Before I talk about the free tool and how it works, I’d like to do a quick review of last week’s article on keywords. I showed you how to use Google’s search engine to give you an idea of how much competition exists for particular keywords. The point of this exercise was to find a niche within a larger subject area for which there is relatively little competition. While lots of sites may be vying to turn up on Google for “golf,” fewer sites are trying for things like “golf swing analysis,” “Florida golf course reviews,” and so forth.
Knowing how much competition you have for a particular keyword is only half of the equation, though. If only five thousand sites use a certain keyword to get into Google’s search results, that sounds pretty good…until you find out that only ten people search for that keyword in a month. It’s unlikely that all ten of them convert, which is a real consideration for anything beyond a personal or hobby site.
You’d want to find that out before you invest any time or effort in optimizing for a particular keyword. By using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, you can get some real numbers. While it’s designed to work with a Google AdWords campaign, you don’t need to be running one to use the tool; you don’t even need an account. All you need are some ideas of what keywords you’d like to try for; put them in, and the tool will do a fair bit of the rest. You’ll still need to do some math to help you make up your mind as far as using the keyword, but this approach will get you closer.
Does that mean the approach I described last week is less efficient? Not at all; it just accomplishes a slightly different goal. It’s one way to help you narrow down your niche as far as keywords, and it’s a good way to start your keyword research. Also, you can go to the links that turn up at the top of Google’s results for the keywords you’ve put in, and assess the sites. That will give you a fair idea of how much work your potential competition put in – and how much work you’ll need to do if you want to beat them in the SERPs.
Let me walk you through using Google’s free keyword tool. Last week you learned about my dad’s love for golf; as it happens, I’m not a big golf fan, but I am a crochet fanatic. Since I’ve been crocheting for thirty-mumble years now, I know plenty of keywords associated with this hobby that don’t even use the word “crochet.” That’s a good thing, too, because I expect to see less competition for them.
Google’s keyword tool offers you a number of options in its left hand column, but we’re only concerned with the large center section. You’ll find a couple of text boxes. You want to type your keyword into the one labeled “Word or phrase (one per line).”
Just below that text box, you can filter by locations, language, whether to include adult ideas, and more. When I tried it, I was automatically set up to filter by “United States” and “English,” but I could change those if I wanted to by clicking on the “Advanced Options and Filters” link next to the stated filters. I could also, if I wanted to, check a box that would cause only results that contained my original search terms to appear. Remember what I said about knowing crochet-related terms that didn’t include the term “crochet”? If I searched for “crochet” with that check box ticked, terms like “hairpin lace,” “afghan stitch,” “broomstick lace,” and others related to the craft wouldn’t turn up.
Okay, now that I’ve explained how it works, let’s use it. I type the phrase “hairpin lace” without quotes into the large text box, and hit the search button. I immediately get a list of 72 keyword ideas, such as “hairpin lace patterns,” “hairpin lace instructions,” “hairpin crochet,” and so forth. Naturally, “hairpin lace” is right at the top. Next to that, Google lists the number of Global Monthly Searches (5,400) and Local Monthly Searches (3,600). “Local,” in this case, is throughout the United States.
How can I tell if 5,400 monthly searches, or even 3,600 monthly searches, represents a reasonable number to try for? For that, you need to know how much competition there is for that keyword. This time, we’ll go to the Google search engine itself, and put in the phrase “hairpin lace,” without quote. Google returns 234,000 hits. That may seem like a high number when compared to how many people are searching for that phrase every month…until you consider how many tens of millions of sites are competing for highly popular phrases like “golf clubs.”
Okay, so this gives us a little hope, but how do we know whether to proceed? Fortunately, there’s a little formula called the Keyword Effectiveness Index, or KEI. There seems to be as many ways to calculate it as there are people writing about it, but the simplest version takes a keyword’s search popularity, squares it, and then divides the product by the competition for the word.
What do we get if we plug our numbers into this formula? Let’s use the number of searches in the US for hairpin lace, which is 3,600 per month. Square that number, and we get 12,960,000. Now let’s divide that by the competition, which is 234,000. We get a KEI of more than 55, which is quite good. KEIs can range from as low as fractional numbers to 400 or more, so “hairpin lace” might be worth a shot.
Keep in mind that this is a very rough formula. If you Google “keyword effectiveness index,” you’ll find many other explanations and calculations. They have two things in common: dividing some form of a keyword’s search popularity with how much competition exists for that word, and the fact that higher numbers make better keyword candidates.
Anyone who is at all math-inclined knows what to do now. Use the Google AdWords keyword tool to find out how many searches are performed for the keywords you’d like to use, and then plug those keywords into the Google search engine to get the number of competitors. Plug these numbers into the KEI formula, and focus your efforts on those with high KEIs.
It’s important that you use the same tools in the same ways to get numbers that can be compared with each other. In my example above, I wouldn’t compare “hairpin lace” with “hairpin lace patterns” by using the Monthly Global Searches number for one and the Monthly Local Searches number for the other. Likewise, while I’m calculating the KEIs to compare them, I wouldn’t look at the number of hits in Google for one and the number of hits in Bing for the other. You need to compare apples to apples.
Using KEI lets you quickly sift through a large list of keywords to decide which ones you should prioritize. Just because a keyword has a low KEI doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it, but you might not want to try for it right away. Consider building up some traffic with the potentially more promising keywords first. Good luck!