While Google keeps us on our toes with all the algorithm updates they keep rollin’ out, one thing has stayed pretty consistent for inbound marketers looking to optimize their websites for search: keyword research.
In this post, we’ll define what keyword research is, why it’s important, how to conduct your research for your SEO strategy, and choose the right keywords for your website.
What Is Keyword Research?
Keyword research is the process of finding and analyzing keywords your ideal website visitors enter into search engines. That enables you to target the most effective keywords in your content strategy.
Keywords are words or phrases people use to find information or products in search engines. For example, if you wanted to buy food for your puppy, you might type the keyword “food for puppies” into Google.
Properly conducted keyword research helps you to:
- Better understand your niche and target audience
- Tailor your content strategy to the needs of your audience
- Get more relevant organic traffic to your website
On the other hand, without keyword research, you might end up targeting keywords nobody is using. Or not targeting any keywords at all.
In this guide, we’ll cover the three steps of keyword research:
- Finding keywords: how to find relevant keywords with keyword research tools
- Analyzing keywords: how to prioritize keywords using key metrics and criteria
- Targeting keywords: how to identify primary keywords and nail their search intent
Why is keyword research important?
Keyword research is important because it helps you understand your customers’ buying journey, your competitive landscape, and how to shape your content strategy.
As a website or marketing manager, SEO keyword research helps you to shape content decisions that are backed up by research and analytics. Keyword research is an important component of SEO.
SEO is a process by which you can make research-based decisions to create new content, optimize existing content, and run effective paid search campaigns.
If you choose the wrong keywords or don’t optimize for the right keywords, you could fail to drive potential customers to your website or experience higher bounce rates because of the wrong content.
What is SEO keyword research?
Keyword research is the process by which you research popular search terms people type into search engines like Google, and include them strategically in your content so that your content appears higher on a search engine results page (SERP). Keyword research is a fundamental practice in search engine optimization (SEO).
The process for how to do keyword research for SEO involves choosing a topic for your content that is focused on a set of targeted keywords that you want your content to rank for.
Step 1: Make a list of important, relevant topics based on what you know about your business.
To kick off this process, think about the topics you want to rank for in terms of generic buckets. You’ll come up with about 5-10 topic buckets you think are important to your business, and then you’ll use those topic buckets to help come up with some specific keywords later in the process.
If you’re a regular blogger, these are probably the topics you blog about most frequently. Or perhaps they’re the topics that come up the most in sales conversations. 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 HubSpot, for example — selling marketing software (which happens to have some awesome SEO tools… but I digress),
you might have general topic buckets like:
- “inbound marketing” (21K)
- “blogging” (19K)
- “email marketing” (30K)
- “lead generation” (17K)
- “SEO” (214K)
- “social media marketing” (71K)
- “marketing analytics” (6.2K)
- “marketing automation” (8.5K)
Step 2: Understand How Intent Affects Keyword Research and Analyze Accordingly.
It’s easy to take keywords for face value, and unfortunately, keywords can have many different meanings beneath the surface. Because the intent behind a search is so important to your ranking potential, you need to be extra-careful about how you interpret the keywords you target.
Let’s say, for example, you’re researching the keyword “how to start a blog” for an article you want to create. “Blog” can mean a blog post or the blog website itself, and what a searcher’s intent is behind that keyword will influence the direction of your article. Does the searcher want to learn how to start an individual blog post? Or do they want to know how to actually launch a website domain for the purposes of blogging? If your content strategy is only targeting people interested in the latter, you’ll need to make sure of the keyword’s intent before committing to it.
Step 3: Use keyword research tools to your advantage.
Keyword research and SEO tools can help you come up with more keyword ideas based on exact match keywords and phrase match keywords based on the ideas you’ve generated up to this point.
Some of the most popular ones include:
- Free Keyword Research Tool
- Google Keyword Planner
- Keywords Everywhere
RELATED POST: What is Keyword Research? A Beginner’s Guide
How to Find and Choose Keywords for Your Website
Once you have an idea of the keywords that you want to rank for, now it’s time to refine your list based on the best ones for your strategy.
Step 1. Use Google Keyword Planner to cut down your keyword list.
In Google’s Keyword Planner, you can get search volume and traffic estimates for keywords you’re considering. Then, take the information you learn from Keyword Planner and use Google Trends to fill in some blanks.
Use the 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.
Or perhaps you’re just looking at a list of terms that is way too unwieldy, and you have to narrow it down somehow … Google Trends can help you determine which terms are trending upward, and are therefore worth more of your focus.
Step 2: Check the monthly search volume (MSV) for keywords you’ve chosen.
You want to write content around what people want to discover, and checking MSV can help you do just that.
Monthly search volume is the number of times a search query or keyword is entered into search engines each monthly. Tools like searchvolume.io or Google Trends can help you find out the most searched keywords over related keyword clusters for free.
Step 3: Check for a mix of head terms and long-tail keywords in each bucket.
Head terms are keyword phrases that are generally shorter and more generic — they’re typically just one to three words in length, depending on who you talk to. Long-tail keywords, on the other hand, are longer keyword phrases usually containing three or more words.
It’s important to check that you have a mix of head terms and long-tail terms because it’ll give you a keyword strategy that’s well balanced with long-term goals and short-term wins. That’s because head terms are generally searched more frequently, making them often (not always, but often) much more competitive and harder to rank for than long-tail terms. Think about it: Without even looking up search volume or difficulty, which of the following terms do you think would be harder to rank for?
- how to write a great blog post
If you answered #2, you’re absolutely right. But don’t get discouraged. While head terms generally boast the most search volume, frankly, the traffic you’ll get from the term “how to write a great blog post” is usually more desirable.
Step 4: Prioritize low-hanging fruit.
What we mean by prioritizing low-hanging fruit is to prioritize keywords that you have a chance of ranking for based on your website’s authority.
Large companies typically go after high search volume keywords, and since these brands are well established already, Google typically rewards them with authority over many topics.