We’d like to thank Derek Mabie, President of SEO company Evolve Digital Labs, for contributing this post to our blog. With no further ado, here’s Derek.

After executing so many search campaigns, I find it hard to imagine starting any place except keyword research. I suppose you could begin by tearing into a site revamp if you absolutely wanted to, but in pretty short order you will need a keyword strategy to start making educated, influential decisions. I HAVE consulted for brands and clients who, so it seems, can only move forward if they break it or their backs are against the wall. So if you are the type of person who refuses to read the directions, maybe you should consider abandoning this read and just start breaking things that appear in your website audit. Remember before you go, correlation is not causation. If you are looking for an overview of search engines’ functionally and why it works that way, I recommend this read, The SEO Guide for Beginners.

For those not ready to fly solo, let us begin.

I would like to dive right into the tactics, starting with keyword research. If you are just beginning, don’t be concerned with mastering the art and science of keyword research. So what should you be concerned with? Gaining two primary insights: the volume of relevant searches performed and the level of competition. You can achieve this through the completion of two simple tasks using two simple tools.

First understand that any and all keyword research is completed with the aid of Google’s data, specifically the external keyword research tool. This is the same data any search marketing company could, should, and does use.

Google Keyword Tool for keyword research

The tool is about as difficult to operate as the search engine itself. Simply enter industry key terms or your website (domain or page) – and voila! Idea, volume, and competition are all there.

Before you start jumping up for joy, let’s debunk the info just a bit.

  1. Local volume refers to searches performed in the United States, not your town or specific location.
  2. The volume is not a fact, but an educated estimate (although sometimes I question this).
  3. The competition is only correlated with the pay-per-click campaigns, not organic results.

Google Keyword Tool for keyword research

Unless you have ” ” or [ ] wrapped around the term, you don’t necessarily have an accurate volume for the term. Instead, Google is giving you the volume of term or phrase query frequency. As an example, Google may show “shoe” searched hundreds of thousands times a month. Unless you include a filter (“” or [ ]) for the data, however, Google is displaying the overall, inclusive usage of the word shoe in a query. It could be referring to women’s shoe, kids shoe, shoe sale, or even shoe sales in St. Louis MO.

Now that the first action is complete, it’s time for the much easier step two: the underrated and underutilized Eye-Test. To me this is a common sense approach to SEO, quickly accomplished by visiting the search engines and asking yourself, “would my company and domain fit in with this list of ten domains or brands?” If you are a small Bed and Breakfast in Orlando, Florida and you search “hotel rooms, Orlando,” it only takes a quick glance to realize what a difficult climb that could be.

By no means is this a compilation of cutting edge Search tactics, but it is common sense discovery. In my opinion, the Eye Test is for motivation. Those who are new to Search need this incentive and sense of reality. Those two actions can help provide both. If you are not one that is shy on motivation, but do need affirmation, you will need to develop an acute sense of competitive balance. That takes time and effort. Sometimes a professional.

These exercises will provide you with a solid starting point for your SEO journey. Understanding the opportunity of organic search success for your business, should guide your investment, whether it is dollars or time. Compared to other marketing initiatives, SEO provides you with generous amounts of insight that allows you to strategically shape your digital plan. Forget expensive, hit-or-miss focus groups; Google’s keyword research tools yield reliable, valuable answers to the question: What are people searching for? The revealed lists of terms will direct you to tackle a myriad of on-site and off-site improvements, such as content creation (how much and which kind) and Paid Search campaign implementation.