Keyword Research 101 - Learning to Talk the Talk

Guest post by Chris Frank, Marketing Director, TreeHouse Interactive

For marketers, one of the most important tasks when you come into a company is getting your footing quickly and “talking the talk.” What I mean by that is the ability to talk credibly about your industry and products. You want to connect with your target audiences out of the gate.

Unfortunately, most companies haven’t done the basics here and give their new marketer a double dose of executive bias and industry buzzwords. The best advice I can give marketers that go fresh into a company is to do your own homework. Nothing makes your marketing ineffective faster than blindly trusting what has gone before—especially if it didn’t work.

So how do you immerse yourself in the talk? It takes knowing about some important tools and techniques for identifying keywords, validating their use and creating your own core list as a result. By the way, this is also essential baseline work if you’re starting up a company and want to be sure your messaging is on track from the start.

Below is the rough step-by-step process I use for talking the talk. I don’t claim this to be the end all way to do this, just my technique in abbreviated form.

Brainstorm Your Keywords

You need a place to start. Viewing your product or service from a “what does it do” or functional level should give you 20+ keywords to work with. Then look at competitor sites. What keywords are they using in their metatags? Add them to your list. Also check sites like SpyFu and SEMRush. You’ll find out what keywords competitors are putting paid ads on and get a broader keyword picture. Another place to look is in analyst and consultant articles for your industry. Pay attention to headlines and topic sentences in particular. Gather up all these keywords in one spreadsheet and get ready to really dive in.

Find The Right Keywords To Focus On

This is where the fun begins. In this step you want to narrow down your keywords and then validate the right ones. While many corporate marketers will turn their nose up at affiliate marketer tools, I use one called Adword Analyzer to find untapped related keywords to find potential traffic on all keywords and get some insight into what the paid ad competition is like on them. So your list may expand a bit here first before you pare it down. Experiment with tools. There are many of them.

Look at high traffic words first. Which ones do you absolutely need to be found through when someone searches? Can you eliminate any that are competitor specific? You will find some you thought would be great, but have little to no traffic? Now you can whittle your list down to about 20 and then test.

Get Your Hands Dirty

Testing here means a lot of listening before you’re sure you have the right terms for talking the talk. An easy way to do this is to monitor their use in social media. When you use Twitter search, you can get the RSS feed for any results. This is raw information on who is using these keyword terms in what conversations. Subscribe to this feed with Google Reader, and it makes it easy to see all validation information in one place. How many mentions are you seeing for each keyword? What posts are being discussed around these keywords? Is it the type of discussion your company should be mentioned in? Also look at top search results for your list of keywords. Should your company be in those results or not? Modify your list—adding and taking away from it—until you’re comfortable with 10-20.

What This Research Is And Isn’t

It’s important to understand that this keyword research isn’t messaging. It’s a baseline for connecting effectively with customers and prospects. It will fuel on-track messaging, SEO/SEM, persona building, elevator pitches and unique selling positions later—which is really the next step in what to do with this research. What you’ll find if you do this work is that the words come easy when producing marketing deliverables instead of going through constant revision because it’s not quite right.

Thoughts? What have you found to help with keyword research?

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