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The Kissmetrics Guide To Keyword Research – Part I: Keyword Discovery

Keyword research should be the basis of any online marketing campaign. The simple goal of keyword research is to find out what your target audience is searching and what it will take to actually rank for those keywords and phrases. Without knowing what keywords you should be targeting, how will you effectively optimize your website, target phrases for link building, or know what content to develop for your audience?

The following is the first of a three part series to help you set up a spreadsheet for your keyword research and discover the best keywords / phrases for both your main website’s search engine optimization and topics for content development. The next posts in the series will cover what data will help you choose the best keywords to target and additional resources you can use to learn more about keyword research.

Spreadsheet Set Up

The first thing you will want to do is set up a spreadsheet to record your data within. I have set up a basic spreadsheet that you can access at This document has columns for data using all tools mentioned in the first two parts of this series. You can add or delete columns as you wish in order to match your keyword research needs. The columns included are as follows.

  • Keyword
  • GAKT – Competition (Google AdWords Keyword Tool)
  • GAKT – Global Monthly Searches (Google AdWords Keyword Tool)
  • GAKT – Local Monthly Searches (Google AdWords Keyword Tool)
  • GAKT – Approximate CPC (Google AdWords Keyword Tool)
  • SEOmoz KA – Difficulty (SEOmoz Keyword Analysis)
  • SEOmoz KA – Competitor 1 (SEOmoz Keyword Analysis)
  • SEOmoz KA – Competitor 1 DA (SEOmoz Keyword Analysis)
  • SEOmoz KA – Competitor 1 RDLRD (SEOmoz Keyword Analysis)
  • SEOmoz KA – Competitor 2 (SEOmoz Keyword Analysis)
  • SEOmoz KA – Competitor 2 DA (SEOmoz Keyword Analysis)
  • SEOmoz KA – Competitor 2 RDLRD (SEOmoz Keyword Analysis)
  • SEOmoz KA – Competitor 3 (SEOmoz Keyword Analysis)
  • SEOmoz KA – Competitor 3 DA (SEOmoz Keyword Analysis)
  • SEOmoz KA – Competitor 3 RDLRD (SEOmoz Keyword Analysis)

In this post, we’ll cover filling up the columns with keyword and Google AdWords Keyword Tool data. In the following post, we’ll look at how to narrow down those keywords using the SEOmoz Keyword Analysis tool (or some alternative methods if you are not a Pro member).

Saving the Google Docs Version

If you are signed into your Google account, simply use the File > Save option to save it to your documents and start filling it in with your information.

Downloading Excel and Open Office Versions

If you don’t have Google Docs, or would prefer to save it on your local machine, go to the Google Docs version and use the File > Download As to save it as your desired file type. I’d suggest Excel for best possible functionality.

Keyword Discovery

The first phase of keyword research involves coming up with new keyword ideas. Sometimes this is the most difficult part of the process as many people unfamiliar with keyword competition will select very broad words to target such as pizza, hotel, or Los Angeles. Others will pick obscure phrases that no one will likely search such as SEO/Link Building/Social Media (yes, I’ve seen people trying to similarly over-punctuated phrases). So the first thing you will need to do is find suitable, related phrases for their business.

You can always start with some simple brainstorming. Look at what the main focuses are on the website and jotting down keywords. I would suggest doing so within Microsoft Excel or another spreadsheet application. Then, whenever you are ready to expand on those ideas, continue on to some great keyword tools.

Keyword Discovery Tools

The following are a great collection of free and premium tools that will help you discover new keywords related to your website or business.


Your next option is to check out the keywords competitors are using. One great tool for this is SEMrush. Simply enter a domain to see the top organic and ads keywords the website is getting traffic from.

Keyword Research SEMrush Keyword Ideas

If you are not a PRO member (which costs $79.95 per month), you can only see the first ten keywords under organic keywords or ads keywords by clicking on the Full Report link under each.

Keyword Research SEMrush Adwords

This is a great way to go if you are absolute uncertain what keywords you or your client should be targeting. It can definitely point you in the right direction.

Google Search Suggestions

Once you have some basic ideas to start with, you can expand upon them by using the freely available suggested search. Simply visit and start typing in a keyword in the search box. You will then see ten phrases related to your keyword pop up below as more targeted, suggested searches.

keyword research google suggested search

You can continue typing to get more detailed suggestions. As you can see, this will help you with long-tail and, in some cases, even local keyword phrases.

keyword research google suggested search expanded

Be sure if you are working with a local client that you change your Google settings to reflect results from their location as Google will assume you are looking in your location. This is when it is important to be signed out of your Google account for non-personalized recommendations. To change your location for local keyword suggestions, go to your search settings and add a city / state as your default location. Just be sure to change it back before doing some local searches for your own personal needs.

Alternative Search Suggestions

Looking for alternative suggested search boxes? The following search engines have similar suggested search options that appear below the search box when you start typing in keywords. Depending on your keyword, each search engine will offer different suggestions.

Most people stick with Google as that is the main search engine to target, but it still doesn’t hurt to get additional keyword ideas from elsewhere.

Google AdWords Keyword Tool

The next tool up is the commonly referenced Google AdWords Keyword Tool. If you have a Google account and, better yet, an AdWords account, I would suggest signing in to those once you arrive on the Google AdWords Keyword Tool to get better results. To give you an idea, I searched for social media when I was not logged into my account and received 100 keyword ideas. I searched for it again when logged in and received 800.

google adwords keyword tool

My suggestion is if you are looking for keywords just for your static website and not interested in the cost per click pricing (CPC), go with the results without logging into Google AdWords. If you are interested in the CPC pricing and also getting keyword ideas to help with content development, go with the results while logged into Google AdWords.

Here is what each of the columns displayed in the Google AdWords Keyword Tool will tell you about each of the keyword ideas displayed.

  • Competition – “The Competition column gives you a sense of how many advertisers are bidding for a particular keyword. This data can help you determine how competitive the ad placement is.”
  • Global Monthly Searches – “The approximate 12-month average of user queries for the keyword on Google search.”
  • Local Monthly Searches – “If you specified a country or language for your search, this is the approximate 12-month average number of user queries for the keyword for those countries and languages.”
  • Approximate CPC – “This is the approximate cost-per-click you might pay if you were to bid on the keyword. The CPC is averaged over all the ad positions.”

You can learn more about the search traffic statistics shown in this tool in Google AdWords Help.

You can also select specific Match Types in the left side of the screen to further narrow down your information. This will change the traffic volume for Global and Local Monthly Searches based on the approximation of traffic that a keyword gets on Google based on the following types.

  • Broad – The sum of the search volumes for the keyword idea, related grammatical forms, synonyms and related words. If you were doing PPC and targeted the broad match for social media, ads would show with any searches including social or media. Organic results would include the same.
  • [Exact] The search volume for that keyword idea. If you were doing PPC and targeted the exact match for social media, ads would only show if someone typed in social media but not any other variation of that phrase.
  • “Phrase” – The sum of the search volumes for all terms that include that whole phrase. If you were doing PPC and targeted the phrase match for pizza dough, ads would show for anyone who typed in social media, with or without additional keywords such as social media marketing or about social media. Organic results would include only results including the exact phrase social media.

You can learn more about match types in AdWords Help. You can also see the difference in data based on the three match types using the phrase social media in order of broad, “phrase”, and [exact].

google adwords keyword tool match type data comparison

And if you were to use these match types in a search, you would get 419 million results for a broad match search for social media and only 304 million results for a phrase match search for “social media”.

Going back to the generic term social media, you might want to remove certain words from the keyword ideas. For example, you may not want to target anything about social media jobs, so you could add the word job under Exclude terms in the left side of the screen.

To export this data, use the Download button and export to your preferred format. You can then copy the data from the exported spreadsheet to your keyword research spreadsheet. You can also get this data for the keyword ideas you generated using SEMrush and suggested search by copying and pasting those keywords into the Word or phrase box and checking the box to only show ideas closely related to my search terms. Then export the data for those keywords and phrases by checking the boxes next to them under the Search Terms section.

At this point, you probably have a lot of great keyword ideas. In the next post, I will cover how to use the SEOmoz Keyword Analysis Tool (or an alternative method to get the same information if you are not a Pro member) to get additional data and then narrow down your keywords to the ones that you should most likely focus upon for your online marketing strategy.

Next Up: Part II – Analyzing and Choosing the Best Keywords

Click here to read the second post in this series.

About the Author: Kristi Hines is a freelance writer, blogger, and social media enthusiast. Her blog Kikolani focuses on blog marketing, including social networking strategies and blogging tips.

  1. Gregory Ciotti Nov 09, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Another great article Kristi.

    I’d like to add a tool I’ve been loving recently: serpIQ.

    First heard about it via the founder on Reddit, and it’s been a huge help in keyword research, for me at least.

    Also the old classic Market Samurai, slow, but still has it’s uses.

  2. Hubba hubba – loved it. (The ‘hubba hubba’ is the attrocious sound I make when geeking out over SEO research…I just loved it!)

    Love that you used free tools for it. Definitely good idea for the competitors to be on the list, too – thanks again for another stellar resource.

    I hope you got a fat paycheck for this post. Just sayin.

  3. Great blog post and thank you for the spreadsheet. I’ve already made a copy. :)

  4. While I am going to base the second part around the SEOmoz tool, there’s a way to get most of the information for free which just takes longer, but I’ll throw it out there too. Also thanks for the suggestion on Soovle – will check it out! :)

  5. Great post Kristi,

    I was using your spreadhseet and found a lot of search term duplication, so thought it worth mentioning that to you can use conditional formatting to highlight thema s follows:

    First highlight all the rows/cells on which you to work (the keyword column)
    Then choose the “conditional formatting” option from the toolbar.
    The find “Highlight rules” and then select “duplicate values”
    Then choose the color in which you want to highlight.
    After this click on “Apply”.

  6. Brian D. Hawkins Dec 04, 2011 at 2:12 am

    Hi Kristi, Keyword research is one of my biggest interests right now. Thanks for providing the spreadsheet. I’ve been saving the Google AdWords Keyword Tool results into a spreadsheet but that doesn’t allow for including other tools without adding new columns every time.

    One thing I’ve noticed about Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool is the competition rating seems to be way off and very unreliable. Many times you can check what is showing “low” competition and find the serps contain 5 out of the top five sites with high PageRank and search traffic. I wonder if they’ll update the tool to reflect new search advancements such as the inclusion of social sharing (1+) when it comes to evaluating the competition?

    BTW, great use of Google’s instant search results feature. It’s a cool way of discovering keyword phrases to research.

  7. Jomson George Dec 10, 2011 at 6:14 am

    I am learning all the tips about blogging through the link you have given in your page. Keyword research very very essential to get more traffic is what i learning now. Thanks Kristi:) I was suggested by my friend to use only limited keywords. How much i can use approximately for a 800 words article..?

  8. For researching competitors, I simply pick up the top 10 and put them in duckduckgo with slashing seo in the end of search bar. DDG will inform you how many backlinks they have. You just decide whether you can beat them or not.

  9. Thanks for the great post. I do most of my keyword research using free versions of some tools like Samurai and Traffic Travis and, of course, Google. Some of the paid keyword research tools sell themselves on the point that Google keyword tool numbers are “just wrong”. I’d counter that on the basis that I’d rather have imperfect numbers from the entity that’s generating those numbers in the first place rather than a secondary source.

  10. Thanks a lot Kristi Hines. It was very well-presented and approachable. Good job and looking forward to more tips. Your tips really helpful to the new bloggers like me.

  11. Following the keyword research tool spreadsheet concept is awesome and thank you so much for sharing the great article. Data must be intermittent, so having the statistics or analysis over keyword will help to give a solution for driving huge traffic on webpage.

  12. Hey Kristi,

    Thanks for this great article.

    I think there is some typo in the Google Adwords Keyword Tool section where you explained about the Phrase. I think instead of pizza dough, it should be social media.

    “Phrase” – The sum of the search volumes for all terms that include that whole phrase. If you were doing PPC and targeted the phrase match for pizza dough, ads would show for anyone who typed in social media, with or without additional keywords such as social media marketing or about social media. Organic results would include only results including the exact phrase social media.


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