SEO Keyword Research
Disclaimer: How to guides by ThoughtLab generally assume an intermediate level of web application management knowledge by the reader.
Keyword research is the base of any Search Engine Optimization strategy. You can't begin to optimize your website until you know what keywords are worth your time and which are better left out. This article is meant to give you a fundamental understanding of the core strategy employed when performing keyword research.
Keyword research is both a science and an art that requires robust data, solid intuition and an understanding of your customers. Throughout this process you will get to know your customers better, have more insight into what your competitors are doing, and come out the other end with an extensive list of target keywords.
The journey of keyword research starts like many others do, with a healthy dose of questions. It is imperative that you have a close understanding of your customers, their pain points, and what motivates them to buy. Try to answer some of the following questions to inspire your initial group of keywords.
- Who are your customers?
- What do they need?
- What format do they like to receive information in?
All of these questions will help you narrow down and focus on the keywords that actually matter. Below we go through this exercise, and ask questions for a fictional shoe store. What type of shoes are people looking for? Who is looking for shoes? When are people looking for shoes? And when are they looking for specific types of shoes? How do seasons affect the type of shoes people wear? Why are people looking for shoes? Vanity/style? Work/hobby? Where are your customers located?
Take stock of where you stand
Review the keywords that you currently rank for and which of those are providing value to your users or introducing your site to visitors that convert into customers. Tools like Ahrefs, Moz, and Google Search Console can help you piece together the list of keywords that are valuable to you. Likewise, never underestimate how much you can learn from simply asking your customers where they found you and if they found you via an online search what keywords they used to find you.
What are your competitors ranking for? Using the same tools as above take a peek under the hood of your competitors marketing strategy. What keywords are bringing them the most traffic? Which of these keywords have good purchase intent? Do this to 3-5 competitors and you should have a pretty list of keywords worth targeting.
What keywords are your competitors paying for? Similar to spying on your competitors organic keywords, it is a good strategy to review the keywords that they are willing to pay for via Pay Per Click.
By using tools such as Spyfu you can see what keywords your competitors are targeting in their PPC campaigns. This is extremely valuable insight because very few businesses will run a paid search campaign that doesn't have a positive ROI. Take special note of these keywords.
Expand on your list
Once you have a list of basic keywords to look into you can begin expanding your keyword list. Continuing on the shoe store example we have a target keyword of "Work Boots". This could be a good keyword to target however, it is likely highly competitive. Let's apply some of the strategies above to expand on this keyword.
- Long tail (e.g., "size 13 steel toe work boots")
- Varying types of keywords
- Investigation (What work boot is the best?)
- Brand (Danner work boots)
- Navigational (XYZ Shoe Store hours)
- Transactional (work boots for sale)
- Informational (What are the benefits of steel toe work boots?)
- Local (Shoe store in Salt Lake City)
- LSI keywords
- LSI stands for Latent Semantic Indexing
- Groups of keywords that have a high correlation to your target keyword
- LSI keywords can be found by using the popular LSIGraph
- Related searches
- Visible at the bottom of all search results there is a “related searches” section that will give you insight into similar phrases your audience is searching for.
- AnswerThePublic is a website that generates 10's of questions similar to your core keyword. These are typically good for top of funnel, awareness or brand building campaigns.
Refine your list
- Search volume
- Keyword difficulty
- Search intent
By this point you should have a very large list of keywords to choose from. Using the Google Keyword Planner add a CSV of all your keywords and look at the average keyword search volume. For seasonal keywords make sure to review average across more than the current month. Keyword volume is relative and varies across every industry. Use your best judgement to remove keywords that do not have a high enough search volume to be worth your time.
Keyword difficulty is a metric that can be pulled via several tools. Google's Keyword Planner will give you a base score and if needed more specifics can be pulled via Ahrefs or similar SEO specific software.
Search intent is the attempt to guess what the searcher’s search term means about what they are looking for and prioritize keywords that are more likely to convert. As an example the keyword "work boots for sale Salt Lake City" is significantly more likely to result in a sale than "best way to waterproof work boots". This isn't to say that low intent keywords have no value. They can be extremely valuable in more advanced SEO strategies.
Launch and expand
As the world and technology change searching habits change. Keywords and phrases that previously had little or no volume may grow into very heavy hitters. We recommend evaluating your keywords every 6-12 months.
Take keywords that may not be suitable for main pages on your website and consider creating secondary pages or blog posts that target them. As your site grows and becomes a greater resource of knowledge you will find that ranking for keywords is easier than it was in the past. When you notice this, consider replacing less valuable, but easy to rank for keywords with ones that are more valuable and have a higher degree of difficulty.
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