As an affiliate marketer, profit margins can be thin. It is for this reason you should take every step possible to make sure you are setting yourself up for future success, and in particular future profits. Because of the fact that margins can be thin, many affiliate advertisers do not have the luxury of paying for traffic via Pay Per Click platforms such as those offered by Google. Instead they are forced to rely on what are considered to be less expensive methods, such as social media, SEO, and forum posting.
While there is nothing wrong with any of these methods, there are right ways and wrong ways to implement each one of them. And when it comes to SEO, proper keyword research can mean the difference between an awesome affiliate relationship and a failed one. While you could fill innumerable encyclopedias with the amount of SEO information on the Internet, many people still overlook the most important aspect of running an effective campaign: keyword research.
Keyword research involves identifying keywords that meet certain criteria. In most cases that criteria is simply being easy to rank for. There are a couple of factors that determine how difficult it is to rank for a keyword, and it is crucial that you understand these factors. Being able to look at a matrix of statistics surrounding the top ten competitors for any given keyword, and understand the matrix, is a skill that takes practice and time. However, once you have mastered this skill, new doors will open up to you in the form of easy to capture traffic.
Before we get into the details surrounding how to do keyword research, we highly recommend you invest in keyword research software such as Market Samurai or Longtail Pro. If you were to try to analyze the top 10 listings for any given keyword on your own, it would take approximately 30-45 minutes per keyword. Keyword research tools, on the other hand, can crunch the numbers and present everything to you in a nice, readable matrix in a matter of seconds. Given this, it is easy to see why virtually all SEO marketers use keyword research tools of some sort.
With that said, there are two types of tools on the market: front-page analysis tools and keyword list builders. Front-page analysis tools look at the top 10 listings and provide competitor data when you plug in any given keyword. This is useful for analyzing competition and determining how hard it will be to rank for a keyword. Keyword list building tools allow you to build lists of keywords to plug into the front-page analysis tool. Unfortunately these tools tend to excel in one area at the expense of another; it is up to you to do your homework and determine if you want to use one tool for both functions or invest in two different tools.
For the most part keyword list building software is extremely easy to use. You simply plugin the base keyword you want to use, set the country and matching type, and hit Go. The base keyword is whatever keyword you want your list to be built around. So if you are selling an affiliate product related to helping men meet women, you would enter ‘where to meet women’ or something similar. It should be noted that Google’s Keyword Tool offers this same function, however it only returns 800 results.
Powerful research tools, on the other hand, can take those 800 and re-plug them into Google’s tool, essentially allowing you 640,000 results (800 x 800). In reality you will only get a couple thousand listings back, but it would be impossible to run those 800 through the tool yourself. You would literally have to copy/paste each of those 800 keywords into their tool, and that doesn’t account for the thousands of duplicates that would pop up each time.
Once you have your keyword list built, it is time to plug it into the front-page analysis tool. This is where things get fun, as we start to see the commercial value of the keywords we are looking at. In this step we also determine how difficult it will be to rank for the words we have just found. The most important number to look for here is traffic, and exact match traffic in particular. Most any tool will give you the option to use broad, phrase, or exact match when filtering traffic. We highly recommend you look only at the exact match numbers, as doing SEO for broad and phrase match can be tricky.
The numbers you use as a minimum filter will vary by industry and your skill level. In general you should make sure any keywords you do SEO for have at least 900 searches per month, and hopefully 1,000. Does that mean you should ignore an extremely targeted and potentially profitable keyword that only gets 700 searches? No. Once again, keyword research takes time. The more skilled you become the more finely tuned your selection criteria will become.
Once you have identified keywords that get a minimum number of searches per month, it is time to start looking at who is ranking in the top for those keywords. This is called competitive analysis, and can be done at the click of a button in most research tools. It should be noted that explaining the full criteria you need to go through is beyond the scope of this article, but we will briefly touch on the various criteria you need to analyze.
The first thing you need to look at is the PageRank of each of the top 10 sites. In general, the lower the numbers are the better. If you see lots of 0s and 1s, continue on to the next step. If you see lots of 3s, 4s, 5s or 6s, move on to the next one. PageRank is not the key to SEO rankings, but it is an extremely quick way to analyze the strength of the sites appearing in the top 10.
Assuming the PageRank numbers do not look intimidating, the next thing you need to look at is the size of the sites that are listed (typically called Index Count). Index Count is simply how many pages are indexed in Google. The larger the site, the harder it will be to outrank. If you see a lot of smaller sites, which we would define as having under 500 pages, this is good; a site with only 500 pages can definitely be outranked by a smaller site with only a few pages. If you see that all 10 sites have over 100,000 pages, however, you are going up against some highly authoritative sites and may want to move on to the next keyword.
The next thing you need to look for is presence of the keyword in the site’s content and tags. If you find that the keyword you are going after is in the title section of every page on the top 10, it is likely those site owners are doing SEO for each of those keywords, and it may be more difficult to rank for. If, on the other hand, only a few sites have your keyword in their Title or Description tag, it is unlikely everyone is doing SEO for that term. Once again, your keyword research tool will show you all of this date in an easy to analyze matrix.
At the end of the day keyword research is the most important factor in predicting success with SEO. A finely skilled keyword researcher knows that going after competitive keywords is an uphill battle, while capturing traffic from low-competition keywords is simply taking advantage of low hanging fruit. Given this, we highly recommend you become an expert keyword researcher; it will open doors most affiliate marketers don’t even know about.