Research Takes Time
The process of researching your keywords isn’t one that you want to rush. Each phase of the research process needs to be performed deliberately, ensuring that you take the time to find all relevant terms and discard the irrelevant. An attempt to rush the research process will, more than likely, result in you being lead down the wrong path; which could mean that you have to start the research process all over again.
Unfortunately, the research process isn’t always linear. You can often be working on several phases of the research process at any one time, depending on what your focus is on. There is a lot of overlap and moving backward and forward through the processes, but care needs to be taken to ensure that you don’t skip over, or leave out, and of the keyword phrases.
You can start the keyword research process anywhere, but it’s usually best to start from scratch. What keywords do you start the research process with? Do some brainstorming.
Brainstorming allows you to get a list of keywords from an unbiased perspective. The brainstorming process doesn’t mean just sitting around and thinking up phrases, although this can be a part of it. Good brainstorming starts with asking questions that lead to answers. More often than not, these answers will be your keywords.
So; first, think of questions that are relevant for you. Don’t try to answer them yet; you’ll have time for that later, but compile your list of questions that will help you find the keywords you are looking for.
Once you have a good, comprehensive list of questions, do whatever research is necessary to find the answers. Those answers give you a base of keywords that you can then take to the online research tools to look for related phrases. These related phrases produce a wide range of variations in how your topic is searched. Some relevant, others not so much.
Find core terms first
Without a doubt, during the brainstorming and research processes, you’ll amass a list of hundreds of phrases. You want to keep the process as simplified as possible, so we’ll start by eliminating everything that is not a core term.
A core term is a keyword phrase boiled down to the essentials. It’s specific enough to produce a relevant result, but broad enough to cover a wide range of much more targeted phrases. Generally, a good core term is two, maybe three words. On the rare occasions, a core term could be a single word, but only where there is no room for alternate interpretations.
Only use qualifiers on a core term when it is necessary to ensure that the searcher will be led to a relevant page. For example, the word bag could mean anything from a from a travel bag to a sleeping bag. This is a core term that needs a qualifier in order to be relevant to the searcher. If it’s not relevant, then it isn’t a core term.
Each page of your website should have a single core term associated with it. You may find several pages on your site that are a good fit for a single term. That’s fine during the research process, but later you’ll want to make sure you select only the most appropriate page for any single core term. The others will have to find their own core terms.
Don’t stop your core term research until you are certain that there are no more possible variations that produce measurable traffic. Using keyword suggestion tools available in most keyword research programs, find all relevant variations on each of your core terms. For example, a travel bag can also be a back pack, or luggage (one of the rare cases of one-word core terms). Each of these can be searched to find even more possible core term variants.
Core Term Site Mapping
After you have put together an exhaustive list of core terms, and before you start performing deeper research into finding specific phrases, you want to map out where your core terms will be integrated into your site. For some industries, it’s as easy as looking at the content and assigning core terms to pages. For others, where there are a lot of core term variations that mean the exact same thing, it can be more difficult.
Assigning core terms to pages must be done very carefully. You need to ensure that the content of each page is either a 100% natural fit, or the content can easily be adapted to fit that core term. A good example is ‘cost segregation’ vs. ‘cost segmentation’. Both, essentially, mean the same thing, but both are frequently searched. The content of a page about ‘cost segregation’ can easily be adapted for ‘cost segmentation’ without altering the meaning or focus of the page.
If you can’t make a keyword fit without significantly altering the message of a page, then find another core term; or another page for that core term.
I recommend prioritising your core terms before assigning them to pages. Figure out which terms get more search volume, are most relevant, bring in targeted audiences and produce the best sales. These are all important factors of determining which core terms are more important than others.
By prioritising your core terms, you can research and optimise those that are most important first, before moving on to lower priority terms. The optimisation of your high priority terms can take some time, so leaving the secondary terms for later is a good optimisation strategy.
Before you move into the next phase of the keyword research process, you have enough information to start optimising your website. With the core terms and the map of where each core term will be implemented, you can begin to perform a very broad and quick optimisation of the website. Going a page at a time, optimise title tags, Meta description tags, headings and even a bit of content.
I wouldn’t spend a lot of time on each page, as you can go do a more in-depth optimisation later, once you have more keywords to work with.