How easy is it to rank a site with minimal budget pt. 2


/ 20.05.2017

How easy is it to rank a site with minimal budget pt. 2

Janak Dhokia

The research phase

Arguably the most important phase of an SEO strategy. It’s not just about finding keywords to rank for, it’s about drilling down into your competitors to analyse what’s working for them and what isn’t, allowing you to quickly find opportunities to focus your valuable time and resource on.

The end goal here was to come out with a set of target keywords for each page that we could get ranking within 6 months, with the little budget we have. If done right, we should be able to spot gaps within competitor’s websites that we could begin to capitalise on.

As we’re on a very strict budget, I’m not going to use the paid versions of Moz and SEMrush despite being some of my go-to tools for this type of work. I’ve decided to explore different avenues to find cost-effective alternatives that will allow any company on a budget to carry out the research at a fraction of the cost.

Step 1

I asked the client for a list of his direct competitors in the local area (the target location). Now we know where local traffic is going we need to find the holes.

Now it’s a bit cheeky, but you can sign up to SEMrush to use the full features and as long as you cancel your subscription within a month, you don’t get charged.

So I went through my list of competitors and dropped them into SEMrush to find what keywords they’re ranking for in the top 100 SERP positions, collating them all into an ever growing spreadsheet.

Now I have a list of around 100 keywords I know are relative to the industry we’re working with.

I’ve been searching around for a cheaper alternative to SEMrush and recently discovered the Mangools suite that includes 4 rather cool tools including a keyword research, SERP, backlink and rank tracking tool. All for around £35 per month if you sign up to a yearly subscription. Or you can have 5 searches a day for free – which is what I did as not to use any additional budget!

I’ve decided to use this as it’s got a cool interface that’s easy to get to grips with and basically does what it says on the tin.

So I took my 100 or so keywords and started dropping them into the kwfinder tool and ensuring I selected the correct region and language. This threw out some key information that I wanted;

– Related search terms
– Average monthly search volume
– Top competitors along with their Domain Authority
– A score out of 100 to show how easy it would be to compete for the key term (similar to the keyword difficulty index on SEMrush)

From this info I can start pulling out some mid/long-tail terms that are acquiring searches, along with some domain information on the top results i.e. if the top few results were a website it was safe to say we won’t be beating them anytime soon – so I left these out.

Now we have a comprehensive list of keywords we need to sift through them and work out which ones we want to target.

As an initial step we need to remove everything with a keyword difficulty of around 30 and upwards as we simply cannot compete given the budget and timeframe. (I know they’re all high in the screenshot but the actual list is much, much bigger!)

And now we have a list of competeable key terms for the client. Hooorah!

I usually stick to around 5-8 key terms to target per page – too many and it just gets messy not to mention the content needs to be focussed around these terms so too many and your content can get messy and lack structure.

In order to further trim down the list I sent it back to the client and asked him to highlight the most applicable terms. Whilst this may result in some golden nuggets being lost, it’s important to know that these terms will be implemented for two primary reasons;

1) Drive in traffic/quality traffic into the website
2) Convert traffic into leads

If we rank for an easy term that’s irrelevant to the business, whilst we may generate traffic, we’ll see an increase in bounce rates and no inbound leads. So I’d go with relevancy here.

Enough back and forth, what next?

There are a multitude of ways to conduct keyword research, some very brief and some very extensive ways in doing so.

I like to take this approach… (this will overlap a later blog around on-page SEO so I’ll keep it brief)

Some areas of a website carry more SEO weight i.e. your heading tags, meta title, and URL structure.

So think about this; you have a keyword acquiring 20 searches a month so you implement this into the above mentioned areas giving you the best possible chance of seeing some good rankings.

What will be the outcome? Around 20 monthly searches for this term. You won’t rank highly for a term acquiring more searches as it will come with more competition and you’ve used your primary keyword placement location on the low search volume term.

Now keep that in mind whilst I explain this…

Take your key terms, add in the monthly search volumes and also the suggested bid amount per term which you can see in Google Adwords (this shows the PPC worth of that given term – the more the bid amount that more valuable the term).

Now split the terms into two areas (primary and secondary). Primary will usually be keywords with much higher search volumes and sometimes higher bid amounts. These will be much more competitive terms.

Now your secondary terms will have much lower search volumes, usually lower bid amounts and carry less competition.

As primary are harder to compete for we can use them across the website where they carry more SEO weight i.e. meta titles, URL’s and heading tags. Your secondary terms can be used mainly in the body copy and smaller headings tags.


What this allows us to do is follow a two-pronged attack. The primary terms will help drive in traffic volumes, despite traffic quality being lower. We have a better chance to rank for these given the on-page placements.

The secondary terms are easier to rank for so they don’t necessarily need to be used in all the prominent places. As long as they’re contained in the body copy which is focussed around them, we still have a good chance of competing.

Granted this is not a one-size fits all approach and there will undoubtedly be situations where you cannot follow this process, however, in this case it’s an approach worth taking.

And there you have it. How to do keyword research without using a penny.
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