3 Super-Actionable Keyword Research Tips to Try Right Now

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3 Super-Actionable Keyword Research Tips to Try Right Now

Larry Kim and Will Critchlow from Distilled recently did a great webinar revealing all their personal keyword research strategies. It went pretty in-depth, so if you’re in the mood for digging in, scroll to the bottom to see the slides and video.

Today, I just want to share three quick tips inspired by the webinar. If you’re looking to accomplish something beyond just dumping a seed term into a keyword tool, these clever tricks should jump-start your next keyword research session.

#1: Spark Content Ideas With Google Suggest Wild Cards

In the webinar, Will mentions picking this tip up from Tom Anthony at Distilled. You’ve probably used Google Suggest as a means of keyword research before, but I love this trick because it allows you to mine suggestions that don’t just come at the end of the phrase you’re typing.

Here’s what I mean: normally, when you start typing a search query, Google offers suggestions to complete the phrase:

3 Super-Actionable Keyword Research Tips to Try Right Now

What these Google suggestions are based on is real content that lives on the web. Google is trying to connect searchers with the content they might be looking for. As a marketer, this is helpful to you because it shows you what already exists out there in the niches where you operate, and if you don’t have content on those topics yet, maybe you should.

But what if you want suggestions for terms that come at the beginning or middle of a keyword phrase? That’s where the wild cards come in. You can use an underscore character anywhere in your search query to get suggestions for searches that fill in that blank. For example:

3 Super-Actionable Keyword Research Tips to Try Right Now

If you run a lifestyle blog based in Colorado, this would be a great way to discover new topics to cover.

Here are a few more examples for inspiration:

3 Super-Actionable Keyword Research Tips to Try Right Now

3 Super-Actionable Keyword Research Tips to Try Right Now

3 Super-Actionable Keyword Research Tips to Try Right Now

3 Super-Actionable Keyword Research Tips to Try Right Now

Pretty neat, eh? (Note that not every wild card search you try will work – sometimes there’s not enough volume and Google defaults to its usual suggestions.)

#2: Steal Keyword Group Ideas From Your Hero’s Home Page

I don’t like to say “steal from your competitors” because that sounds kind of uncool. Instead, think of it as imitating your heroes. Are there sites in your niche that you look up to because they always seem to be killing it? In web marketing, Moz and Buffer are a couple of my blog heroes.

Keyword Planner has a feature that allows you to drop in a URL to see which keywords people are using to arrive at the site. Maybe they expected you to use it for your own site, but guess what? You can put any URL in there! <evil laughter>

Open up Keyword Planner and drop your hero’s URL into the “Your landing page” field, then click “Get ideas”:

3 Super-Actionable Keyword Research Tips to Try Right Now


Usually I focus on the “keyword ideas” tab, but for this exercise, I like to focus on the ad group ideas tab, because I’m not worried about the search volume of any particular keyword, I’m just looking for topic themes.

3 Super-Actionable Keyword Research Tips to Try Right Now


A lot of these look interesting right off the bat. And if I drill down into one of the groups, I get a better picture of the intent of these searchers. (Intent should always inform the approach of your content.)

3 Super-Actionable Keyword Research Tips to Try Right Now


Before you get started targeting this topic, don’t forget to Google a few of these keywords and see what’s already ranking on page 1. To rank for a keyword, you should be creating something more valuable that what’s already out there.

#3: Prioritize Keywords With Larry’s Secret Competitive Index Formula

In the webinar, Larry reveals the formula we use to prioritize keyword research and content creation. He calls it “Larry’s Priority.” Here’s how it works: Take the number of monthly searches for the keyword, multiply that by the suggested bid, then divide it by the competition level on that keyword.

What this does is give you an idea of how realistic it is for you to target keywords with high commercial value. You want to go after keywords with some volume, because they’ll have a better return in terms of traffic. But you don’t necessarily want to go after the most competitive keywords, because you’re less likely to be able to rank for them. You’re looking for a sweet spot.

Note that Keyword Planner doesn’t give you a real number value for “competition level” unless you export the keyword plan into a CSV. Instead you’ll just see “high,” “medium,” or “low.” When you download the plan into a spreadsheet, you can see the competition level as a real value between 0 and 1 – see the highlighted column below:

3 Super-Actionable Keyword Research Tips to Try Right Now

So let’s run the formula on a few keywords. For “using social media for business,” the average monthly search volume is 390, the suggested bid is 26.85, and the competition level is 0.9. So:

390 * 26.85 / 0.9 = 11635

For “how to use social media,” the average monthly search volume is 260, the suggested bid is 7.03, and the competition level is 0.66:

260 * 7.03 / 0.66 = 2769.39

For “using social media,” the average monthly search volume is 170, the suggested bid is 10.98, and the competition level is 0.76:

170 * 10.98 / 0.76 = 2456.05

To use an example outside this ad group, “social media monitoring tools,” with a volume of 880, a suggested bid of 25.79, and competition level of 0.98, gets a final “Larry’s Priority” score of 23158.37. So if you rank these keywords from high to low by Larry’s number, you get:

  1. social media monitoring tools
  2. using social media for business
  3. how to use social media
  4. using social media

The highest number is the one that would give you the most potential return. If you have a big-time domain and can rank pretty easily on competitive keywords, start at the top. If you’re a newer, smaller site and can’t really play with the big guns yet, it might make more sense to start in the middle of the sorted keyword research list – these aren’t the “monster” keywords in your niche, but they’re also less competitive, and therefore easier to rank on.

Watch The Whole Keyword Research Webinar

Hungry for more, grasshoppers? You can view all the slides from the webinar here:

Or watch the video below:

This post originally appeared on WordStream, and is re-published with permission.
Featured Image: Nonnakrit via Shutterstock

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is the Content Development Manager at WordStream Inc., a provider of AdWords solutions and other tools for PPC and SEO. She manages the... Read Full Bio
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  • ChuckFoo

    This is great Elisa, nice write-up.

    Enjoyed the read and picked up a couple of timely and useful pointers. I like that “fill-in-the-blanks” underscore wildcard search! Thanks also for the link to the slideshare original.

    I’m curious as to your thoughts on other tools like Uber Suggest. Also as an “excercise for the reader” I fired up DuckDuckGo and in some cases, seems to return more ideas that Google… I’m curious to view Google’s metrics when I import these keywords into AdWords. Also will be interesting what other search engines like Bing, and maybe to a lesser extent Yahoo! return.


    • Elisa

      Thanks Chuck! I do like UberSuggest! I don’t always remember to use but I think it’s a handy tool.

  • linda say

    Thanks for your 3 quick tips that i’m looking for good keywords. Keep sharing good post. Thanks!

  • Andy Weiss

    Love Larry’s secret formula, Thanks for the great tips 🙂

  • Aravind

    Excellent Tips Elisa, Will it really works ? or might we change some extra longtailed keywords for the actual terms ?

  • Artem

    Great tips! I personally speed up the usage of Google keyword suggest using other tools like KeywordTool. It’s free and way more convenient to use. 🙂

  • Dheeraj Jain

    Wao! This is really super tips. There are lots of point will keep in mind when I’ll do keyword research next time.

  • sam

    Excellent tips. I am surprised to see the suggestion option. That is amazing. Keeping competitor’s key phrases in mind while doing keyword research is the best idea and your calculation formula play the major role.

  • Afzaal

    Hi Elisa,

    There are many ways to pull up keywords for your business by different types of research. But I think the points that you have raised are might be one of the shortest or quickest way to enhance your keyword research.

    Thanks for sharing this great article.

  • Gautam Sehgal

    Very descriptive post, especially the trick of using “underscore”. For last few days I am researching on keyword planning, combine a bit of knowledge I have and come up with an updated article. This post i must say, has questioned me and now I need to work on it more.

  • Vishal Singh

    With the tips you just mentioned here there is no need for someone to go out and buy those expensive and crappy keyword research tools.
    Thanx again

  • Akshay Sapkal

    Got to learn great things from here 😀
    Thanks a lot !
    particularly Larry’s secret formula for keyword research……something new to exercise !

  • Julien

    Which difference between the _ and the * ? Have you more information about thi s? Thanks

  • Josh

    Some easy to execute yet effective suggestions to find relevant keywords.

    Was it just me that was a little embarrassed that I had never heard of the underscore wildcard search?

    Great article Elisa; clicked on for the keywords, stayed because I enjoyed the post.

  • Olivier

    For the Keyword research, are those Google indexes reliable, or more relevant for AdWords ?
    I personally consider the number of indexed pages and average PR for a keyword (crossed with avg monthly searches, of course).

    Comparing both methods gives me pretty different results in keyword porential.

  • Brian

    I really like the _ (underscore) in search queries tip. Should be good feed for content ideas when I go blank on them. Also, I guess the MozBar uses this competitive index formula for calculating the keyword competition rank.

    • Kelsey Jones

      Thanks for reading Brian!

  • Soumya

    Very instructive post and all actionable tips, Elisa. Searches with wild card is really superb technique to come up with new content ideas. Really cool.
    I personally use Ubersuggests and Planner to select the best keywords (realistic) for a topic. But surely going to explore your tips in my next few contents.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Soumya Roy

  • Rank Watch

    Nice way keyword research has been implemented especially the first one.

  • Christiane

    Great tips Elisa!!
    Escpecially the last one, which I didn’t know before!
    all togethether it helped me a lot!
    Looking forward to your next article!

  • Ravi

    Hi Elisa
    This is a great post Elisa.Thanks for suggestions to find relevant keywords.
    Hey Elisa can you tell me what is the negative keywords.

    Thanks Elisa

    • Elisa

      Negative keywords are used in paid search in order to exclude your ads from showing up for keywords that aren’t really relevant, so you don’t have to pay for those clicks. The concept doesn’t really apply to organic search.

      • Ravi

        Thanks Elisa,

        My site Rank is 2 it is not good,If i m change my site design & keyword so it is effective for site rank or not..?