I started out writing an in depth complex article on keyword research.
Then I realized most people don’t need that, most people need simple steps with examples.
Today, we are going to talk about head keywords. These are your MAIN keywords for your entire site. They will probably be somewhat competitive, and sometimes it will take months or years of consistent work to land on page one for these terms (but sometimes it is easier than you think).
To increase your effectiveness and ability to rank quickly, we’ll also add location modifiers to these head keywords.
To figure out your main head keywords, start with answering one simple question: What do you do?
Answer this question as if you’re talking to someone you just met who knows nothing about you or what you do, but answer it in as few words as possible.
For me: I photograph weddings. I’m a wedding photographer.
- I do newborn photography. I’m a newborn photographer.
- I do family portrait photography.
- I do high school senior portraits.
- I’m a food photographer.
- I create classic, timeless children’s portraits.
After we have our short phrase, we are going to head over to the Google Keyword Planner.
You’ll have to sign up with and Adwords account to use this tool, and to sign up for Adwords you’ll have to go through the process of creating an ad and setting a budget and putting in payment information. I know this seems scary, but don’t worry. Just go ahead and do it and deactivate the ad once you get your account set up. You won’t be charged for anything and now you’ll have access to the keyword planner tool.
Once you get back to the keyword planner tool
, click “Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category.”
Go ahead and enter the words from the question you answered before. Try to keep it simple. For my example, I’ll enter “wedding photography, wedding photographer” (you can search multiple terms by separating with a comma).
Once you click “Get ideas” you’ll need to click on the Keyword ideas tab, and you’ll find a list of terms that are similar to the terms you entered. Browse this list for variations of your original term and make a note of these variations. For right now, leave out modifiers like “best, cheap, professional” etc. We’ll work on those modifiers in the next post.
So for my example I noted:
You’ll also start to notice other phrases that are related to yours like “engagement photography.” Make a mental note of these, but again we’ll come back to those in the next post.
Now we are going to add the local modifier to our photography keywords. This one is easy. Where is your business located?
Er, maybe that isn’t so simple. Maybe your business is in your home and your home town isn’t where you do most of your work. Hmm. Lets ask this: Where do you do the majority of your work? Make a list of a few of the main cities/towns. Be sure to include nicknames if your city is commonly referred to by those names.
Example for me:
West Columbia SC
Notice that I’m not being greedy and trying to rank for every major city within 3 hours. I’m picking towns and cities that are part of the greater Columbia area. If you want to rank for multiple big cities, it isn’t impossible, but you should start with ONE, and ideally it should be the one that is closest to you. Even more ideal: you have a physical address in that city where you can verify your address with Google. It is important that the address you verify with Google be the same city as you are using on your website and other directories. So even though my home address is in Lexington, if I want to rank for Columbia it would be very helpful to have a Columbia address (not absolutely necessary, but it is almost impossible to rank on the map with a mismatched address).
Now we are going to combine the words we found earlier with these city modifiers and create a list of variations.
Keyword Planner has a helpful tool for this. Click on “Multiply keyword lists to get new keywords.”
Paste your list of head keywords in the “List 1” box, then paste them again and write the word “in” after each one.
Paste your list of locations in the “List 2” box.
Click Get search volume.
This will give you a list of every combination of these keywords. You might want to save this in a spreadsheet, the list can get long fast.
Then I actually want you to go back and modify the search and flip the fields around. Put the locations in List 1, and the head terms in List 2 (you can get rid of the “in” modified words).
Add this new list to your spreadsheet.
Now for the final step!!
We are going to go back to the start page of the Keyword Planner and choose “Get search volume data and trends.”
Now paste your entire list from your spreadsheet.
Click “Get search volume.”
This will give you a good idea about which words people use to search for you! This search volume data won’t be exactly accurate, but it is usually a good indicator of relative search volume. In other words, if it says one term has a volume of 100, it probably gets about 10 times more traffic than a term that has a volume of 10.
Another thing to note: Google will give you unique search volume data on phrases including “in” vs those that don’t include “in.” However, in reality these searches will return the same results. Words like in, and, or, of, the, etc are usually dropped from the actual search query. HOWEVER, plurals and closely related words might return slightly different results, even though Google knows you mean the same thing and can use the words interchangeably.
So when trying to get an accurate picture of how many people search for “Wedding Photographers in Columbia SC” I should probably combine the volume from that phrase and “Wedding Photographers Columbia SC” if they both show up on this list.
So for my business, I have a clear winner! When optimizing site titles, descriptions, main body text on my home page, H1 tags on my home page, and alt text for images (especially on my home page), I want to try to use the phrase “wedding photographers in columbia sc” as much as possible without making it sound spammy.
I wrote out this entire process because it won’t be the same pattern in every city or area. You might also have nicknames or different situations that I don’t have (like maybe people would search for “twin cities wedding photographers”).
This doesn’t ONLY work for photography keywords, you can use this same process if you’re a planner, florist, calligrapher, or even outside of the wedding industry!
As a bonus step, you can also check out the difficulty of ranking for a particular keyword. If you have the Moz bar installed
, just turn it on when you do a Google search and click the “Get Keyword Difficulty” button beside the search (you’ll probably need to get a free Moz account to use this feature).
(my difficulty score on this term was 35)
If the difficulty is in the 30s or less, there is a good chance you can make the first page for this term with some consistent hard work (assuming you are doing things the right way). If it is int he 40s-50s, you might want to consider trying to rank for one of the other terms on your list. If it is 60 or above, good luck my friend, you’ve got your work cut out for you 😉
I want to hear what you discover! Did anything you found surprise you? What new tricks did you learn that you can share with others? Leave a comment below with your findings and tips!