How To Do Proper Keyword Research for SEO

Keyword research, one of the highest return SEO activities essential for your marketing success is an increasingly important skill for digital marketers. This skill provides insights into the searcher’s mind by providing context and themes to the searches. Shrewd Keyword research enables efficient online and offline marketing, content development, product development, and better response to market trends.

August 2013 saw the roll out of Hummingbird that introduced the concept of “semantic search”, which drastically changed how Google handles incoming queries; since then, keyword research undergoing interesting evolutions, have becoming less relevant in some ways and fundamentally changing in others.

There’s no shortage of great articles that give you very detailed instructions as to executing a professional keyword research, ranking high for thousands of targeted search terms and vastly improving your traffic from Google. Each of these guides give you a somewhat different set of instructions. Not that any of them is advising you wrong, it’s just there’s no universal approach to executing keyword research. It will vary based on:

  • Your website (authority, number of pages, quality of content, etc);
  • Your goals and objectives (branding, exposure, traffic, leads, sales);
  • Your budget, resources and deadlines;
  • Your industry and competitive landscape.

This is why you might find it hard to relate to a random step-by-step guide that you stumble upon.

So I’m going to take a different route and give you a keyword research framework that can be easily adjusted to whatever your goals and resources are. This framework will help you establish and execute a strong keyword strategy that helps you get found for the search terms you actually care about.

Step 1: Make a list of important, relevant topics based on what you know about your business.

Think about the topics you want to rank for in terms of generic topics. Come up with about 5-10 topics you think are important to your business, and then use those topics to help come up with some specific keywords later in the process. Put yourself in the shoes of your buyer personas — what types of topics would your target audience search that you’d want your business to get found for? If you were a company like iEntrepreneur, for example — selling digital marketing services — you might have general topics like “integrated inbound marketing,” “blogging,” “email marketing,” “lead generation,” “SEO,” “social media,” “brand management,” and “online reputation management.”

Step 2: Relate Topics To Seed Keywords.

Seed keywords the foundation of your keyword research, define your niche and help you identify your competitors.  If you already have a product or business you want to promote online, coming up with seed keywords is as easy as describing that product with your own words or brainstorming how your target customer is probably conducting searches for those specific terms.

For instance, if I take that last topic for an inbound marketing agency — “online reputation management” — I’d brainstorm some keyword phrases that I think people would type in related to that topic. Those might include:

  • reputation management
  • reputation management services
  • search engine reputation management
  • reputation management agency
  • online reputation repair
  • corporate reputation management
  • reputation management seo
  • internet reputation managemet

And so on. The point isn’t to come up with your final list of keyword phrases — you just want to end up with a brain dump of phrases you think potential customers might use to search for content related to that particular topic. We’ll narrow the lists down later in the process so you don’t have something too unwieldy.

Although more and more keywords are getting encrypted by Google every day, website analytics software like Google Analytics will enlighten you about keywords that will highlight your website.

Drill down into your website’s traffic sources, and sift through you organic search traffic to identify the keywords people are using to arrive at your site. Repeat this exercise for as many topics as you have. And remember, if you’re having trouble coming up with relevant search terms, you can always head on over to your employees on the front lines — like Sales or Services — and ask them what types of terms their prospects and customers use, or common questions they have. Those are often great starting points for keyword research.

Step 3: Research related search terms.

This is a creative step you may have already thought of when doing keyword research. If not, it’s a great way to fill out those lists.

Google is a good resource to understand the related search terms that appear when you plug in a keyword while searching about a specific topic. When you type in your phrase and scroll to the bottom of Google’s results, you’ll notice some suggestions for searches related to your original input. These keywords can spark ideas for other keywords you may want to take into consideration.

related search terms

Step 4: Check for a mix of head terms and long-tail keywords for each topic.

Head terms are keywords phrases that are generally shorter and more generic — they’re typically just one to three words in length. Long-tail keywords, on the other hand, are longer keyword phrases usually containing three or more words.

It’s important to have a mix of head terms and long-tail terms to ensure a keyword strategy well balanced with long-term goals and short-term wins. Head terms are generally searched more frequently, making them often much more competitive and harder to rank for than long-tail terms.

Why?

Someone looking for something specific is a much more qualified searcher for your product or service than someone looking for something really generic. And because long-tail keywords tend to be more specific, it’s usually easier to grasp what people who search for those keywords are really looking for. Someone searching for the head term “blogging,” on the other hand, could be searching it for a whole host of reasons unrelated to your business.

So, ensure your keyword lists have a healthy mix of head terms and long-tail keywords. You definitely want some quick wins that long-tail keywords will afford you, but also chip away at more difficult head terms over the long haul.

Step 5: See how competitors are ranking for these keywords.

Remember, the goal is to end up with a list of keywords that provide some quick wins and also helps you make progress toward bigger, more challenging SEO goals. Understanding the balance of terms that might be a little more difficult due to competition, versus those terms that are a little more realistic, will help you maintain a similar balance that the mix of long-tail and head terms allows.

Understanding what keywords your competitors are trying to rank for is a great way to evaluate your list of keywords.  If your competitor is ranking for certain keywords that are on your list, work on improving your ranking for those. However, don’t ignore the ones your competitors don’t seem to care about. This could be a great opportunity for you to own market share on important terms.

You can use these four free tools to get you started in finding a variety of keywords being used by your competitors, and find out what positions your competitors are in.  These tools will help you see what keywords bring them traffic, as well as other interesting details that can help your SEO campaign. If you’re hungry for more, you can find some free and paid tools here.

Step 6: Use the Google AdWords Keyword Planner to cut down your keyword list.

It’s time to narrow down your lists of keywords, with some more quantitative data. You have a lot of tools at your disposal to do this, but my favorite methodology is a mix of Google AdWords Keyword Planner and Google Trends.

Keyword Planner, gives you volume and traffic estimates for keywords you’re considering. Unfortunately, when Google transitioned from Keyword Tool to Keyword Planner, they stripped out a lot of the more interesting functionality. But you can take the information you learn from Keyword Planner and use Google Trends to fill in some blanks.

Use Keyword Planner to flag any terms on your list that have way too little (or way too much) search volume, and don’t help you maintain a healthy mix like we talked about above. But before you delete anything, check out their trend history and projections in Google Trends. You can see whether, say, some low-volume terms might actually be something you should invest in now — and reap the benefits for later.

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