As Google keeps rolling out new algorithm updates to their search engine, one thing has remained essential when it comes to inbound marketers wanting to optimize their page for search engines: keyword research for SEO purposes.
In this blog we discuss: what SEO keyword research entails, why it is essential to your website, how to conduct keyword research for your overall SEO strategy, and how to choose the right keywords to make your website stand out.
What is Keyword Research for SEO?
It is the process of locating and analyzing various search terms that search engine users use with the objective of using the findings for a specific purpose. More often than not, the specific use is for search engine optimization (SEO) and general marketing. Keyword research can help a business figure out various phrases and queries to target, which ones are popular, the keyword’s overall ranking and the difficulty to rank for them.
Keyword research typically focuses on two different types of keywords: short tail keywords (or seed keywords) and long tail keywords. A seed keyword typically comprises of one to two words and highly competitive with a significant amount of search volume every month.
On the other side of the spectrum, long tail keywords consist of three of more keywords. These typically have less keyword difficulty, as well as search volume. The best way to figure out the right keyword is by using a keyword research tool which will analyze your keyword idea and provide keyword suggestions based on competition and search volume.
Why is Keyword Research Important?
Keyword research can provide insights into the various queries that your target audience are searching for on search engines like Google. Furthermore, these insights will inform your team, and ultimately provide you with a direction you should go with your content marketing strategy. The information gathered should also play an essential role in your overall marketing strategy.
Search engine users utilize keywords in order to find answers to whatever they are researching online. If your content is successful at answering their questions, you stand a good chance to increase website traffic. With more traffic comes more opportunities to convert visitors into sales.
When considering how to develop content for your website, it is important to develop content not about what we want to tell people, but around what people want to discover. In other words, develop content for the benefit of your audience and not your website.
This process begins with keyword research. Conducting keyword research has many benefits, the most popular reasons being:
Marketing Trend Insight
Through effective keyword research, an online business can become aware of current marketing trends, and ultimately assist them in narrowing down their content on to the most relevant keywords and topics that their audience is searching for.
When you can identify the best fitting keywords and topics for your content, you can publish articles that will help you rank higher in search engine results. Higher the ranking, the more website traffic you will attract.
By producing content that meets the needs of individuals as well as businesses, you will be able to meet their needs, and then present them with a call to action (CTA). The CTA should be developed in a way to encourage them into the buyer’s journey from the awareness stage to the point of purchase.
When researching keywords it is best to search by their popularity, search volume, and general intent, in order to ensure that your content is matching the intent of your audience and providing answers to their questions.
Keywords vs. Topics
We have all heard countless times that SEO has continuously been evolving over the last 10 years. Moreover, these stories have also been claiming that keywords are becoming less important in rankings. In other words, keywords, by themselves, don’t play that big of a deal in getting content to rank well for what people are searching for.
To some extent, keywords not playing as large of a role in ranking is true. However, SEO professionals consider it to be a little different. Whereas, it is the intent behind the keywords and phrases that are being used, and if the keywords and the content they are in, solves the intent of the searcher.
However, it is important to note, by no means does this mean keywords research is outdated. Let’s look into this:
Keyword research can help you find out what topics search engine users care about. Moreover, if you utilize the right search engine optimization keyword tool, you can discover how popular the topics are as well amongst the people in your audience. By understanding the intent of the topic and knowing which keywords are getting high search volume per month, you can create a content strategy and develop a plan to create all the content for those topics and keywords.
Different types of keyword intent in SEO:
When choosing keywords it is important to understand the intent of the search. Whereas, depending on where the search is along the buyer’s journey, their query will fall into one of the following categories:
- Information query
- Navigational query
- Transactional query
- Commercial investigation
- Local query
Searching for keywords that match each query type is essential for capturing potential leads and customers throughout the entire buyer’s journey. Let’s take a deeper look at each of the different types of search queries, and discuss what it means for keywords.
1. Information query
This is the most common type of keyword intent, and it refers to keywords that are used for researching specific information. For example, if you’re looking for information on how to cook a particular dish, then you would use an information query in your SEO campaign.
2. Navigational query:
These are the types of queries search engine users use to find a specific place on the internet. It is typically used by people looking for a repository of information or the homepage of a particular website. An example of this could be when people type in Instagram, want to visit the homepage of NBA, or Clear Door SEO blog.
Understanding how navigational queries work and why someone may want to find your content in this manner can help you utilize different keywords to ensure they can discover your content online. Another way to utilize navigational keywords to promote a blog about gardening may be by using keywords like “gardening tips” or “flower garden design” in your title tag and throughout your content so that people will be able to find it more easily.
3. Transactional query:
The third most common type of keyword intent in SEO, and it refers to using keywords to help people purchase something from a website. This type of query is usually much more specific and is long-tailed. A searcher at this point of the buyer’s journey has done their research and knows exactly what they are looking to purchase. Therefore, while developing content with transactional intent, it is important to use long-tail keywords that are specific, and are exact matches.
4. Commercial investigation:
This type of intent is used when someone wants to know more about a product or service before buying it. They can use commercial investigative keywords to compare different products together. For example, someone may use the words ‘differences’, ‘vs’ or ‘best’ in the search query. This allows them to find reviews and comparisons between different products to learn about which one will be better for them.
5. Local queries
Local queries are for people looking for services and products that are in their vicinity. Typically, people will use keywords like near me, or use the name of the city or place to define their search. Local SEO techniques play an important role in ensuring that your website is being found for local search queries.
Best practices state that a local business should include their address and phone number on their web pages so customers can easily find them. Additionally, local businesses should also create a Google Business Profile to help them be found in the local snack pack that Google displays.
Three Elements of Keyword Research for SEO
There are three main elements to consider when conducting keyword research:
Search engine rankings are directly related to relevance. The idea of relevance is where the idea of the searchers intent comes from. Whereas, content will only rank well for keywords if it matches and fulfills the needs of the searcher.
Moreover, the content needs to be high-quality and considered the ‘best’ amongst all content for that particular query. Just consider, if the content is not well written and informative, why would Google rank you above other more relevant content?
Google and other search engines provide more weight to sources that it deems authoritative, and thus rank them better. Therefore, it is essential that an online business does everything they can to become more authoritative by enriching your content with helpful and informational content, as well as by promoting it on various platforms and social media to earn positive social signals and to build backlinks.
If i website is not considered authoritative by Google, or the particular keyword SERPs is highly competitive, you will have a lower chance of ranking – unless your content is absolutely immaculate!
You may be able to rank for a specific keyword that has low search volume. However, if no one is ever searching for that specific topic, your website will never get any traffic.
Search volume is measured by monthly search volume (MSV) – which is defined as the number of times the specific keyword is searched for per month across all audiences.
How to Research Keywords for a SEO Strategy
We’re going to provide a keyword research process and plan you can use to develop a list of terms you can and should be targeting. With this plan, you should be able to develop a strong keyword strategy that you can execute in order to raise your ranking and make sure your online business gets more traffic.
Step 1: Make a list of topics that are important, and relevant
First, you consider the topics and ideas you want to rank for in terms of a generic category. For this process, try to come up with between five and ten topics that are essential to your industry and business. After you have narrowed down your categories you will then use these topics to generate specific keywords to target.
For example, if you are a blogger for recipes, your categories will be about your recipes, cooking techniques and tips in tricks – i.e. whatever you blog about the most. Or, if you have an e-commerce business, you may want to develop categories around the questions you get most frequently from customers. As mentioned before, the best way to determine what should be written about, is to put yourself in your buyer personas. By doing this, you can develop content that your target audience most frequently ask about or search for on the internet.
After developing your categories, you should check the search volume for each of the topics you have chosen. By having a rough estimate of search volume, you can determine if it is a worthwhile topic to go after, or if you should revisit your strategy and categories. Moreover, if the search volume is high enough and you choose to go after it, the search volume will help guide you with determining how many subtopics you may need to create to be successful with that keyword.
To dive deeper into subtopics, check out step 2 below:
Step 2: Discover Keywords for your Category:
Now that you have identified the categories you want to focus on, you will want to start locating keywords that fit the categories. The keywords and phrases that you target that you believe are essential to rank for search engine results pages (SERPs), should be targeted because your audience are searching for these specific terms and phrases.
For example, if you have an e-commerce website selling furniture, it would be best to brainstorm keywords, phrases and questions that people would be searching for related to furniture. Some of these may include:
- Best recliner to relax in
- Ideas to maximize living room layout
- Best furniture for studio apartment
- Best furniture for pet owners
These are just a few ideas. This practice is not to finalize your list of keywords and phrases you are going to target. The process should be conducted to generate as many ideas as possible with your team that you believe your customers will search for on search engines. You can always narrow your list down later after conducting more research and analysis.
A good way to identify potential keywords to target is to research which keywords your site is already getting traffic from. A tool you can use for this is Google Analytics or even HubSpot’s Sources report, available in the Traffic Analytics tool. By utilizing these tools you can dive deeper into your website’s traffic sources and go through the organic traffic sources. The organic traffic you already have can be a great place to identify the keywords search engine users are using to arrive at your site.
You should conduct this exercise for every topic category you have. If you still want to add more ideas to target for relevant search terms, it would be best to speak with your teammates that are customer-facing such as sales or service. By inquiring with these teammates you can discover what questions and assistance customers are most asking about.
Step 3: How Intent Affects Keyword Research for SEO and How You Should Analyze Accordingly.
As we mentioned above, intent is one of the most influential aspects to your website ranking well on Google and other search engines. Thus, it is imperative that your website and content are able to address whatever problem the searcher is looking to solve rather than just having the keyword in your content.
You might be asking: How will this affect my keyword research?
Keywords can not always be taken at face value. Whereas, a specific keyword may have multiple meanings behind it depending on how it is used. Therefore, since intent is such a crucial aspect of ranking potential, you will want to spend a little extra time interpreting what exactly the keyword you are targeting is saying.
For example, you may be looking at targeting ‘motorcycles’. However, depending on the searcher’s intent, this may not be a good term to target. Are they looking to buy a motorcycle? Or maybe trying to sell one. It could also be that they are looking for motorcycle routes in the United States.
Depending on your company, you may be able to develop content to target these three topics; or you might not be able to develop content for any of these topics. If your company can facilitate the sales and buying of motorcycles, then you might be able to target these searchers. However, you need to be sure what the intent of the searchers are before you start targeting a specific keyword.
In order to feel more confident about what a search engine user’s intent is with a specific keyword, you can enter the keyword into Google’s search and see what the suggested results are.
Step 4: Research Related Search Terms
A creative way to deepen your keyword research for SEO purposes is to utilize the related search terms that are presented to the searcher. Google suggest is a great way to find related keywords for your particular search term.
For example, if you are struggling to develop more topic categories, type your keyword into Google and check the various suggestion results at the bottom. These related and suggested results can help generate some more creative keywords your team might want to include in the overall content strategy.
Continuing with our motorcycle topic, check out the related suggestions provided by Google in the image below:
Want to go even deeper into the rabbit hole? You can use these related searches and search for these again, and go through their related suggestion section.
Using this technique to find a relevant keyword or keyword phrase is one of the best keyword research tips, as Google is telling you exactly what people are searching for.
Step 5: Utilize Keyword Research Tools
Keyword research and SEO tools can help you generate additional keyword ideas, based on in-depth analysis and on exact match keywords and phrase match keywords from the various keywords you have already thought of. Some of the most popular ones include:
How to Find and Select Keywords for Your Website
Once you have selected keywords to target and rank for, you should move on to the next step: refine your list and research which ones are best for your SEO strategy. Here’s how:
Step 1. Use Google Keyword Planner to cut down your keyword list.
Use Google’s Keyword Planner, to get search volume and traffic estimates for keywords you would like to focus on. Next, use the data collected from Keyword Planner and us Google Trends to flush out your findings.
Keyword Planner can help you narrow your selected terms down by telling you which ones have too much, or too little search volume. Remember, try to find a happy medium between the two extremes. It is good to target high volume and low volume keywords at the same time while you are conducting keyword research for SEO.
Google Trends can also help you reduce or expand your list of terms to match the current trends for these keywords and topics. Whereas, terms that are trending upward, maybe better to focus on as they can generate more traffic during the near future. Just remember, you will want to check trends occasionally to make sure that these upwards trending keywords are still trending or staying at the same level. An example would be seasonal searchers for clothes or activities.
Step 2: Prioritize low-hanging fruit.
Low-hanging fruit entails prioritizing keywords that your website has a good chance of ranking for based upon your website’s authority. Additionally, this can include keywords that you are already ranking for, but maybe are ranking lower than the first page, or the first three SERPs.
Large, well established businesses usually target high search volume keywords. As they are well established and are considered trustworthy most of the time, Google will reward them with a good authority ranking over many topics.
If you are just getting started, or working to carve out a niche for your online company you may also want to consider keywords that have low competition. Topics that don’t already have multiple articles and blogs competing for the number one SERP position will allow you to rank more easily no matter your website’s authority.
Step 3: Check the Monthly Search Volume for Keywords
It is best to create content about what people want to solve or discover, and by checking the monthly search volume (MSV) you can pinpoint exactly what people are looking for.
Monthly search volume is defined as the number of times a particular keyword or search query is searched for each month. As mentioned before tools like Google Trends will assist you in locating the most searched keywords over related keyword clusters for free.
Step 4: Factor in SERP Snippets When Choosing Keywords
Google will highlight certain SERP snippets if found as informative and high-quality. Developing content to win featured snippets will drastically increase your website’s visibility amongst searches. While targeting these keywords, check out what snippets are being presented and think about how you can develop content for those keywords to be featured. For an overview of the types of SERP featured snippets and what they are, we’ll summarize them here:
1. Image Packs
Image packs are classified as search results that are displayed as multiple photos in a horizontal row which are located in an organic position. In order to be featured as an image pack featured snippet, you will need to develop an image-heavy content page to be chosen by Google for the position.
The image below is an image pack snippet from our motorcycle example:
2. Paragraph Snippets
Paragraph snippets are short, concise snippets of text that provide quick answers to common search queries and are displayed at the top of search results. By knowing the searcher’s intent and developing concise answers for it will help you be placed in the featured position. The image below is an example of a paragraph snippet:
3. List Snippets
List snippets, or otherwise known as listicles, are featured snippets that come from posts that outline multiple steps to accomplish a task from start to finish. These are snippets that usually come from ‘How To’ queries. By making posts that accurately, and concisely provide directions to solve a certain problem will be awarded the position. The lists must also be formatted in the correct way for search engine crawlers to accurately know that it is a list. An example of a list snippet can be seen in the image below:
4. Video Snippets
Video snippets are informational videos that Google deems has the information to solve the searchers problem. These video snippets are featured as the top position in SERPs. A good idea is to post the video on Youtube as well as on your website to give it the best chance of being selected for the feature for certain keywords people are searching for. The image below displays what a video snippet looks like:
Step 5: Target a mix of Head Terms and Long-Tail Keywords
Head terms are classified as keywords that usually consist of less words (one to three words in length) and are more generic. On the other hand, long-tail keywords are longer (more than three words in length) and more precise.
You should target a combination of head terms and long-tail keywords as it will provide you with a robust strategy that provides you with an opportunity to gain traffic from people all along their buying journey. Moreover, a strategy that targets both of these keyword types will allow you to achieve long term goals while also benefiting from short-term wins.
Head terms usually have a higher search volume as they are searched for more frequently, making them more competitive and difficult to rank for. Long-term keywords however, are more specific and have less search volume, this however does not necessarily make them less competitive. Consider this: Without getting into the data, which term do you think would be more difficult to rank for:
- How to change a filter on a motorcycle
If you answered #2, you would be correct. This is because the first option is much more broad and can contain information about various aspects of a motorcycle; generating a great deal more volume. Whereas, option two, is much more specific and will generate less search volume.
Although option two has more volume, does the volume really matter that much?
This is because option two is more concise and targeted, meaning that people know exactly what they are trying to find. When a website can match the exact intent of a searcher, they are much more likely to have that individual click on their website for information. Therefore, option two will usually drive more traffic to your site if you can rank well for it.
You should go over your keyword list you have selected and make sure you have a good mixture of long-tail keywords and head terms. Remember, this approach will help you reach long term goals while getting some quick wins as well. It also provides you with an opportunity to get traffic from people during the entire sales process.
Remember, if you can get someone during the early stages of their search for a certain topic, you can build trust with them, usually resulting in a return visit from them, even if you are ranking lower on the first page of SERPs.
Step 6: Check Your Competitors Keyword Ranking
It is important to check what your competitors are doing. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to copy their style though. It’s the same with keyword research for SEO. It is crucial to study what your competitors are ranking for and what keywords they are using but that doesn’t mean that it might work for you. However, understanding what keywords your competitors are ranking for is a great way to evaluate your keywords.
You can start by conducting an SEO competitor analysis. By looking into their targeted keywords and content you can understand what you should be targeting. This could stand as an opportunity for you to have your own share of the market on key terms too. Since you are focused on improving your ranking, ignore similar keywords that you and your competitors already rank for.
While trying to improve your ranking, it is important to understand the balance between different terms, for example, some terms might be slightly more difficult to rank for due to competition, and terms that are more easy, will help you maintain a mix between long tail and head terms. Your goal is to get a list of keywords that will help you earn some quick wins as well as help you progress towards more challenging SEO goals.
What are the Best Keywords for SEO?
The best keywords for a website are the ones that a website has a reasonable chance to rank for. Moreover, the keyword should have ample search volume to make it worthwhile for the website to write content for it. Finally, the keyword should be relevant to the website, and matches the search intent of the website and search query.
It is important to remember that the “best” keywords don’t really exist. As it is completely subjective and depends on the overall SEO goals of the company. Therefore, by keeping this in mind, it’s up to you to create a strategy that will help you rank higher in SERP and drive traffic to your page.
To come up with your best keywords strategy you will need to take into account authority, relevance and volume. You will need to look for highly searched keywords based on:
- Level of competition – know what you’re up against
- Your ability to create quality content to surpass your current ranking
After you have a list of keywords, it will help you to focus on the topics suitable for your business. This will help you get a few long term and short term gains.
Your work doesn’t end there: re-evaluate your keywords every few months – depending on the need of your business. As you start gaining more authority, you can add more keywords to you list and tackle as you maintain your current presence.
Speaking of ways to find and tackle additional keywords, take a look at our tips to conduct better keyword research.
Maximizing keyword research: Tips to further optimize content
So you have ranked in the top three SERP positions for your target keyword. Time to pack up and call it a day right?
Ranking for your target keyword is a sign from Google that your content is great, and that it is meeting the search intent for that particular query. This is when you should take it one step further and further optimize for some secondary and tertiary keywords that the page is being targeted for.
There are a couple of ways that a webmaster can do this. The two methods that we are going to focus on is:
- Barnacle SEO
- Google Search Console
These two methods can help take a well performing piece of content for one keyword, and turn it into a powerhouse for many different phrases and long-tailed keywords. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the two methods:
1. Barnacle SEO
Barnacle SEO is the practice of utilizing a third party site to rank your content for a particular keyword. This type of technique is important for two different reasons.
One, it allows you to take up more real estate on the first page of search results pages for high-value keywords. This hedges your bets as your website will have two opportunities to garnish a click from a search engine user.
The second reason it is important is it can help send positive signals back to your web page through backlinks and domain authority. This is because when you are piggy backing off another website’s authority you are typically using guest posts, citations, or platforms like YouTube to post your content, which allow you to optimize for your target keywords and use them in anchor text. And as we know, anchor text that is optimized can do wonders for your content’s ranking ability.
By leveraging the domain authority of other websites, webmasters are able to influence their own page ranking, additional keywords on their page, as well as take up additional real estate on page 1 of SERPs.
Now we will look at how Google Search Console can help website owners find additional semantic keywords a page is ranking for.
2. Google Search Console
Google Search Console (GSC) can be a gold mine of additional keywords to target. Whereas, by taking a look at the semantic queries a page is ranking for by happenstance, an SEO specialist can make small on-page SEO changes to help a page increase its ranking.
There are two main strategies here that can help with keyword research. Let’s take a look at the two options a website owner has when using GSC for keyword research.
1. Target the additional keywords on the same page
Depending what the original piece of content covers, a content writer can choose to include content on the same page to target the additional keywords. This typically works when there is high relevance between the main keyword and the secondary keyword. To target these additional keywords you have a few options:
- Optimize alt text of photos
- Change the body text to include the keywords
- Optimize anchor text from internal links pointing to the page
- Optimize headers and titles on the page
2. Develop new pieces of content for the additional keywords
If the original content is not fit to include the additional information about the keyword, then it may be a good idea to develop an additional blog targeting the keyword. This will allow you to shift the impressions and possibly clicks away from the original piece of content to a page that is more relevant.
A new piece of content will help provide a more valuable user experience as it is more in-depth. Moreover, it will rank better for the target keyword than the other page was.
If this is the route that you wish to take, make sure to first do keyword research to see if the particular phrase has enough search volume to suffice for a new piece of content.
Finally, make sure that you make an internal link pointing from the original article to the new article for the keyword. Moreover, it will be a good idea to use exact anchor text to match the keyword. This will ensure that you are sending a strong signal to Google’s crawlers that you want the new page to rank for that keyword.
Key Takeaways: Keyword Research for Beginners
Keyword research for SEO is the start of every sustainable, long term SEO strategy. If done correctly, you can come up with a long list of keywords for which you’d like your site to be found for. However, the hardest part is still yet to come – writing the content. Best practices show that you should write a blog post for every keyword that you would like to target. These blogs should have internal links throughout them to make a robust network of information for your readers and search engines. Another important aspect of using these terms correctly, is by knowing where to place keywords on your website.
No matter if you are a beginner doing keyword research for the first time, this guide will help you become a pro! Moreover, the keyword analysis guide will help you learn how to target phrases that will help you out compete the competition. Both on the local SEO side of things as well as while targeting a much larger audience!
By focusing on the tools and methods outlined in this keyword research for beginners guide, you will begin to understand the reason why SEO is so essential to your online business, and why you should start investing in it now! You can either work directly with an SEO business, or do it in-house and save money. Either way, make sure you have a good understanding of what keyword research entails, as well as know exactly what is an SEO business and what they provide exactly, if you decide to outsource the service.
The same steps we outline above are what we practice in house as well. Clear Door SEO, as an SEO agency in Portland, Oregon have a great deal of competitors as well. Therefore, we practice what we preach! Let us know in the comments, how these steps – or if we forgot any other key steps – are helping your company produce better content!