How to Do Clever Keyword Research

There are only three basic ingredients to successful SEO and with that the success of an online business:  on-site SEO, keyword research and online authority. This article is all about performing clever keyword research that yields results.

I take keyword research very seriously as no matter how good your on-site optimization or backlink profile is, if you are not ranking for the right keywords you are going to have sub-optimal results.

In this article I will describe one of the methodologies I use.

Step 1 - Getting Keywords

Google Adwords Keyword Tool is usually a first stop for keyword research.

For this example I am going to research keyword 'shaving'. Let's image we are building a website about shaving related products.

We begin by typing a phrase, hitting search, and selecting "Phrase" match type instead of default "Broad".

The navigation categories on the left help us narrow the search and I select "Razors and Shavers" for the purpose of this example. This gives us about 10 keywords to start with.

After being satisfied with the selection, I download the keywords as CSV for Excel.

Notes: There are many keyword idea tools out there. Out of free ones, I sometimes use keyword expander for quick ideas without having to type in the captcha. You can also check out how to use keyword tools to pick up good domain names.

Step 2 - What People Search For? Is it Any Good?

After modifying the downloaded file in Excel, I leave only Global Monthly Searches and Estimated Avg. CPC columns.

Why Global Monthly Searches?

Because we want our phrase to be searched as many times as possible. There is no value in ranking for something that is never searched for.

Why Estimated Avg. CPC?

Because it gives a simple signal about commercial value of the keyword - the higher the better. This factor is mostly used for sites that are based on third party revenue streams like affiliate sales or adsense.

Not all sites are about commercial products, and on sites which sell their own products this factor may not be as important.

Step 3 - Who We Are Up Against?

Next step is figuring out how many competing pages we are going to be up against.

I perform a search for each of the keywords in quotes (this gives us more accurate, phrase matched results).

Write down the number of results (check "About xxx results" line). Note that you can use a local Google site if your site/product is competing on the local market. For most purposes I use

Next, I perform the same search but this time I select "Past week" in search options on the sidebar. This gives me the number of competing pages from last week only.

Why Past week results?

Because it gives me up to date information about competing pages. Some keywords may have relatively low number of competing pages, but the last week results can be relatively big, indicating high level of interest. This keywords will obviously be harder to rank and vice versa.

Step 4 - Strength of Competition

Next thing I want to check is strength of competition. I use mozRank indicator, which is a rough equivalent of Page Rank but with better granulation.

If you use Firefox you can get mozRank through SearchStatus addon or SEO Doctor (OSE Metrics menu link).

Now check the search results and add to Excel mozRank for #2 search result. Why #2? This gives us better indication as often #1 is heavily skewed (for example Wikipedia) and in most cases we would be as happy if we ranked as 'just' #2.

Why strength of competing pages?

Because sheer number of competing pages is not good enough indication of competition. It is not same running against Wikipedia and a forum post. Using mozRank gives us a better perspective of the relative strength of the competing page.

Step 5 - Online Commercial Intention

This step helps answer one question - so, is anyone buying this?

And the tool that answers it is Microsoft Commercial Intention. Just type in the keyword, select "query" and hit Go.

Why commercial intention?

Did you know that only 2% people looking for 'razor burns' have intentions to buy against 96% looking for 'shaving razors'.

If you were trying to sell a registry optimizing software would you not like to know that people looking for 'registry cleaner' are more than two times likely to buy than people looking for 'optimize registry'?

Step 6  - Wrapping it up - Keyword Commercial Value

When I have all this data, I can easily get an answer I was looking for - which of these keywords are best to pursue?

To calculate this I create a simple formula.

On the good side I have Searches, CPC, Commercial Intent - I want this to be as high as possible.

On the bad side there are Competing Pages, Pages Weekly and Strength - I want them to be as low as possible.

So I multiply all the "good guys" and divide them by all "bad guys" multiplied together.

Finally I add leveling factor just to get the result in reasonable boundaries.

Final formula in Excel I used for this example is:


What I can see right away is that if I was making a site about shaving, "straight razor shaving" would be my best bet among the selected keywords, and by a large margin too.

And keyword research does not stop here. This is just the tip of an iceberg, as we need to delve deeper into the variations of the favorable keyword and also try other keyword ideas that we might have missed.

It's both a science and an art but one thing is certain - do your keyword research properly and you will have a solid foundation to build your online business on.

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  1. Jan 22nd, 2013 11:31 PM

    How to find "Commercial Intent" option in new bing ads excel plugin ?

  2. Toldi
    Nov 2nd, 2012 4:37 PM

    This is definately a great guide, I was struggling to do this on my own but you helped me a lot. In the past I had to buy keyword research services on or similar website but now I understand how it works.

  3. Jun 24th, 2012 4:16 PM

    first time heard"Microsoft Commercial Intention",will download and use it,thanks

  4. Apr 20th, 2012 10:50 AM

    Wonderful information, it is definitely going to help me!!

  5. Jan 3rd, 2012 3:31 AM

    Thank you very much for this article. I learned so much from it.

    I was confused about one thing - In step 3, when you searched for competitors using the keyword "shaving razors", I don't understand why you searched for the competitors using phrase match. Most users who are searching with those keywords will not put quotations around their searches, therefore making their results broad. I think it would be more accurate to see which competitor is ranking first when the keyword does not have quotations around it.

  6. Alex
    Jun 28th, 2011 3:58 PM

    @Sajid. If I'm not mistaken Microsoft tool that shows commercial intention doesn't avalibale anymore

  7. Jun 28th, 2011 3:54 PM

    Wow what a informative post but can you tell me from where i can download commercial intention software.