Read Time: 6 minutes Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the online visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine's unpaid results—often referred to as "natural," "organic," or "earned" results. (Source: Wikipedia)
SEO has become an essential part of business marketing strategy and can determine whether it succeeds or fails, often having more of an impact than many other factors. Google, Bing, and Yahoo have primary search results that list and rank web pages, and other content, based on what is considered most relevant to the users. The goal is to be what pops up when motivated consumers looking for what you offer query search engines. That’s where keyword research comes in. This guide will help you start doing your own successful keyword research.
Why We Conduct Keyword Research
We do keyword research to learn about the search terms that people use on Google, Bing, and other search engines. The more we know about how people actually search and use the internet, the more effectively we can plan to target them. The things you learn from keyword research can inform everything from the content you place on your site, to your overall marketing strategy, to the entire concept of your product. You need to conduct keyword research if you want to execute an effective SEO strategy.
Where to Begin
Think about subjects that are closely related to your product, service, or website. Start from a broad perspective—don’t think of individual keywords, but instead think of larger, more inclusive subject groups that could potentially include your site. Brainstorm about these topics until you have a list of ten to fifteen “macro” topics—things that are relevant to your business, but not hyper-focused yet. An example: if your company sells wool socks, “clothing” and “footwear” would be macro-topics, but since few people would search something so general, they are not actually keywords.
For each of the macro-topics you’ve settled on, you should now start filling in keywords that apply to those topics. Instead of general phrases like “clothing,” these would be things like “buy shoes online,” “organic cotton clothing,” etc. These are going to be phrases that people will type into Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Brainstorm as many of these as you can. We’ll narrow down this list later. You can build the list by plugging terms into Google and other search engines and seeing the related searches.
Identify Your Existing Search Paths
At this point, it’s a good idea to look at the pathways that people are already following to reach your website. Unless they’re directly typing in your URL or being linked by another site, they are reaching you through search engines, what we refer to as organic traffic. Use Google Analytics or a similar tool to see what keywords people are already using to find your website. This can guide you as you continue researching, as you might discover paths to your site that you hadn’t thought of yourself. Focus on keywords that have some relevance to your site, though it’s always a bad idea to exploit confusion to inflate traffic.
Seek Out a Mixture of Heads and Tails
Your keywords strategy should target a mixture of “head” terms or keywords (containing 1-3 words) and long-tail keywords (3 or more words). Head keywords are difficult to rank for, but getting on their SERPs (Search Engine Results Page) is a great long-term goal. Meanwhile, long-tail keywords, especially ones that are very specific to your customer’s interests, are easier to rank for and are a great short-term objective. Also, people using these keywords are typically more motivated consumers. Someone searching “buy wool socks online now” is a higher value target than someone searching “socks.” Identify some key head terms and key long-tails that you would like to focus your efforts on.
Scope Out the Competition
Now plug in the keywords you’ve chosen to Google and see who is ranking for them. If you spot a successful competitor, you’ve probably picked keywords in the right neighborhood. But look for similarly-worded phrases that don’t have such a clear ranking order. These could be vulnerable spots for you to slip in and grab some market share. That’s when your keyword research starts paying off. Narrow down your list to the most relevant keywords that you have an opportunity to rank for, and start altering your content to grab the spots you want.
With the majority of people researching products or services they want to buy or use via search engines and the internet and making purchasing decisions online, the degree to which a business can dominate the online space (especially the search engine results pages) determines its success. Your keyword research is the start of a strategy that can help you grab the best spot on SERPs and build a powerful brand.