We spend a ton of time on this site talking about video SEO. And with good reason. Video is on a meteoric rise that shows no signs of stopping—heck, YouTube took 4.5 years to reach a billion views a day, and then doubled it in the next eight months to two billion. Video isn't a trend or a fad. This isn't a temporary crush on video, where the Internet citizens are going to wake up one day and say, "You know, I'm tired of video, let's go back to just audio.”
For that reason, I thought it would be good to strip the word "video" out of "video SEO" for a few posts and go back to basics. We've spent so much time covering video tips, video news, video tricks, and video opinions… I wonder if we haven't maybe forgotten some of the most basic and fundamental building blocks of regular old SEO.
Such as keyword selection.
When you upload your video to YouTube, exactly how do you go about choosing the keywords for your title and tags? I'm serious… I want you to give it real thought. And my guess is that many of you probably just start typing.
But there's this whole other phase of SEO known as keyword research. If you aren't actively seeking out keyword tools and keyword data from multiple sources prior to ever writing a title or a tag for your video, then you're almost certainly missing out on some obvious semantic targeting opportunities. The moment you get to a place where you think you can create the perfect keyword phrase list without any research or tools is the moment you've gotten a little too cocky.
Let me tell you a story to illustrate my point. I was working with a local chiropractor on an SEO project for his new website. He wanted to target the word "chiropractic" as part of his keyword strategy. I shot him down and, relying only on my own cocky logic, assured him that "chiropractor" was a higher volume search term. I explained how the masses aren't too bright all the time, and they're much more likely to search "chiropractor”—a term for a kind of doctor—rather than "chiropractic”—a term for a field of medical study. "Heck," I remember saying assuredly, "maybe we should even consider 'back doctor' as a keyword phrase.”
I had gotten lazy, and more than a little too confident. I thought I had done enough SEO work to know all I needed. I felt I had graduated from having to use keyword tools and research… that my exceptional brain would be able to magically spawn all the keyword phrases I would need for this and all other gigs.
And I was clearly wrong—or I wouldn't be telling you this story.
Check out this screenshot from Google Trends on the difference in search volume between "chiropractic," and "chiropractor”:
See what I did there? I stepped in it. I was so very, very wrong.
I'm still not sure why I decided to run that quick little Trends search—it must have been the client's insistence that "chiropractic" was a valid keyword choice. I was dismissive of that, thinking I had a finger on the pulse of the average search user. But if I hadn't run that quick little search, I would have seriously messed up this guy's search presence… and maybe my own reputation in the process.oh
Once I got over my shame, I called the client and gave him my best "you were right" speech. Then I spent the next four hours of the project time doing keyword research. It led to a great many more revelations.
The search engine user base is a fluid thing. It's not static. More people are using three, four, and five-word searches now than ever before. This means they are evolving. Which means that any SEO professional who skips the keyword research phase, thinking they know it all, is a big moron—like I was.
Just because you know what your new video or website is about does not mean you know how the mass audience will search for it. I'd like to run down a brief list of some of my favorite keyword research habits, in the hope that it will spur some of you to rethink how you choose your keywords. Not every SEO professional does keyword research the same way. There are hundreds of paths you can choose. The point is that you should be doing some measure of research before you start editing code and writing tags. If your own wisdom is the only wisdom you rely on, sooner or later it's going to prove you foolish, and negatively impact your work.
Here are some regular things I do to help me create keyword phrase lists—both for personal and professional projects:
The Ask Mom Method
I always start here. Before I do anything else, I ask my mother, because she is a pretty good representation of the average search user. She has zero insider knowledge of my projects or my customers' jargon, and she always gives me fantastic ideas I wouldn't have thought of on my own. It's as easy as sending her a quick email that says, "If you had to find a doctor to help with your back pain, what are some of the things you'd search for on Google to find that doctor?” Inevitably… without fail… she includes a fantastic keyword or phrase that I simply never would have thought of.
It doesn't have to be your mother, obviously. The point is to find a friend or family member who is a fairly average Internet user. They absolutely must be unfamiliar with SEO and your client's industry lingo. If you can meet those requirements… you'll get some of the best SEO direction you'll ever get from the least suspecting place.
The Peek-At-The-Competition Method
This is pretty straightforward. Go run some Google searches for the keyword phrases you know are obvious targets for your client/video, and click on a few of the results you see. Then, reverse engineer things to see what they've done—if it's for video, check out the tags they've chosen; if it's for a website, view the source code and break out their meta data and title tags for scrutiny.
Now, there's no guarantee that this competitor has chosen the best phrases—it's possible you'll be peeking at the work of a classmate who's failing the class. Which is why I always do this with multiple competitors. If you check out the keyword phrase selection of at least three competitors, you'll generally end up with a really solid framework for your own keyword phrase list.
The Tool/Subscription Method
There are gobs of keyword generation tools out there that you can use. I'm not a big fan, mostly because I think keyword phrase selection needs that element of human creativity and gut-feeling to really excel at such a subjective task. Sure, an automated keyword tool can definitely help you get a huge head start—it might even provide as much as 80% of your eventual list. But it's not intuitive. It's data-based. It's driven by past searches instead of the future searches. At least… most of them are.
Keyword tools are definitely getting more sophisticated and intelligent. And there's absolutely no shame at all in using them as a guide on your own keyword phrase list. But they'll never be as good at thinking like a human being as an actual human being will be. Use keyword tools as a guide, not a final authority.
Some of the more popular keyword tools include the following:
- SEObook.com's Keyword Tool. This is a free tool, and works very well, though you'll need to register a free account first.
- Raven SEO Tools. This one is on a paid subscription model, but they do have a 30-day trial.
- Wordtracker. Wordtracker is one of the oldest keyword tools out there, and a lot of SEO professionals still rely on it heavily. It is also a paid subscription model with a free trial period.
- There are also tools for keyword discovery specifically for video SEO as well, such as the YouTube Keyword Tool. You can type in a keyword and get suggestions on other phrases to target. Or, you can plug in a video's URL and get results that way. It's a very useful tool, and one I'm sure many of you are already using regularly. The tool is intended for use by video producers who are enrolled in the Adwords program, helping them find new phrases on which to bid. However, it's a perfectly valid way for non-Adwords users to find related words and phrases. Much like the keyword-suggestion tool inside the Adwords dashboard, it returns a huge number of results--sometimes too many.
- Also, as Mark recommended nearly two years ago, you can use the now-standard predictive nature of regular YouTube searches as a bit of a keyword-suggestion tool, grabbing the "suggested" searches that pop up while you type your query as a measure of how real users are searching within your topic.
The Backwards Method
Another of my favorite tricks to try is to use my site statistics to find new phrases I hadn't come up with on my own. Typically, I'll do my usual research routine and create my keyword list… then I'll go and implement those words and phrases in my work. And after all that, I'll come behind that work and start diving into the site statistics to see what phrases actual visitors used to find me. There is no better barometer for how people search for your site than to look at what actual people actually searched for when they found your site.
Of course, the glaring hole in this method is that you're not getting any data regarding potential customers who never found you. There may be phrases out there that prospective customers are searching… that are leading them to your competitor and not you—therefore they aren't in your fancy Analytics data. Statistics are a huge resource for SEO work, but like most keyword research methods, they only give you part of the picture.
Those are just a few of my own personal keyword research tactics. I hope they'll be of some help to some of you. Whether you're promoting video or a website—or some other kind of content all together—you should get an accurate snapshot of the landscape before you begin, otherwise you might be doing all that work for nothing.
If you only walk away from this post with one nugget of information, then let it be this: keyword research is essential to successful SEO work, and there's not an SEO professional out there who is so smart that they don't need to take the pulse of the web before starting a new project.
If you have a unique or dependable keyword-generation method you use, please share it with us in the comments section. There's no one path to keyword glory, and I'm sure we're all interested in hearing how you achieve success in your projects.
Coming Soon: Part 2 in our SEO Basics For Video & Beyond series: Inbound Links