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Published on February 2nd, 2013 | by Derek Slater


Keyword research: Two critical strategies

This article was originally published October 2009 on


In previous articles I’ve looked at why search and SEO are important and ways to teach yourself SEO on the cheap. Now let’s get to another meaty topic: keyword research.

You know what a keyword is. So you already know that your headline, deck and subheads, metadata and ideally the article URL should emphasize that keyword. It’s about favoring clarity over cleverness so online searchers can find your content. (If you need to catch up on the basics, Mitch Speers did a great job with that.)

This focus on clarity is a step most publishing sites seem to be taking already. However, I think too many editors stop there. If your reaction to keyword research is “forget it and just write good stories”, you are ignoring a fantastic method for understanding, serving and growing your online audience.

Here are two important online strategies and the keyword research tools you can use to execute them. If you ignore them, anybody who launches a competitive site would be able to execute these strategies and mop the floor with you.

1. Throw away your style guide.

Use keyword research to help decide how to label what you’ve written.

Free tools can help you determine how to keyword articles for greater online readership. But you might have to loosen up your style guide. Web searchers may be using different (often less formal) terms to find information that you are accustomed to using in print.

Here’s a very simple example:

I’ve written an article about Acme Company installing Enterprise Resource Planning software, also known as ERP in the tech industry. Perhaps in print, my publication’s style is to not allow any mysterious acronyms in headlines or decks. So in print I use the headline “Acme: All Systems Go”. Being keyword-conscious, I make the online headline “Enterprise Resource Planning Case Study: Acme Co.” (Dreary, but clear.)

Look at the free tool Google Trends. It allows you to compare the relative search volume for different terms.

Google Trends doesn’t give you the exact number of searches, but clearly “ERP” is vastly more popular among web searchers than “Enterprise Resource Planning”. So I’m changing the headline to “ERP Case Study: Acme Co.”

Style guide be darned.

Now there’s a further wrinkle to consider. Let’s say I write an article about ERP every week. Should all my articles use ERP as the keyword? That seems limiting. The result might be that Google decides I have a very authoritative site on that single topic, and one article might rank high for that search term (and as it is a very competitive term with a lot of searches, that would be nice). However, it would also be nice to turn up on the lower-volume-but-still-relevant searches for Enterprise Resource Planning. So in a subsequent article I might use that as my keyword phrase after all.

Yep, the upshot of this approach is that you aren’t being completely consistent in your use of terminology. But this is where we invoke Emerson’s “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” and set aside the style guide in service of getting our great articles in front of more people.

In fact, let’s take this a step further…

2. Enter the matrix.

Use keyword research to decide what to write or assign next.

Product sites and consumer sites sometimes use a “keyword matrix” to keep track of all the important words and phrases that they think potential buyers might be using for Web search, and the landing pages or articles that aim at each keyword. Typically it’s one article per keyword – it’s very difficult (though not impossible) to get an article to rank on search results for several different phrases.

For example, if you go to and search on “how to clean a pizza stone” – here’s the results page – you’ll find they have a bunch of articles that essentially provide the same information but are targeted at different, very specific searches:

  • How to clean a pizza stone
  • How to clean a burned pizza stone
  • How to clean baked cheese off a pizza stone

And so on. This is a completely Google-oriented content strategy. Each one ranks on the first page of search results for its specific term. Google “clean grease off pizza stone” and you’ll see this strategy in action.

I’m not one for repeating the same content over and over with slightly different labels; I think there are drawbacks to that approach in a B2B context that might not be a concern for a broad consumer site like eHow.

However, I am very interested in discovering how current and potential online audiences think about security topics and what terms they use in search.

Here’s a tool that can help me build a keyword matrix for my site: Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Here’s a small clip from the AdWords tool – only a fraction of the results returned – when you put in “network security”.

Google’s keyword tool shows me that it’s a highly competitive term in the advertising world – the bar on the left shows the relative level of bidding to display an ad on search results pages for each term. That measure is a decent proxy of the level of competition in organic search as well – meaning there are tons of articles aimed at that keyword. I’m certainly going to try to compete for search ranking for the term “network security.” Anyone who’s searching for that term is potentially interested in my site; I’d like them to find my content and make that judgment for themselves. However, I’m up against tons of product and service vendors as well as competing publishers.

Even if I don’t manage to make the first results page for that highly competitive term, keyword research tools are going to show me many related terms and phrases that are of similar interest for my site. If I’ve got some freelance money in my pocket, I’d like to spend it on a subject that’s of interest to a large number of relevant readers. I can use this list from the AdWords tools to guide my assignment process.

So CSO articles rank high on the Google results pages for network security basics and network security threats, for example.

Periodically I sit back and take a high-level view of the search phrases that bring visitors to CSOonline – easy to find in analytics packages. Then I think about which phrases aren’t delivering our content to Web searchers, rank those terms in order of desirability, and then work those topics into story assignments.

This is a simplistic look at a keyword matrix, but we’ll save more details for another column.

Additional resources

Other keyword research tools and sites:

5 additional ideas for keyword brainstorming: Google Sets, Keyword Map and others


About the Author

is editor of an award-winning B2B media website and magazine. Opinions and ideas expressed here are my own, not my employer's.

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