search marketing

What is SEO? 5) Keyword Research

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what-is-seo-search-engine-optimizationWhat would you say if you completed all the other tasks in the search engine optimization (SEO) process but then found you weren’t getting any visitors from search engines? And what if you learned that was because the keywords you targeted either don’t get many searches or are impossible for your site to rank well for?

Not good!

In this post we continue our What is SEO? blog series in which we’re explaining all the aspects of SEO, so that when you’re comparing SEO services (or doing your own SEO) you can make an informed decision about what you want your SEO service to include.

The example above demonstrates, why keyword research is so important.  If you target the wrong keywords, everything else is a waste of time.

Three Qualities Every Good Keyword Has

Every good keyword has three qualities…

1) Popularity. It doesn’t help to optimize a website for phrases no one searches for. One quality a good keyword has is popularity – people search for it a lot. Popularity is relative. Is 100 searches a month good? 100,000 searches a month? It depends on your market and the strength of your site.

2) Low Competition. It also doesn’t help to optimize a website for phrases that are dominated by websites much stronger than yours. For example, one time we had a guy call us to discuss SEO and tell us he wanted his website to be in the top 10 in Google for “Jesus.” Um, yeah, good luck with that.

The level of competition for a keyword is the most difficult of the 3 factors to gauge. First you have to measure the strength of your website. Then you have to measure the strength of all the websites currently ranking well for the phrases you’re considering targeting. Then based on that information, you have to determine how likely it is you can get your website ahead of the sites ahead of you for each phrase.

3) Relevance. If a keyword is popular and its competition level is low enough that your website could rank well for it but it’s not relevant to your website, it’s not going to help much. Relevance is determined by answering the question, “What percentage of the people searching for this keyword would be interested in my website?”

If you are a marriage counselor in Atlanta, targeting the keyword “Star Wars trailer” is not going to help you no matter how popular it is. Even in the freak chance that your website cracked the top 10 for this phrase and you had millions of people visit your website as a result, the chances that any of them are interested in a marriage counselor in Atlanta are infinitesimal.

Most relevancy issues, however, are more subtle. What about the keyword “marriage?” It’s certainly relevant to a marriage counselor in Atlanta, but what percentage of the people who search for marriage are going to be looking specifically for a marriage counselor? Very low.

Popularity, low competition and relevance are like three legs of a stool.  Remove any one of them, and the whole stool falls over.

Good keyword research determines which keywords strike the best balance between popularity, low competition, and relevance.

Explaining how to do keyword research or the best tools to use goes beyond the scope of this article. The main thing to keep in mind is it’s an essential part of the optimization process. If you’re considering hiring an SEO to optimize your website, ask them how they determine which keywords to target. If they are vague or tell you they’ll optimize your website for whatever keywords you choose, keep looking.


  • Do you think keyword research is a critical part of the SEO process? Why or why not?
  • What qualities do you think are most popular in good keywords?

4: Telling Search Engines Where to Go <- What is SEO? –> 6: Keyword Plan

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    About the author

    Paul Steinbrueck

    Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck.


    • Very nice post However, the reality is you should use these and any other tools as a guide to determine how active a market is, and not as an exact measuring tool.

    • thanks for the post. I want to know what is the best backlink analysis company? moz, ahref and etc.

    • Keyword research is actually the root of the SEO. Directly targeting highly competitive keywords cannot help you get rapid responses. So it is better to choose keywords having low or medium competition. If the website is new, it is best thing to use low competition keywords that can give you traffic as well.