Keyword research is the first and fundamental step of search engine optimization and almost any digital marketing effort. Knowing the keywords that lead users to your website could be a powerful weapon, if you succeed in recognizing them.
Before you can optimize your website you need to know what you are optimizing it for. Keywords are the words that users type into search engines when they are looking for something. It is through keywords that searchers communicate their intent to engines in search queries.
Understanding what keywords your prospects and target customers use is essential for both good SEO and marketing research. Learning what your target customers are looking for, what kind of language they use, and how they communicate their intent will help you plan what content, services and products you should produce. This ultimately leads to more traffic to your site and is essential for achieving your business objectives! While the algorithms that search engines use to determine intent are a closely guarded secret, it is important for us as marketers to understand that search queries generally fall into three categories.
Users communicate intent they are looking for a transaction, they want to DO something, like buy a car or get a date. These types of queries are often targeted with PPC campaigns(e.g. keywords like “Cheap”, “Affordable”, “Discount”).
Users communicate they are looking for information, they want to LEARN something, like the name of a movie or what is the closest star (by the way it is Proxima Centauri). Through these queries, searchers learn about the authoritative sources of information and who they can trust. Informational keywords are often of the highest importance for SEO.
Users communicate they want to find a place, they want to GO somewhere online, like someone’s blog or email provider. These queries are similar to brand keywords, they show how your brand is authoritative and therefore they are most often targeted through content marketing.
Understanding the actual intent behind your searchers’ queries is fundamental for an effective SEO strategy. Once you know how your target users communicate their intent you can optimize your content to match it. This process is called keywords research but before we explore tools you can use to conduct research, let us first look into some keyword characteristics.
To rank high on search engine result pages (SERPs) it is important that you select and target the right keywords. Think of it this way, if you target keywords which nobody uses in search queries you will be found by the same group nobody! There are generally three characteristics you must consider when you search for keywords. Look for:
Does this keyword accurately reflect what you offer? It is pointless to use keywords which do not accurately represent your products, services, and content. If searchers do not find what they are looking for when they land on your pages, they will be quick to hit the “back” button.
What is the number of searches per month/year on this particular keyword? High search volume indicates a potential for organic traffic, it means people are searching for this term.
How difficult is it going to be to rank for this keyword? It might be hard to rank for a keyword with high competition even if they are relevant to your business and with high search volume.
In addition to these important characteristics you must also understand that keywords generally fall into three types:
They are very specific and relevant to your company or its unique products/services (e.g. “Nike”). The amount of traffic on these keywords is a strong indicator of how authoritative your brand name is.
Those keywords have much broader reach (e.g. “Shoes”). These keywords encompass many subtopics and are thus with high traffic and competition. Generic keywords are with low-level searcher awareness, in other words, the users’ intent is not clear yet! Generally, these keywords have very high competition and therefore it is not cost effective to target them.
Those are longer and more specific keywords (e.g. “buy Nike running shoes size 8””). The users’ intent is clear, they are ready to convert/buy. These keywords are characterized by low competition, and though they tend to have lower search volume, they tend to be the most important for your SEO because of the clarity of the user intent. Research suggests that more than %70 of all searches are for long-tail keywords. Additionally, long-tail keywords have a better conversion rate than generic and branded terms. This makes sense as people tend to use longer and more specific search queries when they have narrowed their choices and are ready to commit.
When conducting keyword research it is important that you not only create a list of potential keywords, but a targeted mix of branded, organic, and long-tail keywords. Over time and with proper analytics you must track which keywords are driving the most traffic and conversions for your specific business.
When researching keywords it is important that you get to understand the language of your users. There are many tools that can help you conduct proper keyword research. There are both free and paid tools, all with different functionality. Here are some popular tools which we find easy to use:
Google Adwords Keyword Planner is free with an Adwords account and though it is designed for PPC, it lets you see all three attributes.
Google Trends is free, lets you see seasonality of keyword usage.
Ahrefs offers a paid keyword research tool but is among the best currently available. It allows you to discover thousands of keywords, to see what your competitors are ranking for, and to explore suitable content.
Another free resource, great for keyword ideas and suggestions since it scrapes the Google autosuggest function.
While Moz’s tool is paid, it is great for competitive analysis.
Of course, Google is free. Just experiment with search queries on google and google trends and look for what suggestions come out.
You may also use internal data from your analytics software (e.g. Google Analytics), and search query data available in your Google Webmaster Tools. To better understand the language of your users you can tap into channels they may be using. For example, you can read forums which they use to discuss and learn about similar products/services. Regardless of the tools and methods you prefer, always keep in mind the types of keywords characteristics we discussed above. Think of all this in context of the intent of your searchers and you will form a solid foundation for your site content optimization.
Once you have done thorough research you can proceed to plan your keyword mapping. Plane simple, this means creating a plan assigning keywords you want to target to specific pages of your site. You need to align your content to match your keyword plan. To do this we strongly recommend the use of a spreadsheet which can serve as a future reference on which pages are optimized for which keywords. It also helps keep things organized! To start you need to list all pages of your site and the keywords you want to target. Doing this will help you better understand your site structure. Once you are done with the list you need to:
Your keyword research and mapping is not a single event. Based on your page's performance and analytics data you need to revisit your plan and update it if needed. In a year's time, people may change the keywords they use to communicate their intent, or you may discover that you have misunderstood their intent in your initial research.