Thursday, March 31, 2011

How to Choose Profitable Keywords for Your Articles

I posted a similar article on The Freelance Home Writer several years ago, but I think it's time to update this information with all the new things I've learned since then. I've found that in the world of SEO, some things change quickly (primarily opinions), but the most valuable principals always remain the same. In this tutorial, I'll show you how I use Google Adwords to find profitable keywords for my revenue sharing articles and how to analyze the competition for these keywords. The key to writing articles that earn money is to use good keyword research, which means choosing keywords that are highly searched and have little competition, and providing the reader with real value. 

Before You Begin

In order to properly perform keyword research and analyze your competition, you're going to need two very important tools: the Firefox web browser and the SEO for Firefox add-on. If you aren't using Firefox as your default browser, download the latest version here. Once you install Firefox (or if you're already using it), download and install SEO for Firefox before you begin this tutorial.
Step #1 - Choosing a Topic

This is often the hardest part for new writers; they don't know where to begin looking for a topic, much less keywords for their articles. I'm here to show you that it really isn't difficult. All you need to do is pick something - anything - preferably a topic on which you have experience (but this isn't necessary). For the purpose of this tutorial, let's say I am an experienced interior designer. The first thing I want to do is pick a broad topic in this niche. Off the top of my head, I can think of furniture, decorations, interior lighting and painting. Now, I can take these topics and put them into Google Adwords for a list of keywords that might work for articles.

Now, what if you aren't an experienced interior designer and you're still at a loss? Well, one of the best things you can do is visit other content sites. Go take a look at eHow, Infobarrel and eZine articles. Look through their categories and pick one that interests you. Start as broad as necessary and you can narrow things down in Google Adwords. Using eZine articles as an example, they have a huge number of sub-categories that can give you inspiration. Under Home Improvement, we have things like flooring, energy efficiency, landscaping, security, etc. Choose one of these and run with it.

Step #2 - Narrowing Down Your Keywords

Now that you have a topic in mind, it's time to open up the Google Adwords keyword tool and let the fun begin! (Note: Bookmark the tool, because you'll use it often.) When you open the tool, you'll be faced with a page that looks like this: 

Now type in your topic and fill out the captcha, then click the search button. I'm going to type furniture into the search box, just to get started. 

After a moment, the tool returns a list of keywords with several columns on the side. To get the most out of our search, and to get the most accurate information possible, we're going to have to tweak this a little bit. 

We're going to change two things: the "Match Type" in the left-hand side of the screen and the "Columns" on the right side. We want to change the "Match Type" to [Exact], so click the appropriate check-box and make sure to un-check the Broad check-box. 

When you click the "Columns" button, a drop-down menu will appear. Click the check-boxes beside "Global Monthly Searches" and "Estimated Avg. CPC." All other boxes should be un-checked. Make sure to click "Apply" when you're done.

The reason we want to change the Match Type to [Exact] is so we know how many people are searching for our exact keyword phrase, as it's written. We want to change the columns so we can see exactly how many people search for the keyword phrase in total (not just locally) and what the average cost-per-click (CPC) is for each keyword. Also, we want to remove all the other columns that don't apply to us and would otherwise just get in our way. Now, we're ready to start looking for keyword phrases we can use to write articles.

Step #3 - Choosing Keywords

To make things easier, we're going to sort our list of keywords by the number of searches, highest first. Click "Global Monthly Searches" to sort. Now, you'll see that the top few keywords get hundreds of thousands of global searches. This is good, but we most likely will not be able to outrank the authority sites that are targeting these phrases. 

Instead, we need to look for keywords that get much less search traffic - but enough to make it worthwhile. In order to make money, you'll need to get some traffic, but don't expect to get hundreds of thousands of visitors or to rank for a phrase such as "furniture stores" that tons of commercial sites already rank for. No, we need much more obscure phrases that will give us a real chance of reaching web surfers. 

Let's scroll down the list and on the second page. Because we started with such a broad phrase, even the second page of results is filled with terms we aren't likely to rank for. In my experience (and if you don't want to do a lot of backlinking) keywords that get anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 searches are typically where we want to start. It looks like we need to narrow down our search even more. One way we can do this is to sort by the Estimated Avg. CPC. 

Now, we have a whole host of new keyword phrases. Scroll through until you come to a phrase with searches between 1,000 and 5,000. (Note: In many cases, you can still rank for keywords with more than 5,000 searches if the competition is low enough. This is just a starting point.) I immediately see numerous phrases that may work. I'm going to choose "contemporary outdoor furniture." This phrase gets 2,400 searches a month. Now, I need to look at the CPC.

The phrase gets approximately $1.47 per click. This means the advertiser is willing to pay up to $1.47 each time someone clicks on his ad targeting this keyword phrase. Now, I don't think we need to take this figure too seriously. In my experience, just getting traffic to the article is most important and people will click the ads. However, this figure gives us a rough idea of how much the keyword is worth. I try to target keywords with a CPC of over $1.00 - the higher the better. Keep in mind if you're writing for residual income on a revenue sharing site, you'll also have to split your revenue with the site after Google takes a cut. 

Now that we've found a keyword phrase with enough searches and a reasonable CPC, it's time to analyze our competition to see if we can rank or not. If not, we'll try a different keyword phrase. 

Step #4 - Analyzing a Keyword's Competition

To begin our analysis, first click on the selected keyword phrase in Google Adwords to open a Google search for the term in a new tab. Scroll down past the ads and look for the tiny words underneath the search results that say "#1 PR: ?" and click the question mark. In a moment, the page rank (PR) of the page in question will be displayed. Continue retrieving the PR for each page on the first page of search results.

As you can see, the pages in the first 10 search results are mostly 3's and 4's with a few 1's and 2's. Let's put this in perspective:
  • Most pages in the first 10 results have 0 PR - EXTREMELY EASY TO OUTRANK 
  • Most pages in the first 10 results have 1 PR - VERY EASY TO OUTRANK
  • Most pages in the first 10 results have 2 PR - MODERATELY EASY TO OUTRANK
  • Most pages in the first 10 results have 3 PR - EASY TO OUTRANK
  • Most pages in the first 10 results have 4 PR - MORE DIFFICULT TO OUTRANK
  • Most pages in the first 10 results have 5 PR - DIFFICULT TO OUTRANK
  • Most pages in the first 10 results have 6 PR or Above - VERY DIFFICULT TO OUTRANK
As you can see, pages with mostly 0, 1 and 2 PR are the easiest to outrank, and you can often do it with very little effort. However, the PR of the competing pages isn't the only factor to consider. We also have to consider if these pages are actually targeting our keyword phrase or if they're just ranking by default. How do we know? Let's take a closer look at the first few results.

There are three places we need to look to see if these pages are targeting our keyword phrase: the title, description and URL. The first result does NOT have our exact keyword phrase in the title, description or URL, nor does the second result. Only the third result (well, really the fourth under the shopping results) has our keyword phrase in the title. However, it does NOT have our keyword in the description or URL. 

This means that even though the pages have a rank of 3 or 4, we can likely still outrank them in time if we put the keyword phrase in our article title, description and URL. We have to consider not only the PR of these results, but also to what degree we can better optimize our articles to beat them. Make sense? If the top results were all PR 3 and 4 and they were all optimized (meaning they all had the keyword phrase in their title, description and URL), we should probably choose another phrase. Because they are NOT optimized and none are above PR 4, we can probably get on the front page of Google results if we write a good article. 

If we scroll further down the page, we can see that a page with a PR 0 has ranked for the keyword phrase at position number eight in the search results simply by putting the phrase in the title and description. Also, they did it with no back links. How do I know this? Click the question mark beside the words "Y! Links" and "Y! Page Links." The first value (Y! Links) displays how many backlinks the domain has, according to Yahoo. The second value (Y! Page Links) displays how many backlinks the actual page has, according to Yahoo. This page has NO backlinks and very few to the actual domain. 

Posting an article using this keyword on a site with thousands of backlinks to the domain, such as Infobarrel or HubPages, and putting the phrase in our title, description and URL should give us a real chance of getting on the front page with no extra effort. (Keep in mind, this will take time, however.) With a few backlinks, we could rise above this page and maybe even make it into the top five results. In time, we could climb to the top position. But, even if we didn't build any backlinks, this article will still earn money.


Not every keyword you choose is going to be a winner. Sometimes, even the keywords that look good end up being duds. All you can do is educate yourself and do the best you can. I promise you that even with a few duds, you'll have some articles that earn far more than you ever expected. Perform good keyword research to give yourself the best chance, accept that some articles aren't going to earn as much as you hoped and keep on publishing. It pays off, as you can see from my income reports. You won't get rich overnight, but gradually, your residual income will climb higher and higher. With consistent work, you can make a full time income in a very short amount of time. 

Good luck to you on your article writing journey, and please don't hesitate to share your comments, questions and concerns. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic!


  1. Hi Willow,

    I am glad you are back to blogging. I used to follow you all the time because you are so helpful. I can't find the #1 PR below my search results when I follow your steps above. Do you have any advice?

  2. Hi robshopper! I'm glad you find my posts helpful. About the search results, did you install Search status for Firefox first? You may have to restart your browser before the additional info starts showing up in the search results. I'm not sure because it's been a LONG time since I first installed it. If this doesn't work, let me know and I'll try to help you further. Good luck!

  3. Thanks Willow,

    I installed search status like you suggested and restarted my browser. But on the actual Google search results page that you have as an example above, you have PR data under each and every search result that is posted. I am trying to get that, and can't figure it out. Is there something in the search status menus? Thanks for any help you can give.

  4. Robshopper - I'm so sorry! I had the link to the wrong add-on in my post. I've been using both Search Status and SEO for Firefox for so long, that I had them confused. Download and install the SEO for Firefox add-on (link fixed in the post above) instead and then you'll have the same data from the tutorial. Sorry again!

  5. This is one of the most helpful SEO for articles writ-ups that I've seen. Thanks! Just a quick suggestion for you, if you add: target="_blank" to your links, including the links to subscribe to your blog, it will open a new tab or page, keeping people on your blog. It's easy to forget to hit the back button if you get distracted enough. Nice to see you blogging again!

  6. I had the same problem as Robshopper. I installed Search Status, and it appeared at the very bottom of my browser. I had to click a link in order to get a page rank. I saw the page rank at the very bottom of my browser.

    I loved the tutorial, (you did a great job!) but I'm not sure how you're getting to page rank to show up on the search results page.

  7. Hi Junou! I originally linked to the incorrect add-on. Instead of Search Status, you need SEO for Firefox. I've changed the link in the post above to reflect this. Follow the link and download SEO for Firefox. Once enabled, you'll have the same data below your search results. Sorry about that! You'll need to create an account on SEO Book to get SEO for Firefox, but trust me, it's worth it! Good luck and don't hesitate to let me know if you need any more help. :)

  8. I Heart KC - Thanks for the tip! I always forget to set my target when creating links, but that's a great reminder, especially on a post like this one. :)

  9. Hi Willow,
    I just want to say thanks so much for the info you put out there about residual earnings. For years, I've thought about it but you've inspired me to give it a real try.

    This blog post especially was informative. I've done keyword research before but never in this way and I can see how valuable this will be.

    I'll be following you for more good advice in the future!

  10. Hi Danielle! I'm so glad you found the post helpful. I definitely recommend giving residuals a try - that's all I'm focusing on now and someday, I hope to not have to work at all. I say that like I could keep myself away, but at least I hope to have the option!

    Good luck on your journey and don't hesitate to ask if you need any help or advice. :)

  11. Willow,
    Excellent keyword research and article marketing post. FYI, setting up a free Adwords account will give you access to up to 800 returns on your keyword phrase when using Google's Keyword Tool. It only takes a minute, and also negates the need to do the CAPTCHA bit each time.