Write for the reader they say, forget about keywords they say, it’s all about engagement they say…
Well I am going to call bullshit on what “they” say because while those things are all well and good, keyword research has lost none of its potency and importance when it comes to selecting the correct niches and actually driving enough traffic to make a genuine living online.
There are countless guides on keyword research out there but what I’ve got for you today are two methods that I’ve hardly ever seen or heard others talk about.
These methods are driven by some degree of statistical evidence and backed up with further investigation.
I’m not one for too much filler in my posts so let’s just jump in with the first method.
Most Viewed Forum Posts
I’ve seen other keyword research articles that discuss how you can use forums to conduct keyword research and they usually go something like this:
browse the forum, take note of how things are categorised into boards and look for commonly asked questions
This is sound advice but it doesn’t necessarily help when it comes to finding the keywords and phrases that people are actually using on search engines and it is these that we’d like to uncover.
But some forums will allow us to do something that might just reveal those threads that are getting huge volumes of search engine traffic. They let you sort threads by the number of views they have had…
Example 1: forum.bodybuilding.com
I have absolutely zero knowledge of body building (as you’d be able to tell if you saw me in person) and while I could always use the many other keyword research techniques out there, I might find myself uncovering the same keywords as everyone else.
Or I could just go to a popular forum on the subject and find the most viewed threads there. Enter forum.bodybuilding.com with almost 6 million threads, over 100 million posts and some 8 million members.
All (I think) forums powered by vBulletin (probably the most common forum software used on the interweb) should have this functionality available to you. Simply enter the forum, browse to one of the sub-sections until you see a list of threads and then click on the column heading where it says “views”:
For reference, this is the page I am now on: http://forum.bodybuilding.com/forumdisplay.php?f=1&sort=views&order=desc
I tend to ignore those “sticky” posts that remain at the top regardless of how many views they have had because those types of posts get clicked on a lot by people just browsing the forums whereas we want those threads that are getting traffic directly from search engines.
So the first two non-sticky posts are about the same thing: “best pre workout supplement” with a combined view count of more than 600,000 and what’s more there are a little over 400 replies to these posts by forum members which suggests to me that the traffic is coming from elsewhere.
Now that I’ve identified a keyword, I can use the Google Keyword Planner to assess its traffic potential:
Just to ensure that I get the maximum potential search volumes, I always add a second term where necessary that removes any prefixes; in this case I have not only searched for “best pre workout supplement” but also the shorter “pre workout supplement” to see which is driving the most traffic. Here it is actually the longer phrase that gets more searches (18,000 a month on average) which isn’t always the case but it is good for us.
Notice that on the left hand side where you can include or exclude words to use in the Google suggestions, I have included the phrases “pre workout supplement” and “pre workout supplements” to get a focused list of other keywords that I might target either on the one page or on a separate page. These include:
- top pre workout supplements – this shows how different adjectives are used by real people
- best pre workout supplements 2013 – this shows how some people want the latest supplements (I’d obviously change this to 2014 now)
- pre workout supplements for women – this shows how different demographics might search for specific keywords
- pre workout supplement reviews – this shows the desired information they’d like to see on the results page
- natural pre workout supplements – this could be a subsection of your new page or a separate page altogether
Now let’s check out the competition for the main phrase “best pre workout supplement”:
As you can see, bodybuilding.com does sit in the 1st natural position (although currently it is neither of the forum threads we found) and positions 2 and 3 are filled by sites with very few backlinks (according to Moz at least). Then there is a press release from February via prweb.com that the author has clearly sent a few links to.
Overall though I’d say it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that you could rank a page (whether internally or a brand new domain homepage) for this term.
Example 2: www.netmums.com
Once again I have zero knowledge of being a mum (or a dad for that matter) so I come to this niche with an open mind as to what I could potentially write about.
Inside their General Parenting subsection I find this:
There’s a thread with almost 65,000 views but only 7 replies entitled “growth spurts, what are they, why do they happen and when?” and by using my super skills in Keyword Planner I came up with the following:
Notice how I used just the phrase “growth spurts” as my initial search but then added some words in the “include/exclude” box on the left hand side once again to narrow down the most relevant keywords.
The resulting list includes terms such as:
- baby growth spurts – a top level search with high volume (27,100)
- infant growth spurts – lower volume but potentially easier to rank for
- newborn growth spurts – again a lower volume keyword but could be easier to rank for
- when do babies have growth spurts – more long tail keyword
- 3 month growth spurt – could be a separate page or part of the main page
Now, the main phrase “baby growth spurts” has lots of high authority sites ranking but very few of the actual pages have a great number of links pointing to them and you can even pick up an exact match domain for this term at the time of writing so it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility to actually rank on page 1.
If you want something a little easier than the secondary term “newborn growth spurts” which still gets 6,600 searches per month has a couple of relatively weak sites in the top 10:
So an article on your authority site or one that you simply build links to could well leapfrog both of these and get targeted traffic in this niche. Is it commercial? Potentially not but it might add pageviews to your site or blog that can help you to sell advertising.
Judging How Much Search Traffic A Forum Gets
Obviously there is always some insight to be gained from seeing which threads have had the most views but this might not necessarily mean it’s all coming from search engines; it might just as easily have been a post that got some viral love or some other method of promotion.
But there is a very quick way to decide whether or not a forum receives a good proportion of its traffic from search engines. Much belittled by may webmasters for being irrelevant, I still believe that Alexa can provide some insight into a website and one of their metrics is for the search traffic it receives.
Here’s what it looks like for the domain bodybuilding.com (note that sub-domains cannot be looked at independently from their roots unfortunately):
So the whole site gets just over a third of its traffic from search which is a good amount if you consider how many members go directly to the forum via a bookmark or by typing directly into their browser bar.
How does netmums.com compare? Here’s what Alexa has to say:
So this particular parenting site receives over half of its traffic from search engines. This makes any keyword research we do using the steps above even more fruitful.
Finding Forums To Use For Keyword Research
Obviously there are countless numbers of forums out there on the web in all sorts of niches and I should say that you don’t necessarily need one with millions of posts and views every time; small, targeted, high value niches exist all over the place and depending on your goal and how you intend to monetize any traffic you gain will influence how deep you go.
Obviously if you have a legal business where each client gained could earn you thousands, you can afford to look at threads with a smaller number of views. If you just want as much traffic to your site as possible to profit from Adsense then threads with thousands of views will probably be your target.
There are plenty of different forum platforms but vBulletin seems to be one of the few (and certainly the biggest) that allows you to sort a list of threads by the number of views they have had.
If you have no preference for niches then you might just want to browse through this list of the biggest vBulletin forums on the web:
That just about wraps up the first method I want to talk about so let’s switch our attention to the next rarely talked about source of golden nugget keywords.
Harvesting WikiHow & EzineArticles Statistics
Forums are not the only websites that show how often a page has been viewed and two significant players give this information away for free. If you know how to exploit this, you can find their most popular articles in any given niche.
A juggernaut of the “how to” niche, WikiHow ranks very highly in Alexa (145 in the world at time of writing) and it also gets over half of its traffic from search engines.
What’s great is that at the bottom of every article on the site, there is a little snippet saying “Thanks to all authors for creating a page that has been read XXXX times.”
Now that’s great if you come across an article that ranks and you want to see how many times it has been viewed but what if you want to see every article that has a certain number of views?
Luckily there is a special Google operator that lets you search for numbers between a starting point and an end point and it goes something like this:
starting number..end number
So if I wanted to search for any page that references a number between ten thousand and a million I would search Google for this:
You could then combine this with the footprint on WikiHow to come up with a string like this:
“read 10000..1000000 times” site:wikihow.com
and this give you a list of all articles on WikiHow that have between ten thousand and a million views. At least, that’s how the theory goes. In practice, however, you are very likely to come up against this:
Google like to block what they think is suspicious activity by bots or other unwanted users and I think I managed to do just 2 or 3 successful searches before this happened to me and I’ve not been able to get it back since.
I thought I had come to the end of my journey, I thought my idea had been thwarted.
But then I noticed something very interesting…
WikiHow use a Google Custom Search box on their site. The thought came to me that without the need to use the site: command, maybe my searches would be allowed.
And I was right!
I thought I’d start low and search for any article that has had over 10,000 views:
I was a bit shocked. Google’s site: command suggests that WikiHow only has 374,000 indexed pages so this didn’t make much sense to me.
So I decided to up the numbers a bit…
Amazingly it was suggesting that WikiHow has almost 400,000 articles with over half a million views each. Again this was more than the entire number of pages indexed by Google so I can’t begin to believe this.
Things didn’t get a lot better when I went for really big numbers…
Even when searching for pages with between 1 million and 100 million views, I was still seeing 36,600 results!
Regardless of whether this was accurate or not (and I believe it was a massive overstatement), it didn’t matter much because WikiHow only let you view the first 10 pages of results so there is no way to sit there and look through all these million view articles anyway.
My next idea was to simply add a keyword to the end to narrow down the results to something I might want to write about. I randomly picked “cleaning” as my keyword:
This was a good start, I was down to 516 results but I could still only see 10 pages of them. I needed some way to narrow down things even further.
I could have just added a more specific keyword to the search but this suggests that I know what I am looking for and if I’m just browsing for ideas then this might not be the case.
So I clicked through to one of the cleaning articles I came across and saw this:
Each article has a breadcrumb for user navigation (and presumably internal linking) and they were broken down into very specific categories and sub-categories.
In this case I was in “tableware” so if I wished to find the most popular articles in this sub-category I could just add that to my search in quotation marks. When I did so for articles having more than 100,000 views I got 10 results:
You can browse all of WikiHow’s categories and sub-categories by clicking on “Explore” on the top navigation bar or just click here.
The above is a workable solution for many categories, but it can be a problem when one is named using a fairly common and generic word that might be used in other articles that aren’t in that particular category.
Take the “business” category for example; the word business is bound to appear in thousands of articles that aren’t specifically in this category. So how can you narrow down you search to these generically named (even top level) categories? The answer is something that took me half and hour of trial and error to figure out until I spotted something that gave the solution away in seconds.
All you have to do is add this to your search “categories: business” and bingo, you’re only shown results from that category.
So the full search for finding articles in the business category with over 100,000 views would be:
“read 100000..100000000 times” “categories: business”
Which brings up 8 results:
You have to use a bit of common sense when it comes to choosing which of these might represent the best opportunity and for me the 3rd result down jumps out immediately.
The essence of this article can be summed up by “write business proposal” so that is what I am going to enter into the Google Keyword Planner and I’m going to have it show me only results containing the words “write” and “proposal” to filter out any untargeted crap it tries to suggest (don’t forget that this is a tool designed to get people to spend more money on Google Adwords).
The results are:
It turns out that how to searches are quite common in this area (as you’d expect) and the second most searched for is “how to write a business proposal” with 8,100 monthly searches. WikiHow’s article title contains almost exactly this.
Let’s check out the competition in Google:
As you can see, there is a page in first position on a site with domain authority of 30 and while there are other results with very high domain authorities (2 of which are WikiHow you might notice), not many have a great number of links pointing towards the actual ranking pages.
To me this would form an ideal opportunity to write a 20 page Kindle ebook detailing every little aspect of writing business proposals; with a few supporting links, I’m quite certain you could rank your Amazon page on the first page of Google, potentially even in the top 3. With over 8,000 searches a month, even if you only get 20 sales at $7.99 a pop, that could be a nice recurring income stream for a one time setup.
As much as I dislike the video marketing tactics of today that produce quite frankly shit videos with no value to the user whatsoever, this could also present an opportunity for someone to rank a YouTube video for this term.
WikiHow has hundreds of categories and sub-categories to look through and you can, of course, adjust the number of views an article needs to have before it shows up. Let’s face it, you’d probably be happy with having a whole bunch of articles with 10,000 views in some niches and again it depends on how you intend to monetise the traffic.
Once upon a time, article directories were hugely popular places for internet marketers to promote themselves, their websites and even affiliate products and they still are to a certain extent.
EzineArticles.com was the biggest of these directories and while it’s ranking power and total traffic levels have shrunk quite considerably from those days, it still has a wealth of information to give us.
As with WikiHow, it shows the number of times a page has been viewed and because the site once ranked well in Google we can be fairly sure that a big slice of these views would have originally come from search engine traffic.
And to allow us to search through the site, we once more utilise their Google-powered custom search engine.
The search this time goes something like this:
“Viewed 100000..10000000 times”
This would bring back all articles with between 100,000 and 10,000,000 views and it seems that there are over 2,000 of these:
That seems like a pretty reasonable amount to me unlike WikiHow’s ludicrously high numbers above.
Once again EzineArticles only allows you to browse 10 pages of results so you have to narrow down your search a little. Unfortunately the “categories:category” parameter doesn’t seem to work which makes me think it’s not a default option for a Google custom search engine.
This leaves you the options of either adding keyword phrases to the end of your search or, if there is a specific category name, putting this in quotes. The sub-category of Anger Management, for example, could be searched using:
“Viewed 100000..10000000 times” “anger management”
This can be quite effective because there is a breadcrumb on the site and this gets included in the Google custom search:
However, this is unlikely to be as full proof as the WikiHow solution because it is quite possible that other articles will use that phrase but it’s about as good as you’re going to get.
An Example Of What You Can Find Using EzineArticles
I won’t spend too long going over what sort of things you might stumble upon using this method but I’ll give you one example that I came across after just 2 minutes searching the Reference and Education category for articles with over 100,000 views:
A quick check in the Keyword Planner tool shows us that there are a good number of searches for these sorts of terms:
The term “easiest language to learn” gets over 8,000 searches a month on its own but if you were to add in the variations on this then you’re looking at many thousands more.
And what is more, I know off the top of my head that there are affiliate programs out there for language courses, language products, books, etc.
What’s the competition like you might be asking? Well here’s the first page right now as I see it:
As you can see there is a pretty weak exact match domain sitting in position 2, there’s Yahoo Answers in position 5 and another weak domain in 7th.
A small niche site dedicated to learning languages with this being on of the main pages could prove to be a winner with the right monetisation strategy and a bit of link building.
If you can get Google to allow you to use these advanced search operators on Google itself without getting blocked then you could do a lot more with some other sites too (sites that unfortunately don’t use a Google custom search box):
While Pinterest doesn’t get a great deal of its traffic from natural search according to Alexa, it does rank very well for some big terms and you can explore these with the following search:
site:pinterest.com “10000..1000000 followers” “follow board”
SlideShare is a website that gets a good proportion of its traffic from search and they also show the number of views that each presentation has got. You can try to use this information by searching for the following;
site:slideshare.net “100000..10000000 views”
Basically any site that reveals the number of views a page gets can be used given the right Google search but whether you can get results without being blocked is the all important thing.
These, then, are two methods for finding popular pages on sites that either rank well in Google now or did do in the recent past. Utilising this valuable data for your own purposes can give you a different angle on keyword research that will uncover hidden gems many other internet marketers would be unlikely to think of or come across.
If you’ve found this guide helpful or if you have any questions, simply leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer them.