The 4 Steps to Keyword Analysis: How to Prioritize Your Resources

steps

Don’t you love that feeling that comes with keyword research?

You’re left with hundreds, often thousands, of opportunities you can target to grow your business.

If you do your keyword research well, you can even identify several relatively easy keywords to go after.

I know you’re excited.

But there’s a problem…

Which one do you go after first?

Which one do you go after second?

For the vast majority of blogs and business websites, you’ll be able to create only a few really great pieces of content a month.

That means you’ll never get to every single keyword you dug up in your research.

In fact, you may never get past 10% (but you can still be incredibly successful). So, what do you do?

You prioritize.

Some keywords are better than others to go after for your business.

I’m going to show you a 4-step process you can follow to analyze the keywords you came up with and decide which keywords to pursue. 

Step 1: Organization is key

Keyword research and analysis is not something that can just be thrown together.

You can’t randomly input keywords into tools and sporadically analyze them—it’s impossible when you have potentially thousands to go through.

That’s why organization is critical. Take the time upfront to get all your keyword research into one area.

In this case, I recommend using a spreadsheet. Once you have a list of keywords to consider, put them in a single column.

Next, get the search volumes for each keyword if you haven’t already. Just copy and paste them into the Keyword Planner if you have to.

This step isn’t hard, but it could take some time.

By the end, you should have a spreadsheet like this, with all your keywords:

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Step 2: It’s time to take stock

Before you even look at your keywords, you need to decide what you’re willing to invest to go after them.

For example, if you have a $500 monthly budget, you cannot target highly competitive terms such as “home insurance” because you’ll get zero traffic. Instead, it’s better to target more realistic terms and get a steady trickle of traffic.

Since keyword research is usually tied to SEO at least a bit, you need to give yourself a fighting chance at ranking #1-3 for each keyword you target.

But put aside the competition aspect for now, and make sure you know exactly how much of the following three factors you have available.

Factor #1 – budget. To target a keyword, you’ll need two things: content and promotion (mainly backlinks).

Many businesses hire someone (or a small team) to produce content and do the promotion.

Right here, you need to be able to answer these questions:

  • Do you even want to spend money on targeting keywords?
  • Alternatively, do you have to spend money to do it (because no one on your team has the skills or time to)?
  • If so, how much can you reliably afford to commit on a long term basis (at least 6 months)?

To get the most out of your content, you need to think long term. It takes months of consistent, high quality work before traffic starts to pick up.

That’s why it’s not enough to invest a lot upfront and then pull funding when the results aren’t amazing immediately.

If you are going to employ that approach, divide that upfront money into at least six portions, and plan your content and promotion accordingly in the future.

Factor #2 – manpower. If you don’t want to spend money to hire people to produce content and promote it, you need to do it yourself (or assign it to an employee).

Or you might want a mixture of the two options.

Either way, determine right now the maximum amount of time you, or someone on your team, can commit to working on a specific keyword.

Again, this needs to be an amount of time specifically carved out for this work. You need consistency.

Factor #3 – expectations. When I refer to expectations, I mean answering this question: How well do you need to rank in order to be happy?

Or a better question might be: How much traffic do you need if you spend a certain level of resources on your marketing and SEO?

If you’re starting from scratch, getting just 100 organic visits a day might justify the work you’re going to put in, at least for now.

But if you’re heading up this work at a large website, getting an extra 100 visits a day might be only 1% more traffic, which isn’t good enough.

The point here is to see if there’s any misalignment between the first two factors and your goals.

If you’re expecting big things with a small budget, you’re doomed before you even started. At this point, you need to revisit your budget and manpower available—or tone down your expectations.

Alternatively, if you’re expecting to get an extra few thousand visitors a month after 6 months of work with a budget of a few thousand dollars a month, that’s achievable, and you can move on to the next step.

Step 3: Competition will dictate desirability

All right, now we can get back to your list of keywords.

This step is about one thing: determining the level of competition for each keyword.

This competition level refers to how hard it will be to rank in the top 3 listings for that keyword in Google.

That being said, if you have another distribution channel (social media, forum, etc.) that you know you can get a ton of traffic from for content on a specific keyword, classify that as easy.

Essentially, we’re looking for an overall measure of how easy it will be to get a reasonable amount of traffic from each keyword.

Option #1 – assign each keyword a competition value manually: Create a column on your spreadsheet to assign a competition value in either of two ways:

  • General categories – competition isn’t an exact science. You may opt to simply label each keyword with something like: easy, relatively easy, average, hard, very hard, etc.
  • Specific numbers – you can also use a scale of 1-5 or 1-10, where low numbers indicate low competition and high numbers are the toughest.

I recommend the second way because we’ll be using it later on.

Here comes the hard part: figuring out the competition level for each keyword. This can take a lot of time, especially if you’re doing it all yourself.

Basically, you need to get the top 3 results (or more) for each keyword, and then look at the following factors:

  • How relevant is the content? (i.e., is it clearly optimized for the keyword?)
  • How impressive is the content? (can you make something significantly better?)
  • How many backlinks point to the page? (only count high quality ones)
  • How authoritative is the site? (e.g., Forbes is highly authoritative, potatoesarethebest.com is not)

You could also look at factors such as mobile-friendliness and page load speed, but you’ll never be able to analyze all your keywords if you include too many factors.

This doesn’t need to be a perfect analysis, but it should be at least a good estimate of what you’re up against.

Put all those together to come up with an overall competition score.

Option #2 – use a tool to gauge competition: I know I don’t have time to do the above for thousands of keywords.

The good news is that many signals can be checked automatically with tools. You can find a bunch of options in the keyword competition section of this guide.

These tools look at the above factors and then use a formula to calculate an overall competition value (usually out of 10 or 100).

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This can take this step down from several hours to just minutes, which is obviously a great thing.

The one thing you sacrifice is control.

You have to trust that the minds behind the tool are weighing the factors correctly and generating a relatively good competition estimate.

I suggest trying out a tool and then manually going through a dozen keywords to see whether the tool’s competition assessment matches yours.

Step 4: It’s time to turn to math

“Oh crap, I don’t remember calculus…”

Don’t worry, you’ll need only very basic math here.

This is the final step of our analysis, where we create a score that will tell us which keywords to prioritize.

Let’s recap what we’ve done so far and, more importantly, what we’re looking for in a great keyword.

Ideally:

  • We want keywords with low competition.
  • We want to get a lot of traffic if we rank highly for it (more is better).
  • It must be realistic—if a keyword has competition that clearly exceeds your budget, it should automatically be the lowest priority.
  • We need a minimum amount of traffic to make it worth your time.

Part #1 – filter and eliminate: Those last two points are the easiest to start with. If a keyword doesn’t meet those conditions, it should be assigned low priority and removed from consideration.

Start with the minimum traffic level.

You’ve already decided the minimum return you need, and we’ll use that here.

If your minimum was 100 visitors per day, or 3,000 per month, a keyword with a monthly search volume of 50 will not be worth it.

Your cutoff will probably be 500-1,000 for that example. With 7-15 pieces of content, you could hit your goal, which is reasonable for most. Keep in mind that you will get only about 30% of the monthly search volume as #1 these days.

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Filter out all the keywords below that monthly search volume.

Next, based on your predetermined budget and manpower, along with SEO experience, determine what competition is too high.

If you have a small budget with very little manpower or SEO experience, eliminate all keywords that are above average in difficulty.

You’ll have to judge this for yourself.

Part #2 – calculate a priority score: Now you’re left with a list of keywords that would be both good and realistic to rank for.

They should all be keywords you would target if you had enough time.

This is where the math comes in.

We’ll use the following formula:

(A*Traffic) / (B*Competition) = Priority Score

A and B are both constants that we’ll figure out in a second. Traffic and competition both come from your earlier numbers.

A high priority score is a good thing. The higher the score, the sooner you should target it.

The constants can be anything, but they mainly depend on two things:

  • Risk tolerance – if you’re willing to take a risk and go for high volume keywords (that require more resources to target) make “A” larger. If you want more reliable results (small wins), make “B” larger.
  • Skill level – if you’re an expert SEO, you can decrease “B” because competition isn’t as scary. If you’re not as experienced, make “B” larger.

Before you do this, I’d advise to normalize your traffic numbers. You should do this since competition is already normalized from 1 to 10 (or to 5).

To do so, take the logarithm of each number. For example:

  • log(1,000)=3
  • log(50)=1.69

Then, multiply each of these numbers by a scaling factor that is equal to 10 (or 5) divided by the largest number you have. If you only had the two examples above, the scaling factor would be equal to 3.33 (10 divided by 3).

Now all your traffic numbers are out of 10, and you’ll get a more reasonable set of priority scores.

Sort your list and get to work: You’ve done all the hard work. The last step is to sort your final list by the priority score, highest to lowest.

Now, plan your content and promotion schedule according to this list. Start at the keyword with the highest priority score, and work your way down.

Conclusion

As you can see, keyword analysis isn’t incredibly difficult, but it takes a lot of work.

While you may want to take shortcuts, don’t.

Getting your analysis right will save you from chasing the wrong keywords and wasting hundreds of hours, and it will help you target keywords that will give you the quickest results.

If you have any questions about keyword analysis, just leave me a comment below.

Comments

  1. Francisco Rodríguez :

    Hi Neil.

    Thanks for the deep knowledge you share over here. I think we all appreciate it!

    Let me ask you a side question, What happen to the “The $100,000 Challenge”?

    Is this how it ends or is it a pause or something?

    Thanks again,

    Bye

    • I will be providing another update on it soon

    • Anil Agarwal :

      I think keyword research is the key to increase get more traffic from Google even to a new blog.

      Most beginners fail to build a massive traffic blog just because of one reason. They write posts without targeting any keywords.

      By following the four steps you mentioned here one can easily write posts that get a TON of traffic.

      Thanks for the share Neil!

      • It’s what will give you clarity of your visions, one critically important part in the process

  2. Ataib Ur Rehman :

    Thanks,
    Niel For sharing this precious knowledge. I need it lot

  3. Great piece, Neil. I love how you go into the importance of organization, always an essential first step in finding great kws. This reminds me of the piece I wrote on Content Marketing Institute just a few days ago, a nutshell guide to keyword research. I’d be honored if you checked it out: http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2016/04/proper-keyword-research/

    • This is stellar! Great job!

      Many people try to write about keyword research, but your post definitely seems comprehensive and actionable.

  4. Tiffany Simpson :

    Hi Neil! Thanks for sharing this knowledge. It helps to clarify what keywords you should target. And understanding how all these factors play a part in getting results from content marketing helps in defining a profitable strategy.

    • You’re welcome Tiffany, I’m glad I could help. Let me know if you have any other questions or need clarification with anything

  5. Kandra Wilko :

    I will try this trix neil, cause the limited budget i had and man power and time.
    Your trix ussually work best for my blog

  6. Hi Neil,

    You just cleared the keyword research concept for me 😀 can’t wait to start using them on my own blog,

    One more thing: Would you prefer LongTailPro or Keyword Archer?

    Would be grateful for the answer thank you.

  7. Hi Neil,

    I’m about to start a bicycle tours venture – can you recommend any portal/tool specific to global travel industry for searching travel related keywords?

    Would appreciate your support.

    Thanks!

    • Not 100% sure Ajay, but I would suggest taking some the sites of some of your competitors and see what keywords they’re targeting.

  8. Ladislav Voros :

    Thanks a lot for this great article 🙂 I’m reading all your blogs and I have to say they are 10/10. Thanks to your article on NeilPatel.com I used your advices how to integrate longtail keywords, I played really a lot of time with keyword planner on google adwords and it helped a lot. Thanks a lot Neil for your articles, they are helping lot of people and the content you are writing is unique 🙂

    I picked up some of the keywords and wrote articles based on them, published on my clients sites and now I want to make some backlins on them. I am very curious about your opinion, is it worth to submit an article to article directory? I search the web and found information, that it can harm SEO, because google consider them as spam. That is obvious when this site has duplicate content etc., but are all these article directories worthless? Or some of them should be ok? 🙂

    Thanks again 🙂

  9. Excellent ready, Neil.

    I am new to keyword research and this article really helps narrow down how to prioritize keywords.

    My main struggle at the moment is still to determine a keyword’s competivity.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Cheers,
    Anh

    • You’re welcome Anh. It’s okay if you you’re having difficulty, this part of the process isn’t easy and usually incomplete by most. It’s valuable, stick with it and let me know how it works out for you

  10. great article. it helps really on what keyword will be used. I thank you for this knowledgeable post.

  11. Wow this is a relevant article, maybe you can help me with a keyword problem I’ve been having a problem with. I have one keyword that gets 500 searches and is pretty low competition, “licorice root benefits.” There are about 36 benefits and if I write them all in one article it’ll prob take more than 3000 words.

    I don’t whether to write the one big article or break each benefit up into its own article, like “licorice root for cough,” “licorice for hair growth.” Those keywords only get about 70 searches but have barely any competition. They would be around 800 to 1000 words each.

    What do you think?

  12. That was an awesome piece of information Neil. Enjoyed every word and I am going to apply all the suggestions to my website. I especially liked the formula that you used for normalizing the traffic.

    Thanks!

    • You’re welcome Anoop, glad the formula was helpful. If you have any questions or things I can help you with, please don’t hesitate to ask

  13. It is wonderful read, I am glad I found this article at the nick of the time as I am setting my start up as I was thinking of how to identify keywords. It is helpful article.

  14. That’s a pretty old approach which was (maybe still is) very popular in thin niches where you could find low competition keywords and rank relatively easy. I remember Market Samurai had a great feature that showed competition for various keywords.

    Today it’s a bit harder, you must make your keywords list as big as possible and not rely purely on G. keywords tool to find the tasty keywords.

  15. Thomas McCallum :

    Great information Neil, thanks 🙂

  16. Hi Neil,
    I am about know that Keywords competition shown in Ad-words tools is apt for SEO or not?
    Otherwise Allintitle:#keywords.

    Thanks and Regards

  17. Hi neil,
    What about the keyword difficulty tool? Will it help to find perfect keyword?

  18. Hi Neil

    Your articles are always great & this was no exception. Really helped to explain why things for me are building so slowly & also how to go about creating more traffic.

    In the It’s time to turn to math section #1 filter & eliminate you mention “With 7-15 pieces of content, you could hit your goal”

    Does that mean you need 7-15 pieces of content marketing based around a single keyword?

    Thanks!

    • It helps to have multiple content pieces with a keyword as it creates themes, but it isn’t always necessary.

  19. Laurens ten Hagen :

    Great article, Neil!

  20. Great finally know which keywords to use, always focus low if no have budget.

  21. Julie ContentWriter :

    I am at the stage where I am trying to get 100 visits to the site daily. I guess I need to up my budget to reach my target and improve my conversions.

    • Yah or you can also start writing blogs that intertwine with things fellow influencers in your market are doing and get them to help you promote

  22. Another great article. I must say I am surprised to see mathematics in keyword targeting.

    Logarithm? Calculus? Didn’t think I would see those referenced in today’s computer age.

    My best take away is “If you’re expecting big things with a small budget, you’re doomed before you even started”. I have a number of clients that expect to hit top spots on very competitive terms with little investment.

  23. It’s nice to see you posting almost every day now

  24. Md Shahinuzzaman :

    Outstanding metrics & calculation. I would know, an seo campaign should start such way but wouldn’t know how can i implement the process. Really appreciable your writing.

    Now, I have question Neil,

    People are searching to get my site using English language keywords, but my site content is another language, How can i rank for those English language keywords?

    Thanks 🙂

  25. Angelina Grey :

    Keyword research…!!!! uuufffffff.. The most irritating task i must say.. but not now…!!!
    Glad i landed here and read this article.

    usually i got confused which keyword to slesct and which to reject..as I donot know calculus.. haha

    but not anymore.. thanks for this masterpiece Neil

    Keep Sharing
    Cheers

  26. Startup Basics :

    Thanks for posting this, I really like this article because it is useful and I had limited budget, man power and time. This cleared the keyword research concept for me. Thank you for your advices.

  27. Such a wonderful post Sir Neil. It really a great help for me, Thank you so much.

  28. Thanks Neil, You shar the nice blog. I enjoy reading your blog.

  29. Ravindra Paradhi :

    Comprehensive article, Really helpful to choose proper keywords, It saves lots of time by avoiding wrong keywords.

  30. Great piece of work Neil. I have been reading your every blog & every time I find your blogs a cut above another. 🙂

  31. It is brilliant perused, I am happy I discovered this article at the scratch of the time as I am setting my start up as I was considering how to recognize watchwords. It is useful article.

  32. This post helping in Keyword Analysis.

  33. bhuboy@wealthstrategies.com.ph :

    Glad I have read this, I just posted today on my blog how I did keyword research using Google analytics http://www.wealthstrategies.com.ph/keyword-research/ , I need to read this post and see what I can add more to the post I wrote, Thanks for this

  34. good article thanks for sharing

  35. good article thanks for sharing

  36. Avijit Roy :

    After many days, you have posted a blog on keyword research. The most importantly, the way you write the blogs, it never gets boring or monotonous. Do share as you always.

    Great admirer…Avijit Roy

  37. Hey neil ! this is really an awesome article , i am applying this strategies on my money site : https:///mlmworld.in .
    i will let you know hows it goes.

    regard
    anant parmar
    CEO at mlmworld

  38. harpreet kaur :

    Keyword analysis is very essential part to optimize your website.

  39. Erno Horvath :

    Hi Neil,

    Why you won’t just use the avg CPC provided by Google and create a formula for the calculation instead? In my understanding the real value of a keyword is pretty much defined by how much advertisers willing to pay for a click.

    Also probably ‘long tail’ keyword research is good for certain type of businesses, but I have a business where it just don’t work and what works is short, but very targeted ones.

    I know, because we’ve tried, we wrote articles and basically no one converted from the blog however the traffic is fairly good and we are ranked before large press sites. Just because one is searching for what celebrity got boob jobs (it’s other type of plastic surgery but the example is the same) done that doesn’t mean the searcher wants to have one.

    That should be considered as well, imho.

    Regards,
    Erno

  40. Great article Neil. Thank you for the fresh and relevant articles. If you had to choose the one most important factor in Google ranking today, what would your opinion be? I am launching a fresh website for a new venture at http://www.tidemarkcreative.com and I want to make sure I am on the right path. Thanks my friend!

    • Quality content hands down. Great job on your site, it looks fantastic!

      Do you guys specialize in working with churches?

  41. Great Work Neil 🙂

  42. Now, keyword research methodology is clear. Thanks Neil.

  43. technology updatez :

    nice post

  44. Thank you, Neil for this great insight. I am most grateful.

  45. Sateesh Kumar Chigulla :

    I wanted an article on keyword research badly and here I got one. Thanks for your info. I have one question. If I don’t want to spend money on keyword research then what is the right approach that I can follow that can save me a lot of time?
    What I have seen is that the keywords that are shown of less competition on keyword planner and semrush, are actually very competitive as big players are ranking for this term. So, how I can overcome this barrier?

    • You don’t need to spend money on it, you can very well do the research your self. Look at synonyms for the targeted keywords in addition to the head terms you’re looking up.

  46. Print In London :

    I think it would be great if you would make a video about it .As it’s too long to read.But must say great content.

  47. David J Parker :

    I have always been a big fan of yours. Neil I would really like to thank you for sharing this important piece of information.. I have read your earlier blogs and applied your techniques to my client’s website http://techsupportleadsprovider.com and it really worked.. Now this website ranks on the first page of Google.

  48. Hi Neil,

    Again a great post and really help me in find the right keywords for my new website. I am searching for a man who can do for me and I will pay him, but after reading your post I am able to do myself.

    Thank you very much!

  49. Hemang Rindani :

    Thanks Neil for this. I am working on SEO for clients and following similar approach, though not in the exact sequence but are quite successful. Our clients vary from small websites to large enterprise level sites designed and developed using enterprise web content management services.
    My concern for them is whether to focus on Long tail keywords or short tail are better. How to prioritize them?

  50. Michele Reed :

    I REALLY LOVE WHAT YOU DO FOR MY SELF CONFIDENCE!!!

  51. Very nice article. It helps really on what keyword will be used.Thank you for sharing!!

  52. Masum Haider :

    Awesome and great job Neil Patel.
    Thanks.

  53. Keyword research is one of the most critical seo factor which can make or break your campaign.Many newbies start targetting high competitive keywords without even calculating time and efforts required to rank it .

  54. It’s clear that being concise with your keyword analysis can be infinitely beneficial. Take your time, be patient, and do good quality work and you will see that the results will speak for themselves in due time. Nice article Neil.

  55. Helo Neil,

    Thanks for this knowledgeable article. From on month i am struggling with keywords research that how to choose best keywords for website. Your article is really helpful for me..

    Thanks.

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