If you’ve ever tried to rank well for a specific keyword on Google, you can be forgiven for thinking that you’re up against some sort of advanced intelligence bent on spreading mayhem and general online confusion.
It’s true that Google algorithm updates come at us thick and fast with each tweak sending some or other website spinning to their doom. Trying to keep up can leave us feeling like the proverbial hamster on his unfortunate wheel.
However, what has remained a constant with all search engines is the need to conduct proper, data-based keyword research in order to rank well. This step is a critical precursor to any SEO campaign and failure to do it correctly will leave you firing shots into the dark. Nobody wants to waste money, that’s a given.
We’re going to focus on:
- Exactly what is keyword research?
- The keyword research process
- What keyword research tools are available
- How Google chooses what results to display
What Is Keyword Research?
Keyword research is a process in which we discover and analyse the terms that people are using to find our products or services online. Knowing what these highly specific search terms are, aid businesses in creating content which answers these queries, thereby ranking well on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
That may sound simple at the outset, I mean, how hard can it be? After all, if we want to buy socks then surely, we’ll type in the word “socks” and let those clever search engines do the rest.
Not so much. You see, as intelligent as these search engines are, they still rely on certain other criteria to enable them to offer up the best results to the user.
Let’s unpack this further.
Understanding Search Intent
Did you know that the keywords themselves are largely unimportant?
Wait, what? How can that be right?
When we understand that Google is a business and not just a helpful aunt, then we will grasp the importance behind search intent.
For search engines to stay on top of their game and return the most relevant result to any query then they need to understand their search intent. If I were to type in “define SEO” then you will quickly ascertain that I need to understand or learn about this topic. However, if I were to enter “SEO companies near me” then you can see that I’m now looking for help with my SEO and I’m likely to want to talk with a local company.
This is search intent… and another process which needs careful attention. More on that in a minute.
Keyword Research Process
Remember at the outset we said that keyword research consists of finding and analysing important words and phrases as they relate to your business? That’s a two-part process right there and it follows a process much like this:
- Choose a set of broad topics
- Find keywords and phrases related to these topics
- Check for related terms
- Separate these further into search intent
- Sort these by volume
- Check out your competitors
How to Do Keyword Research
What we’re looking for here are the search terms which are most relevant to your business goals, those with the highest monthly volume, and which carry the right intent. It may feel like an insurmountable task with a gazillion variables, but a careful and logical approach will give you all you need.
Choose a Topic
Most businesses will be able to come up with at least five topics to start with. If you sell men’s shoes, for example, then you may have topics on men’s fashion trends, imported leather shoes, safety boots, or foot health. These are understandably broad and need to be fleshed out a little.
The volume of searches on these high-level topics will guide you as to their expected performance.
Beneath each topic, you will want to find commonly searched keywords, and there are several tools which you can make use of to do this.
The best start, however, is to talk to your customer-facing colleagues or those directly involved in sales. They should be able to open the conversation with a list of commonly asked questions or direct you toward the most popular products or services.
Thereafter, Google Keyword Planner will be your best buddy. (You’ll have to open an AdWords account if you don’t already have, but you can still run keyword searches without running an ad.) The keyword planner allows you to enter search terms, offers up alternatives or similar phrases, and then spits out your monthly search volume.
It’s true that we don’t all think alike, so the next step may have you scratching your head a little but will certainly provide a little more insight.
Type some of your most relevant search terms into Google and then scroll all the way to the bottom of the page. There you will see around eight related searches with URLs that you can follow to dig deeper if you choose to. These are actual phrases that have been used which the search engine thinks may be of interest to you.
As we touched on above, search intent is a big deal.
You should have a spreadsheet with a fair bit of information by now, and here is where you will start to sort and analyse your data. Separate keywords into those that are looking for information, and those that are looking to buy or compare your product to another. This will dictate the type of content that you draft concerning these queries. This is especially true when running ads, as you will want to focus on buying signals and not people who are just browsing for information.
Besides the keyword volumes that you can pull off your keyword planner (which are essential to know), Google trends also offers some unique insights. Are you jumping aboard a sinking ship, or is the general interest in your business going in a positive direction?
The higher the volume, the more interest there is. Simple as that.
Too many businesses ignore what their competition is doing online, which is daft considering there are tools to look over their shoulder without them knowing.
If they are outranking you on the SERP then you want to know why, how, and what you can do differently. Are they making use of phrases that you haven’t thought of and tapping into a hidden market? We need to know this stuff to establish whether we’re taking a knife to a gunfight.
Keyword Research Tools
To be honest, much of what we’ve listed above would be nigh on impossible without the help of some, frankly, awesome online tools. Here are a few to take a look at and what you can do with them.
Great for finding keyword volumes, similar words and phrases, and competition levels.
Perfect for establishing a positive or negative trend over time. Trends also offers suggestions on similar topics or breakout terms which can assist in forming new topics.
This is another option to assist with both topics and keywords and allows you to discover how users phrase questions and what terminology they use.
While not a free tool, SEMrush has evolved into a comprehensive product which assists with finding keywords, locating the best content on these, and even offering up content suggestions if you require them. It’s also a brilliant tool for competition research, just saying.
We touch on some further pretty awesome tools and techniques in our blog, How To Write an SEO Optimised Article.
Getting to Grips With Google
Today’s users have a pretty low tolerance for inaccurate or irrelevant results, a fact which Google is all too well aware. Therefore, there are three essential factors to bear in mind to ensure that you’re satisfying the search engines and getting what you need.
This point dovetails nicely with search intent. For example, if a user enters a query such as “buy silver jewellery online” and you have a jewellery blog, but not an online shop, then your content is not relevant to this user.
We are also acutely aware that there are billions of websites out there and we are not the only players in our space. Therefore, of the fifty websites that answer the search query in terms of relevance, Google will choose what they determine to be the best resource offering the most value.
It’s far too easy to throw together a website and some words and images and offer it up as a potential resource. And so, for this very reason, Google will look for authority signals which show this site to be the most helpful and accurate of the available options.
What do these signals consist of?
Helpful, accurate, and detailed information on your chosen topics will – over time – earn backlinks or other positive social signals which tell the search engines that people are digging your stuff. Other metrics such as your traffic volumes and the time users spend on your site are also indicators.
Google measures and displays keyword volume as an average amount of searches conducted in a month. It’s worth noting, though, that you may be ranking number one for one of your chosen keywords, but if only three people a month are searching for that phrase then you can stop those celebrations right there.
Keyword Research Tips
The processes that we’ve touched on above will guide you in finding a healthy handful of keywords to help you to produce good quality, SEO-friendly content and drive traffic to your site.
Over and above these, there are secrets and loopholes aplenty which smart SEO companies have learned over time which can also benefit your rankings.
These are our top three:
- Learn the difference between long-tail keywords and head terms.
- Don’t try and outrank the major players (Think Forbes). You’ll lose.
- Review your research regularly, and don’t be afraid to make changes.
Keywords, used correctly, are going to be one of your best tools in getting access to the Google Page One Winner’s Circle. As you can see though, there’s no shortcut to getting the right words to the right people at the right time. Careful thought and consideration, and no small amount of experience is definitely needed.
Would you like to know more?