Keyword research: how to do it and what to look out for

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Keyword research forms the backbone of any SEO strategy – it’s one of the most valuable and important elements of search marketing. The keywords you rank for will help you learn more about your customers overall and will ensure that you attract the right kind of visitors to your site. While the ways in which keyword research is carried out has evolved over the years, the need for it has remained just as necessary. Carrying out keyword research effectively will help you predict the shifts in the market and help you produce content, products and services that your audience are looking for.

What is keyword research?

In order to explain how to perform keyword research, it’s important to understand what it entails. Keyword research is finding and researching the list of keywords you want to rank for, whilst a keyword strategy is about the decisions you make based on that research. Using these words or phrases, we can begin to understand the user’s search intent and what they’re hoping to achieve through their search.

How to research keywords

There are a few steps in the keyword research process to help you narrow down the exact words and phrases you should be targeting in order to see positive results.

Step One: Make a List of Topics Related to Your Business

To begin, think about the topics related to your business and industry that you want to rank for. Aim for between five and 10 topic groups – these might be topics which come up most often in sales conversations with consumers, for example. It helps to put yourself in the mindset of your ideal customer. What would they search for in order to find your business, products or services? These general groups will help you to find more specific keywords later in the process.

Step Two: Create a List of Potential Keywords

The next stage is to create a list of keywords that could fit into each of the groups you created in the first step. These are the terms you think are key to rank for in the SERPs (search engine results pages). What will people be looking for? How will they search for your product or service? If you have a clear understanding of your niche and unique selling points, it will help you understand the terms you want to rank for.

The purpose of this stage isn’t to develop a finalised list but rather to brainstorm a list of potential phrases that could be used to build content around. A useful technique for this stage of the process is to identify which keywords your site is already being found for – tools such as Google Analytics or SEMrush are useful for this. A creative way to find related terms is to go to Google and look at the related searches which pop up when you type in your phrase or keyword at the bottom of the page.

Also, look at the terms your competitors rank for. While you don’t need to assume that every keyword that’s useful to your competitors should be important to your business too, it can be a handy way to evaluate your own lists and see if you’re missing out on anything beneficial. If the competition in your niche is high, it can be more difficult to rank for those popular keywords. But, how do you know what to look out for? Simply Google the keywords that come out of your research and begin with the most general head terms – the websites that come back in the SERPs are the ones you’ll be competing against for these keywords. The main things to look for are:

🔎 What is the content like? How well is it optimised for the terms? If the competition has poor content, you have a way of achieving better results by providing better quality to audiences.
🔎 Are the SERPs showing brand names? Competing against big brands can be difficult, making it harder to rank for these terms.
🔎 Are the websites professional and how well does your brand compare? Does your business have as much influence within your industry?

Step Three: Don’t Neglect Long Tail Keywords

Working with keywords with thousands of searches a day may seem great, but the reality is that popular search terms account for just 30% of all searches performed on the web. The remaining 70% are what are referred to as ‘long tail’ keywords, which contain millions of more unique searches that often convert better. The reason behind this is that the more general the term, the more likely it is that the user is just browsing. Someone searching more specifically is further along the buying journey.

When collating your keywords, make sure there is a mix of head keywords and long tail terms – head keywords are more popular and therefore more competitive, so they can be harder to rank for. Long tail keywords will provide you with some quick wins – there’s also benefit in targeting some of the trickier head keywords over a long period as well.

Step Four: Use Keyword Planning Tools to Narrow Down Your List

It’s time to back up your lists with quantitative data. There are several tools for doing this but the most popular are Google AdWords Keyword Planner and Google Trends. The Keyword Planner will enable you to get search volumes and traffic estimates for each of the keywords you’ve gathered in each of your lists. This will help you to flag any terms that have too little or too much search volume and won’t benefit your strategy but be sure to check out these terms in Google Trends before writing them off completely. This will show you the trend history and projections, to help you understand if some of the lower volume terms could be worth investing in now.

The final list at the end of this step will be the keywords you should focus on for both short-term and long-term goals. This list isn’t exhaustive though – you should re-evaluate every few months to make sure that you’re continuing to gain authority in the SERPS and that you’re building content around the right keywords as your business grows.

Some Important Things to Consider

🕵🏼 On-Site Search🕵🏼

Sometimes, the answers you’re looking for are closer than you think. Visitors are already using your site and are typing words into the search box, showing you exactly what they’re trying to find. This is a goldmine for keyword research as it provides you with keywords and phrases that you can start building content around to help your audience find what they need. Enable site search within Google Analytics and head to Behaviour where you’ll find different searches performed over a set time period.

☀️ Seasonality ☀️

As with other areas of your business, seasonality can affect the keywords users choose in the top and middle of the funnel too. But, this is where you can utilise long tail keywords to your advantage. For example, if you were creating a page on cocktails, you could include variations on cocktails for the summer or for the winter, and so on. Consider how seasonality affects your customers, such as events that might impact their search.

📈 Trending Topics 📈

Your keyword strategy isn’t always going to be solely about long-term goals – there’s something to be said for maintaining freshness with your content as well, and that’s where trends come in. Timing is everything, whether it’s capitalising on a recent event, breaking news or the latest show that everyone is talking about. Make sure that your keywords play up to trendy topics when building campaigns for a positive surge of visitors.

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