Keyword research doesn’t get a lot of love in the SEO world. For some weird reason, SEO-geated blogs put an untold amount of emphasis on building backlinks.

While there’s no denying the importance of backlinks in SEO, it’s also hard to argue with the fact that keyword research is just as — if not even more — important than building links. In fact, if you take the time to choose low-competition keywords, you don’t need to spend so much valuable time, money, and effort on backlinks.

A New Era of Keyword Research

The good old days of choosing a single keyword and building a minisite around it are more or less gone. If you want to rank today and after Google’s next algorithm update, you need to build large authority sites that target several keywords within a tight niche.

Therefore, the first step towards successful keyword research in 2012 is to find a market that is potentially lucrative. Then, you find a niche within that market that’s relatively untapped. Finally, you start looking at individual keywords to build your site around.

Your New Market: What to Look For

There are a few things to keep an eye out for when evaluating a potential niche market:

Evergreen: Product review keywords are great…until the product changes its name or goes under. You ideally want to hit markets that have been around before the internet came into fruition and will be around long after it’s gone. Markets that fit the bill here include gambling, dating and relationships, business, investing, health, and self-improvement.

Contain Buyers: Coupon code and save money keywords get an insane amount of monthly searches. However, it’s a market full of people that have one thing in common: they’re cheap!

You want markets where people readily buy things on the internet, whether it be information products or a service that you sell.

Competition: Insurance, make money online and hosting reviews are niches that’ll be around for years and are overflowing with buyers. However, they’re tough as nails and generally require million-dollar budgets to rank for. You’re better off sacrificing a bit of search volume so you can rank sometime this decade.

Growing: This isn’t about getting in on a fad. Ideally, you want to enter a niche market that’s going to grow as your site does.  For example, more small business owners are becoming aware of the importance of online reputation management. This is only going to become more popular in the coming years. You can get an objective measure of keyword growth by typing a few of your market’s keywords into Google Trends.

As you can see in this screenshot, more people are searching for reputation management than ever before:

Finding Money Keywords

Once you have your market and niche in place it’s time to get your hands dirty with keyword research.

Here’s how to do it:

Enter a root keyword into the Google Keyword Tool. You should see something like this (be sure to choose [exact] match).

From this list, you want to pick keywords that:

Have Buyer-Intent: Nothing’s worse than a tidal wave of traffic with only a few pennies to show for it. The great thing about keyword research is that you can practically read the searcher’s mind simply by keeping your eyes peeled for buyer words imbedded inside of their search phrase. For example, keywords that contain words like “review”, “prices”, “comparison” and “services” tend to convert better than generic keywords that are generally used by people looking strictly for information.

Another way to gauge buyer intent is through the average CPC in Adwords. Thousands of advertisers have largely done the work of finding profitable keywords for you. Keywords that have pricey bids are almost always better-converting than those with lower bids.

Have Search Volume: There’s no magic number on how many searches you need. It largely depends on your niche and how large you want your site to become. A good way to determine if a keyword is worthwhile is to estimate how much you’ll make per 1000 impressions (RPM). Iit may be worth writing content for keyword has a high RPM even if the search volume isn’t anything special.

Aren’t Too Competitive: Although you shouldn’t let competition scare you away from a keyword (after all, if it’s competitive than others are making money from it), you don’t want to declare a SERP war on Wikipedia or other authority sites. As an example, my paid surveys site is in a very competitive make money online-related niche. However, there are a few keywords, such as “My Survey Review” that get a fair amount of search volume but aren’t incredibly hard to rank for.

Spying on the Competition

Once you have a keyword that fits the criteria above it’s time to take a look at the competition.

From the list of keywords above, it looks like “online reputation services” has a decent search volume. Also, the word “services” tells me that this person is shopping, not mining for information.

There are hundreds of ways to assess competition, including the number of allintitle results to sophisticated tools like Market Samurai. However, I prefer to evaluate the first page results in Google for the following factors:

PageRank and MozRank: Although PageRank doesn’t always predict a page’s actual rank, it’s a pretty good bet that high PR pages are going to be harder to knock off. I’ve also been looking at MozRank is strongly correlated to actual Google rank.

On-Page SEO: Are the first page sites targeted your specific keyword? You can often blow past authority sites by making a more relevant and targeted page. As you can see, most of the results for online reputation services have their keyword in the title tag and description tag.

Authority Sites: Due to the trust they’ve gained with Google, authority sites can easily rank their internal pages without many backlinks pointing to that page. If the first page is full of authority sites like and, it may make sense to avoid that keyword.

Number of Links and Referring Domains: Although not as important as it once was, the number of links pages have tend to correlate with Google rank. A PR2 with thousands of links from hundreds of different domains are going to be much harder to beat than a PR2 with 3 links.

Go Get ‘Em!

Although more work upfront, taking the time to choose the right keywords means you spend less time building links. Does anyone else have any metrics they use to asses competition? Do you think that keyword research is a waste of time? Post your thoughts here!