Marketing & Business
piece written on the 1st September 2017 by  

I read countless articles on keyword/topic identification and research, and we receive countless questions at iMod Digital and iMod Education about the topic. Unfortunately, as much as I wish there was one set way of doing this, there simply isn’t. Keyword identification and research is something that has to be done from multiple angles as you grow your website – the more you explore, the more opportunities you will come across. However, there are places to start and today I’m going to take you through a process or two that I use as a starting point. It’s a logical approach that I feel isn’t too complex so please follow along. I must warn you, though, I use SEMrush, which isn’t free. But, if you follow my strategy you’ll make your money back in website traffic.


Step 1

Open up Google Search and search for a few key words or phrases that you would want your website to appear in Google for. With each search, note down the addresses of those websites that rank in the first 5 positions. You can ignore adverts and map listings, we just want the natural organic results below all of that.

Here, I’ve searched for “surfing lessons” and highlighted what I’m referring to when I say “natural organic results”.

Google Top 5 Results

Step 2

Log into your SEMRush account and enter in one of the addresses you noted down. On the left, click on “Entire Menu” and then select “Positions” under “Organic Research”. What you’ll be presented with is a list of all the keywords that the website in question is currently ranking for.

Current Organic Rankings

There are a few important columns to take note of:

  1. Keyword – The keyword the website ranks for.
  2. Pos. – Where the website ranks for the keyword.
  3. Volume – How many monthly searches are performed for this keyword (in your chosen country).
  4. KD – The (Keyword) Difficulty of ranking for this keyword.

One by one, enter in the website addresses you wrote down from Step 1, each time capturing the 4 columns’ data from above (keyword, pos, volume and kd). You want to capture these into Microsoft Excel or a Google Sheet.

Step 3

Once you’ve captured all this data, what you’ll have is a long list of all the keywords that your competitors rank for, where they’re ranking and how competitive the keywords are. I’d recommend putting filters on the columns so that you can sort the data easily. You might want to remove keywords that have extremely low search volumes as you might argue that there’s little point putting a lot of work into ranking for a keyword that gets such low volume – depends on the business you’re in, though.

This is what you want your spreadsheet to look like:

Competitor Keyword Rankings

Step 4

Save your previous spreadsheet now, and open another spreadsheet or a new worksheet.

Perform the same steps in Step 2, but this time for your own website, noting down which keywords you’re ranking for. What we’ll have now are all the keywords your competitors rank for as well as all the keywords you rank for. I’m going to pretend that Gary Surf (ironically, I project managed the redesign of the Gary Surf website all the way back in 2009, it was fun to stumble across the design we did. I didn’t do the SEO, though) is my website, here’s what the keywords look like once exported into Microsoft Excel:

Gary Surf Rankings

Congratulations, all the data we need has now been captured. You’ve got two sets of data that is going to become incredibly useful in the next two sections. There are many ways to go about this, but I’m going to follow two different routes that I use, and that I know work.

Route 1

Turn your attention to the spreadsheet that has the keywords that you are for. Look for any keywords that you rank for position 6 – 15. If your website ranks for a keyword in position 6 to 15, it means that Google has recognised your website as being credible for ranking for this keyword, however, you haven’t proven that the page you have ranking is worthy of being in the top 5 positions. I should note down here that you don’t have to stick to the first 6 to 15 results, it sometimes makes sense to expand that range to capture more keywords based on what you see. For the sake of showing that, I’ve looked at Gary Surf’s keywords that rank in position 7 to 40:

Gary Surf Ranking Possibilities

From here there are 2 things you need to do:

  1. Search for these chosen keywords and note down the 5 websites that are ranking in the top 5 natural organic positions. You’ll now need to analyse these websites (or specifically the pages that appeared in the search results) to determine what it is about these pages that make them better than yours. In other words, why are they in the top 5 positions and your page isn’t? Do they have more content, more links, more media and so the list goes on? This is a process that takes time, there will be a lot of websites and a lot of data to crunch, but we all know that good things come to those who wait. If you put the effort it, you’ll see the rewards.
  2. Ensure that your page (which ranks) is as optimised as possible. Is your meta data up to scratch, have you got good images, is the content written well, has the page been shared on social media, does it have some good links?

I decided to look at Gary Surf’s website and see if I could pick up on something to run you through an example of what’s possible.

I noticed that roughly 6,600 searches for “Muizenberg webcam” happen every month – that’s a lot of searches. My guess is that these are people who are interested in looking at what the waves are like at Muizenberg beach to determine if it’s a good time to go surfing. Gary’s shop faces the beach, he could purchase a camera, set it up on the shop facing the waves and then create a page on the website that shows a webcam feed. This page could turn into an incredibly useful resource, and with some optimisation could move up from position 27. With time, and with people visiting the page and hopefully sharing it, the page could really have the chance of hitting page 1 of the Google results.

I wanted to do a little more exploration, so I popped into Google and searched for “Muizenberg webcam” to have a look at what would appear. I clicked through to page 2 of the search results and saw Gary’s website at the bottom, but I also noticed something really interesting, take a look:

There are people already searching for “gary’s surf school webcam” – Google actually puts that as a suggestion. But, we don’t have anything on the Gary Surf website to suit this search. I did note that there is a webcam, at Gary’s Surf school, but it exists on another website, which means the other website is getting all the value for it when Gary could seriously capitalise on this if it were on his own website.

Combining these 2 steps and implementing your findings on your page is a sure set way to move the page up into the top 5 positions from its current position (6-15).

Route 2

This route is a little more involved and takes some intuition, which is why there isn’t a definitive way to do keyword research. Open up the spreadsheet with all your competitor’s keywords, open it up nice and big on your screen. Now, there is a bit of a process that I can share with you, but you’ll have to adapt it a bit. Here’s the idea:

Order the keywords by KD because what we want to look for are keywords with a low difficulty level. Why? Because these are the easiest keywords to chase and rank for. If you find a keyword with a low difficulty and a decent search volume (and that is relevant), you have two choices: Create a page on your website targeting this keyword or write a piece of content to publish on your blog. I must warn you, in most cases you can’t quickly throw up a page or blog post with a couple hundred words, you’ll have to put effort into creating a valuable page, but if you do that there’s a very high chance that the page or post will rank well for a new keyword in your industry that you currently don’t rank for – therefore you will increase the traffic to your website.

In the case of Gary Surf, the same scenario around “Muizenberg webcam” could be applied here. There was a very high chance that Gary’s website wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) have ranked for “Muizenberg webcam” and that would have been a great example of a highly searched keyword with a lot of potential.

If you spot a keyword with a KD of 50-60 that you want to chase, this is where things get more complicated, simply because they’re more difficult. It’s at this point that you want to follow the steps in Route 1, above. Search for the keyword you’ve identified and start investigating the top 5-10 results to figure out why Google has put those pages at the top of the search results. Unfortunately, this is the part where we can’t just create a checklist to follow, a lot of this boils down to practice and experience.

However, let me give you a couple things to inspire you.

Time to get your spreadsheet skills on! Conditional formatting anyone? By using some simple conditional formatting or sorting of Volume and KD you’re presented with an opportunity to look for the green cells that match to identify high volume keywords that have medium competition levels. You can apply whatever formatting you want, of course, to narrow down to your goal. Below is an example where I’ve highlighted KD’s between 50 and 60. Looking through the list, I can see a few opportunities that we could chase after:

Conditional Formatting

I could expand to a difficulty of between 40 and 70 to open things up even more.

Conditional Formatting 2
“cape town surf report” is an interesting one, there’s an opportunity to get a page ranking and to get people to opt into a newsletter, which is a surf report they receive monthly, along with a couple punts about surfing lessons or surfing products.
I think you get my drift, you’ll have to play around with different combinations to see what you can stumble across! The more you repeat this process, the more you’ll become familiar with ideas that could completely evolve your website into a complete traffic powerhouse.

I want to move outside of this for just a moment to mention something important that often gets overlooked. If you’re someone who isn’t able to analyse a website to determine what SEO factors are ranking a specific page, you can still follow this process for other ideas. Once you identify which sites rank for the keywords you’re interested in, you could approach the sites to see if you could write a guest post for them and include a link back to your website, you could approach them for advertising options and so the list goes on. It’s not always about optimising a website or page for rankings, sometimes there aren’t skills or time for this, the option of writing something up or paying for a placement is another way of getting ahead.

In all my years, I’ve found that keyword research is very much about exploration. Sure, you need some fundamental understandings, some inspiration and useful software, but when you combine these and invest some time sorting, searching and exploring, you end up finding amazing opportunities. Search Google for other words, look past the first 5 competitors in the search results and gather as much data as you can. The more data available, the more combinations that present opportunities will appear at your finger tips. Invest time in writing great content for the pages or posts you create. If you’re not a great writer, hire a copywriter who understands SEO properly and commission them to do the writing, explain to them what your aim is, give them several keywords and let them put together a few pieces for you.

I really hope that this post has been interesting, and more importantly, inspiring. If you have, head over to SEMrush, use the search bar to run a test and then sign up. It’s not the cheapest software, but it’s incredibly powerful and is my go-to tool for anything research related to SEO.

Yours in search!