Keyword research is an important concept for SEO, arguably the most important. It ultimately serves as the basis for all online strategies that follow, because it is the most in tune Voice-of-the-Customer data that a company can acquire from their customers. But it is a pretty daunting task for non-experts, to collect and organize this critical data set. That includes drawing takeaways, much less getting into the mind of consumers in search. Like any skill worth learning, keyword research requires practice and discipline.
Why Should I Care?
Keywords = People. Keywords are not a list of characters used manipulate search engines (or, at least, they shouldn’t be), and they aren’t industry speak. Behind keyword data are literal people conducting searches for products and services like yours. So what can we learn from their input?
Making a website search friendly means making it available to those people who need it. The way we do that is to look at company goals and align those goals with keywords that are actually being searched.
But How to Find Keywords?
Keyword research is neither a quick nor easy process. But it’s also not rocket science (anyone that says so might need a humility check). By following the steps below, anyone can establish some basic keyword research to use as a foundation for website content.
Core terms are words that describe your services. These don’t have to be perfect a you can modify them and find the most searched versions of them later. However, take a few minutes to think about the most important services for which your company (or client’s company) is trying to rank in search. Think broad and high-level terms, as these, will serve as the basis for online marketing campaigns. Put these initial ideas down in a spreadsheet and keep them in mind.
Take a look at Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools and compare the data with these core terms. In Google Analytics, look at the organic search keywords driving traffic to your website. In Webmaster Tools, look for terms that are getting the most impressions and highest click-through rate to your site. *Side note: You will notice a little thing called “(Not Provided)”. This represents data that Google is withholding because the user was logged into a Google account when conducting the search.
You will also probably notice that it represents a large number of your visits. Unfortunately, Google still owns the rights to its data, and can continue to limit access to it, so this chunk cannot be seen in Analytics.* Not finding your core terms in GA or WMT? Translation: You are not showing up in search results for core product/service terms. This means your website might need a major rehaul in terms of content. If most of the terms people search to reach your site are your brand name or branded services, this means a couple of things.
First, the traffic coming to your site is already aware of your brand, and interested. Second, by not targeting service keywords, you’re missing out on the opportunity of reaching everyone who DOESN’T know your brand. Finding your core terms? Great! But you aren’t finished yet. In many instances, the terms that people think they should be ranking for either:
- Have little to no search volume, meaning that people aren’t searching the same way you are talking on your website, or…
- Are super competitive, meaning you have little chance to rank in search engines for these terms without dishing out serious cash for a paid search campaign.
In order to reach a wider range of potential audience members, you will need to rank for terms that you may not have thought of initially, potentially a lot of them. The next steps will lay out the process of finding more terms relating to these core terms.
A competitor in this instance refers to another website ranking for your key service terms. Conduct a Google search for some of the terms established in steps 1 and 2. Look for repetition in search results. The websites ranking for a few of your core services are your competitors. Granted, you may not have heard of them, but in the online realm, they are grabbing your potential organic search traffic, which translates to your potential customers. Once you have established 3-5 competitors, use the Keyword Tool in Google Adwords.
This is a free tool that anyone with a Gmail or Google account can use. Type the URLs of competitors into the section labeled “Website.”
This will populate keyword terms that are used throughout the site. Make sure that you select the “Keyword Ideas” tab and all three match types (seen below) in order to populate the most results.
Download these results in a CSV file, and scrape the terms to get rid of any that do not apply. Rinse and repeat for other competitors, combining each into one giant spreadsheet and getting rid of duplicates.
For any given category of terms that you discover, circle directly back to the keyword tool. This time, enter a handful of these terms into the box that says “Word or Phrase.” Separate them by one keyword per line.
This will populate related search terms that your competitors may not have targets on their sites. Add these results to your existing spreadsheet, de-dup, and scrub for irrelevant terms.
Go to Google, start entering a key term, but don’t press enter. The results that show up in that drop down menu are called aGoogle Instant results and represent the most searched variations of the term which you have started to enter. This will show you tons of variations of this term, usually all with significant search volume.
Rinse and repeat with these results until you are no longer getting new search terms. Once again, circle back to the keyword tool and add your new terms to the mix. Expand that spreadsheet and scrub some more.
When you conduct a Google search for a key term, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page. Here you will see a list of related search terms (seen below).
Start from scratch with each of these that apply. Enter them into Google for Instant results, and dump into the keyword tool with related terms. Continue to combine these with your existing keyword spreadsheet.
Ubersuggest.org is another free tool that allows you to expand on existing keywords and see related terms with significant search volume.
One handy feature with UberSuggest is the ability to select a group of keywords, click “Get” and copy and paste into the Keyword Tool. This helps you easily pick out the terms that are searched often each month but are also not too competitive.
These are all free keyword tools anyone can use to understand their target audience and develop a content strategy. Keyword research is the core of Search success because everything is (should be) developed only after this critical step is completed. Then you can work generating content that will truly fill a need for your consumers. After that, you can leverage it for outreach, drawing more traffic and authority to your website.