Good keyword research is the foundation of a successful SEO strategy. Without good keywords, all of your hard work writing SEO-friendly content, optimizing your title tags, getting rid of duplicate content and all of that fun stuff will be much less effective and, in some cases maybe even fruitless.

Keyword research is more than picking out keywords that fit your niche or offering. It requires gaining insight into patterns and searcher intent.

I encountered a great example of this very recently while looking to increase the volume of inquiries for “L1 Visas”, a type of US work visa, to a local immigration law firm. At first glance, one might think it logical to target keywords in the “L1 Visa” theme. But after doing a little research and giving it some thought, I found that this keyword is searched very infrequently, and that it is very likely that the searcher making this query is researching L1Visas, and is probably not ready to seek out a lawyer for assistance.

Instead, you may want to target keyword themes that have higher search volumes and are more likely to reflect the kind of searcher intent that is going to bring you conversions. In other words, you want to get into the searchers way just when they are looking for what you offer, which of course is the beauty of SEO and the reason why search traffic can be so valuable.

With that in mind, it is very important to gain a complete and comprehensive understanding of your potential keywords before you do any SEO at all, so that you know what trees you should be barking up. But where do you start? Here are six easy steps to keyword success:

Brainstorm: Take some time to think about all possible keywords themes that would be relevant to your business and offering. Think short-tail and don’t worry about permutations (i.e. “L1 visa” and “visa L1”), this part will come later. For now just gather all of the root themes together into a list.

Use a keyword tool: At this point you should engage a keyword tool to help you get more ideas and gather data. The Google Keyword Tool is ever-improving, is free and in my opinion is pretty much all you need if used right. Plug in all of your keyword ideas – only one or a few at a time – and try to pare them down to just the relevant ones since the tool tends to include some not-so-relevant suggestions. Play with it to get to know how it works.

Build a list: Most if not all keyword tools will allow you to export your research results to Excel format. As you find more keywords, export them all to a spreadsheet. Clear out all of the less important stuff, which will usually leave you with search volume (local and global, or whatever makes sense for your campaign) and average Adwords CPC. Organize all of your keywords into themes, and sort each theme by search volume.

Do a ranking scan: If your site is brand new, skip this part, but if you have been around for at least a few months, find out where you are ranking for all of your most relevant keywords (keep it under one or two hundred for now). Record this on your spreadsheet.

Look at your Analytics: Again, skip this part if your site is new. Here, you want to look at your Analytics to see how much traffic and/or conversions and/or revenue you are getting to each of your top keywords. Record this on your spreadsheet.

Spot opportunities: Now you have a complete and comprehensive keyword data set with which you can make informed choices and decisions. This document should give you direction. Look for your best opportunities. An example of an ideal keyword is one where you are ranked somewhere on the second page and where you are already getting a fairly significant volume of traffic/conversions/revenue. This keyword is a sitting duck – you know that getting your site onto the first page for this keyword is going to make you more money.