Keyword research is the backbone of your online presence. It’s common knowledge that this practice determines your rankings and visibility in the organic search. However, the way keyword research is done has changed over time. Today, using Google’s Keyword Planner to find phrases with a high search volume and optimizing your site for them is not enough.
To rank higher, you need to focus on improving user experiences and understanding the intent behind their searches. Most importantly, you need to create quality content around those keywords. These practices will not only improve your online exposure but also help you drive relevant traffic to your site and convert it into leads and sales.
Here are the benefits of keyword research and some key steps you should take when performing it.
What is Keyword Research?
Keywords are the phrases online searchers use to perform online searches and find the right content. For example, if someone wants to make a face mask, they will google something like “face mask diy” or “homemade face mask.”
Your goal is to identify the key keywords your searchers use and optimize your website pages for them to make them more visible in the SERPs. That’s what we call keyword research.
How Keyword Research worked in the Past
The approach to researching keywords has changed over time. Namely, 10 years ago, Google didn’t know what kind of results its searchers expected to see. Back then, its crawlers would scan the page and look for keywords similar to the search query. In other words, it was enough for marketers to use Google Keyword Planner to identify keywords with the highest search volume and spam their content with them.
To prevent keyword stuffing and provide users with more relevant and quality content, Google introduced several algorithm updates. Some most pivotal algorithm updates that impacted keyword research are:
- Google Panda (2011) – penalizes low-quality and duplicated content.
- Google Penguin (2012) – penalizes sites with spammy keywords.
- Google Hummingbird (2013) – focuses on the improvement of the semantic search and search intent.
The Importance of Google Rank Brain
In today’s era of personalized user experiences, Google is striving to understand the context behind users’ searches. Its goal is to know the search intent and provide each user with the right content. This is where it resorted to artificial intelligence and, consequently, RankBrain was rolled out.
RankBrain is Google’s artificial intelligence component that helps the search engine understand search queries. It uses machine learning, helping Google understand how searchers interact with search results and what the intent behind their search is.
Keyword Research in 2019 and Beyond
With the rise of Google’s algorithm updates and RankBrain, keyword research evolved, as well. Namely, it’s not all about identifying profitable keywords and stuffing your website with them. On the contrary, keyword research has become more topical and natural. It now focuses on understanding the idea behind search queries and it depends on numerous factors.
Benefits of User-Centric Keyword Research
This way of researching keywords benefits your SEO strategy in multiple ways, including:
- Gaining a Better Understanding of your Target Audience
Just like I’ve already mentioned above, keyword research is essentially the process of identifying the phrases your target audience uses. By finding the most popular keywords in your niche, you can also understand who your audience is, what kind of content they want to see, what their needs are, and so forth. This data will help you create more reliable buyer personas and meet your customers’ needs.
- Tightening your Content Strategy
Keyword research allows you to discover popular topics in your industry. This way, you will increase your industry credibility, make your content more engaging and attention-grabbing and, logically, boost your rankings. This is where both a basic Google search and content discovery tools can help you a lot.
- Identifying Relevant Keywords
When building an online brand, you want to know what people think and feel about you. In other words, you want to measure your brand sentiment. Is it positive, negative, or maybe neutral? This is where, again, keyword research can help. Namely, it allows you to track your searchers’ activities and see what kind of phrases they use to find out about you.
When conducting keyword research, you can always focus on your competitors. By knowing what keywords they’re ranking for, you will gain a better understanding of your industry, “copy” their keyword targeting strategies that may work for you, as well as find effective ways to stand out and compete against them.
Make a List of Relevant Topics and Turn Them into Keyword Ideas
The first step towards identifying your keywords is to create a detailed list of topics relevant to your industry and business. For example, if you’re running a sports blog, you will write about different types of sports and these are your topics.
Short-Tail Keywords Vs. Long-Tail Keywords
Keep in mind that these phrases are not your keywords. They are just some broader topics that will guide you and help you focus on the right phrases during your keyword research. Your goal is to narrow them down into more specific phrases.
Say you’re writing about cycling. You don’t need to be an SEO expert to understand that one of the keywords you would like to rank for is “cycling.” These are short-tail keywords that were extremely popular a while ago, as they have an immense search volume. However, when targeting highly popular keywords, your competition is also great. Therefore, if your blog is new in the digital marketing ecosystem, chances are you won’t rank high for such keywords.
Still, when you dig deeper, you will see that there are many natural and organic keywords people search for. Some of them are, for example, “health benefits of cycling,” “how many calories cycling burns,” “best mobile apps for cyclists,” etc. These are examples of long-tail keywords that usually consist of more than 3 words.
Even though they have a lower search volume, they also have fewer competitors, meaning that you have greater chances to rank high in the SERPs. Also, they’re more specific, helping you attract the right traffic to your site and convert it into leads and customers. Above all, they give you the opportunity to create more user-friendly posts, where your keywords would be inserted organically and naturally.
Know what Keywords You’re Currently Ranking For
One of the first steps to take during your keyword research is to see what keywords you’re already ranking for. This lets you see what keywords work or don’t work for you and, in this way, improve your rankings.
Numerous SEO tools can help you here. For example, with SEMrush, you just need to enter your page URL and you will see what keywords it ranks for. Ahrefs automatically detects the keywords your site is ranking for. Both AccuRanker and Ahrefs let you analyze your keywords based on a particular location. You could also enable Console data in Google Analytics. This will help you observe your keyword phrases, clicks, and the average position on Google.
Sure, you can also augment keyword tracking by automating your data tracking efforts. There are many reporting tools that let you create customized dashboards, where you would combine the features of the tools you’re already using to gain better results. However, to get relevant results, you need to track your data strategically. The Guide to Making High-Quality Marketing Reports emphasizes that understanding audiences, setting straightforward goals, and aligning them with the right KPIs and metrics is key to creating functional dashboards.
Powerful Sources of Keywords
There are numerous tools and tactics you could use to identify keywords. However, you should also focus on those that also help you understand your audiences and their search intent. Here are a few tactics to start with.
Google Keyword Planner
This is certainly the first (and the most popular) choice of online marketers. Even though keyword research has become more complex and many advanced keyword research tools have been created, you could use GKP as the foundation of your keyword research.
To use GKP, you need to have a Google Ads account. Next, click Tools and go to the Keyword Planner tab. You have an option to “Find New Keywords,” where you should enter your seed keyword to get relevant keyword suggestions.
The basic Google search can serve as an outstanding source of relevant and long-tail keywords. Its major benefit lies in the fact that it displays the keywords your audiences really search for. There are three features you could use:
Google is striving to provide keyword suggestions in its search box. As these recommendations are based on actual searches, they could serve as a treasure trove of potential keywords. For example, if you type “best cycling” into the search box and hit the space button, you will get suggestions like “best cycling apps,” “best cycling shoes,” “best cycling exercises” and so forth.
The People Also Ask snippet is one of the valuable features provided by Google. Simply put, it displays questions people ask that are relevant to your keyword. These may help you understand the search intent and, above all, find some valuable long-tail and conversational keywords.
This feature is similar to the Autocomplete feature. Namely, you google a certain seed keyword and then scroll down to the “Searches Related To” are at the very bottom of the page. For example, if you google “cycling app,” you will get suggestions like “best cycling app for android,” “best cycling app in 2019,” “live tracking cycling app,” etc.
Answer the Public
This app works similarly to Google Suggest. Namely, it gives you a list of questions your customers ask. Using this tool is easy. Namely, you just need to enter your seed keyword and hit “Get Questions.” Apart from the visualized data, you can also go to the “Data” tab, where you will find three major kinds of keyword ideas – question-based queries, long-tail queries, and related topics.
Reddit is our everyday platform for connecting with people from all across the globe, asking questions, and providing valuable answers. As such, it may serve as an amazing source of keywords. The idea behind that is simple – type your seed keyword in the search box and look for relevant subreddits. Then, seek popular treads that have numerous comments. Such threads may have lots of long-tail keywords you could use to understand the search intent.
YouTube is one of the largest world’s search engines. Therefore, ignoring it during your keyword research means missing out on numerous awesome keyword opportunities. There are numerous searches behind each seed keyword you could type in. For example, if you search “makeup,” you will see a bunch of potential keywords, such as “diy-makeup,” “makeup transformation,” etc.
Wikipedia has a logical structure, where broader topics branch into more specific ones. For example, if you search for the “Exercise” topic, you will see a bunch of sub-categories and suggestions, including “active living,” “warming up,” “exercise intensity,” “anaerobic exercise,” etc.
Now that you’ve created a list of keywords, it’s time to analyze their relevance and effectiveness. There are three fundamental criteria to consider during the process of analysis:
1. The popularity of a keyword – is its search volume high enough to deliver the expected results?
You could start by analyzing the data from the Google Keyword Planner, where you can easily see the search volume for each keyword. Google Trends is also a great tool to use, as it lets you see how the popularity of the keyword is changing over time.
2. Keyword difficulty – how difficult it is for you to rank for a certain keyword.
Logically, a higher keyword difficulty means that it would be harder for your site to rank for a certain phrase. This is where the quality and number of backlinks play an immensely important role. There are many keyword research tools that will calculate the keyword difficulty for you. When tracking this metric, keep one thing in mind. Namely, it is only a guide that provides generic insights. How well you will rank also depends on your overall SEO efforts, the quality of your site, and the relevance of your content.
3. Search intent – how relevant your content is to your target audience.
There are different types of search intent. The first is navigational, where a user searches for a specific site. The second is informational, conducted by users wanting to learn something online. The third is transactional queries, performed by users that want to buy something online. Finally, there is a commercial search, done by people that research brands and products before making purchases. Your goal is to understand the intent behind every keyword you use and optimize the right kind of content for it.
Optimizing your Pages for Keywords
When optimizing your site for keywords, start by choosing focus keywords. These keywords illustrate your topic and appear in different elements of a page. These are usually exact-match keywords and you should insert them into your title tag, meta tag, headings, subheadings, and text content. However, don’t stuff your pages with keywords. Always strive to add them organically, where it makes sense.
When optimizing pages, don’t forget about the importance of long-tail keywords. In today’s era of voice searches, where searchers replace traditional keywords with conversational ones, you need to optimize your content for natural keywords, too. These keywords let you increase user satisfaction and engagement, as well as appear high in mobile and voice searches.
Most importantly, note that targeting the right keywords is pointless if you don’t create high-quality content around them. For example, when optimizing your blog, make sure your posts are informative, insightful, and authentic. They should keep users engaged and deliver value to them. Such content is more likely to rank high in the organic search, compared to spammy, keyword-packed articles.
Over to You
Keyword research remains a crucial SEO strategy. However, the way we do it has changed significantly. In the past, exact-match keywords and keyword density were enough to rank high. Today, these practices can only compromise your online presence. To gain a competitive advantage and appear high on Google, you need to focus on aligning keyword research with search intent and, above all, to create quality content around these keywords.