Keyword Research – How To Select The Best Keywords for SEO

Successful SEO campaigns all have one thing in common… the selection of the right keywords to focus efforts upon.

Keyword selection can make or break your SEO campaign because all of the work done after this stage is based upon the keywords that have been selected: select the wrong keywords to focus on and the next 12 months of SEO will return less than 100 visitors per month; select the right keywords and your business will grow in leaps and bounds.

Before expanding further on how to find the right keywords for your SEO campaign it is important to define what a keyword is and the different types of keywords available.

Understanding the Different Types of Keywords

A keyword, also known as a ‘keyword phrase’, is a combination of words that an Internet user will type into a search engine to find what they are looking for. Keyword phrases can be one, two, three or more words such as ‘home loans’, ‘home loans sydney’ or ‘cheap home loans sydney’.

Generally, the best results are achieved with keyword phrases containing two words, such as ‘home loans’, but it is a little more complicated than that.

Google’s quality rater guidelines (page 5) break down keyword phrases into three categories:

  • Navigational – keywords used to find a specific web page (eg a search for ‘IBM’ should list the IBM site)
  • Informational – keywords used to find information on a topic (eg a search for ‘tsunami’ should list a Wikipedia entry)
  • Transactional – keywords used to complete a transaction on the web (eg ‘beatles poster’ should list a page where the user can buy a beatles poster)

The key to a successful SEO campaign is identifying and selecting the highest searched transactional keyword phrases as these will produce the highest number of sales with the shortest sales cycle. Transactional keywords should be targeted to your sales pages.

While informational keywords may have higher search volumes, the person searching these keywords is not in the buying mindset which means a lower conversion rate and a much longer sales cycle. Informational keywords are best targeted with a content strategy, such as writing articles for your blog.

Navigational keywords should rarely be the focus of any SEO campaign.

Short Tail vs Long Tail Keywords – Which Are Better To Focus On?

When discussing keyword research and selection we have to talk about short tail vs long tail keywords.

Short tail keywords usually have the highest search volume and are the most difficuult keywords to rank for – these keywords usually include one or two words.

Long tail keywords have a much lower search volume but can have a higher conversion rate – these keywords usually include three or more words.

There is a lot of debate in the SEO community on which keywords are best for an SEO campaign, but the answer is really very simple…

Focus on keyword phrases that will produce the highest number of overall conversions (ie sales or sales leads) rather than the keywords that provide the highest conversion rate.

Let’s take a look at a quick example…

‘Home Loans’ has a search volume of approximately 18,000 searches per month. With a top ranking you can conservatively estimate receiving around 10% of the monthly search volume as website traffic, which equates to 1,800 visitors per month. With a 1% website conversion rate you would receive 18 sales leads per month.

‘Home Loans Sydney’, on the other hand, has a search volume of 170 searches per month which equates to approximately 17 visitors per month for a top ranking. If the conversion rate for this keyword phrase was 10x that of ‘home loans’ (ie 10%) you would still only receive 2 sales leads per month compared to 18 for the short tail phrase. Which would you prefer?

As a general rule, the more qualified traffic you can drive to your website the more sales or sales leads you will receive. Not only because overall conversions are higher but also because it is much easier to increase the number of sales leads by improving your website’s conversion rate than it is to increase traffic through ranking new keyword phrases.

Importantly, by focusing on short tail keyword phrases you will also achieve rankings for long tail keywords phrases, but the reverse is never the case.

But how do you know how many people are searching for a particular keyword phrase in any given month?

Researching Keyword Search Volumes

With a better understanding of the different types of keywords and whether to focus on short tail or long tail phrases, it is now time to research the keyword phrases to focus on.

The best method of researching keyword volumes is through the Google Adwords Keyword Tool which shows you the exact keyword search volume for the previous month for the country of your choice – and what better place to research keywords than the search engine where you want to rank for?

Here is the process to follow:

1. Select the country you will be optimising your website in (eg Australia) by clicking on the ‘Edit’ button next to the country field.

2. Enter the keywords you are looking at implementing for your SEO campaign – keep the keyword as short tail as possible (eg ‘home loans’ intead of ‘home loans sydney’). Google will then show you the highest searched phrases which include those words.

3. Enter the verification code and then click ‘Get keyword ideas’.

4. Select ‘exact match’ from the drop down menu to see the exact search volume for that keyword phrase. It displays the data as ‘broad’ by default, but this is for Google Adwords and is incorrect data when making decisions on SEO keyword phrases – this is the MOST IMPORTANT part of the process as the keyword volumes for ‘exact match’ are much lower than ‘broad match’.

5. Click on the ‘choose columns to display’ and then ‘show estimated avg. CPC’ – this will show you how much advertisers are paying per click for a top position on Google Adwords.

6. Click the ‘Local Search Volume’ heading to filter the results by highest search volume to lowest.

7. Go down the list and take note of all the transactional keywords you can find. These will be the core of your SEO strategy. A good method of telling whether a keyword is transactional or not is to conduct a search on Google for that keyword phrase and see how many direct competitors are ranking for that phrase. Ideally, you want to see a competitor ranking in the top 1 or 2 positions.

8. Then, go down the list again and take note of all the informational keywords you can find. These can be used as part of your content strategy.

Now that you have a list of transactional keywords listed in order of highest search volume to lowest, it is now time to assess how competitive the top keyword phrase is and decide whether you want to go after this keyword or not.

Identifying The Competitive Nature of a Keyword

Achieving a top ranking for a high search volume transactional keyword phrase is worth a lot of money for anybody who is ranking there, which usually means that the competition will be fierce.

One of the easiest mthods of identifying how much you should invest in an SEO campaign is by estimating the equivalent PPC advertising cost.

You can estimate how much it will cost you to hold a top Google Adwords position by multiplying the estimated traffic of a top position (calculated at 10% of search volume) by the ‘estimated avg. CPC’ for that keyword phrase (from step 5 above).

In the case of the ‘home loans’ keyword, 1,800 visitors per month at an average cost of $19 per click would cost around $34,000 per month in equivalent advertising cost. Now you wouldn’t spend that much on SEO, but don’t expect to pay $1,000 per month and achieve a top ranking for this keyword when the equivalent advertising cost is 34x higher. Established players are generating significant profits from their rankings and usually reinvest a portion of those profits into maintaining those rankings.

If budget is an issue (and it usually is) it is best to speak to SEO experts and give them the problem. Let them know your budget and ask them what is the most competitive keyword phrase they can rank your website for within that budget.

Researching, identifying and targeting the highest search volume transactional keyword phrase will produce the best results from your SEO campaign so make sure that you really spend the time making the right decision on which keyword to focus on… because you won’t see the results of a wrong decision for another 12 months, and what is the opporutnity cost of not ranking for another year?

Alex Cleanthous

Alex Cleanthous

Chief Innovation Officer at Web Profits

Alex Cleanthous is Chief Innovation Officer at Web Profits. With more than 10 years experience in online marketing, Alex is always on the lookout for smarter, faster and more scalable ways to achieve maximum growth with minimum spend.


  1. 17 of the Most Common SEO Myths : : Web Profits says:

    […] in the next 12 months. Always ensure that you check the keywords you are optimising using this keyword research […]

    November 5th, 2009 at 2:25 pm

  2. Dave says:

    You made some good observations about short tail and long tail keywords. I usually aim for the long tail keywords; however, with your insights maybe I should aim for some short tail keywords. Thanks!

    December 22nd, 2009 at 8:42 pm

  3. Frank@Google SEO Tips says:

    Thanks dude, i love your seo ideas. Keyword analysis is the most important and hard work in search engine optimization. Google top and expensive keywords are very important to find out. Worth reading SEO article mate. I am going to bookmark your site, Cheers.

    March 19th, 2010 at 5:08 am

  4. Muxx says:

    This was a fantastic read and very informational.

    I’ve always been told to go after the long-tail keywords but this has really opened up a new light about short-tail.

    I generally do quite well with long-tail keywords, but who doesn’t right?

    I think I’ll have to try out some new ways to aim for shorter keywords, really drive home on optimizing :)

    April 11th, 2010 at 5:18 am

  5. Pumps & Spares says:

    This great.
    i wish i had a domain name pumpsandparts dot com dot au as i ahve found more people Google Pump parts than Pump spares.


    April 20th, 2010 at 10:43 am

  6. James says:

    Actually this is great advice. I have always wondered which is most important for SEO out of the long or short keywords you should aim for. This explanation on finding the correct keywords and how to evaluate them is good, especially the ‘exact’ keywords importance over ‘broad’ in keywords tool. It is easy to to think a keyword has more importance when using the wrong method.

    March 9th, 2013 at 6:27 pm

  7. Globus IT says:

    Your article is very important to everyone. Keyword research is the one of the reason to get better position in search engines.You showed very clearly how to use Google keyword tool.
    Thanks for sharing your valuable ideas with us.

    August 20th, 2015 at 9:57 pm