Keyword research case study: how I took a brand new website to page one of Google in just 162 days.
Last updated: Feb 2, 201714 Comments
Do you want to know the truth about keyword research?
There are way too many people out there who are continually dishing out misleading information.
Short tail keywords, long tail keywords, misspelled keywords, negative keywords.
So many to choose from...
... but which is best?
Thanks to my keyword research case study, this blog post will tell you. It'll also reveal what to do with the keywords when you've found them.
The background behind this case study.
Basically, most of the keyword research strategies you find online fail to grasp the most important thing about keywords:
A keyword needs to deliver something tangible, otherwise ranking highly for it is completely pointless.
Now, it's possible to get value from many types of keywords...
... but that doesn't help the average website owner, does it?
You're still left with a myriad of options.
And, if you're not an SEO pro, page one feels a million miles away.
I've believed for a long time that there's one kind of keyword that tends to deliver value consistently.
Therefore, if you're short on time, money, experience and knowledge, that one type of keyword is going to be your best bet.
The point of this case study was to provide proof of this and give you a keyword research strategy that you can use on your site.
But there's more...
I'm so confident in my keyword research strategy that I wanted this case study to accomplish something else, too.
I also wanted to disprove a common, long-running SEO myth.
There are a lot of threads in SEO forums and blog comments on SEO articles about how the age of a site plays a huge part in reaching the top of the search rankings.
You see stuff like this all the time:
My website is brand new; I'm not going to stand a chance of reaching page one.
My competitors are ranking above me and have been around for years; my site won't be able to overtake them.
We’re told that, in order to rank highly, we’ll need a reputable website that’s been around for a long time.
But this isn't true. It's nonsense.
Google couldn't care less how old your website is.
It's a search engine. Google just wants to provide relevant results. If your web page is good enough, age doesn't come into it.
The ONLY time the age of a domain might be considered is if Google is deciding where to rank two web pages and every other parameter is the same.
And let's face it, with over 200 ranking factors, that's just not going to happen.
... that's why I registered a new domain for this SEO experiment.
I wanted to illustrate how a fresh website can reach page one efficiently. You don't need a long history with Google or to have established any social signals.
You just need to box a bit clever.
Many so-called SEO experts often fuel these myths.
Information overload and misplaced opinions have muddied the waters for many business owners who just want to start ranking well for sensible terms that will boost their website traffic and, eventually, increase their profits.
Do you want your brand to achieve some visibility?
With this case study, I'm going to show you a super-simple approach to keyword research.
One that you can start using, alongside some basic SEO techniques, in order to improve your ranking position in search results.
It's a plan that doesn't cost anything to execute, but could transform your business forever.
The cheetah approach: keyword research for ambitious, results-driven business owners.
For this case study, I wanted to target a niche that was completely unconnected to my area of expertise.
I registered a domain on 24 March, 2015, so that I could build a website for my guitar teacher.
There’s no denying that doing this gave me a chance to say thanks for his patience and his forgiving ears, but mainly, I chose to help him because he didn’t have a website.
Nothing at all.
For the reasons already specified, this had to be an SEO project that was started from scratch.
But I also wanted to work on a website for him because of the very nature of his business.
Fact is, all music teachers have to put up with a high turnover of students thanks to relocation, academic demands, declining interest and even the growth of YouTube tutorials.
Other than word-of-mouth recommendations, it’s a business that genuinely requires a high search ranking.
People don’t just walk into a music studio looking for a guitar teacher the way we go into a supermarket looking for milk.
Equally, you can’t cold call someone and convince them to start learning the guitar.
People look for a guitar teacher because it’s either a school requirement or some sort of long-standing ambition for adults.
And when you're looking for a guitar teacher, research is essential.
If you’re a music teacher and you don’t have a website on page one of Google for a sensible keyword, you’re essentially rolling the dice and hoping that your existing students either keep coming or keep recommending you.
Either way, that’s a dangerous game to play.
Ultimately, this was a digital project that could make a real impact on my guitar teacher's business.
Building the website.
Let's get something straight:
I’d never built a website before.
I had zero technical experience [and never will have]. For those reasons, I used WordPress to construct the site, as it’s a great platform for beginners.
I created a website in around 2-3 hours.
It wasn't perfect, but this task was never about design.
Here’s what the homepage looked like when I was done:
An additional SEO challenge with the URL.
My guitar teacher was very keen on using the pseudonym ‘Syronesis’, which is why I registered the domain syronesis.com. This added an interesting dimension to the case study.
From a branding position, having a pseudonym gives him a USP – he’s now not ‘just another guitar teacher’, he’s something a little more mysterious.
I quite like it, but there’s no doubt that having a URL that doesn’t contain a keyword makes things a little harder.
From an SEO point of view, a logical URL that contains a keyword does increase the chances of a website ranking higher for it, so having a keyword in a URL is preferable.
But... it’s not the be-all and end-all [as you're about to see].
On 2 September, 2015, the site hit page one.
The new website reached the top of Google for 2 different keywords.
Both are for sensible keywords that are likely to increase website traffic and generate more leads for the business owner.
To summarise, from start to finish, the whole journey to page one of Google only took 162 days.
This didn’t cost ANYTHING.
The only fee that needed paying was the £80 it cost to register the domain and set up hosting for the new site [which would obviously already be in place if you’re an existing business].
SEO is a wide subject area, but the success of this project was simply down to the keywords I chose to target and the application of some straightforward, basic SEO techniques [that anyone can do in minutes].
Onto the strategy: choosing the right keywords.
I'm now going to reveal the type of keywords that you need to be targeting... and how to pick them. Then I'll explain what to do with those keywords.
SEOs don’t tend to agree on much, but they usually agree on the importance of keyword research in SEO. Picking the right keywords to target is one of the most important steps in any SEO campaign.
Some keywords are very hard to rank for.
Loads are easy.
Many will transform your business.
The majority won’t.
The trick to choosing the right keywords lies in finding the delicate balance between logic and logistics, between risk and reward.
Understanding keyword research is tough at first…
… but that’s where the cheetah approach helps.
The 4 steps to using the cheetah approach and driving your website to the top of Google:
The cheetah approach is all about utilising the power of medium tail keywords.
Before I discuss what medium tail keywords are and why they're vital, this is an overview of the process for finding a medium tail keyword:
Step 1: Fire up the Google Keyword tool.
Step 2: Search for a relevant broad term.
Step 3: Filter the results by most searches.
Step 4: Pick out the medium tail keywords.
Medium tail keywords are keywords that are usually made up of 2-3 words, have a decent degree of popularity and still offer commercial value.
There are some very good reasons why you should forget about long tails and short tails to instead focus on medium tail keywords.
Short tail keywords.
In the context of this project, a short tail keyword would be something like ‘guitar teacher’ or ‘guitar lessons’.
There are two problems with short tail keywords:
1. The shorter the keyword, the more searches it gets [making it much harder to rank for].
2. The shorter the keyword, the broader the term is [making the traffic is less targeted].
Here's an example of a short tail keyword:
This is a keyword that won't offer much commercial value to a guitar teacher who lives in Maidenhead.
On the surface, it might be a tempting keyword to go for, since 140 searches a month is nothing to be sneezed at.
But in business, your website should never be focused on pulling in the most traffic – it should be working towards attracting the right traffic.
Let’s say I was able to get syronesis.com ranking highly for ‘guitar teacher’.
That sounds great as it would probably get loads of clicks, but the majority of the people visiting the site won’t live in the target area for the business.
It’s a question of logic. If 10,000 people visit the site in a week, how many of them will live in the south of England?
And how many of them will live near Maidenhead?
Long tail keywords.
A long tail keyword is, as the name suggests, longer. It’s more specific.
So in the context of this project, a long tail keyword might be ‘good acoustic guitar teacher in Maidenhead’.
Long tail keywords are the easiest keywords to rank highly for.
And lots of SEOs like to recommend them. In fact, many SEO agencies survive through targeting long-tail keywords that do little for their clients.
There’s a reason why long tail keywords are easy to rank for and, again, it’s a question of common sense.
How many good acoustic guitar teachers are there in Maidenhead? How many have an SEO strategy that is targeting this exact long tail keyword?
Not many, I'd wager.
Here's an example of a long tail keyword:
Now this long tail keyword does actually pull in a decent amount of searches every month, but normally, the biggest issue with targeting long tail keywords is TRAFFIC.
Long tail keywords tend to get an extremely low number of searches every month.
So if no one’s searching for a ‘good acoustic guitar teacher in Maidenhead’, then what’s the point in working hard on getting to page one with this keyword?
Again, it's just not going to offer commercial value.
It’s also worth taking a moment to reference the advance of semantic search. Because of semantic search, long tail keywords are quickly losing their value.
Semantic search is Google’s way of trying to help us out.
As we type in a search term, you’ll often see suggestions auto-populating in the search bar and just below.
They’re trying to help. Therefore, if Google is starting to fill in the blanks for us, the need to be so precise and enter a long tail keyword is reducing.
Strive for balance.
Medium-tail keywords offer the optimal balance – they bring in a nice amount of steady traffic and are easy enough to realistically rank for.
That balance is going to be especially important if you're a small or medium-sized business.
Pick a short tail keyword and the issue is difficulty and relevance. Choose a long tail and finding a sufficient volume of searchers will be the problem.
But one vital question remains:
How do I know which medium tail keywords to target?
That’s where the cheetah approach will save the day.
It's about time I expanded on that 4-step process...
... which brings us nicely onto step 1.
Step 1: Open up the Google Keyword Planner.
This free keyword planner tool is part of Google Adwords and doesn’t cost a thing, but you’ll have to open up an Adwords account first.
You’ll find the Keyword Planner in ‘tools’.
Make sure it’s set up to analyse Google searches in the country you’re focusing on. Then click on ‘Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category’.
Step 2: Search for a relevant broad term.
Enter an appropriate term into the search field underneath 'Your product or service'.
Then click on the ‘Get ideas’ button at the bottom.
Step 3: Filter the results by most searches.
Once you’ve filtered the results you’ll see related search terms.
In almost all cases, the popular terms at the top will be the short tails and the ones at the bottom are the long tails.
It’s the ones in the middle that you’re looking out for. The keywords that are made up of 2-3 words and that are in the middle range for monthly searches and for the level of competition.
It’s worth noting that you may occasionally find an absolute gem – a medium tail keyword that brings in a lot of traffic and isn’t that competitive. If that happens then thank the SEO gods and move on.
Step 4: Now pick out your medium tail keywords.
Here are the results for the 2 medium tail keywords I chose.
Guitar lessons Maidenhead:
Guitar teacher Maidenhead:
Both keywords are medium tail keywords.
They’re 3 words long and, as an added bonus, incorporate two competitive and popular short-tail keywords [‘guitar lessons’ and ‘guitar teacher’].
Interestingly, if I were to work on this site consistently, I’d be hoping that the site would actually gradually start ranking higher for these short tails too.
Incidentally, you don't have to include a location within your medium tail keyword, but in the context of a music teacher, it's both logical and necessary.
[In any case, as this article points out, they're often an important trigger.]
The number of searches and the level of competition for the two chosen keywords is high enough to make the exercise worthwhile, yet low enough to indicate that we can overtake many of our rivals and rank highly.
What did I do with the keywords though?
Okay. You now know that medium tail keywords are the best keywords to target. You also now know how to find them.
So, when you've found some, what do you do with them?
Websites obviously need content. I just strategically incorporated both medium tail keywords into the copy on the site.
That's both for 'normal' pages [like home pages, product pages and service pages] and also for blog articles I published.
Pretty simple, huh?
I also ticked a number of other SEO boxes, too.
I set up some internal linking within the site to improve user experience.
Plus, I created effective metadata.
After all, let’s not forget that getting to page one is only part of the battle.
The next step is getting someone to actually click on your link. Your metadata is like a sales pitch in the last-chance saloon. It needs to be succinct and, ideally, have a hook.
There have been plenty of SEO case studies that have clearly identified a strong correlation between ranking positions and click-through rates [CTRs].
In other words, the more times your site gets clicked on, the higher it’ll rank.
Here’s an example of the meta title and description for Syronesis.com, alongside a poor effort from a competitor:
Can you see the difference?
If you need more help with meta descriptions, check out this epic guide that we created. There's even a FREE offer [details are in the article]...
A final word on the commercial value of keywords.
When it comes to choosing your medium tail keywords, don’t write off a phrase because of a perceived low volume of searches.
Instead, analyse a keyword in relation to the value of your conversions.
For instance, it may be relatively easy to rank highly for a keyword that’s only searched for 5-10 times every month. But converting one of those users might be worth £100s.
If that’s the case, it may be worth targeting. If not, then don’t bother.
Choosing keywords is about balance. Your time and effort versus your potential reward.
Summary: what have we learned?
Now you can see how to do keyword research properly.
I hope you can see the potential of the cheetah approach for your website and your business.
The exact amount of time it takes to achieve SEO success can vary depending on the industry and the keywords, but the cheetah approach will help you enormously.
What does this keyword research case study prove?
In no particular order, the success of this project shows that:
- Keyword research is critical to the success of any SEO campaign.
- Medium tail keywords can be highly effective.
- You don't need technical SEO knowledge to top the rankings.
- The age of your website doesn't matter.
- You don't need strong social signals to hit page one.
- Your URL doesn't have to contain a keyword.
- You don't need a flashy website to conquer SEO.
However, if there was one SEO tip I'd advocate above any other, it's this:
Focus on strategic content above anything else.
Creating and promoting quality content is vital for long-term SEO success.
And there's a certain knack to creating the type of viral content that ranks highly and generates huge numbers of social shares.
It doesn't happen by chance.
[Most people don't know how to do it.]
You must utilise your blog.
Quite simply, it's the part of your site that's perfect for hosting content.
Yes, you have content on other pages, but it's limited. It's not really going to change much. And furthermore, with the best will in the world, most of your web pages are biased.
They're going to be selling something.
Blog posts aren't like that. They're usually far more impartial...
... which allows them to create authority.
And content + authority = page one rankings.
I intentionally made things a little tricky for myself with this case study so that I could prove that you can take a bog-standard website to page one relatively quickly just by being smarter about keyword research.
The blog posts I created for my guitar teacher's site were pretty basic because I wanted them to replicate most of the blog content you see online.
In reality, when you create proper content. you can hit page one in much quicker time than 162 days.
When I take on SEO work for clients, I focus purely on consistently creating amazing blog content.
There are 4 reasons why:
1. It's easier to get blog content ranked highly than any other kind of web page.
2. Amazing content will enhance a client's brand image.
3. The authority you gain from stellar blog posts increases the ranking positions of all your other web pages anyway.
4. Blog posts never expire. They're basically long-standing sales weapons.
We've developed a simple system for creating such content.
It's a process that has taken us years to perfect.
You don't need any SEO knowledge, nor a fancy website.
It costs nothing to execute and can work very quickly - one of our blog posts hit page one in under 4 weeks.