Fact: reaching the first page of Google search results is pretty difficult. Another fact: if you don’t reach the first page of Google search results (or at least the second), your website will most probably be lost among millions of other forgotten pages that no one visits.
This is why keyword research matters.
If you are looking to boost your website traffic, you are probably already familiar with the term Search Engine Optimization, a.k.a. SEO. We use SEO to optimize pages and websites so that Google would list them as high as possible on its SERP. There are many aspects of SEO that you must pay attention to, but using the keywords properly is the most important.
What is keyword research?
Keyword research is the practice of finding and researching words and phrases that people enter into the search engines, with the aim of using them to gain website traffic. In other words, it’s all about writing content that your audience wants to find, and also helping them find it.
To conduct keyword research properly, you must know your audience well. Before beginning the research, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- What does my target audience search for?
- How do they search for the content they want?
- Which words do they use?
- How can I answer their questions?
Try to put yourself into your audience’s shoes. You really need to understand them. Once you do, you will be able to predict their search queries and make sure that your content is waiting for them on the first page, offering the best answer to their questions.
Of course, this won’t happen overnight, optimizing websites for keywords is a long process. It takes time and effort. Still, it is always worth it.
Your first step should be brainstorming keywords. I advise you to write them all in a Microsoft Excel file, Google Sheets, or some other spreadsheet application, as you will later be researching some of their features.
First of all, write down all the words that cross your mind related to your industry or a topic that you want to write about. Start with more general terms and gradually narrow the topic down. Ask your colleagues to give their suggestions – the more words you come up with, the better.
Let’s imagine you want to write about photography. In this case, you may have thought of phrases such as “photography types”, “photography cameras”, and “photography framing”.
Secondly, use a keyword research tool. For that, use the words that you have already put into your keyword research spreadsheet and see what similar phrases the tool will list.
Next, it’s time to find out how exactly your prospects talk about these topics. There are several places to try.
Google is an amazing asset when it comes to keyword research, primarily because it will show you what exact queries searchers use. Just type in a keyword and wait for Google to suggest more of them.
You should also discover what questions people ask about this topic. To do that, use these combinations and see what Google proposes:
- can + keyword
- will + keyword
- is + keyword
- does + keyword
- how does + keyword
Google suggestions are very useful if you are searching for terms used at a specific location. Once your own location is set up, it will auto-fill your queries only with phrases used there. However, if you are writing for an international audience, you should either do this part of the research in an incognito window or log out of your Google account.
Another useful feature is the list of related searches that are placed at the bottom of Google results pages.
Quick tip: Don’t limit your research to Google – use these strategies on Yahoo and Bing as well. You might find some fresh ideas there.
2. Social media
Social media are perfect for keyword research. There, you can find out how your audiences talk about your topic, what are the exact words that they use, what questions they have.
My favourite place for this part is Twitter. Just type in your keyword into Twitter search and see in which context they use it.
Another great option is using Quora search. This is the easiest way to find out what questions your prospects have so that you can write articles on your website to give them answers.
Forums may not be nearly as popular as they used to be, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t use them any more. Find several forums related to your niche, look for topics that are still active and see who your potential audience is and what potential keywords they use.
4. Wikipedia contents
You didn’t expect this one, did you? Surprising as it may be, Wikipedia can offer you lots of ideas for posts and keywords.
Now that you have compiled a list of possible keywords, it is time to analyse them and see which of them can be used. Ideally, you should find words that are not competitive, but that are searched regularly. This is not easy, but there are some ways to filter quality words. There are several aspects to take into consideration.
Short vs. Long-tail keywords
A keyword is not necessarily just one word – it can consist of two or three words, or even be a longer phrase. The length of keywords is very important in SEO because it directly influences the intent and conversion rates.
One-word keywords are something that you don’t want to waste your time on. First of all, they are incredibly difficult to rank for. Secondly, when a person makes a search with only one word, it is difficult to guess their intent – it’s possible that their goals don’t match your content.
When people want to buy a product or find an important piece of information, they tend to be more specific. They will use more words to describe their needs in more details. These phrases are called long-tail keywords. They consist of 3 or more words and your goal is to rank for them.
For instance, if someone searches “photography”, Google is not sure what exactly this person wants. So, it will offer a Wikipedia definition of photography, photography school ads, and photography blogs. On the other hand, if the person searches “darkroom photography classes Chicago”, the searcher will get more specific results.
Your chances of success are much higher with long-tail keywords. However, don’t use keywords that are too long (more than 5 words) and too specific, as they are not searched very often.
Search volume is the average number of monthly searches for a specific word. For your campaign to succeed, your keyword must have a decent search volume. Even if you reach the first page on Google results for a keyword, if no one uses that keyword in their searches it will be all for nothing.
However, the sky-high volume is also not the best option for you. The higher the volume, the more work is needed to rank well, especially because it’s usually the big brands that hold the top places.
I’d suggest aiming at words with the search volume between 1000 and 10 000 searches per month.
If the competition for the keyword is too strong, give up on that word. Trying to rank for it would be just wasting your time. Instead, find some words that are not too competitive. Here’s how you analyse this:
- Check if your competitors rank for the keyword. If they don’t, take advantage of the opportunities they missed
- In case your competitors do rank, check their domain authority and the number of shares for their pages. If their authority is under 30, you should go for that word.
- Many tools offer competitiveness metrics. Words that you have chances to rank for will have difficulty up to 30%.
- Search for the keyword on Google. See what websites are listed in the first two results pages. If it is only the big brands with high authority, you should pass on that keyword.
CPC is very important if you are planning to run paid ads. It represents the amount you need to pay for every click. The more competitive the word, the higher the price will be.
Some more tips
There are some keywords that need extra research. Some of those are regional keywords. If you want to target a specific region or a city with your keywords. Analyse how people speak in that region and use their local phrases.
Working with seasonal keywords is also tricky. It is hard to assess how successful they might be because they usually generate traffic for only one period of the year. Most often, these are the holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, etc. Before opting for one of them, check how they trend at the moment.
Tools for keyword research
To do a thorough analysis, you will need to use several keyword tools. Here are some that can be very helpful.
- Google Trends – use it to see how the popularity and the search volume of a certain keyword changes over time
- Google Correlate – it will help you find queries with a similar pattern to a target data series.
- KWFinder – it’s a great source for generating long-tail keywords, as well as analysing them.
- Google Keyword Planner – besides listing keyword suggestions, it also suggests bids for AdWords.
- Keywords Everywhere – this is a browser extension. Every time you search for a term in Google, it will show that word’s search volume, competitiveness, and CPC.
- Ubersuggest – another great place to find ideas for new keywords. It also offers a list of domains that rank for that keyword.
Now that you have all the information about your keywords, it is time to select one that will be the main keyword for your page. Make sure it is not too competitive, that it has a good search volume, and that it is specific rather than broad. Select several more phrases that will serve as supporting keywords.
Always bear in mind that it is the quality you need, not quantity. Your ultimate goal is to convert the searcher, so choose the words that show their intent.
Your keyword must be relevant to the content of the page, so build the text around it, not the other way around. Remember, it’s pages, not websites, that rank for keywords. Make sure each of your pages is optimized for a unique keyword.
Finally, your success will depend not only on your choice of keywords. You must also pay attention to how you use it in your content. To learn more about this, check out my guide to SEO copywriting.
As you can see, keyword research is not such a complicated process. It may take time and effort, but you will certainly benefit from it.
Are you ready now to do it on your own?