SEO Foundations: How to Find the Right Keywords
November 20, 2019 |
Research. It’s simply not possible to run a thorough promotion plan without first doing some solid research: audience research, content research, and so on.
The same holds true for SEO. Everything rests on solid and substantial keyword research. It’s the bones of search marketing. But where do you start when doing keyword research? How do you find the most pertinent keywords and topics?
Here are the basics of how to do keyword research so that you can start the process of getting your web content on the right track!
Why Is Keyword Research So Important?
Gone are the days where you could keyword-stuff
your articles, blogs, and website content. We're way past throwing a specific term into website content in order to rank well on the SERP! In fact, doing so is a great way to get your site penalized by Google.
Today, the goal is to find the right keywords that fit your niche and naturally incorporate them into the content. This is still one of the most important ways to attain high rankings when used in conjunction with other factors. And that’s simply because there’s no other way of creating topically relevant content other than via keyword research.
Take a local query for example. When someone searches for a specific keyword, even without a location, local options may still appear on the SERP should Google see a local intent within the query. It’s important to know where Google sees a local intent… and keyword research is a great way to find out.
Keyword research is right up there with technical SEO and link-building. The terms and topics you focus on can make or break your website’s rankings (and therefore organic traffic). This, of course, can drastically impact your bottom line since a huge number of searches have a commerce intent behind them. In these cases, more website traffic can mean more sales and dollars in your pocket whereas less traffic means… well, you know what it means!
It’s a rather simple equation: To rank well for a query means to be relevant to that query and the only way to know what is and what is not topically relevant is through keyword research. Creating content without first knowing how Google sees a topic and how Google sees a keyword is the equivalent of shooting in the dark and that’s a crapshoot, not a business model.
Now, you might say, "Forget organic results I can pay to rank on the SERP!" This can seem ideal for some businesses, but keep in mind that consumers know that you paid to be there. That means paid listings garner less trust than organic listings do. It’s no secret that Google wants its money and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, that said, is Google going to be incredibly picky about which sites it allows to be shown first in that top paid spot?
How Does Intent Affect Keyword Research & What Keywords Should You Target?
What kind of keywords should you be looking for?
Most people think of keyword research as creating a list of relevant terms that produce a lot of site traffic (i.e., they are high search volume terms). The issue is that those keywords are based on generating traffic
. Meaning, this approach is a bit one-dimensional.
Creating a list of relevant and high volume terms is an excellent first step. However, you shouldn’t put all of your value on growing your page-views. Yes, it is true that more people viewing your page can lead to more people buying your products, etc. Just remember that a good keyword strategy doesn’t just focus on that.
Keyword intent is also something that you must consider. Take a brief moment right now to think about what your visitors are searching for initially. Why do they use that particular term? Intent focuses on the "why” and "how” that is behind a search. This can tell you a lot of information, especially where the user is in the selling process.
Not all keywords are equal. Of course, you should do your homework and target phrases and words that will generate the most traffic and keep you abreast of the competition. However, you may end up with two similar keywords that both drive equal amounts of traffic. It’s just that one seems to deliver more customers and sales than the other. At the end of the day it’s about conversions, not traffic.
If you're not careful about analyzing the latent intents of your target keywords you could end up targeting people who aren’t interested in buying anything from you. The goal is to find people who already want to buy what you sell, who are in the buying process, and who are prepared to make a decision when they reach your site (or at least be influenced to purchase from you at a later time).
In other words, different users at different points in the sales process need different things. Carefully considering the intent of these users can make all the difference. (Of course, considering users in such a nuanced way depends a lot on your knowledge of your audience.)
Audience First: Don't Fall for the Excel List Trap
More than anything it’s important to learn as much as you can about your audience. Once you know more about your target demographic you can choose keywords and make that master list of terms to target. You need to know what terms harbor the right intent and at the right stage of the selling process.
This is a delicate process that only comes with market research. This directly relates to getting data about your consumers and their preferences/needs. The truth is, it might be best to hire a marketing team to do this work for you. Either way, once you have a better understanding of your target audience you can then take that information and go after the right keywords for the right page for the right user.
The point is, don't fall into the common trap of going after high volume keywords without a proper understanding of the user and conversion process. Don’t make the mistake of creating some incredibly broad list of keywords to target that are not aligned to how users relate to your product/service along the various stages of the sales funnel. It’s not about lists and massive Excel files… it’s about targeting!
Analyze Your Own Traffic Keywords: A Keyword Research Starting Point
Once you know your audience you’re in a position to analyze the keywords you will choose to boost traffic to your site. That said, there are a lot of paths before you at this point. For example, you may have keywords that you prefer to use already. That is, unless you are a brand new site, you might have an idea of what keywords do and don’t work for your purposes. Meaning, most of the time you already have a site and you already have keywords that are working (or not working) for you. If that’s the case, you may want to test these keywords at times and analyze your findings. That way, you can ensure that the word or phrase is still earning you more targeted results and customers who are already interested in your products.
However, I personally like to start with Search Console. Yes, I know there are a variety of tools out there that can help you determine if your keywords/phrases, the ones you already employ, are indeed appropriate. That said, I prefer looking at Search Console first to see what keywords are driving traffic to my pages:
By using Search Console I have a starting point where I can see what is and what is not working. More abstractly, I can get a sense of what Google thinks of my site and its identity. What does Google see my site being relevant for and what is currently outside of my purview (which is often a bit unexpected as we all have preconceived notions about our site)?
Analyze Your Competitor’s Traffic Keywords
While you have to focus on the words you currently use and which ones have worked in the past and will work in the future, you also have to think about your competition. It’s not feasible to ignore what the rest of the industry is doing. Though you may initially want to ignore them (hey, we all just want to do "our thing”) doing so puts you at a disadvantage.
There’s no point in reinventing the wheel. When you analyze your competitor's keywords you get a better idea of who they are targeting at each point in the selling process and a heck of a lot more. Simple as it may sound, but analyzing the keyword targeting of your competition gives you insight into their strategies. It’s important to know what works for them and others in the same market. That way, you can work toward adopting what works for your competition and improving on it while avoiding their mistakes to gain a competitive edge.
More than that, you should pay attention to the changes your competitors make. Just like you, your competition is constantly experimenting and making changes to gain an advantage. Sometimes these changes work and sometimes they don’t. Knowing what changes Google prefers and which it disdains is super helpful. To do this, I like to use a tool like the SEO Monitor
to track the metadata changes my competitors make. With this tool, I can see what rank changes (either positive or negative) accompanied the adjustments my competitors made. With that, I know what keyword phraseology to avoid and which to adopt!
Rank Ranger’s SEO Monitor showing a rank improvement after a site altered its meta-description for a specific page
How to Go About the Actual Keyword Research: Tools & Methods
Now to the nitty-gritty of keyword research… finding the right terms for the right pages for the right audience at the right stage of the funnel! You’ll find so many ways to research your keyword needs, so it makes sense to learn a bit more about them all (well not all, but a whole bunch of them). In specific, let’s look at some ways to find keywords and which sort of keywords you should be on the hunt for!
And away we go:
#1 Google Keyword Planner
Why not start with Google themselves. Google has a great (and free) tool called Keyword Planner that can help you find a ton of great keywords! Using this tool will offer you a slew of related keyword terms and depending on your account type either exact search volume number per term or search volume ranges.
To learn how to get started with this tool see my full guide to Google keyword planner
#2 Third-Party Keyword Research Tools
A lot of tools now offer an easy way to explore keywords. Use these tools! I find them to be super easy and they save me a lot of time during my daily research. There are also entire keyword research suites out there that contain multiple tools. For example, Rank Ranger’s suite includes its Keyword Finder
tool that allows you to find and filter all sorts of direct keyword results as well as tools that enable you to discover questions and topics related to your initial term. Of course, you can then add these keywords to your rank tracking to keep up with their performance.
An extensive list of various keywords and topics as shown within Rank Ranger’s keyword research suite
#3 Google Autocomplete:
Google Autocomplete is a helpful tool for consumers. When a user starts typing in their search term Google generates popular options automatically. You may type in "maple cake” and find Google completes the phrase with terms like "recipes,” "frosting,” "glaze,” and others. Using autocomplete can tell you how Google relates to a keyword/topic and in what priority. That said, this can be hard to do at scale.
#4 Google Trends
Google Trends is also helpful because it allows you to see how customer search trends change with time. Just enter the keyword/phrase you’d like to check and see how popular it’s been over the last year. You can also change the trend dates to check up to five years.
In other words, you can see how users relate to a topic or product and how that relationship has changed. That can help you update your content and create content that speaks to the user’s current way of thinking about a topic, product, etc. It’s a great way to get inside user perception. That said, this process may not always work at the granular level as you would have to compare different variations of terms to see if there are gaps between the popularity of the two (or more) terms.
#5 Long & Short Tail Keywords:
Moving on to what sort of keywords to focus on when doing keyword search
, let’s talk about short tail vs long tail keywords. Short tail keywords are those keywords that reflect more generalized terms (i.e., buy car, cheap hotels, etc.). These sorts of terms tend to be on the shorter side (1 - 3 words) and lean towards having a high monthly search volume. At the same time, they’re highly competitive. Generally, it’s ideal to use short tail keywords as a primary or secondary keyword to get noticed and then sprinkle in less competitive words throughout.
Long tail keywords are far more specific and as such, they’re less competitive. However, it’s a tradeoff as less competition goes hand in hand with these sort of keywords having less volume. That said, these fellas are ideal for targeting particular products that you’re selling. In other words, long tail keywords are ideal for bottom of the funnel traffic, for users looking for something very specific or looking to make a purchase (as opposed to starting their research process).
A good keyword research tool should allow you to specifically search for long or short tail keywords.
Rank Ranger’s Keyword Finder showing a multitude of filters including those that let you search by long and short tail formats.
Well, voice search is growing. We use voice search while driving, cooking, when our hands are busy, or even when we're just lazy.
Most of the time we ask our personal assistants some questions and expect to get a fast response. As such, researching the right questions for the right niche is extremely important.
My favorite tool is Answer the Public
, which visualizes all available questions per country. That’s a super easy win for content strategy, as you'll find out that creating content that answers a specific question can be super-focused and with the proper formatting, can easily win a Featured Snippet.
Just type in the "Answer the Public” search for your topic (aka maple cake - yes, I'm hungry) and you will get several options of what people are asking about it. Simple as that. Create content to support these queries.
Here too, though, a good keyword research tool should give you the option to see what questions are relevant to your topic/keyword.
Rank Ranger’s keyword research suite showcasing questions related to the keyword "cheap tickets”
#5 Keyword Clusters
Keyword clustering is used by SEO professionals to segment search terms into groups that are relevant to the website page. In other words, it’s not enough to target one specific keyword per page. If you target a series of closely related terms you give your page that much more of a chance to rank for that many more queries. If your page is discussing the best way to bake a chocolate cake you could easily add a section about frosting the darn thing (since who doesn’t love frosting?). In such a scenario you’ve given your page the opportunity to rank for another keyword… how to frost a cake!
An easy way to create a cluster is to throw all of the related terms you come across onto a master list… by the time you're done, you’ll have a nice chunk of keywords to work with for a more diverse ranking scenario!
A keyword list representing a cluster of terms as seen within the Rank Ranger keyword research suite
Pacing Your Keyword Research Implementation
It’s one thing to research the right terms for your site’s pages… it’s another thing entirely to create content for all of those keywords and to do so with proper execution. By the time you’re done with your keyword research, you’ll probably have a huge excel sheet filled with amazing search terms. Just remember, you can’t really tackle all of these keywords. Try to narrow your list down: start with long tail keywords and move up in the ladder for short tail keywords as time goes. But no matter what you do and where you are with your keywords… please keep search intent in the back of your mind. Creating content is very expensive and you should always be looking into ROI.
I would suggest focusing on around 50-70 search terms in the beginning. You can always add more when the right time comes.
At the same time, just because you have the right keywords doesn’t mean you’ll implement them correctly. Your topical approach can be spot on, but you might end up stuffing the page with the phrase over and over, which as we mentioned is plain old bad! It’s important to keep your on-page SEO
in mind so that the implementation of your keyword research is viable. Make sure to run your pages through an on-page optimization tool
to ensure your page and its various elements have been properly implemented. There’s no sense in doing keyword research only to botch the actual content creation!
Rank Ranger’s On-Page Optimization Tool showing a page’s URL does not partake of keyword stuffing
Keyword Research Goes Far Beyond Keywords
Whether you want to go it alone or you’re trying to break into the world of SEO as a business owner, you need the right information. If you were to walk away with one thing from this post I hope it would be that keyword research goes beyond keywords per se. Good keyword research starts with considering the user, considering their wants and mindset, and researching who they are and what demographics are applicable to your site.
With that, I’d like to just say that keyword research is a continuing process. It’s best to re-evaluate your keywords every few months (let’s say once a quarter). Still, if you tend to change products/services frequently, consider analyzing your keywords as often as you update your items. That way, your keywords will always be fresh and likely to bring more organic traffic to your site!