will appear way down in the rankings. Nobody will find you.

Have you ever searched for something and Google returns millions of hits? Well, if you don't use proper keywords then your site might be way down in the hundreds of thousands.

Okay, enough about page rank, let's talk about finding your niche.

Finding your niche

To use good keywords you would need to write about something. This could be your passion, hobby or even something about your work. Everybody has an interest in something.

Some people use their hobbies as a niche. Some use their work experiences. I cannot tell you what your niche is, you have to figure it out. Make a list of things that interest you. Write it down on a piece of paper and see if you could create a webpage of these interests.

Use Google to find out what type of competition you face with this niche. Are their millions or thousands or hundreds of websites that has the same interest as you. What do these websites look like? Can you do a better job with your niche?

These are all questions that you have to consider before you start to build your website. Google has tools that can help you in this regard. Google has a keyword tool that will give you stats on keywords that people search for.

Let me show you what this keyword tool looks like and some tips on using it. Remember that you have to register for Google adwords and be accepted to use the tool. Once registered, log in to adwords and select the "Tools and Analysis --> Keyword Tool"

Below is a screen shot of the Keyword Tool.

Keyword Research - Google Keyword Tool
Google keyword tool
Click image to enlarge or right click and select to open in another window

Have a look at all the options. This is quite a comprehensive tool from Google. I'll just concentrate on some of the key aspects of the tool. I will break down the screen shots into smaller pieces to make it easier to understand.

Let's say we want to create a website about computers. So I need to find out what keywords related to computers I can use. Let's start by just typing in the word "Computer" in the "Word or phrase" dialog. This dialog is where you will type in your keywords to see what the searches are like for your words.

We want to get keyword ideas for our niche so let's see what the tool gives us. Look at the snapshot below. I want to discuss some important points about the output.

Keyword Research - Keyword tool output
Google Keyword tool results
Click image to enlarge

You might need to open the image on another page to get a clearer view of the output.

Okay, lot's of info in the results. If you look at the keyword ideas you will see that the keyword tool returned 800 matches. You can scroll through these using the scroll bar at the left of the tool. You can also sort the columns by clicking on the different fields. This will sort ascending or descending.

I have circled the stuff I want to talk about in red. The big red oval has the following fields, Keyword, Competition, Global monthly searches and local monthly searches.
  • Keyword column
The keyword is the word you searched for.
  • Competition column
There is a big misconception on what this column means. This shows you how many advertisers are willing to bid on this particular keyword. People tend to think that this column show the number of competing websites out there. It has nothing to do with that. Don't use this column as an indication of the competition you face.

So, where do you get the actual competition statistics for your niche? I have searched Google but I cannot find any information about that. The keyword tool gives you estimates, but does not give you actual values. If you need exact stats on keywords and competition, then look at services like WordTracker and Site Build It or SBI. These are services that you have to pay for but you can get much better statistics for keywords.

You have to decide how serious you are about your website. Are you willing to spend some money on a decent keyword tool, or are you okay with Google's keyword tool. I used SBI for a website I created about computers and my traffic increased from drips and drabs to thousands. SBI also takes you through the web site creation process in easy to follow steps.

If you are new to web design and creation and you are willing to spend money on it, then I suggest you use Site Build It. If you have existing websites and need a better keyword tool, then I definitely suggest, Word Tracker.
  • Global Monthly Searches
This is the average number of searches for the keyword over a twelve month period. The number indicates an average over 12 months. It could give you an indication of how many times the keyword has been searched for.
  • Local monthly searches
Same as Global, but it only applies to a specific region you specify. It might be useful if you want to see what people in your country searched for.

If you look at the numbers it looks pretty good. Don't be misled. The keyword "computers" looks like a gold mine, but you don't really know what your competition is like.

Use a normal Google search on computers and you will find billions of results. Yes, you heard right, billions. I don't know about you, but that's an awful lot of results. You also cannot just call your website www.computers.com. It's already taken. You could create a domain name with the word computers or computer in it.

Have a look at the rest of the results. Look for a keyword where there's not millions or billions of results.

That brings me to another point. Look at the left of the screen shot. I circled another very important field, the "Match Types". By default the "Broad" type is selected. This means that Google will use the sum of all keywords where computers are used in the results. That's why you see 45,000,000 Global Searches.

A much more accurate method is to select, "Exact" or "Phrase". This will only show you exact matches for the keyword, meaning exactly what the user searched for.

Deselect "Broad" and select "Exact". Look at the screen shot below. The figures came down drastically.

Keyword Research - Exact Type selected
Google keyword tool Match Types selected
Click image to enlarge

Look at the global monthly searches. It came down to 110,000. That's much less than 45,000,000! When you look for keywords always use the "Exact" or "Phrase" type. This will give you a indication of what the user physically searched for and not the sum of the keyword.

What do you look for in the keyword tool?

Unfortunately it's not an exact science. I'll tell you what I do, but no one could really tell me what exactly to look for. If you need more exact stats, then use WordTracker or SBI. They will give you more exact answers. Even they will tell you that they cannot guarantee results.

First of all look for a keyword or phrase that you want to use for your niche. This would be the theme of your website. I usually look for keywords that have at least 20,000 - 35,000 results. This tells me that people are searching for these words.

If Google cannot determine the search volume for a particular keyword because of low searches, then it will display a dash "-" in the results column. It will also display a less than 10 "<10" result for lower search volume. This means that not a lot of people are searching for these words. Below is an example of this.

Keyword Research - Low volume keywords
Google keyword tool, low volume
Click image to enlarge

You don't want to use these words because of their low search volume. Use the higher search volume keywords.

As an example, I sorted the keywords by descending order and found a nice phrase that I could use for my website on computers. Below is a screen shot.

Keyword Research - Niche keyword

Find your niche

My website is about computers so I might as well concentrate on the basics. Take the user through the basics and then have some pages on more advanced topics. The phrase "computer basics" has a search volume of 33,000 and medium competition for advertisers. So I will use this as my niche and also include it in my domain name.

This will be my level 1 keyword. Recall that I talk about levels on the previous page about creating a website. I now need to find the level 2 and 3 keywords.

For level 2, I will look for keywords that will form part of my menu's. These keywords will take my visitors to the level 2 and from there I will have links to level 3.

For level 2 I will typically look for words that will fit in this level. For instance, my site will be about computers, so I might use words relating to hardware, software and computer components. Look at the keywords and see if any of them will make a good level 2 keyword. See if you can write some good content that will fit in with level 2 words.

Also look for words that have enough search volume so there is enough people searching for your words. Don't discard low search volume words. These words might not have a lot of competition so would could easily win with the rankings on these low volume keywords.

Next, look for words that will fit in below level 2 words but that will relate to the level 2 words. For instance, I will use "Computer Hardware" as one of my level 2 keywords. Then I will look in the keyword tool results for words relating to computer hardware such as memory, hard disks, cpu's and so on.

I found a nice word that relates to memory with a good search volume. I will use the phrase "computer memory" as my level 3 word. I can write lot's of stuff on memory so this would be a good word. 

I hope you are starting to get the idea here. Build your list using the Google adwords tool. If you look at the search volume, you'll know that people are looking for these words.

I usually use a spreadsheet with my key words so I have it handy when I create my website. Below is a small example of what the spreadsheet might look like.

Keyword Research - Build a list
Keyword research, create a list

Click image to enlarge

I only showed you an extract of what the list could look like. I usually include the search volume and CPC in my list. Just so that I have a reference. The CPC is the Cost Per Click. This is based on averages. This is just the amount that adverstisers could pay if they bid on the keyword.

It just gives me an indication of what I could potentially make from Google adsense per click. It's not the exact amount, just an indication. You get this column if you click on the "Column" drop down box at the right of the fields. You can add or remove fields with this drop down box.

To get more keyword ideas, you could also type your level 2 keyword in the search field and the tool will give you more ideas on level 3 words. Play around with the tool. There are lots of stuff you can do with it. I only showed you how to get started.

What to do with your list of keywords?

At this stage you might might be a bit confused with what you are going to do with this list. In the next and subsequent sections all of this will become more clear. Let me briefly explain how this keyword list will be used. 

We will use these keywords to build the website and populate the meta tags in the websites pages. Meta tags are used to describe what your page is about. Yola makes it very easy to populate meta tags. You basically just open the "page properties" and populate the entries. After that, you create your page or pages and use the keywords in your content. 

Remember you want the search engine spiders to gather as much info of your site as possible. You want to make it easy for these spiders to find out what your site is about and how to navigate your site. This will help you rank better with search engines. 

Conclusion

With your list in hand you can now start to build your first website with confidence. You did your research, now you are ready. Spend some time with the keyword research and finding your niche. Spend some money on paid for keyword research sites such as keyword tracker or Site Build It if you are really serious about your product or website. You don't have to, you can use the free tools that Google offers as well. 

Just remember that the Google keyword tool does not show you what type of competition you face with your keywords. It just shows you what people are searching for and what the volume for these searches are. Don't think that this info from Google's keyword tool is not usable. This info is very valuable. If you choose keywords that have decent search volume, then you know that people are searching for info that you can provide.

Get the foundation right before you start building.