Keyword research for search engine optimisation

If you’re planning to market your healthcare business by optimising your website for organic search engines, then the first thing you need to do is to research which keywords to target.

There’s no point having a top ranking for a phrase no-one is searching for, and equally there’s no point targeting a phrase which you have little hope of ever ranking for - you’re not going to be number one for ‘healthcare’ any time soon, for example!

Keyword research is about finding the phrases with the best balance of traffic to competition, relevant to your business, and taking these phrases into account when planning your website.

Step 1. Gather keyword ideas

You may think it’s obvious which phrases you need to target – and it may well be so. ‘Gynaecologist Bristol’, for example, if you happen to be a gynaecologist in Bristol, would be a very obvious phrase to target – and probably not too competitive.

But in all likelihood there will be many other phrases you can target too. When we conduct a keyword research project we would use the following process:

  1. Write down all the ideas that come to you, off the top of your head.
  2. Brainstorm ideas with someone who knows little about your business – get them to ask you questions about what you do, what issues you can help people with, what geographical area you can serve, and this will trigger off many keyword ideas that you may not have thought of. Looking at your business with outsiders’ eyes can be very enlightening!
  3. Look at what your competitors are targeting. Read their websites carefully and see how they describe themselves – what kind of terminology are they using? You can also have a look in their website code to see what phrases they have put (if any) in their meta keywords tags. (Meta keywords don’t really help your website to rank better in search engines but your competitor may well not know that and have put the phrases they are looking to target in there.) If you use Firefox, right click anywhere in the web page you’re looking at and choose ‘View Page Source’, and if you use Internet Explorer, click the ‘View’ menu and select ‘Source’. Somewhere towards the top of the code that comes up, you will probably see something that looks like <meta name="keywords" content="bla, bla, bla" />, where “bla, bla, bla” is their list of target keywords.

Step 2. Analyse your keywords

You should, from Step 1, have a fairly extensive list of keyword ideas. But is anyone searching for them?
Really, the best thing to do to get accurate keyword data is to run a Google AdWords campaign for a while, but assuming that you don’t want to do that, you can still use the Google AdWords keyword tool to pull off some useful data for your search engine optimisation campaign.

Start by visiting the Google AdWords keyword tool here:

Make sure that the data you are about to obtain relates to the appropriate geographical area. After all, if your business is operating solely in the UK it will not be helpful for you to be looking at data relating to the USA. To do this look at Advanced Filters and Options and make sure the correct location is showing. If necessary you can change the country by clicking the X to the right of Locations and selecting the country you want from those listed in the dropdown.

Enter your keyword ideas into the ‘Word or phrase’ box – it’s usually best to do them one at a time rather than putting them all in the box at once. To keep things simple, leave the ‘Website’ and ‘Category’ boxes blank for the moment, though you may wish to come back and investigate what those do at a later stage.

You’ll need to enter some words or numbers into a CAPTCHA box to prove that you are a human being, and then press ‘Search’. You should see something along the following lines:

You’ll see the term that you entered into the tool at the top, in bold, with additional keyword ideas that Google thinks are related listed below. The ‘Competition’ column refers to competition on Google AdWords – how many businesses are paying to advertise on Google on that term. ‘Global monthly searches’ refers to the approximate number of searches for that phrase per month globally, and ‘Local monthly searches’ is the approximate number of searches for that phrase per month in the UK (or if you’re located outside the UK, it would be whichever country you are located in).

To make these figures more accurate, change the match type to ‘Exact’ rather than ‘Broad’ using the tick boxes on the left hand side of the screen.

This will give you the numbers relating to searches for that exact phrase only – Broad match, the default, will include lots of other variants of the phrase too. When you tick the ‘Exact’ box you will probably see the numbers on the screen shrink dramatically!

What you are looking for, using the keyword tool, is to identify phrases which have a good balance of traffic to competition. If you’re targeting the UK, you’re probably not that interested in the number of global searches, so look at the ‘local’ column to gauge the quantity of traffic. Although the ‘Competition’ column relates to competition on Google AdWords, not search engine optimisation specifically, there is usually a correlation between the two. If lots of people are targeting a phrase on Google AdWords, there are probably lots of people targeting it through search engine optimisation too. So unless you have a subscription to another keyword research tool which analyses competition on organic search, it is quite reasonable to use this figure as a guide.

Pick out the phrases with a reasonable amount of traffic, where the competition is not unreasonably high – and these become your target phrases. (What does ‘reasonable’ and ‘unreasonably high’ mean? I’ve left these terms deliberately vague, because it depends on your market. Choose the phrases with the best balance rather than trying to measure what is high and low.)

These phrases should also be ones which you can fit naturally into your website copy, and highly relevant to your services – so choose wisely!

Step 3. Use the keywords to optimise your site

Ideally, you would have conducted the keyword research process before even building your website – giving you the opportunity to plan your website around what people are searching for.

A good way to approach this is to split your keywords into subgroups according to theme – so if you offer several services, split your keyword list down into each service, and then see if you can subdivide these groups further – within that service, what are people searching for? If they’re searching for information on the cost of the service, for example, then a page about the cost of the service could be appropriate. By splitting your keywords down into groups and subgroups, you are effectively planning the structure of your new website content.

But if you haven’t actually planned your content around your keyword research, there is still a lot you can do to optimise your website. Read our article on Search Engine Optimisation to see how to work the phrases into your website content.

Author profile: Helen Culshaw

  • Helen Culshaw has been working in the digital media industry for 14 years and founded Ascendancy Internet Marketing in 2004
  • Her particular specialisms are search engine marketing and website project management. She is a Qualified Google AdWords Professional
  • She is a regular public speaker and writer on internet marketing related subjects and is a Visiting Lecturer at the Universities of London, Worcester and Wolverhampton

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Keyword research for search engine optimisation



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