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How to Do Keyword Research for Authority & Affiliate Sites

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Mastering effective keyword research is a critical skill for bloggers, authority site owners and affiliate marketing in general. 

Targeting the right keyword phrases not only gives you the best possible chance of ranking highly in Google, but can also increase the revenue your site generates by targeting phrases with commercial intent. 

Conversely, address the “wrong” keyword phrases and you’ll struggle to derive anywhere near as much traffic as you otherwise might have done. 

In this section we’re therefore going to look in detail at how to do accurate keyword research for your blog or authority website.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • 6 ways to quickly generate a huge list of keyword ideas
  • The tool I use to find keywords that you’re virtually guaranteed to rank for
  • How to generate profitable keywords with high levels of commercial intent
  • The definition of “authority” and how to measure it
  • 4 critical factors to consider when selecting profitable keywords
  • 8 pro tips to discover exactly what keywords you can rank for
  • How to apply your keyword research to your own website

By the end of this section, you’ll be fully versed in the most effective tips for locating and using keyword phrases on your site, in order to drive maximum traffic and revenue.

Introduction to Keyword Research for Authority Sites, Blogs and Other Affiliate Sites

Keyword research can seem like an intimidating subject the first time you approach it, simply because there are so many elements that need to be considered. In this article, I’m going to try and break down the subject into a number of “baby steps” to make it easier to understand.

We’ll start with some theory about how the search engines work – and why one website ranks higher than another.

With this newfound knowledge, you’ll be better placed to think like a search engine, and to make more informed decisions about the most appropriate keyword phrases for your blog or authority site.

We’ll then build on this theory, applying your newfound knowledge to the practical process of locating and assessing keywords. You’ll learn what makes a “good” keyword phrase and what to avoid. In the end, once you know how to identify appropriate keyword phrases we’ll discuss how to apply your keyword list to your website.

4 Critical Factors to Consider When Selecting Keywords

All search phrases typed into search engines (“keywords”) differ in a variety of ways. 

The purpose of keyword research is to help us identify those phrases that stand the best chance of meeting our four most important goals:

User Intent

Each phrase typed into a search engine has some kind of “intent” behind it – a goal that the searcher is trying to address. Consider, for example, what someone typing in “buy Nintendo Switch” is hoping to achieve – they’re obviously looking to buy a video game system. 

Such a phrase could therefore be accurately addressed by an eCommerce website selling this product. 

But for a blog or authority site, it will be much harder (if not impossible) to accurately address this intent. Even if you wrote the most useful and detailed guide possible on purchasing a Nintendo it’s likely that as soon as someone arrived at your article they’d click the back button. 

Now consider a more nuanced example. Someone searching for a “cheap hotel in Miami” will likely be happy to land on the website of a budget hotel in the area. Adding a letter “s” onto the end, however, changes this dramatically. The person looking for “cheap hotels in Miami” is more likely to be looking for a curated list containing multiple hotel options. 

The first (singular) keyword phrase would therefore likely be suitable for a backpacker lodge in Miami, while the second is more appropriate for a detailed long-form article or from one of the many hotel aggregators.

Before selecting a keyword phrase for your project, therefore, consider what the person entering it is hoping to achieve – and whether you can honestly offer this on your site. 

If you are in any doubt, the easiest way to deduce the intent behind a search term is simply to type it into Google and look at the top ten results. Google is getting ever smarter, which means it is even harder to “trick” them into ranking an irrelevant page. 

Over time, these top ten results will therefore take on some “uniformity” and will reflect the intent of such a search term. 

Ask yourself if these top ten results are from content-based sites like you are building. If so, and you think that you could produce an article that rivals – or ideally beats – their quality then you may be in with a chance. 

Commercial Intent

We’ll deal with commercial intent in more detail in just a few minutes but suffice it to say that some phrases tend to be entered by people looking to spend money. 

Our Nintendo example mentioned above is something that someone looking to spend money might type in. 

Conversely, someone searching for “how to break a horse” is no doubt looking for more informational content rather than simply a product to buy. 

If you can rank your website for phrases with commercial intent then you’ll likely earn more money than simply addressing informational phrases, though even these have value. We’ll discuss this in more detail a little later on.

Modest Competition

Possibly the most challenging aspect of all when it comes to keyword research is locating phrases that you can reasonably rank for.

As you’ll find, we don’t pick keywords at random. Instead, accurate keyword research aims to uncover those phrases where we stand the very best possible chance of ranking.

There is a range of tools and concepts that we can use to assess each keyword phrase, and we’ll be covering these shortly. For now, however, simply appreciate that you’ll be far more likely to rank for keyword phrases with the only modest competition.

Traffic Volume

All other things being equal, it makes sense to target a phrase that receives more searches than one which receives less. This, of course, makes perfect sense if the effort to target both competing phrases is equal. 

Fortunately, there are a number of tools that will let us assess the potential search volume for any keyword phrase, making at least this part of the process reasonably painless.

Understanding Search Engine Competition

I previously alluded to the fact that it is critical to understand how to gauge the level of competition for any keyword phrase.

In this section, we’ll delve a little deeper into why this is, and how you can measure how competitive a keyword phrase really is – in other words, how likely it is that you can rank for it.

Links are considered one of the most important ranking factors of all for the major search engines. 

More links, from more powerful websites, mean higher rankings all other things being equal. 

For ease, it makes sense to simply think of a metric known as “authority”. The better a site’s backlink profile, the higher its authority. Here’s the thing though; authority doesn’t just apply on a page-level basis but across websites as a whole. 

No doubt you’ve found certain websites appearing for all manner of phrases time and again during your normal everyday use of the Internet. Perhaps that’s Forbes, or the New York Times, or eBay, Amazon, Walmart, and so on.

These sites have enough authority – thanks to all the links pointing to them – that they can rank highly for almost any keyword phrase they target. They don’t necessarily need to attract links to an individual article to rank well – their authority alone is enough to give them access to the front page of Google

For bloggers and authority site owners these websites can be a major headache. When you find a keyword phrase where the top ten results are dominated by these major authority sites then it can be very difficult to compete indeed. 

I would argue, in fact, that trying to do so is likely to end in tears. It is, therefore, best to avoid targeting such phrases if you’re serious about search engine traffic. 

That said, be aware that “authority” is measured on a scale – each website has its own measure of authority. Some are high and others are low. 

It is therefore not a case of just avoiding keyword phrases that are dominated by major players, but rather of being able to “size up” the websites already ranking for any particular phrase, as each phrase will have some competition. 

What we are trying to do in our keyword research is to locate those keyword phrases where sites with only modest authority are thriving. 

Pro Tip: It is worth reiterating that sites with plenty of authority tend to find it much easier to rank for more competitive phrases. These are frequently highly commercial and may receive large volumes of search traffic.

While our keyword research process aims to locate the keywords for which we can compete, over time these will change as our site authority does so.

Keywords that you shouldn’t touch with a barge pole when first starting your site may very well be realistic targets in six months or a year’s time. Another long-term goal of building your blog or authority website is therefore to gently grow your authority through whitehat link building. As your authority grows, so too will your search engine traffic – and as a result, the revenue that your site generates.

It also means that keyword research is not a static process when done right. We start off by addressing lower-competition keyword phrases on your site. When these opportunities have been exhausted, however, we can revisit our keyword research in light of our enhanced authority and now look for new phrases that would not have previously been realistic targets.

How Authority is Measured

While there can be little doubt that the major search engines use a site-wide measure of authority, they do not openly reveal their feelings about each individual site. 

Note, for example, that PageRank (a metric once openly made available by Google) has been retired from public life, so any attempts to measure authority through PageRank are likely to be of no use whatsoever. 

Instead, we must rely on third-party tools which aim to “mimic” the authority measure that search engines use. 

Here there are a variety of measures used, all of them on a scale of 0-100. Thus, a brand new website will start out life at an authority score of zero, and will slowly work its way up the scale. 

Some examples of common authority metrics seen in the SEO world are:

  • Domain Authority – Often shortened to “DA”, this metric is provided by SEO company Moz and is possibly the best-known of all. 
  • Trust Flow – Often shortened to TF, this metric is provided by respected SEO company Majestic.
  • Domain Rating – Ahref’s equivalent to DA and TF.

The reality is that most keyword research tools these days use one or another. My own personal preference is for Trust Flow, but every experienced keyword researcher has their preferred metric. What’s more, each keyword research tool uses a different metric. 

The most commonly used – both in terms of keyword research tools and in general conversation – is Moz’s metric – Domain Authority. For this reason, in this guide when we talk about the authority we’ll be referring to DA.

How to Measure Domain Authority

Possibly the quickest and easiest way to measure authority is simply to visit Moz’s own Open Site Explorer tool and type a website address in. It will spit out the answer for you.

In truth, however, I’m not a huge fan of Moz’s software. Not only is it quite “buggy” but it also limits how many sites you can assess each day (and the limit is low).

As a result, when we actually start to consider keywords shortly we’re more likely to use other tools. For now, however, just bookmark Open Site Explorer (or download the Moz toolbar) so you can easily see the authority of any website.

What is a “Good” Level of Authority?

One of the more common questions I receive when talking about keyword research for the first time is what a “good” authority score is? At what point should we see another site as major competition?

The difficulty here is that authority is a relative score – a “good” authority score is simply one that is higher than your main competitors. In other words, if they all have an authority score of 10 then you might be pleased to have an authority score of 20. 

On the other hand, if you’re sitting there with a score of 20 while all the other blogs in your niche sit at 40+ then you’re really going to struggle to gain much initial traction in the search engines.

As a rough ballpark measure, the following categories will work in most niches:

  • 0-10: Very low
  • 11-30: Modest
  • 31-50: Strong
  • 51-70: Very strong indeed
  • 71-100: You can only dream

When we’re talking about “low authority” websites, as we will later in the keyword research section, think of sites with an authority (DA, etc.) of under 30 – ideally even less.

Understanding Different Types of Keywords

Website content can be broadly divided into two distinct groups. The first type of article is “informational” and the second is “commercial”.

While informational content aims to provide accurate information to visitors, commercial content targets people who are actually looking to spend some money. And because these people are sitting there at their computer, deciding what to buy, they’re often far easier to earn money from.

As a result, if you want to earn money from your authority site it’s important to include a volume of this co-called commercial content. 

That said, I personally believe it would be a mistake to only produce this kind of content. 

The reason comes down to marketing. 

If I get an email from someone asking for a link, and I can see that their website consists of just one product review after another, each filled with multiple affiliate links, then I see very little value. 

You’re unlikely to get a link out of me. You’re also unlikely to be very effective when using social media to promote your site. In short, your traffic potential is severely limited.

On the other hand, consider a website that is chock-full of valuable content. Perhaps your website is about horseback riding, and you have dozens of articles and videos about riding techniques, the different types of tack, how to start riding, and so on. 

That information has value to me – and to my readers. Consequently, I’m going to be far more likely to share your articles or link to you.

My own personal opinion is therefore that the most effective authority sites manage to combine both types of content. Readers will forgive the odd “commercial” article if it’s book-ended by more interesting and valuable informational content. 

What’s more, as your site attracts links to its informational content, so your commercial content will also see a rise in the search engines. This means more visitors and – all being well – more sales for you.

Make sense?

How to Do Keyword Research for Blog Posts, Authority Sites & Affiliate Content

By now you should have a fair idea of the concepts behind keyword research.

  • You should understand what authority is, how it is measured and why it is important.
  • You appreciate the importance of selecting keyword phrases based on user intent, competition levels, search volume.
  • You also know that keyword phrases with commercial intent can produce more revenue.
  • Lastly, you understand that the best option is to investigate both commercial and informational keywords for your site, so as to maximize revenue while creating a site that offers significant value and is therefore easier to market.

Now we can move on from theory and actually look at how to apply this knowledge.

This is where things get exciting.

The actual process of keyword research can be broken down into two broad categories…

  1. The first of these is generating an initial list of potential keyword phrases
  2. The second stage involves analysing these keywords to identify the best possible targets for your website

Let’s progress through these two stages together, so you can see step-by-step how to do effective keyword research and to find those “gems” that you can easily rank for…

How to Find Keyword Phrases for Your Site

The first stage of keyword research is generating an extensive list of phrases for us to analyze later. Here we can use a range of tools to rapidly uncover hundreds or even thousands of ideas.

Let’s look at three of my favorite strategies for uncovering keywords for your authority site or blog…

Competitor Keywords

One of the most effective methods of all for finding target keyword phrases is to see what other websites in your niche are ranking for

By targeting websites with a relatively low authority score we can quickly source dozens of keyword phrases that have minimal competition. 

The process is reasonably simple. 

To start off with we’ll need a list of target sites to analyze. In previous sections of this guide, we have looked at a variety of ways to source competing blogs in any given niche. Indeed, if you’ve completed the niche research section of this guide then you should already have a list of authority sites and blogs in your chosen niche. 

Take your list of the sites located and then rank these sites by authority. The goal here is to select those sites with the lowest authority possible – as these websites are most likely to rank for the lowest-competition phrases.

Then we simply enter each URL in turn into a tool called SEMRush

Note that you can have limited access to SEMRush for free, though I strongly recommend that you consider upgrading to a paid account while doing this research. 

Even if you only keep your subscription for a month or two you’ll find that a paid subscription here is worth every penny when laying the groundwork for your website.

Simply navigate your way to the address bar at the top of the page, enter the URL of each target site in turn (minus the http://www part).

In the results page that SEMRush brings up, locate the “Top Organic Keywords” section and click the blue “View full report” button.

This will then bring up an extensive list of all the keyword phrases that SEMRush has found the target site rankings for.

This information is gold!

You’ll be able to see not just the keyword phrases themselves but also the estimated number of monthly searches, the current ranking of the target site, and even the estimated proportion of their traffic being derived from each ranking. 

There are two types of keywords that I recommend you make a note of. 

Firstly, and of greatest importance, jot down every keyword phrase that your competitor ranks in the top 10 for. 

These are golden keywords that we will pass through further analysis a little later on in the keyword research process.

Secondly, make note of any phrase that is driving a significant volume of traffic to their site.

Try SEMRush for yourself by entering a website address (such as your own blog) into the following box.

Keyword Brainstorming

A range of keyword research tools will take a single keyword phrase – typically known as a “seed keyword” – and then expand this out into hundreds of closely-related phrases. Your only task is coming up with these initial seed keywords.

Of course, when you’ve chosen your niche you should find it reasonably easy to brainstorm such a list. 

For example, if we were setting up a cookery blog we might opt for seed keywords like “cheap recipes” or “baking bread”. In a very short space of time, we could probably brainstorm a list of some 20+ seed keywords, each of which could then be turned into several hundred additional opportunities.

Spend some time coming up with your seed keyword list now. We can then start to expand this list using a number of strategies…

Keyword Research Tools

When it comes to finding suitable keywords for your project there are dozens of keyword research tools that can help to expand a short initial list into hundreds of potential targets. 

The process is relatively simple; you simply enter a “seed” keyword and the keyword research tool finds dozens of closely related phrases at the click of a button. 

Each authority site owner has their preference but having tested dozens of options myself my recommendation is KWFinder. 

I’ve found it offers the perfect compromise between price and features. This tool works fast and makes analyzing keyword opportunities simplicity itself (a topic we’ll cover in a few minutes).

As my go-to keyword research tool of choice, it’s what we’ll be using when assessing keywords in this course.

Autosuggest Tools

Have you ever started to type a search term into Google only for it to “guess” what you’re trying to search for? 

That feature is known as “autosuggest”. 

It works by recording what random searchers enter and then suggesting these to other users. The more frequently a phrase is searched for, the more likely it is to appear here in the autosuggest results. 

This means that starting to type one of your seed keywords, then paying attention to what other suggestions Google makes can be another great way to expand out your seed keyword list. 

Of course, it’s not really realistic to sit there tapping keywords into Google then making a note of all the various options offered up; such a process would take an unreasonable amount of time. Instead, a better option is to use one or more tools that do this work. You simply enter your seed keywords and they spit out all the suggestions found. 

There are three great options for finding such keyword phrases:

KW Finder

We’ve already mentioned KW Finder as my favorite keyword research tool. 

Another thing that helps to make it so valuable is that it also includes the ability to extract keywords from Google autosuggest.

This means that this single tool can do double-duty, and effectively gathers more keyword ideas than virtually any other keyword research tool out there.

We know that commercial keywords are valuable, so how do we find them?

How do we find these keyword phrases that buyers are typing in?

In reality, all we really need to do is to focus on what you yourself might type in when looking to research or purchase a product or service.

Going back to our horseback riding website, let’s imagine that I’m looking to purchase some riding boots. Where do I start? Perhaps I start off with rather more informational searches. Maybe I look for “types of riding boots” to help zero in my knowledge.

Once I’ve figured that out, I might start looking for suggestions and recommendations.

Perhaps I search for “best riding boots” or “riding boot reviews” for example. Maybe I expand my search to be more specific, such as “best riding boots for men” or “top riding boots for wide feet”.

Maybe I’ll even end up clicking through and buying a pair through some lucky bloggers affiliate link.

Alternatively, I may carry on my search yet further, looking for reviews of specific boots, or trying to find the cheapest place to buy them online.

All of these searches have commercial intent; they’re used by people looking to spend money in the near future.

List of Commercial Keyword Phrases With Buyer Intent

Let’s boil this down yet further. Below I have gathered together a list of what I feel are the very best commercial keywords to use when researching your niche.

  • Alternatives / Alternative to
  • Bargain
  • Best
  • Budget
  • Buy
  • Cheap / Cheapest
  • Cheapest
  • Comparison/ Compared
  • Economical
  • Inexpensive
  • Low Cost
  • Low Priced
  • New
  • Order
  • Purchase
  • Reduced
  • Release Date
  • Review(s)
  • Top
  • Top Rated
  • Vs

How to Find Niche-Specific Commercial Keywords

There are a number of ways to make use of the list provided above. Possibly the most effective is to combine these with product-related keywords.

Let’s take another example: let’s assume that we have a car audio website.

What sorts of products might such a person look for? Here we can brainstorm ideas off the top of our head. Perhaps we’d come up with phrases like:

  • Stereo
  • Car stereo
  • Car speakers

… and so on.

But we can probably expand this out far more by actually looking at the categories used by major ecommerce websites, like Amazon.

Starting on the homepage of Amazon we can start to work our way down their navigation structure.

Initially we find phrases such as “car amplifiers” and “car subwoofers” for example.

However, we dig down further.

Inside these categories we find further sub-categories. Now we discover, for example, that there are different types of car amplifiers. We find “mono amplifiers”, “dual channel” and “multichannel” amps. We also discover that the products can be categorised by the specific number of channels (1 Channel, 2 Channel and so on).

In a short space of time we have uncovered hundreds of product categories and descriptions.

But here’s what is really cool: not only does the person looking for the best 5 channel car amplifier know exactly what they want (meaning higher commercial intent) but there’s also typically far less competition for such specific keywords. This, in turn, means that they can be easier to rank for.

Combining these categories and descriptions with our list of commercial keywords therefore creates hundreds – if not thousands – of potential buyers guides that we can produce for our authority site. And while each one may not receive too many searches each month, when combined we can drive an astonishing number of pre-qualified visitors to our affiliate partners.

Using a Keyword Combiner

Before we finish this section I have one more tip that will make your life easier.

Trying to merge the commercial keywords above with your main niche keywords can be a slow, boring and repetitive task.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There are all manner of free “keyword combiners” on the Internet. 

You simply supply them with two lists of keywords, and they combine them into every possible combination.

From here you can simply copy them into your favorite keyword research tool and start analyzing them for competition, before making your final decision as to the best keywords with commercial intent for your unique circumstances.

Hopefully you’re now starting to see that with just a little bit of research it’s possible to use an initial seed keyword list to brainstorm hundreds – even thousands – of potential keywords for your affiliate site or blog. 

Of course, finding a long list of keyword ideas is only part of the process; next we need to audit the list of keywords you’ve found in order to assess those which are likely to be the most appropriate for your site. 

It’s in this next step that the magic happens. 

Pay close attention, as successfully understanding and applying the next step can make the difference between success and failure when it comes to building your site. 

It is therefore one of the most critical sections of all. 

Action Steps from Stage One of the Keyword Research Process:

Gather a list product-related keyword phrases

Use SEMRush to look at competitor keyword phrases

Brainstorm a list of “seed” keywords

Use KW Finder to expand your seed keyword list into hundreds of options

Gather all your resultant findings into one “master” keyword list that we can pass through a keyword analysis phase… 

My Two Stage Keyword Analysis Process

Generating hundreds of potential keyword phrases to target on your site is the easy part; the hard work comes in sifting through all the potential opportunities you’ve uncovered to make an informed decision about exactly which phrases you should target.

Over the years I have assessed literally hundreds of thousands of keyword phrases both for clients and for my own portfolio of sites. In that time I’ve slowly adopted a process that allows me to quickly sift through large volumes of keywords in a very short space of time. 

Let’s divide this process up into the two stages, which I have found greatly increases the speed at which I can assess keyword phrases and select the “Goldilocks phrases” that are “just right”. What follows is the exact process I follow – and I recommend that you do the same…

Keyword Research Stage 1: Initial “Sanity” Check

I start off by ranking my keyword list by monthly search volume. 

The reason is simply that in general higher search volume keyword phrases tend to be more competitive. 

By ranking them in this manner, therefore, you’ll see the opportunities getting ever more hopeful as you continue through the process. You’ll also be able to “get your eye in” as you see the results slowly changing over time as you continue through your list.

User Intent Check

We start off with a giant list consisting of hundreds of potential keyword phrases, so the first task is to remove any obviously inappropriate phrases.

I start off by scrolling through my keyword opportunity list looking for anything which is obviously irrelevant or where the user intent cannot be met accurately on a blog or authority website.

Once these “no-hopers” have been deleted, I then move on to a high-level consideration of the authority.

Domain Authority

I open each one in turn in my keyword research tool of choice. I start by quickly glancing down the Domain Authority column. DA is a rough and ready guide that tells us how much authority a specific site has – and therefore how likely it is to rank for any given search term.

Most keyword research tools such as KW Finder color-code the results, making it easy to identify websites with high, medium and low scores. What I’m looking for at this stage are keywords which are almost entirely controlled by high Domain Authority websites.

If this column is almost entirely red then this is a great big red flag. 

If it is a mixture of red and orange then this too is likely enough to scare me off – especially if I’m doing research for a new site. The only exception here is if I’m doing research for one of my established websites, where I already have a decent authority and so I can compete successfully against stronger sites.

Even orange scores for a new site are likely to be difficult to beat. In essence, I want to see at least a handful of “green” scores in this column or the keyword phrase is deleted. 

With such a simple check it is always possible you may miss a few nuances here and there, but the aim here is a “rough and ready” process to rapidly eliminate the keyword phrases with unrealistic levels of competition for your new site. We need to cut thousands of potential keywords down to hundreds – or even better. 

Move quickly and don’t overthink the process – run your eye down the column and then either delete or keep before moving on. Each analysis should take a matter of moments in this way, allowing you to quickly prune your list of the most competitive phrases.

Note: In very competitive niches, such as computing and technology, you will find very few keyword phrases with low authority sites ranking.

It is entirely possible that you will delete 90%+ of all the keyword phrases you have found during this process. In others, you may find red sites everywhere.

Remember: all search engine competition is relative, and niches vary considerably. Don’t be afraid to prune hard at this stage, as it will make your later analysis easier and more effective.

Keyword Research Stage 2: Refining Your Keyword List

By now we have already removed any obviously wrong keyword phrases, and then passed them through a simple domain authority analysis. In other words we’ve eliminated the keyword phrases which we are most unlikely to rank for. 

The second stage therefore takes a slower, more detailed and considered view of the remaining phrases. Here we may still delete phrases, but the process will be much slower and more informed. 

In essence rather than a “yes/no” process, this time we are attempting to compare the competition between the various keywords. Once you gain a little experience you’ll find that you can very quickly assess that one keyword phrase is “better” than another for your project. 

So let’s go back to the top of our remaining list, and open each one in turn. Here’s what we’ll look at in detail with each keyword phrase…

Domain Authority

Domain Authority is a score used to assess the likelihood of any page on a given website ranking. 

In essence it can thought of as a measure of “authority”. 

Sites with more authority find it easier to rank for more competitive phrases. Therefore, seeing some results from websites with lower domain authorities is a good sign that the phrase you are considering may not be too competitive. 

Page Authority

Page Authority is different from Domain Authority in that it measures the authority of a single page – the page that ranks for the target keyword phrase you’re considering. 

In essence, a page that has a whole load of links pointing to it will have a higher Page Authority and may be harder to compete against. Once again, therefore, lower Page Authority scores are a positive indication here of a good keyword phrase.

URL String

It is a universal constant that the majority of links pointing to a website will point directly to the homepage. Each individual article or page will generally have far fewer links than this. The end result of this is that it is much harder to rank well when the top ten results are primarily homepages – rather than individual articles. 

If you see that the competitors for a given keyword phrase are ranking with an internal page – or blog post – then this is good news.

Generally trying to compete for phrases where the majority of the top ten results are site home pages will be far more difficult. Pass on any like this that you find.

Domain Name

Run your eye down the domain names of the sites in the top ten results. What you’re trying to assess quickly here is what types of sites are ranking well. 

Are these “household brands” with a high level of authority and brand recognition? 

A good idea here is an old client of mine in the health and safety niche. Many of the potential keywords we assessed were dominated by well-known charities, companies and government bodies. For a new authority site or blog the chances of competing against such sites is not one to be relished. 

It is also worth mentioning that part of the algorithm which decides where your website ranks looks at how many people click on your listing as opposed to those of competitors. If your site gets a higher clickthrough rate than competing sites you may well see a comfortable boost in rankings over time. 

Of course, the reverse is also true. When you’re competing against well-known authorities in a niche it’s more likely that a general searcher will click on the one of the sites that they know and trust, rather than your unheard of blog. This will result in a below-average clickthrough rate for you, further making it harder to rank.

Not all keyword phrases are controlled by well-known authorities, and for many commercial keyword phrases you will find a number of smaller blogs and niche sites. If these tiny unheard-of sites are effectively ranking then this is a good sign that the keyword may be worth considering.


It’s no secret that one of the most important elements controlling where web pages rank in the search engine results is the number and strength of links pointing to them. 

When you find a keyword phrase in which the top ranking pages have very few links – or ideally even zero – then this too is a big tick that the keyword phrase may be a good choice. 

After all, building just one or two links to your page may help it to rank against these far weaker competitors.

Individual Ranking Page Checks

Google is getting smarter all the time. Their algorithm aims to surface the very best page on a given a subject in order to provide Google users with the very best experience. Whether they always succeed is another matter, but for now all we need to appreciate is that Google tries to reward the best article on a subject. 

An obvious consideration is therefore how good the existing top ten results really are. 

Are these pieces of content far and away better than something we could reasonably hope to produce? 

On the other hand, are they reasonably weak, meaning we could realistically produce something even better?

In this stage in my keyword research process I therefore like to visit each of the top ten results for a specific keyword phrase to have a good look around. 

If the content I find is average-at-best and I’m confident I could produce something “better” then this too is a huge tick for a potential keyword phrase. If, on the other hand, the content I find is mind-blowingly good, and I’d struggle to produce something considerably better then I may well pass on the opportunity.

Search Volume

Search volume of perhaps the least important of all the metrics I look at. How come? Firstly, it’s important to point out that a well-written piece of content will rank for a whole host of different phrases. 

Ranking on the first page of Google for a phrase that gets just 50 searches a month may seem worthless, but you’ll often find that such an article may also appear for dozens of related phrases drawing in hundreds of visitors each month. 

Secondly, appreciate that you don’t necessarily need lots of website visitors to make decent money from your site. Oh sure, if you’re monetizing your site with Adsense or another ad network then overall more visitors will equate to more money. On the other hand, if our article ranks for a phrase with a high level of commercial intent (such as “best electric whisks for cake baking”) then even just a handful of these “money-in-hand” visitors can produce a healthy affiliate income. 

The only real purpose of search volume is therefore to decide between two or more similar keyword phrases. If I had done the rest of my research and found that competition for three different keyword phrases was essentially identical I will choose the phrase that gets the highest search volume. 

Search volume can also be a useful yardstick when it comes to prioritizing your final keyword list. Start with those phrases that get more searches (assuming everything else is equal) and maximise the potential traffic coming your way.

Keyword Research: Case Study

I am aware that if you’re just learning keyword research then the above steps may look intimidating. 

After all, we’ve covered a whole lot of points. 

Where do you look? How do you combine all the steps outlined above to decide what a “good” keyword phrase is, and what you should ignore? 

Possibly the best way to apply your newfound knowledge is to actually carry out some keyword research together. We’ll grab some potential target phrases and using our trusty KW Finder we’ll assess each in turn. 

I’ll explain what I’m looking for, and what my thought process is. You’ll be able to follow along and see keyword research happening in real time by looking over my shoulder. 


A Nasty-Looking Keyword Phrase

Lets start by looking at a “nasty” keyword phrase – one best avoided for all but the most experienced affiliates and bloggers: “start a blog”:

Lets take a closer look at those top results together:

Here’s what we can see in the above keyword analysis:

  • Domain authority (DA) scores are very high – ranging from 47-92 at the time of writing.
  • Page authority scores (PA) are also very high indeed.
  • The URLs are short, with several homepages ranking for this phrase.
  • Most of these sites have large numbers of links. These range from 70 links to over 5,000. It would likely take years to build enough links to match these sites.

So while the keyword phrase gets decent traffic and has commercial intent, the competition is simply too stiff to bother with.

A Better-Looking Keyword Phrase

A different level of competition can be seen for the phrase “macrame cotton rope”…

Here’s what we can see in the above keyword analysis:

  • A number of sites with lower domain authorities are present here – including two with authority scores of just 13. The more of these lower DA scores we observe the better.
  • Page Authority scores are much, much lower with many ranking pages showing a score of just 1.
  • None of these top pages have any external links pointing to them

This makes this a much less competitive keyword phrase, and likely one we could rank for if we so desired.

Please compare the two examples above repeatedly until you can clearly see why the second option would be easier to rank for than the first one.

How to Apply Your Keyword Research to Your Website

Right now you’ve got a list of keyword phrases with modest competition that you think you can rank your website for.

We have already discussed that some keyword phrases are more competitive than others. We also know that user intent can vary between keyword phrases. It can therefore be useful to segment your keyword list into four broad categories, each with a differing intent and competition level. 

Homepage Keywords

There are two ways to think of your homepage. For many bloggers and authority site owners this page has no specific keyword focus – instead it is just a “jumping off point” leading first-time visitors to recent blog posts or notable articles. This is fine if it is your preference, and for many sites this is the concept that makes most sense.

For some sites, however, your homepage can become an important and powerful asset, ranking for more competitive phrases. Your site homepage will almost certainly be the most authoritative page of your site – simply because this is where most links will point. 

It may be, therefore, that you have found a particularly high search volume keyword phrase that perfectly describes the overall topic of your website. 

Imagine, for example, that you have chosen the cycling niche for your website. After some careful analysis of competitors and keyword research you stumble across the golden keyword phrase “off road cycling”. Every check you’ve done suggests that you could, in time, rank for it. It also perfectly matches the overall theme of your website – you’re not going after general cycling (too competitive) but instead plan on targeting a sub-niche of off road cycling. 

Under such circumstances your homepage can be targeted specifically to address this more competitive yet high-traffic phrase. 

Category Keywords

Next down from your homepage come the categories into which your various blog posts and articles will naturally fit. 

Within our off road cycling blog, for example, we might have found that “off road bike reviews” looks like a very promising keyword phrase. Considering searcher intent it would be perfectly natural for a page targeting this phrase to possess links to dozens of bike reviews – making it perfect as a blog category.

On the other hand, a more specific keyword phrase like “how to change a seat pin” is more appropriately targeted in the form of an individual article. Think of your blog or authority website like an ecommerce website where “products” (articles) fit naturally into categories. 

Thus, an article on cooking rump steak might find itself categorised progressively into meat > beef > steak > rump. Each of these categories has the potential to rank for keywords just as the individual articles will.

Again, try to look at the higher search volume phrases you have located and consider if any of these might make appropriate categories into which to put your individual articles. 

Hero Article Keywords

We’ll talk more about the different types of content you can produce for your site in a later section, but for now let’s concern ourselves with the difference between “hero content” and traditional blog posts. 

A hero article stands out as the authority on a specific topic. It tends to be longer, more extensive and more valuable than traditional blog posts. Think of writing 2,000 or 5,000 words for an article, rather than the more modest 750-1,500 that many of us use for our standard blog posts. Such an article is also likely to be promoted heavily, helping to draw in additional links to your site, pointing specifically to these articles. 

Of course, it is not necessary to write a hero article for every keyword phrase you have found – but there are cases where writing a hero article makes sense. Producing an “ultimate guide” makes particular sense either when a keyword phrase addresses a topic that demands it, or where competitive is higher. In general these more valuable posts will find it easier to rank.

Identify those keyword phrases where a giant article would be beneficial based either upon competition levels or the intent behind the keyword. 

Standard Article Keywords

Lastly, any keyword phrases not entered into either of the previous “buckets” will sit here in your standard article keywords list. It is these phrases that you will make up 90%+ of all the phrases you have located, and will make the basis of the articles you produce for your website.

By now you should have a healthy understanding of both the theory and practice of keyword research.

You should understand the differences between commercial and informational keywords. You should feel confident in using a range of tools to brainstorm and then analyze keywords for your website.

In short, after applying these strategies you should find yourself with an extensive list of carefully checked keywords to create content around.Coming Up Next…Now that you understand how to research keywords we’ll next dive into content creation. You’ll learn what types of content you should be creating for your site, some highly effective tips for creating memorable, high quality content at speed, and you’ll be applying your new keyword list to create content that ranks highly in the search engines.

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Positioned to utilize solid design knowledge and conceptual software development skills to meet and exceed the organization's targets. In a deeply immersive agile environment, I thrive in identifying areas of optimization and injecting ideas on how things can be improved beyond specifications.