Getting potential customers to visit your website: it’s what digital marketing is all about. And no matter what kind of business you are – small and local or big and corporate, or just in the middle – you need a good SEO strategy to attract those site visitors. What’s the best way to get those prospects to your site through search engines? It’s by doing thorough and thoughtful keyword research.
What is Keyword Research?
Keyword research is the process where you find and analyze search terms that people are entering into search engines like Google or Bing. By researching these actual keywords that people are using, you can develop an effective content strategy as well as informing your overall digital marketing strategy.
Analyzing Search Volume
Let’s break it down a little more. If you know what your target audience is searching for on Google, you have a valuable line of sight into what they want to know, what they’re interested in reading, and what questions they want to see answered. Keyword research tells you what topics your audience is interested in, which allows you to create content that speaks to them.
For example, if you’re running a bookstore, you can use keywords to see what kind of book content people are looking for. If you were debating between writing a blog post about “Top Ten Travel Books” and “The Best Books About England,” you would check a keyword research tool like SEMrush to see which term has a higher monthly search volume and write an article based on which one is more popular with searchers.
About Keyword Difficulty
But overall search volume doesn’t tell you the whole story. After all, there are plenty of other companies in your industry who are also writing content about the same topics. (That’s unless you’re in a very specific niche, which we’ll talk about later.)
This is why you need to take keyword difficulty into account when planning your keyword strategy. Keyword difficulty tells you how many other competing websites have written a lot about this topic. If search volume is high but so is keyword difficulty, you might be best served by choosing a long-tail keyword with a little less volume but less difficulty if your site is new.
Your Research Plan
While keyword research can sound intimidating and technical, you already have more tools at your disposal than you think. You’re the expert at your business, and you already have some idea of what your customers want. That’s a very strong starting point. Let’s get going on the rest of the plan.
Make a List of Topics
Start any keyword research for your SEO strategy by making a list of about 5-10 topics that are important and relevant for your business. These should be pretty easy to put down on paper – they’re the topics you blog about frequently, topics you talk to customers about often, or topics that are important for your industry. You’re using your own years of expertise as a business owner to come up with these pillars of your keyword strategy. What kind of topics is your target customers searching for where you would want them to find you?
Let’s use ContentFirst.Marketing as an example. Our topic buckets would look like this:
Next, you want to look up the monthly search volume for each of those topics. Topics with a higher amount of search traffic are more important to your audience. That means you will want to write more frequently and on a wider variety of related sub-topics.
Refine Those Topics Into Keywords
Now that you have your topic buckets, we can get started refining your topics into a list of keywords. These are keyword phrases you consider important to rank for in search engine results pages (SERPs), because that’s what your target customers are looking for when they search.
This isn’t your final list of keywords – it’s just a draft of ideas to get you started. For ContentFirst.Marketing, our list of ideas for the content marketing bucket would look something like this:
- “Content marketing ideas for small business”
- “Best practices for content marketing”
- “Blogging ideas for businesses”
And so on.
Another great way to come up with relevant keyword ideas? Find out which keywords are already getting visitors to your site. You can get a look at your existing search traffic by accessing Google Search Console or Google Analytics for your site (which you should set up if you don’t already have it). Take a look at your traffic sources for your site, and Take a look at your traffic sources for your site, and look through your organic search results to see the keywords people are currently using to find your site.
Repeat this step for every topic bucket you have created. If you’re running out of ideas, there are plenty more sources out there. One of the best ways to get keyword ideas is to ask your sales team or service team what kind of questions they frequently get from customers and prospects. If they’re asking your team members, they might be searching online for those same questions too.
Find Related Search Terms
Need more ideas for potential keywords? All this brainstorming can be tricky the first time you try it. But there’s plenty of help on Google itself for finding related search terms so you can get creative with content.
Go to Google and type in a keyword, then take a peek at the related search terms that come up at the bottom of the page (you’ll notice it under the “searches related to…” header). Right there is a goldmine of related terms you can use to think of more keyword ideas for your content. For extra points, click on one of those related search terms and find the related terms for that related term. The possibilities are endless at this point!
Mix Short and Long Keywords
Now that you’ve come up with your general content ideas, let’s get into the details of researching exact keywords. You won’t write a blog post based on just one keyword – with the vast variety of information available on the internet, it will get lost in the shuffle. You will want to plan a mix of head keywords and long-tail keywords for each piece of content.
A head keyword is a short (think 1-3 words) keyword that’s typically more generic. A long-tail keyword is, of course, longer. It’s also more specific and targeted. Why do you need both kinds? Head keywords are usually searched for more frequently, but they’re also more competitive. Over the long run as your SEO strategy starts paying off, you could begin ranking for these. But in the shorter term, you want those specific and less-competitive long-tail keywords to bring in visitors.
And while long-tail keywords might be less popular, they can be more effective at getting visitors who are ready to take action. Someone who is searching generically for “digital marketing” and finds ContentFirst.Marketing might just be curious about the term, and not a good prospect for us. But someone who searches for “how to create digital marketing strategy” is likely much more ready to create their digital marketing strategy, and a better bet to convert to a frequent reader or customer.
Research Competitor Rankings
You don’t need to blindly copy your competitors – you already know that in your business, and it goes for keywords too. But it can be informative to see what keywords your competitors are ranking for in search engines. It’s another tool to use to evaluate your list of keywords.
If you notice your competitor is ranking for a keyword that’s on your list, it’s reasonable to try to improve your rankings for that keyword too. But don’t disregard keywords your competitors are ignoring – they could be a great opportunity to increase your market share on your own terms too.
How can you find the keywords your competitors rank for? You can search in an incognito browser manually for your list of keywords and see where they come up in the rankings, or use a tool like SEMrush to run reports for you.
Like we discussed in your mix of short and long keywords, balance is key in any keyword strategy. You want to move toward short-term success while also planning for growth in the long-term. Maybe you won’t rank for those competition keywords just yet, especially if your website is new. But you don’t want to ignore them entirely. SEO is a game for the long haul.
Use Keyword Planning to Refine Your List
It’s time to narrow down your keyword list with some more research. There are plenty of paid keyword research tools out there, but it’s possible to use Google’s own free tools to do this work too.
Use the Google Ads Keyword Planning Tool to get traffic estimates and keyword volume for your keyword ideas. (You have to sign up for a Google Ads account, but you won’t have to create an ad.) Use the data you find here to rule out any keywords that have too little or too much search volume.
Now it’s time to do some trend-watching. Using the Google Trends tool, you can find which search terms are trending upwards – they’re a good investment of your time even if current search volume is low. Write now, reap the search traffic benefits later. Google Trends can also help you narrow your list down if it’s too large, allowing you to focus your efforts on the most promising keywords.
The Goal of Keyword Research
Keyword research is really a way of developing content ideas that will resonate with your target audience. Search keywords are a line of sight into what your prospects care about and need. With some thoughtful research, you’ll some be creating content on topics that grow your business.
Don’t let this process be a one-time effort, either. Track your keywords in a spreadsheet and regularly check on how they’re performing. And don’t forget to make this keyword research process at least a quarterly event. Search trends shift over time, and you can’t afford to get left behind.
Once you’ve established a strong SEO strategy, you’ll begin to see your organic search traffic grow and start converting those visitors to customers.
Get a Keyword Research Expert on Your Side
Real keyword research takes time, and as a business owner, you already have a lot on your plate. If you’re strapped for time but know how important a solid SEO strategy is for your business, give ContentFirst.Marketing a call and talk to the digital marketing experts. We’re here to help you grow your business through proven SEO techniques, excellent writing, and measurable results. You take care of running your business – we’ll handle the digital marketing for you.