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A Brief History of Search & SEO

Tracing the history of SEO is kind of like trying to trace the history of the handshake. We all know it exists, and we know it’s an important part of business. But we don’t spend a ton of time thinking about its origins -- we’re mostly concerned with how we use it day-to-day.
But unlike the handshake, SEO is fairly young, and changes frequently. Quite appropriately, it appears to be a millennial -- its birth is predicted to fall somewhere around 1991.
And in its relatively short life, it’s matured and evolved rather quickly -- just look at how many changes Google’s algorithm alone has gone through.


So where did SEO begin, and how did it become so darn important? Join us, as we step back in time and try to figure this out -- as it turns out, it’s quite a story.

But First, a Look Back at Search Engines

Google Beta
The first idea for creating a common archive for all the world’s data came to fruition in 1945. That July, Dr. Vannevar Bush -- then director of the now-defunct Office of Scientific Research and Development -- published a piece in The Atlantic proposing a “collection of data and observations, the extraction of parallel material from the existing record, and the final insertion of new material into the general body of the common record.” In other words, we believe, today’s Google.
Several decades later, in 1990, McGill University student Alan Emtage created Archie, which some say was the very first search engine -- though that remains up for debate, according to research from Bill Slawski, president and founder of SEO by the Sea. However, Archie was what Slawski called the “best way to find information from other servers around the internet at the time,” and is actually still (very primitive) operation.
The next decade saw several pivotal developments, with the more commercial versions of search engines we might recognize today taking shape.
  • February 1993: Six Stanford students create Architext, which would later become the search engine Excite. Some, like Search Engine Land (SEL), say that Excite “revolutionized how information was cataloged,” making it easier to find information “by sorting results based on keywords found within content and backend optimization.”
  • June 1993: Matthew Gray debuts World Wide Web Wanderer, which later became known as Wandex.
  • October 1993: Martijn Koster introduces ALIWEB, which allows site owners to submit their own pages (unbeknownst, sadly, to many site owners).
  • December 1993: At least three “bot-fed” search engines exist -- JumpStation, RBSE spider and World Wide Web Worm -- which likely means they were powered by web robots to crawl both servers and site content to produce results.
  • 1994: Alta Vista, Infoseek, Lycos, and Yahoo search engines all come to fruition.
  • 1996: Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin begin building a search engine that they initially call BackRub.
  • April 1997: AskJeeves is introduced, later becoming Ask.com.
  • September 1997: Google.com is registered as a domain name.
It’s worth noting that nearly twelve years later, in June 2009, Microsoft released Bing -- its previous editions were also known as Live Search, Windows Live Search, and MSN Search.
But here’s where SEO itself comes in. As search engines became more mainstream and widely used, site owners started to get wise. As SEO community Moz puts it, “It was discovered that by taking some rather simple actions, search engine results could be manipulated and money could be made from the internet.”
Those results, though, weren’t exactly quality ones. And that, dear readers, is where the SEO story begins.

A Brief History of Search & SEO

The ‘90s

90s Internet
Source: The Daily Dot
With search engines becoming household names and more families becoming connected to the Internet, finding information came with greater ease. The problem, as noted above, was the quality of that information.
While search engine results matched words from user queries, it was usually limited to just that, as an overwhelming amount of site owners took to keyword stuffing -- repeating keywords over and over again in the text -- to improve rankings (for which there was no criteria), drive traffic to their pages and produce attractive numbers for potential advertisers.
There was also a bit of collusion going on. In addition to the keyword stuffing, people were using excessive and “spammy backlinks,” according to SEL, to improve their authorities. Not only were there no ranking criteria at the time -- but by the time search engines fixed algorithms accordingly, there were already new black hat SEO practices taking place that the fixes didn’t address.

But then, two kids at Stanford got an idea.

Google_Founders.png
When Page and Brin set out to create Google, that was one of the problems they wanted to solve. In 1998, the pair published a paper at Stanford titled “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine,” where they wrote:
...the predominant business model for commercial search engines is advertising. The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users.”
It was in that same paper that Page and Brin first mentioned PageRank, the technology that Google uses to help rank search results based on quality, and not keywords alone. Some might say that thesis cleared the path for SEO as we know it today.

The Early 2000s

Early 2000s
The early 2000s saw the beginning of the Google takeover. In the process of making search engine technology less advertising-centric, Google began to provide guidelines for white hat SEO -- the kind that the “good guys” stick to -- to help webmasters rank without any of the common fishy behavior from the 90s.

2000-2002

But according to Moz, the guidelines didn’t yet have an actual impact on ranking, so people didn’t bother following them. That’s partially because PageRank was based on the number of inbound links to a given page -- the more of those, the higher the ranking. But there wasn’t yet a way to measure the authenticity of those links -- for the early part of the 2000s, Marketing Technology Blog says it was still possible to use these backlinking techniques to rank pages that weren't even related to search criteria.
But in 2001, Brin and Page appeared on "Charlie Rose," when the host asked them, "Why does it work so well?" As part of his answer, Brin emphasized that -- at the time -- Google was a search engine and nothing else, and was looking at "the web as a whole, and not just which words occur on each page." It set the tone for some of the initial major algorithm updates that would begin to more closely examine those words. Have a look at the full interview:


Source: Charlie Rose

2003-2004

This approach to the web being about more than just words really began taking shape in November 2003, with the “Florida” update to Google’s algorithm. Enough sites lost their ranking for Search Engine Watch to call the response to Florida a massive “outcry,” but careful to note that many sites benefitted from the change, too. It was the first major instance of sites receiving penalties for things like keyword stuffing, signaling Google’s emphasis on solving for the user first -- mainly with quality content.
In 2004, one of the more primitive versions of Google's voice search existed, in what the New York Times called a half-finished experiment. And while the technology was somewhat infantile at the time -- just check out what the instructions looked like at first -- it was also a signal to the future importance of mobile in SEO. (Stay tuned -- more on that later.)
Google Voice primitive

2005: A big year for SEO

One of the biggest years in the search engine world was 2005. That January, Google united with Yahoo and MSN for the Nofollow Attribute, which was created in part to decrease the amount of spammy links and comments on websites, especially blogs. Then, in June, Google debuted personalized search, which used someone’s search and browsing history to make results more relevant.
That November, Google Analytics launched, which is still used today to measure traffic and campaign ROI. Check out its baby photo:
Screen Shot 2016-10-25 at 11.35.29 AM.png

2009: SEO shakeups

In 2009, the search engine world saw a bit of a shakeup. Bing premiered that June, with Microsoft aggressively marketing it as the search engine that would produce noticeably better results than Google. But as SEL predicted, it was no “Google-killer,” nor did its advice for optimizing content significantly contrast Google’s. In fact, according to Search Engine Journal, the only noticeable difference was Bing’s tendency to give priority to keywords in URLs, as well as favoring capitalized words and “pages from large sites.”
That same year, in August, Google provided a preview of the Caffeine algorithm change, requesting the public’s help to test the “next-generation infrastructure” that Moz says was “designed to speed crawling, expand the index, and integrate indexation and ranking in nearly real-time.”
Caffeine wasn’t fully introduced until nearly a year later -- when it also improved the search engine’s speed -- but in December of 2009, a tangible real-time search was released, with Google search results including things like tweets and breaking news. It was a move that confirmed SEO wasn’t just for webmasters anymore -- from that moment forward, journalists, web copywriters and even social community managers would have to optimize content for search engines.
Here's Matt Cutts, Google's head of webspam, discussing Caffeine in August 2009:


2010-Present

Google_Logo_History.png
When you’re typing in a search query into Google, it’s kind of fun to see what its suggestions are. That’s thanks to the Google Instant technology, which rolled out in September 2010. At first, Moz says, it made SEOs “combust,” until they realized that it didn’t really have any result on ranking.
But Google Instant, along with the evolution of SEO from 2010 on, was just another phase of the search engine’s mission to solve for the user -- despite some controversy along the way around pages whose rankings were actually improved by negative online reviews. The algorithm, Google said, was eventually adjusted to penalize sites using such tactics.
More on Google Instant, circa 2010:


That year also saw a growing importance of social media content in SEO. In December 2010, both Google and Bing added "social signals," which first displayed any written Facebook posts, for example, from your own network that matched your query. But it also began to give PageRank to Twitter profiles that were linked to with some frequency. The importance of Twitter in SEO didn't end there -- stay tuned.

2011: The year of the panda

The trend of punishing sites for unfairly gaming Google’s algorithm would continue. Some of these incidents were more public than others, including one with Overstock.com in 2011. At the time, according to Wall Street Journal, domains ending with .edu generally had a higher authority in Google’s eyes. Overstock used that to its advantage by asking educational institutions to link to its site -- and use keywords like “vacuum cleaners” and “bunk beds” -- offering discounts for students and faculty in return. Those inbound links would improve Overstock’s rankings for queries with such keywords, until Overstock discontinued the practice in 2011 and Google penalizing them soon after.
It was also the year of Panda, which first rolled out that February -- the algorithm update that cracked down on content farms. Those were sites with huge quantities of frequently updated, low-quality content that was written with the sole purpose of driving search engine results. They also tend to have a high ad-to-content ratios, which Panda was trained to sniff out.
Panda itself has undergone several updates -- so many that in its timeline of changes to Google’s algorithm, Moz declined to list any that weren’t major after 2011. Even with that exclusion, the timeline still lists twenty-eight panda updates -- for most of which the impact was difficult to measure -- through July of 2015.

2012: Along came a penguin

In April 2012, Google took what it called “another step to reward high-quality sites” with the first of many Penguin updates -- and, in the process of announcing it, acknowledged Bing’s month-earlier blog post on the changing face of SEO. Penguin targeted sites that more subtly used non-white hat SEO tactics; for example, those with content that might be mostly informative, but was also sprinkled with spammy hyperlinks that had nothing to do with the page’s H1, like in this example:
Google_Logo_History.png
Source: Google
It's worth noting that 2012 also saw a throwback to Google's original anti-ad-heavy thesis with the "Above The Fold" update, which began to lower the rankings of sites with heavy ad-space above the "fold," or the top half of the page.
Eventually, Google would go beyond targeting spammy content itself. The Payday Loan algorithm update -- which was hinted at in June 2013 and officially rolled out the following May -- actually focused more on queries that were more likely to produce spammy results. Those were typically searches for things like, well, payday loans, and other things that might make your mother blush. Google adjusted its ranking system to help keep spam out of those results, and while it didn’t necessarily impact the SEO efforts of legitimate sites, it displayed efforts to keep search results authentic.

Google goes local

Keeping with the tradition of animal-named algorithm updates, Google released "Pigeon" (dubbed so by SEL) in 2014, which carried quite an impact on local search results. At the time, it seems to have been designed to improve Maps queries, which began to be treated with some of the same technology that was applied to its other search functions, like "Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, synonyms". Local searches were going to become a big deal -- and it will only continue to do so, as you'll see in a bit.

Then, in 2015...

The biggest post-2010 SEO announcement might have been Google’s mobile update of April 2015, when non-mobile-friendly websites would start getting lower rankings. That meant SEO was no longer about keywords and content -- responsive design mattered, too.
Google announced that change in advance, in February 2015, with a mobile-friendly test that allowed webmasters to view potential issues and make changes before the rollout. It wasn’t the last of Google’s mobile updates -- in August 2016, it announced a crackdown on mobile pop-ups.

What’s Next?

It might be hard to believe, but it looks like even more change is on the horizon.

To mobile and beyond

As mobile usage is on the rise -- 51% percent of digital media is consumed that way, versus 42% on desktop -- it makes sense that SEO will continue leaning in that direction.
That's already apparent with Google’s favorability toward a mobile-friendly user experience. We predict that a future wave of SEO will largely pertain to voice search. That has its own complex history and is on the rise -- 20% of Google searches are currently done by voice, as are 25% of Bing’s. And it's compounded by the rise of such voice-powered digital personal assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa.
While there might not be a clear-cut way to optimize for voice search yet -- largely due to a lack of analytics in that area -- we anticipate that those resources will become available, creating yet another critical pillar of SEO.

Going local

But that brings up the issue of localization in SEO, and optimizing results to be regionally relevant. That’s especially true in the realm of voice search -- Yelp and other business aggregators are used to answer voice queries about what’s nearby, for example. That’s an SEO opportunity for local businesses, by making sure their listings are “comprehensive, accurate and optimized to be referenced” on a third party site.

Getting Social

While the 2009 introduction of Google's real-time search had some social ramifications, social media is becoming a more pivotal piece of SEO strategy. When the search engine began indexing tweets in 2011, for example, it hinted toward a future in which users seek information on social media in the same way that they do via search. In fact, this indexing might be Google's version of future-proofing -- if you can imagine it -- for a time when people no longer use search engines the way we do now.
For example, type in the name of any celebrity -- say, Charlie Rose, whose video we shared earlier. The first page of search results for his name includes his Facebook and Twitter profiles. Plus, check out the biographical sidebar to the right -- there are social icons with links to his various networks there, too. When users search for a person, that's one of the first things they want to see.
Charlie Rose google search
Source: Google
In any case, it’s clear why SEO has become a full-time job. Its history will only continue evolving. Executing it well requires a high level of skill, ethics, and upkeep on technology.
But we know that, sometimes, it’s not possible to have a single person dedicated to it, which is why we continue to create the best SEO learning resources we can. Check out some of our favorites:


What are your favorite pieces of SEO history? Let us know in the comments.
3 Free SEO Tools for Identifying Target Keywords 
 Choosing the right target keywords builds the foundation for an entire SEO campaign. If the right keywords with the highest potential for return are not selected, the foundation of the campaign will be weak and, therefore, success is nearly impossible.
To select the right keywords, data must be collected and analyzed so projections on return can be made. Gathering the necessary data, however, can be expensive and many businesses will not invest in best-of-breed SEO tools.
For those with limited budgets and without access to paid SEO tools, impactful keyword data is not out of reach. There are plenty of data sources and tools that can be used for free or offer free versions. By leveraging several free tools, advertisers can generate enough information to make informed decisions on keyword targets and set themselves up for successful SEO campaigns.
Below are three such tools. In a subsequent post, I will examine the best free SEO tools for auditing and troubleshooting. I recommend using these tools in combination with a keyword research guide for best results.

Google AdWords Keyword Tool

The first step in choosing the right keywords is to understand what keywords consumers are searching and the demand of each of those keywords. This data can be determined using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. To gain full access to the data you need to sign up for an AdWords account. You do not need to set up any campaigns or spend any advertising money.
There are three main ways to find relevant keywords using this tool, including inputting the website or page that is to be optimized, the category of the products or services the website offers, or a seed list of keywords related to those products or services. Before researching the keywords, however, it is important to implement the correct settings. Since we are looking for specific keywords that the market is searching, we want to analyze at the demand of exact match keywords rather than variations. To see the demand (search volume) of the keywords, use the “Match Types” option in the right sidebar and select [Exact].
match types
The first way to identify keywords is to input the domain or page you are trying to optimize. Google will crawl the website and return a list of suggestions based on the content. For example, if you are looking for keywords relevant to www.MediaWhiz.com, you would enter the domain into the Website field and click the Search button for a list of relevant keywords. Once results are returned, be sure to select the Keyword ideas tab as opposed to the Ad group ideas tab. This will provide a comprehensive list of keywords with associated search volume. This can also be done using the domains of direct competitors.
find keywords
For keywords related to a specific page, simply input the URL of the page rather than the domain into the tool for a list of keywords specific to that page.
keyword ideas
The second way to identify relevant keywords is by selecting the category. In this instance you would input the category of the products or services offered instead of a domain or URL. For example, if the service offered is “marketing,” you would select the “Advertising & Marketing” category in the Category field and click Search. This is not always the best use of this keyword tool, however, because the categories are often very general and some categories are not available.
marketing
The third and most common way to leverage the Google Adwords Keyword Tool is to input a list of seed keywords (typically the names of the products or services offered) into the Word or phrase field. This will return a list of popular searches related to those seed keywords.
seo sem

Google Analytics

Another method of identifying potential keyword targets is to look at the phrases that are already generating organic traffic to a website. This gives insight into the possibility to increase that traffic via optimization. Using Google Analytics, advertisers can review the keywords that are driving traffic organically to a website. Of course, having a Web analytics platform in today’s digital marketing world is essential for many reasons and this is just one. There are many good analytics platforms, some of which have very high price tags. The standard version of Google Analytics is, in my opinion, just as useful as any other platform, with the only difference being it is free of cost.
The keywords driving organic traffic can be seen in Google Analytics using the Organic Search Traffic report. This can be found by navigating the following sequence within the right sidebar: Traffic Sources>Sources>Search>Organic.
traffic sources
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To see the specific keywords generating traffic, ensure “Keyword” is selected as the Primary Dimension.
primary dimension
This report will pull up the keyword level organic traffic metrics for the period specified. It’s recommended to look at a minimum of the last three months of data. If the business is seasonal, look at the period reflective of the high season.
GA Keywords
Since this provides a list of keywords that are already sending traffic to the website, it is often the case that this traffic is generated because the keywords have some organic presence in one or more search engines. Optimizing against those keywords provides the opportunity to rank higher in the search engines in which the site is already ranking as well as infiltrating the organic results of additional search engines. Make a list of non-branded keywords from this report for further investigation. This may include inputting keywords into the AdWords Keyword Tool mentioned above to check the demand and into the Rank Checker tool mentioned below to see where the website is currently ranking.
There are some other important metrics to look at when determining target keywords for an SEO campaign. This analytics report also gives insight into engagement factors, such as bounce rate and average visit duration at the keyword level. By focusing on keywords with low bounce rates and a good amount of time spent on the site, the campaign will be focused not only on the keywords most likely to drive traffic, but also to drive visitors that are likely to perform an action on the site.

Rank Checker

Finally, when starting a new SEO campaign, especially with a small budget, it is helpful to identify and target the low-hanging fruit. A good strategy is to target keywords that a website already ranks for but are not yet in a position capable of garnering strong results. Often, a website will rank low on page 1 or on page 2 for a strategic keyword without any optimization effort. By implementing an optimization plan for those keywords, the website can often quickly move up the ranks into a position that will garner strong results.
There are many paid tools to track keyword rankings, but there is an excellent free tool that allows users to check the rankings of up to 100 keywords on the fly. Rank Checker is a Firefox extension that can be downloaded after signing up for a free SEOBook account. Once downloaded, Rank Checker is available via an icon located at the bottom right of the Firefox browser.
The usefulness of Rank Checker for keyword targeting comes in conjunction with other tools for keyword discovery such as the Adwords Keyword Tool or Google Analytics. After using those tools to identify lists of potential keyword targets, it’s easy to find some low hanging fruit using Rank Checker.
The first step is to set the options by right clicking the Rank Checker icon at the bottom right of Firefox and selecting “Options”.
options
You can opt-in to check the rankings of your keywords in Yahoo and Bing as well as two different country-specific versions of Google simultaneously. The country-specific versions of Google and Yahoo can be selected using the drop-downs. Finally, in most cases you will want to check off the “Don’t use Google personalized search results if any” option to get an idea of where the site ranks, in general, not using your browsing history.
rank checker preferences
Now you’re ready to run Rank Checker. Simply add your domain and keyword list (up to 100 keywords at a time) and usually within about a minute you will have the rankings. Look for high-value keywords that the site is already ranking low on page 1 or on page 2 or 3 to see what low-hanging fruit is available. The fact that the site is already ranking on one of the top pages shows there is already some authority for that keyword that can be built upon. These are typically quick-win keywords.
The above tools are my recommendations as three of the best free SEO keyword resources marketers can find. In my next column, I will analyze free SEO auditing and troubleshooting tools.
What are your favorite free SEO tools for identifying target keywords? Share your recommendations in the comments.

































While Google keeps us on our toes with all the algorithm updates they keep rollin' out, one thing has stayed pretty consistent for inbound marketers looking to optimize their websites for search: keyword research.



Well, the need to do keyword research has stayed the same. How you actually do it hasn't.

What is keyword research?

Keyword research is when people use keywords to find and research actual search terms that people enter into search engines. The knowledge about these actual search terms can help inform content strategy, or marketing strategy overall.
I'm going to lay out a keyword research process you can follow to help you come up with and narrow down a list of terms you should be targeting.
That way, you'll be able to establish and execute a strong keyword strategy that helps you get found for the search terms you actually care about.

How to Research Keywords for Your SEO Strategy 

Step 1: Make a list of important, relevant topics based on what you know about your business.

To kick off this process, think about the topics you want to rank for in terms of generic buckets. You'll come up with about 5-10 topic buckets you think are important to your business, and then you'll use those topic buckets to help come up with some specific keywords later in the process.
If you're a regular blogger, these are probably the topics you blog about most frequently. Or perhaps they're the topics that come up the most in sales conversations. Put yourself in the shoes of your buyer personas -- what types of topics would your target audience search that you'd want your business to get found for? If you were a company like HubSpot, for example -- selling marketing software (which happens to have some awesome SEO tools ... but I digress ;-) -- you might have general topic buckets like "inbound marketing," "blogging," "email marketing," "lead generation," "SEO," "social media," "marketing analytics," and "marketing automation."
Make sense?

Step 2: Fill in those topic buckets with keywords.

Now that you have a few topic buckets you want to focus on, it's time to identify some keywords that fall into those buckets. These are keyword phrases you think are important to rank for in the SERPs (search engine results pages) because your target customer is probably conducting searches for those specific terms.
For instance, if I took that last topic bucket for an inbound marketing software company -- "marketing automation" -- I'd brainstorm some keyword phrases that I think people would type in related to that topic. Those might include:
  • marketing automation tools
  • how to use marketing automation software
  • what is marketing automation?
  • how to tell if I need marketing automation software
  • lead nurturing
  • email marketing automation
  • top automation tools
And so on and so on. The point of this step isn't to come up with your final list of keyword phrases -- you just want to end up with a brain dump of phrases you think potential customers might use to search for content related to that particular topic bucket. We'll narrow the lists down later in the process so you don't have something too unwieldy.
(Note: If you're a HubSpot customer, you'll actualy be able to spend a little less time cutting down your topics and keyworsd list with HubSpot Content Strategy. Content Strategy helps you identify and research topics to approach based on existing content.)
seo-keywords
Although more and more keywords are getting encrypted by Google every day, another smart way to come up with keyword ideas is to figure out which keywords your website is already getting found for. To do this, you'll need website analytics software like Google Analytics or HubSpot's Sources tool. Drill down into your website's traffic sources, and sift through you organic search traffic bucket to identify the keywords people are using to arrive at your site.
Repeat this exercise for as many topic buckets as you have. And remember, if you're having trouble coming up with relevant search terms, you can always head on over to your employees on the front lines -- like Sales or Services -- and ask them what types of terms their prospects and customers use, or common questions they have. Those are often great starting points for keyword research.

Step 3: Research related search terms.

This is a creative step you may have already thought of when doing keyword research. If not, it's a great way to fill out those lists.
If you're struggling to think of more keywords people might be searching about a specific topic, go to Google.com and take a look at the related search terms that appear when you plug in a keyword. When you type in your phrase and scroll to the bottom of Google's results, you'll notice some suggestions for searches related to your original input. These keywords can spark ideas for other keywords you may want to take into consideration.
related-searches
Want a bonus? Type in some of those related search terms and look at THEIR related search terms.
Want another bonus? HubSpot customers can get suggestions for keywords and topics to consider within the Content Strategy tool.
hubspot-keyword-suggestions-feature

Step 4: Check for a mix of head terms and long-tail keywords in each bucket.

If you don't know the difference between head terms and long-tail keywords, let me explain. Head terms are keywords phrases that are generally shorter and more generic -- they're typically just one to three words in length, depending on who you talk to. Long-tail keywords, on the other hand, are longer keyword phrases usually containing three or more words.
It's important to check that you have a mix of head terms and long-tail terms because it'll give you a keyword strategy that's well balanced with long-term goals and short-term wins. That's because head terms are generally searched more frequently, making them often (not always, but often) much more competitive and harder to rank for than long-tail terms. Think about it: Without even looking up search volume or difficulty, which of the following terms do you think would be harder to rank for?
  1. how to write a great blog post
  2. blogging
If you answered #2, you're absolutely right. But don't get discouraged. While head terms generally boast the most search volume (meaning greater potential to send you traffic), frankly, the traffic you'll get from the term "how to write a great blog post" is usually more desirable.
Why?
Because someone who is looking for something that specific is probably a much more qualified searcher for your product or service (presuming you're in the blogging space) than someone looking for something really generic. And because long-tail keywords tend to be more specific, it's usually easier to tell what people who search for those keywords are really looking for. Someone searching for the head term "blogging," on the other hand, could be searching it for a whole host of reasons unrelated to your business.
So check your keyword lists to make sure you have a healthy mix of head terms and long-tail keywords. You definitely want some quick wins that long-tail keywords will afford you, but you should also try to chip away at more difficult head terms over the long haul.

Step 5: See how competitors are ranking for these keywords.

Just because your competitor is doing something doesn’t mean you need to. The same goes for keywords. Just because a keyword is important to your competitor, doesn’t mean it's important to you. However, understanding what keywords your competitors are trying to rank for is a great way to help you give your list of keywords another evaluation.
If your competitor is ranking for certain keywords that are on your list, too, it definitely makes sense to work on improving your ranking for those. However, don’t ignore the ones your competitors don’t seem to care about. This could be a great opportunity for you to own market share on important terms, too.
Understanding the balance of terms that might be a little more difficult due to competition, versus those terms that are a little more realistic, will help you maintain a similar balance that the mix of long-tail and head terms allows. Remember, the goal is to end up with a list of keywords that provide some quick wins but also helps you make progress toward bigger, more challenging SEO goals.
How do you figure out what keywords your competitors are ranking for, you ask? Aside from manually searching for keywords in an incognito browser and seeing what positions your competitors are in, SEMrush allows you to run a number of free reports that show you the top keywords for the domain you enter. This is a quick way to get a sense of the types of terms your competitors are ranking for.

Step 6: Use the Google AdWords Keyword Planner (or HubSpot's Keywords App) to cut down your keyword list.

Now that you've got the right mix of keywords, it's time to narrow down your lists with some more quantitative data. You have a lot of tools at your disposal to do this, but let me share my favorite methodology.
If you're a HubSpot customer, you can narrow down your list easily within the Keywords App. Data on visits, rank, difficulty, historical performance, and even how your competitors are performing is accessible right within the tool where your keywords live.
If you don't have HubSpot software, I like to use a mix of the Google AdWords Keyword Planner (you'll need to set up an AdWords account for this, but that doesn't mean you have to create an ad), and Google Trends.
In Keyword Planner, formerly known as the Keyword Tool, you can get search volume and traffic estimates for keywords you're considering. Unfortunately, when Google transitioned from Keyword Tool to Keyword Planner, they stripped out a lot of the more interesting functionality. But you can make up for it a bit if you take the information you learn from Keyword Planner and use Google Trends to fill in some blanks.
Use the Keyword Planner to flag any terms on your list that have way too little (or way too much) search volume, and don't help you maintain a healthy mix like we talked about above. But before you delete anything, check out their trend history and projections in Google Trends. You can see whether, say, some low-volume terms might actually be something you should invest in now -- and reap the benefits for later.
Or perhaps you're just looking at a list of terms that is way too unwieldy, and you have to narrow it down somehow ... Google Trends can help you determine which terms are trending upward, and are thus worth more of your focus.

And ... You're done!

Congratulations! You've now got a list of keywords that'll help you focus on the right topics for your business, and get you some short-term and long-term gains. You can even download our free SEO template to help you organize your keywords and track which terms you're focusing on for different pages of your website.
Be sure to re-evaluate these keywords every few months -- once a quarter is a good benchmark, but some businesses like to do it even more often than that. As you gain even more authority in the SERPs, you'll find that you can add more and more keywords to your lists to tackle as you work on maintaining your current presence, and then growing in new areas on top of that.
Now it's your turn. Everyone has their own methods and tricks to conducting keyword research. Share yours in the comments!
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in February 2014 and has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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