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How a Single Asterisk Can Help You Choose Keywords

There are a lot of ways to research keywords for your site’s SEO. You can brainstorm ideas and test them in Google AdWords. You can let AdWords make suggestions of its own. And you can simply rip keywords from competitors’ websites. But what if you could find out exactly what customers are searching for, just by typing a single asterisk?

That’s the conclusion that Larry Kim came to in a recent article on keyword research. Larry was inspired by a brilliant info map showing the most Googled products around the world.

Mapping Consumer Demand

The map was created based on research done by Fixr, which wanted to know what people search for in different countries. One way they did this was by simply searching the string, “how much does a * cost in (country).” They repeated this nation by nation until they had done it for every country on earth.

So what did that accomplish? Well, it unearthed some pretty fascinating trends, by putting together two under-appreciated Google features:

  • The * in the search query is Google’s wild card. It broadens the search by letting Google choose multiple topics related to the surrounding keywords. For example, “homemade * cookies” would return results for homemade gingerbread, chocolate chip, and peanut butter cookies.
  • The study also used auto-complete. When Fixr typed in their search query, they weren’t actually interested in the search results—instead, they looked at what suggestions Google made about how to complete the query. That could be, how much does an apartment cost in Argentina or how much does a bull ride cost in Argentina.

You can probably see where this is going. Fixr was ingeniously leaving its search strings wide open so that Google would tell them what other users were searching for in a given locale. Auto-complete isn’t arbitrary; no one at Google decides what suggestions it should make. Instead, it suggests the most popular searches other people have made.

Surprising Keywords

The nation by nation results showed remarkable diversity. Results ranged from the banal (“gas” in Algeria) to the ambitious (“patent” in the USA) to the scurrilous (“prostitute” in Brazil). But to Larry, what’s most interesting is the technique itself—and he suggests that asterisk searches could help substantially in keyword research.

For example, let’s say you’re a DUI defense lawyer. You could go to Google and type in, “how to * a DUI charge in Georgia.” The auto-complete suggestions would reflect the most searched-for phrases related to DUI charges. Writing blog posts on those topics would probably draw traffic.

Larry is bullish on the power of this tactic. “The possibilities are endless,” he says. I’d add some grains of salt.

For starters, the geo-targeting is off. It’s a pretty safe bet that most French people aren’t Googling, “How much does a croissant cost in France?” That suggestion is #1 because it’s commonly Googled by Americans. For keyword research, that means means you have to be running the search from the same local area you’re trying to target. Searching “best * food in New York” while sitting in Atlanta will give you Atlantans’ favorites, not New Yorkers’.

The second word of warning is that this tactic only shows high-level trends, and only the top few. It’s no replacement for real keyword research using SEO tools or AdWords. I would use it primarily to help find topics for blogs and content marketing or, as Larry suggests, “to find creative new angles for your PPC campaigns.”

Want to make sure you’re targeting the right keywords—and have the content to pull in traffic? EverSpark Interactive can help. Call us and get a free SEO consultation today.