Last updated: 14th May 2015
As the SEO landscape is always changing for us niche site builders, we must look to always refine our processes, especially when it comes to keyword research
Gone are the days where you could find a keyword with a few thousand local monthly searches and a CPC of over $1, grab an EMD and be earning in a week or so.
But you probably already knew that right…
I’ve seen some great summary posts recently from various members of our great SEO niche builders community and I thought it was a good time to re-address keyword research for 2014-2015.
Proper keyword research is a necessity and it’s something many new and old SEO’s fail at. That’s because it’s always evolving and there is never a strict set of rules to follow. In most cases what you learn will come from trial and error of yourself or what someone teaches you.
Therefore I decided to ask some of our fellow SEO’s how they approach their keyword research in 2014 and how it might have changed in recent years.
QUESTION: WITH NEW SITES TAKING 4-6 MONTHS TO RANK, HAS THE RECENT GOOGLE SANDBOX EFFECT CHANGED THE WAY YOU DO KEYWORD RESEARCH?
Due to the Google sandbox I’m now looking for niches that have more
long tail KWs. From what I’ve learned, the sandbox seems to affect the higher
volume KW’s more than the long tail. Therefore if you’re looking at a niche
where the long tail drops off quickly you’re less likely to pick up any traffic
in the first few months.
Because of this front loading of time before seeing any financial returns it means I’m far more meticulous about choosing the right keywords, I’ll spend a lot longer now researching to ensure that I can rank, whereas before I’d pick the best 3 for the day and quickly build out a few sites to see which one ranked quickest and easiest.
Not necessarily. I have a really long view of how I build sites
because now coming up on my 5 year anniversary of full time self employment my
business has continued to grow and I need much bigger projects to move the
needle. So the stuff I’m looking at is 3+ year window and not necessarily 4 – 6
months. When I find good deals I will buy what is already existing and my
budget is $10k to $100k (I’ve not bought something over $50k before though and
if I did I’d likely get funding from another source to do the deal) but that
way I don’t have to deal with some of the pain points of new sites and can
instantly start doing well.
That said I am doing a case study on my blog showing how to build a $1k per month site from scratch because I know most people are beginners.
(If you are interested to see Chris’ course, click here)
I didn’t want to believe all the talk about the recent Google
phenomenon that people are referring to as the sandbox. But I am starting to
buy in – as my own sites are in fact taking 4 to 6 months to rank, no matter
what I do.
This does not change the way I do keyword research at all! All of the principles and rules of thumb still apply exactly the same as far as what I look for in keywords. The time that it takes them to rank is not a factor for me.
The answer is, and should be, no. The reason being is that I don’t
try to build websites for today, or tomorrow… when I choose a niche site I
expect it to be a long term project.
During the first 4-6 months, I am not worried about top rankings or anything like that, I am worried about profits. I make an investment of time, money and resources for each site at the beginning, and consider that a loss up front. I will only invest that time, money and resources until a profit is made on the site… whether it ranks #1 or #250. Once I see a profit, then it is time to keep investing. I have learned that success with niche sites comes with seeing plenty of failure. Those that have success learn to not stop building sites, but also learn when to stop investing in a bad site. Rank ultimately means nothing, profit is all that matters. That said, getting a site to rank quickly certainly helps speed up the cycle for profits…but that helps me to learn patience.
This has not changed the way that I am doing keyword research.
Profitable keywords are still profitable, you just need to have a longer float
now. I am going to start getting new sites up quicker than normal however
because of this change. I’m hoping to launch 1-2 new sites every quarter, so
that I can get them aging and ready to work on once I’m get my main site into
position 1 in the SERPs. I can then move on to an aged domain (something that
I’m going to put a few good pieces of content on and then leave alone for a
while) and Ill have something to start building back-links, comments etc.
My tip for someone just starting out is to spend a lot of time doing KW research (and keep a list) and start up one or two sites per quarter. You’ll always have something to work on, and you’ll also always have a project on deck that is out of the sandbox.
Actually, NO. My keyword research method for most of my sites is
still pretty much the same. However, I do tweak it time to time to keep up with
the latest changes. As far as the Sandbox is considered, it has had no effect
on the way I select my keywords.
I only build high quality sites that are actually beneficial for the end user. Be it a review or an authority site, great content is my first priority.
I’m going to admit I didn't pay much attention to this supposed
sandbox story. I follow 99% of the Google/algo news and updates, but that was
one I skipped.
That said, I think there’s a core method to SEO that shouldn't change, and one of those is KW research.
You find the words your customers use with the intent of finding what you can provide.
I’m seeing sites ranking quicker than 4-6 months. Now granted, they
aren’t on page one, but I’m seeing sites indexing within a week, and then
ranking in top 100 within a month or so. Then of course the trek to page 1 is
long and tedious, much longer than it used to be. Quality back links still play
a major roll in your site ranking, even though Google tells you otherwise.
People with PBNs have a key advantage right now, and tend to climb the ranking
ladder much faster than those waiting for “natural” back links.
With that said, I haven’t really changed how I do keyword research. I still use the same basic process most other niche site owners use, although I still use Market Samurai for my research where many others are using Long Tail Pro now.
I have changed a couple small things. The sandbox seems to have
less of an impact on very low volume search terms. I am digging a little deeper
into the secondary keywords and targeting those low volume and low competition
keywords. It seems like those small volume keywords are ranking more quickly.
Sure, it drives a pretty small amount of traffic but that is better than
nothing. It’s all about the long tail.
One caveat to mention is that I’m implementing this for existing sites rather than brand new sites…at least for right now. I talked about it briefly in my June Income Report. Basically, I have a website that was making good money for a while and then it fell in the rankings by several positions. That made the traffic drop like a ton of bricks. I have been able to improve the rankings for the site a little bit but the traffic is still low. So, the idea is to get traffic on the site, even in small numbers, while the main keywords are not ranking as well.
I always do my keyword research in the same way and try not to let
Google dictate how I run things. When I find a great keyword I always check out
the competition, the top 10 results. I’ll look for things such as a low page
authority, bad or little backlinks and I’ll take note of pagerank.
If the figures look good then I move on and manually go through each of the top 10 sites for my main keyword and check out what they’re doing. If the top 10 have fantastic content and designs I’ll probably back away from the keyword.
When I go through the sites I’m looking for terrible content, poor English, thin content, horrible designs/layout etc. If I believe I can do better without spending more than a week or so I’ll look further into the niche.
From here I’ll look at things I could sell, market, advertise as well as secondary keywords for filling the site out with content. If I have to scrape to barrel to brainstorm ideas for content then I know I’m going to get frustrated with the niche, so again I’ll back away from it. If I can find some other keywords that aren't as hot as my main one, but I can create content for them, I’m all in.
The last site I launched took 1 week to rank.
The difference is
a) Choosing a branding style that tells Google you are providing info (because they have less stringent rules for that kind of site),
b) that people are talking about. Instead of an emd, that is just for selling, with suspect looking links, and suspect looking social, with no expert social accounts or sites sharing or talking about your site, with no one searching your brand in google, or not clicking your result.
i.e. the difference between buyredapples.me vs
So partial or broad match branded properly these days beats EMD hands down and avoids the sandbox.
The Google sandbox hasn't changed the way that I do keyword
research. What ranked before still ranks now. The sandbox affected how long it
takes to rank. It also brings more value to keeping sites versus selling
Once a site passes the sandbox, it can rank for new keywords much faster. Adding new articles to old sites with the purpose of ranking those new pages is now easier to do than starting a new site.
The recent sandbox effect has changed how I promote and think about
my overall strategy for niche sites.
However, the keyword research aspect of that strategy remains unchanged.
It’s still critical to do great keyword research. And its still possible to rank for great keywords, it just may take a bit longer now.
Nope the actual fact of been sand boxed if you want, will not
change how I research keywords, I don’t build new sites that often and those
that I do, have always taken a while to rank as I do not do any major back
I am however seeing the significant jump in rankings after 4-6 months and the lack of traffic before for no particular reason, that others are talking about.
Do new sites take 4-6 months to rank? I don’t fully buy into that
However, to answer your question more directly have I changed my keyword research? Well then the answer would be that all changes Google is making is continuing to push me towards creating sites focused on matching a solution to a problem.
So I am not looking for 1 keyword in a group that I can rank for
but for a group of keywords all showing weakness that I can build the best site
possible for to solve whatever the people entering those keywords is searching
This slight change is not a direct result of a potential “sandbox” but it is part of Google’s ongoing changes over the last year.
QUESTION: WHAT IS YOUR #1 TIP FOR FINDING KEYWORDS THAT OTHER NICHE SITE BUILDERS MAY NOT HAVE CONSIDERED?
Most niche site builders are using the “Best” or “Reviews” include filter to find Amazon products. I like to look at Flippa’s recently sold auctions and see what has recently sold well. From there I like to try and build a better site than the one that was sold.
I also like to look at what other people are doing. When researching the top ten, if I see a good niche site ranking for a variety of phrases, I’ll dig in some more into their backlinks. Uncovering PBN links as well as other sites they have built (using a very nice site called Same ID) is often an inspirational journey to new keywords and niche ideas.
I like to use LongTailPro (my buddy Spencer’s keyword tool) and also SEMRush.com.
I have a pro account with SEMRush so I can see every single keyword a website is getting traffic from and that’s how I come up with keyword ideas.
Most people who fail to make money with websites never properly determine if the niche they are targeting can even make money! I know I didn’t do this in the past and I still see people making this fatal mistake today. Always ask yourself these 3 questions:
- Will the people that come to this website be looking to buy something?
- Are companies buying ads in Google for your primary or secondary keywords?
- What is your strategy to make money?
My #1 tip for finding keywords – when analyzing the current top 10 in Google for a keyword, look for other niche sites. When I was a newbie – I would avoid these niches, thinking that they were already taken and I wouldn't be able to compete.
I now understand that other niche sites in the current top 10 is a great sign. If Google is willing to rank other sites in that niche or for that keyword, they will rank your site too. All you have to do is analyze those sites and their back-link profiles and build a better site and get better back-links.
Look beyond your target keywords. This may be obvious, and will likely be redundant to the other people smarter than me that are reading/responding to this… but I think the key to finding keywords is choosing a keyword that has many keyword roots.
Keyword roots are keywords that are relevant to your target keyword, that you can write content about, that don’t include your actual keyword… but are connected to it.
So for the keyword SEO (which is practically impossible to rank for), I would look at the relevant keyword roots.
Link building, content marketing, social media marketing, etc are all keyword roots in my opinion, all of which would be easier to rank for, but are still tied into SEO. Now that is obviously an extreme example… but if your keyword has much less competition, like website design, then your keyword roots would be landing pages, micro-sites, mobile sites, etc.
Usually, you will still find the same if not more traffic from those other keywords, and will get a big boost from Google due to the use of semantic search (Google Hummingbird).
Obviously as you niche down, it becomes easier and easier to rank for the less competitive keywords. It also becomes that much more important to find good quality keyword roots.
Start with your hobbies, always. For example, lets say that you enjoy tennis as a hobby, so start thinking about products that some people use in tennis. Not totally needed items, but things that some people will buy and not all of them. One of those things is a tennis racket re-stringer, so check the competition for that in Google and see what is for sale on Amazon to see if you can make any money. You’ll be able to write about it yourself and why they are good or useful during your reviews, and you’ll come off a lot more genuine than you would if you were just writing about something you didn't know.
This is my #1 “keyword research” secret.
Forums are an integral part of my keyword research. They are goldmines for finding “low competition” keywords that other marketers are not targeting. So here’s how to utilize forums for keyword research:
Method A. Take a look at the “sticky” posts to get an overall idea of what problems your target demographic is facing. This technique works well for every niche but is especially helpful if you are targeting a “problem” niche.
Method B. Use this advanced search operator: intext:“visitors found this page by searching for” [insert your keyword here] (without brackets). This will give you lots of long tail keywords for your niche site.
Here’s this technique in action….
1. Go to Google and insert this. Since I target the fitness niche, here’s a real world example you could use.
2. Go through the forum results and find long tail keywords.
That’s all there is to finding low hanging fruits using this technique. I have more such advanced tactics in my kitty. I will be writing more posts about them in the future.
Method C: Insert a sub-forum of a forum in Google Keyword Planner and scout out potential keywords.
Maybe you’ve seen these, but I have two fav resources of mine:
It really is tough to find those diamond in the rough keywords – at least for transactional/commercial keywords. Content keywords though – that’s limitless.
Beyond my posts there, mine your webmaster tools queries. There’s usually gold in there!
Persistence – There really isn't any “secret sauce” that I've discovered. You just have to keep looking and keep trying things.
To help me, I keep an eye on things like Google Trends, Flippa, Amazon top sellers, eBay Pulse and Google News and watch for opportunities. I also watch the media and see what items are being mentioned in top stories.
I’ll add to that just because another niche site builder has considered, doesn't mean you can’t compete. In fact, if I see another niche site ranking for a keyword, that just tells me that it’s possible for me to rank too. I then do some extra work to see how hard it would be for me to outrank them.
I actually have two sites right now that are directly competing with other niche site builders.
Look outside you areas of interest and expertise. Put yourself in other people’s shoes and imagine what they might be researching.
There really isn’t a secret and there are not any shortcuts. You can only really learn by doing otherwise you’re just theorizing about the process.
To wrap it up, a person is better off starting a site as soon as possible with a keyword and niche that is just “good enough” rather than waiting for the “perfect” keyword and niche. It is better to pivot once you get started instead of waiting to start.
I really enjoy hunting for keywords for niche sites. There are so many niche sites I've come across and I've just been blown away by how random the product or niche was – but they work.
The thing with keywords is you don’t really know you've got a good one until you've had a look at your competition. If you go on Amazon for example, they have millions of products, therefore millions of keywords. Your job is to choose the best ones.
Go on Amazon and look at 10 different categories (Electronics, Clothing etc). From there write down 10 items from each category (Micro SD Cards, Women's Leggings etc). Now you’ll have 100 different products in front of you. All you have to do now is see which of those are good keywords, you might find a few great ones!
There are many ways to find great keywords but my number 1 tip for finding niche keywords is to keep an open mind and listen to things going on around you.
Finding keywords is all about finding special groups of niches. Use keyword tools such as Long Tail Pro and spend an entire day searching various keywords. Eventually you’ll stumble onto groups of niches. Sometimes you search for one hour and find one niche and sometimes you search for an hour and find a group of 20 niches. Finding the group of niches is a goldmine that you can milk for months or even years to come.
a) choose a niche that has high buying intent by multiplying traffic by average CPC. Those are the money keywords.
b) check the SERP and see what’s ranking. You can’t out link them anymore. You have to choose a weak spot. Choose to be the video, or the “scam” site, or the info site, etc. If too many large brands are there then Google has admitted they will rank the large brands. The web is no longer free.
Provide a different review style perspective on the items. Try to change the name of the product slightly so they look for you and not them.
Honestly, I don’t have a way to ensure you can find keywords that others aren’t finding. I will only say that its critical to find low competition keywords; and in fact, I actually view it as a GOOD sign when I see other niche site builders ranking for keywords I’m researching.
If small site builders are ranking for a keyword, that’s usually an excellent sign that it is indeed low competition and is likely worth targeting as well. So, I actually am attracted to markets where other niche site builders are.
Put the time in. I know it sounds simple but most of us (myself included) fall into the trap of finding a solid keyword and then jumping in right away.
Find a handful and evaluate them against each other. Sometimes the first one you discover isn’t going to be the best one. I’m sure some of the other guys will say find a keyword and take action right away because the other side of the coin is guys get paralyzed looking at keyword ideas. It’s a fine balance.
See what you rank for naturally in WMT (Google Webmaster Tools) between positions 20 – 100 and build on that.
I recently found my self ranking for a very nice term with 22,000 searches monthly that I would never have dream’t up or dared to attempt ranking for. Adding more content around that term and tweaking the site a little has seen rankings improve further and other terms appear that I would have not considered.
My number one tip applies only in highly competitive niches…”back door keywords”
If you can go after keywords that are perceived to be low value that other big competitors are not going to go after you can slip in and get traffic to low value pages (student loan bankruptcy) then direct the traffic to higher value pages (student loan refinancing).
Profitability is everything. Do a simple calculation to see if you can actually profit from a particular keyword. Use this formula:
(Search Volume) x (Average SERP CTR) x (Average CTR to sales page) x (Average Conversion Rate) x (Average Conversion Value) = Potential Profitability
For example, if you’re building an amazon site targeting a 5,000 searches per month keyword and getting $20 per sale. Your calculation would be like this:
5,000 (local monthly searches) * 36% (if you aim for #1) * 40% (to Amazon page) x 5% (average CR for amazon sites) x $20 = $720.
So you could potentially make $720 per month if you rank #1 for this keyword. This is not 100% accurate but it could give you an idea of how profitable you website will be.
Do this for other keywords too.
I would like to personally thank all those who took part in contributing to this article, I personally really enjoyed reading everybody’s replies and think that there are some awesome nuggets of information that have been freely shared.
If you enjoyed this roundup post, and want to be included in the next one I do, then add a comment below or get in touch with me, and I’ll be sure to touch base when I’m putting together the next post.
Below are the contact details of everyone who contributed, if you liked their comment then I wholeheartedly advise you to click through to their site and sign up for more information.
I am the owner of this little blog and enjoy teaching entrepreneurs about the easiest way to rank their websites!
Serial entrepreneur, the Amazon guy who founded the great Eazy Azon plugin – Chris is now concentrating all his efforts at Boost WP where you will find the best and most essential plugins for your WordPress affiliate site.
Matthew Allen is a full time trucker – part time blogger and imaginary entrepreneur. He is the only known trucker who is blogging about creating passive income online.
Adam Roseland is a blogger at Niche Site U, podcaster and entrepreneur who also owns a web marketing firm called Roja Interactive. Click the button for a simple and easy to follow user guide about how to build niche sites from scratch with very little cost.
Jeff runs Online Side Income – where his goal is to build up to a sustainable, full time income while working online in my spare time. He also runs a service setting up your PBN for you, which looks very good value.
Nauf makes money online using authority sites, niche sites and a bit of SEO. He’s recently put out some really good articles on his site, so well worth checking them out.
Owner, EvolvingSEO. Moz Associate. Husband. Pianist, obsessed with hip-hop production, neo-soul, reggae & salsa! Well known in the SEO community for his white hat and very ethical approach to SEO and content marketing.
Larry Deane runs the popular Side Income Blogging site, as well as the Niche Site Community on Google Plus. He offers a free ebook called “Be a Better Blogger” which you can get by visiting his site.
Doug runs the popular and informative site “Niche Site Project”. Recently he’s really got into PBNs and they have helped him find success with his niche site. He also offers a PBN course, which is worth checking out.
I’d rather invest my time for money than trade my time for money. Nick is an aspiring Web Designer & Developer who is currently studying at Lancaster University. His goal is to use his web knowledge to build a platform where he can earn a steady, reliable income.
SEO Bad boy and Matt Cutts baiter. Josh is also a SEO Geek, Martial Artist who studies Ethics and Decision Theory (MA, PhD (2nd yr)). Puts out awesome weekly video’s here.
Josh runs Form Your Future, where you can grab his free ebook where he’ll show you his best niche site strategies. If you want the inside scoop, the I recommend visiting him and signing up.
Spencer needs no introduction, you will no doubt have read his detailed articles about building niche sites at Niche Pursuits and you probably already are using his excellent keyword tool – Long Tail Pro.
Sign up for a membership at Domain Colosseum and see the high quality, high authority domains that Dan’s service provides to help you rank your sites.
Visit Neale’s site Living in Thailand and see how you can live on a budget of under $400 per month. If you are looking for a way to stretch every dollar you earn online, then Neales site will be a great place to start.
Jon puts out some awesome articles, from niche site case studies, through to PBN building guides. He also offers a fantastic looking PBN build out service, so I advise you to check it out.
If you've ever asked yourself “How can I find profitable & easy-to-rank keywords?” then Tung has the answer at his website, Cloud Living.