Whether tweaking existing pages, coming up with ideas for new blog posts, or rolling-out core service pages for your brand new website, you’ll need keywords – which means you’ll inevitably need to do keyword research.
Keyword research can be a sticking point for some, but it doesn’t have to be. Using a data focussed approach leads to great keyword research and, by extension, highly effective content.
What Is Keyword Research (And Why Is It Important)?
Keyword research refers to the process of finding search terms, with the goal of understanding this data and using it to inform your digital marketing strategy. In SEO specifically, keyword research informs which topics, words, and phrases should be targeted in your own content. Dedicated keyword tools like Google Keyword Planner or Ahrefs give users insight into how many people are searching for specific keywords, how competitive these terms are and if any alternative phrases should be considered, all of which is useful information for informing which keywords to go after.
As Google’s algorithm becomes more advanced in the way it infers the meaning behind words and phrases, there is naturally more of a debate surrounding how big of a role keywords actually play in getting content to rank. Opinions vary but that doesn’t change the fact that keyword research is still crucial for knowing what content to create if you want visitors to be able to find your website.
Without sounding too overzealous, keyword research essentially shapes the entirety of an SEO content strategy – and that’s why it’s important to get it right!
Here are some things to bear in mind if you want to carry out more effective keyword research.
Six Ways To Optimize Your Keyword Research
1. Understand Search Volume And Search Intent
Search volume (that is, how many people search for a specific query) is the first metric most people look towards during keyword research – and for a good reason. If the ultimate goal of the content is to generate as much traffic as possible, there’s no point in targeting queries that aren’t being searched for.
That being said, a higher search volume doesn’t automatically translate to better results. Very high volume keywords tend to be broad and more difficult to rank in the top positions for. This is where understanding search intent comes into play. Search intent refers to what visitors are actually looking for when they enter a query into a search engine. Intent is usually separated into three categories; branded, transactional or informational – determining which query fits into which category can be easily done by googling the keyword in question and looking at the top results.
As a simple example, imagine a car dealership wanted to do some keyword research to help with creating content for its website’s blog. The keyword ‘cars’ has a search volume of 375K in the UK alone, but a quick look at Google’s first page shows this:
Not only are the results not reflecting much informational blog content, but the keyword also seems fairly competitive and way too broad. In other words, it’s unlikely our blog post would appear anywhere near a traffic-generating position. This is why recognising search intent is as important as (if not more so than) search volume, and why understanding both will make it a lot easier to develop a winning keyword strategy.
2. Use Your Competitors
Competitors are one of the best places to look for inspiration when you’re at a loss as to where to start your keyword research. When another website provides a similar service to you and caters to a similar target market, it’s safe to assume they’ll be targeting keywords that you should also be going after.
Keyword tools have made this kind of competitor research quick and easy to carry out. Search a competitor’s URL using the tool and you should be given a list of keywords appearing for the website in question. From here, it’s a matter of finding the most relevant ones and adding them to your target keyword lists. Even if your website is already fairly established, reviewing close competitors may also highlight some gaps in your keyword strategy.
3. Include Variations
There’s no rule stating you can only target one keyword per page. It’s more effective to target similar keywords and multiple variations with the same piece of content. Once you’ve found a relevant keyword, look around for synonyms or closely related terms that could also be targeted. Not only will this allow you to capture more opportunities from people searching using these variations, but it will help build up the relevance and authority of your content, leading to further ranking improvements. This brings us nicely to the next point…
4. Don’t Forget Longer-Tail Keywords
Surprisingly, the ‘long tail’ in the long-tail keyword doesn’t actually refer to the length of the word. Instead, it refers to where they lie on the so-called search-demand graph. Though they do tend to be longer in length, long-tail keywords are mainly characterised as being highly specific queries with lower search volumes. Yet, you’ll find they make up the majority of all search engine queries.
It’s possible to write a whole separate post on the value of long-tail keywords but to summarise, they are incredibly useful because they have less competition, are thus easier to rank for in a shorter amount of time, and can be used to support and lend authority to higher volume, and more competitive, terms.
How does this work in practice? Going back to the car dealership example, a better tactic when looking for blog content ideas would be to target very specific keywords to create more focused and highly-relevant content. Instead of simply ‘cars’, target queries that have a clearer search intent such as ‘best cars for new drivers’ or ‘best family cars’.
Longer-tail keywords can oftentimes take the form of a question – inspiration for which can be found in Google autocomplete suggestions and the ‘People also ask’ boxes.
5. Look For Existing Keywords And Search Terms
Another place to look if you’re unsure where to start researching keywords is within your existing keywords and search terms. By that, we mean looking at the following:
Keywords your content is already appearing for – this mainly refers to the keywords that your content appears for but isn’t yet fully optimised to target.
Search terms that have led to conversions – this is particularly useful to track if you also use paid search in your marketing strategy.
Essentially, any terms that have led to a visitor finding your website and/or subsequently converting is worth looking into and possibly creating content for.
6. Remember: Quality Over Quantity
Last but not least, remember this: effective keyword research is about the quality and relevance of the keywords rather than the quantity you find. Gathering any term that seems even tangentially relevant to your website won’t work, neither will only going after the highest-volume terms.
Think about the purpose of your keyword research – the ultimate aim is to drive as much organic traffic as possible to the website and generate as many conversions as possible as a result. This means the keywords you target have to be relevant to your industry and your audience in order for the content you create to provide any real value.
As a final bonus pointer, it’s also important to keep in mind that keyword research is an ongoing thing. As long as you continue to do SEO or PPC, keywords will need reviewing and refining to ensure the best results.