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What Advanced Keyword Research Should Look Like

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Oh no! Here comes another post boding how to do [insert SEO tactic]! I bet they just took whatever standard tips and just regurgitated them! But you know better than that by now! In fact, this is the first "how to do [whatever in foundational SEO process]" that I've written (I think). Which means, there's a good reason. A lot has changed in SEO. These changes have been so subtly dramatic that I believe it has created a new mold for executing some solid keyword research.  

How Did We Get Here? What Changed in SEO? 

Digital Trail

What dramatically changed? It's a logical question to begin our conversation with. How did we get to the point where we have to reevaluate how we do keyword research? You might think this is a funny place to start. After all, most posts would just start off with all of the SEO tips in the world to make you rank #1 on the SERP in three easy steps. But what good  is a bunch of loosely connected tips without some context, without a substantial foundation on which to rest them? In my opinion, not much (you can hear me rant about this on my podcast). 

That introduction of sorts aside, what are we talking about here? 

Two words: entities and intent
Specifically, Google's evolved and improved its ability to comprehend the latent intents that are associated with an entity. What does this mean? Previously, Google understood the interrelationships between various entities. Google could tell you that Forrest Gump is related to Tom Hanks who is connected to Robin Wright who is connected to House of Cards which is connected to Netflix which is what I use to raise my children until my wife gets home. More than that, Google even understands these entities semantically. That is, Google knows that the Statue of Liberty can be discussed within the context of history and culture but also as part of what makes a good tour of NYC.  

OK, so what can Google do now? Google can now go "vertical" with a topic. As opposed to understanding the various contexts that the entity fits within (i.e., the Statue of Liberty being an element of both history and tourism), Google can now dig deeper into what the entity "means" to users. While that may look similar to Google's previous "semantic" success, it is not. Being able to interpret what an entity means vis-a-vis intent is not the same as understanding how an entity relates to other topics. Creating an equation between user intent and an entity allows Google to break a topic open and expose the user to all new avenues of content and not simply point out other related topics. It's the difference between getting at the heart of a topic versus trying to give that topic context through some surface-like connections. The two processes may at times look similar, but they are not.

Google's In-Depth Topical Awareness 

This new 'search dynamic' entered the fray back in October 2018, when Google made a series of announcements at an event celebrating its 20th birthday. These 20th anniversary Google announcements have brought some real change to the SERP in a variety of ways. Not the least of which was a reevaluation of Google's very approach to search. The announcements were the harbingers of new search philosophy, one that saw search as a "journey" (Google's word, not mine). This new outlook on search aims at guiding users towards the ultimate end of their search process, or search journey if you will. 

At the backbones of this process sits Google's vertical analysis of intent as it relates to an entity. This became manifest when Google spattered its mobile Knowledge Panels with tabs that specifically align with the entity. The example Google gave was of two Knowledge Panels, each for a different dog breed and each containing a unique set of tabs. Here you might have a long-haired dog with a tab that reads Grooming Tips. You generally won't find such a tab for dogs that are not complicated to groom, as shown below. 

Knowledge Panels for Dogs

The same concept holds true across multiple entities. For example, different movies show with different and uniquely relevant tabs within their Knowledge Panels (at times). And while this might not seem monumental it is in a way groundbreaking. Being able to understand an entity in such a layered manner significantly alters both the content Google shows on the SERP as well as the user's "search" behavior. 

The case I tend to use to highlight this goes back to the dog breed Knowledge Panels shown above. I have a nostalgic place in my heart for Pugs, a dog breed that originated in China. I had one when I was a little kid. So when I see a Knowledge Panel for pugs and it contains a tab for Buy or Adopt I'm going to tap/click on it, even if I have no interest whatsoever in actually buying or adopting a pug. That's content I would have never searched for on my own but will look at when Google shows it to me. That's more traffic to your site, possibly more ad revenue, maybe even a conversion, etc. 

Note, not all home pets show with that Buy or Adopt tab. Cats, for example, do not (as of the time of this writing). This means it's very important to understand how Google sees a topic and to know what is considered to be relevant to it. Which leads us to why we are here .... To learn how to execute solid advanced keyword research so as to adapt to Google's new deeper understanding of intent. 

How to Do Keyword Research Now

Word Magnet Bucket

At the risk of oversimplifying things and even of being a bit hyperbolic, I'm going to define keyword research up until this point as being linear. Though more dynamic than I am portraying it, keyword research has been a lot about finding high volume keywords and targeting as many of them as you can. 

The problem with looking for the most popular or the most competitively advantageous keywords is that it's a bit linear. It's linear in that it doesn't penetrate a topic. There's no ability to understand how the topic the keyword represents is being viewed and understood. You're simply getting a list of keywords, but you don't know what aspects of a topic to target. 

With Google aiming to explore topics in both a broad and highly purposeful manner (in that the results allow for multiple intents to be represented on the SERP) it's essential to approach keyword research from a similar vantage point. Meaning, Google is offering a richer if not more diverse set of results that intend not only to satisfy the immediate query, but to help the user move along their search journey.   

Let me break this down as simply as I can. "Search as a journey" is a multifaceted and multilayered approach to showing search results. Does it make any sense to run a keyword research strategy that doesn't align to how Google is going about search?  

As much as I don't like doing so, I do realize I have to boil this down to some simple steps/points. So here are a few good keyword research tips: 

More Precise and More Efficient Keyword Targeting

This goes back to what I was saying about high search volume keywords being the bread and butter of keyword research. I'm not going to get into to what extent they still are or aren't. Rather, I'm just going to insert the notion that a more targeted approach makes more sense than ever. This, by the way, does not exclude that more linear approach to keyword research by any means. 

What does this mean? 

It means that rather than always going for that high volume keyword, go for one that helps you create and well-rounded set of content on a specific topic. Why? Because doing so gives you a greater chance of getting your URL in front of a user within the "search as a journey" SERP narrative.  

Go for a Broader Keyword Research 

What I'm trying to say here is, think about hitting a topic completely, rather than go for a big keyword here and bigger keyword there. Think multiple pieces of content or even one piece of content that touches on a topic from all sorts of angles. Now think of the keywords you'll need to pull that off. You're not going to find them by looking at a standard list of high volume search terms. 

While in the previous section I focused on a tactic, here, what I'm trying to get across is to change the way you think a bit. Think broader. Think about offering a complete look at a topic. Think about what users want out of a topic and where they would naturally go next! 

Of course, that's not as easy as it sounds. How can you leverage keyword research to create broad topical coverage? 

New Sources of Keyword Research Information 

To foster broad topical coverage, you need to look at a broad set of "keyword sources." The goal is to create web content that aligns to the multifaceted way Google understands a given search term. What you're trying to do is really not complicated. You're trying to see things the way Google does. How you get there is tricky. 

Part of the complication is that Google often takes a given keyword in any number of different directions. Some "markers" of these diverse directions are elements on the SERP such as Related Questions (People Also Ask) and Related Search. You could, in theory, sift through the different questions Google asks within the Related Questions box and determine some of the different directions Google takes a keyword. You could do the same with the Related Search feature. It's not complicated, it's tedious. 

In all truth, you need a tool that pulls in this data for you. Whatever tool it is, and hopefully it's our own Advanced Keyword Research Suite, you should make sure that the keyword data-sets incorporate keywords based upon elements like the Related Questions box and Related Search listings. For all intents and purposes, that's going to be the only way to get the broad keyword reach that you need when dealing with any substantial site.   

Let me just give this some teeth by offering a specific example. In this instance, we'll go with the keyword flu shot (since my kids just got one while I was writing this post). It's a very general keyword, and if your site is all about flu shots, it might be very hard to know in what direction to take some of your content. 

Here then is a few of the "questions" I pulled using the Advanced Keyword Research Suite: 

Keyword Research Questions

A few of the keywords stood out to me: 

  • can I get flu shot at cvs
  • does the flu shot make you tired
  • how effective is the flu shot

What this means is, according to Google, if I want to create comprehensive content that aligns to the "search as a journey" philosophy, I need to consider: 

  • Where users can get the flu shot 
  • The side effects of the flu shot 
  • The benefit in getting the flu shot 

So say my site offers access to the flu shot. I list all of the locations where you can get a flu shot. To be aligned to 'search as a journey' I need to get into both the side effects and benefits of the shot. And this is not a matter of trying to rank for more keywords. This is so much more than that. This is about aligning your content to what search is. It's about understanding how Google sees the very keyword you are trying to rank for.

Practically, it's about increasing your chances to rank on the SERP altogether, whether it be within the organic results, Related Questions box, or a tab within a mobile Knowledge Panel.   

Isolate Topic Themes 

I want to get into what I just did above as it in many ways is one of the most important steps towards ensuring your keyword research is effective. The whole idea behind what I've been discussing is that Google sees various intents within a given keyword, all of which combine into how the search engine relates to the "topic" overall. 

I'm going to coin a phrase here, topical keyword research. In order to be successful with "topical keyword research" you, of course, have to be able to identify all of the facets that make up a topic. Meaning, you have to be able to identify all of the layers and extensions Google sees for a given topic.  

This means that keyword research these days is not so much about the keywords you're sifting through per se, but about what they represent categorically. 

Allow me to demonstrate.

Let's take the keyword mutual funds. How do you ensure your site ranks for the keyword in an environment where Google will attempt to satisfy multiple intents on the same SERP? How do you ensure your site/page fits into the 'journey' paradigm and can be used by Google to such an end? By understanding how Google sees the keyword and by breaking down these intents by category. Doing as such gives you a better chance of ranking and offers the opportunity to be present in elements such as the Related Questions box and so forth. 

To get the process started I used our Advanced Keyword Research Suite to pull up anything and everything related to the keyword mutual funds which in part produced this:

Mutual Fund Keywords

From here it's not really rocket science. If you start going through the different keyword databases here you should be able to pick out some common themes between the keywords. Let me give you an example. Within the Questions keyword dataset, I saw keywords such as: 

  • is mutual funds a good investment
  • how much will a mutual fund make
  • how much do mutual funds return

At the same time, I saw keywords such as:

  • is it safe to invest in mutual funds
  • can I lose money with mutual funds 

From here I extrapolated that Google sees the keyword mutual funds from a risk/reward perspective. Now I have a content category to work with. In other words, I've isolated one aspect of the topic that is mutual funds.

By applying the same type of analysis on some of the other keywords I found for mutual funds, I ended up with the following topical categories: 

  • Risk and Reward
  • Taxation 
  • Foundational Understanding
  • Best Fund Options 

You can clearly see these themes emerge when looking at the keyword list I created from the original set of results I received for mutual funds. To make this even easier to see, I've color-coded the various themes/categories as follows:

  • Red = Risk and Reward
  • Yellow = Taxation
  • Purple = Foundational Understanding
  • Blue = Best Fund Options

Topical Keyword List

Note, the keywords within each category stem from multiple datasets within the tool I used. Meaning, keywords within the Risk and Reward category came from both the Questions and Related Topics keyword lists. That's a telltale sign that the theme represented by these keywords is significant in the eyes of Google. That's important to note. When doing keyword research as I have here... try to find commonality between the keywords coming from the different sources. 

Executing a solid topical based keyword research regimen is not excruciatingly difficult. It's merely a matter of access to the right data and a tad of categorization. The result, however, is of unparalleled importance; keyword research that produces a topical understanding of a keyword that sits in harmony with Google's very approach to search and search results. 

Comprehensively Comprehensive Keyword Research

Spinning Letters

The transition is not going to be easy. It's hard to pull away from a keyword research strategy that focuses on securing high volume keywords as its primary focus to one where a broad and a comprehensive topical approach is of the utmost importance. Big-time high volume search terms are like keyword research candy, it's hard to resist. However, with search heading where I think it is, such a strategy is not the healthiest way to undertake keyword research. Google's approach is becoming about offering a true look at a topic from all of its major vantage points in an effort to help users move towards their ultimate search ends. For your site to fit into this paradigm would mean revising the significance of a strategy that hinges on search volume and clinging to one that is all about topical comprehensiveness in every way imaginable. In other words, it is not about more, it's about better. Better keywords that are better aligned to how Google sees search will do better for your site! 

About The Author
Mordy is the official liaison to the SEO community for Wix. Despite his numerous and far-reaching duties, Mordy still considers himself an SEO educator first and foremost. That's why you’ll find him regularly releasing all sorts of original SEO research and analysis!

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