It’s true that most SEO professionals don’t put all their focus on specific keywords these days, but that doesn’t mean keyword research is dead. Completing your keyword research is a valuable step towards making the most of your SEO efforts. If it’s done correctly, you can be sure you’re focusing your attention on the areas that really matter. It ensures you understand the ways people are searching for the products, services or the information you have, and it might even help to find gaps in your market that you could fill. It’s not about finding a hand full of keywords to rank number 1 for. It’s a bit like an updated version of market research, where customers have already told you what they’re interested in! You just have to find and collect the data.
Keyword research is an important area that’s often missed by busy SEOs and website managers. It’s helpful when you launch a new website, add a new range or expand into a new area of expertise. It is also worth revisiting from time to time to see if the landscape has changed since your last keyword research project.
Keyword Research: How To
Perhaps you know you should do it, but do you know how to make sure it’s done thoroughly and effectively? The first thing to do it to create a process and stick to it. Here are the steps that are usually required:
- Identify the scope of the keyword research project
Think about what you are researching and why. This will determine which keyword ideas become useful to your project and which do not. It will also help you to decide whether this is a big or small project, allocate the appropriate time and resources. Your keyword research task might be for:
- A whole new website – you might be looking for the best way to label particular pages, opportunities for new categories or content you could create, language and ways to speak to visitors. This is a big project that will take some time and resources.
- A new range of products – it’s useful to know how customers are hunting them down, whether they know them by any different names, if they’re looking for bargains or offers. A small range could be a quick job that’s well worth doing to get your focus right.
- Content ideas – you might simply be looking for great content ideas. You can uncover questions or areas of interest around a topic.
- Think about structure
You’re likely to find groups and collections of keywords all relating to a theme. Think about this before you start. You might not know what this structure will be from the offset, but look out for signposts as you go and organise your findings accordingly. It will make it easier to interpret your findings and put them to good use later. If you simply put all your ideas for a whole website in one table or list, it will be much more difficult to arrange them in to themes and apply to appropriate pages later.
- Find terms and phrases
When you’ve determined the project you’re working on, start searching away for terms and phrases. I’ll tell you about the tools that can help you to do this next. You might just be surprised at what you find!
- Uncover the opportunities
Keyword research is more than just finding words, anddifferent ways of searching for the same thing. The next step is to find out whether there are search volumes behind these terms and how difficult they will be to rank for.
Just because a term or phrase has the highest search volume doesn’t mean it’s always the right target for you. This is the really difficult bit. For example, if you’re a brand new, small ecommerce business with a limited budget, trying to rank for ‘shoes’ won’t do you many favours even if that’s what you sell. It would be incredibly difficult to rank against big, established brands and as a result you’ll probably get little to no organic search traffic.
What you need to do is to look at the longer tail terms and phrases that are more descriptive of what you do, and are less competitive. There are some tools that can help you to determine this too, so take a look through ‘the right tools for the job’ below.
- Use it wisely!
This might sound basic, but if you go to the trouble of carrying out keyword research, make sure you use it or pass it on to whoever will be writing title tags, meta descriptions and copy for that area of the website. There’s no point doing your keyword research in isolation.
Equally, your research might uncover interesting things that you can share with other departments in your business. It might highlight products that would fit really well with your range that you’re not currently stocking: share this with your buyers. It might pose questions in your industry that people are looking for answers on: share this with customer care or your content team. You’re finding out what people want by analysing the things they actually choose to search for. That’s some powerful insight!
The Right Tools for the Job
So what tools are out there to help with keyword research? There are plenty, although the recent restriction on the autocomplete API has limited some of the useful free tools that were available for this purpose. Here are some of the tools that are currently still available.
Adwords Keyword Planner (FREE)
The go-to tool tends to be the adwords keyword planner. This will help you to find ideas and to understand the search volumes behind them. Go to ‘find new keywords’ and ‘search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category’.
Check you have the ‘targeting’ set to the correct market for your research project:
Enter some keyword ideas as a starting point and click ‘get ideas’ for more. Make sure you switch to the ‘keyword ideas’ tab and see what you can find. Save the ones that are right for your project by clicking the ‘add to plan’ button and download them at the end. You’ll get your keyword ideas along with the search volume or ‘average monthly searches’ which is “the average number of times people have searched for this exact keyword based on the date range and targeting settings that you’ve selected.”
Moz keyword difficulty (PAID)
The keyword difficulty tool comes as part of a paid moz account. When you’ve found your keyword ideas you can plug them in here (20 at a time) to get a difficulty score between 1 and 100 for each keyword or phrase, higher indicating more difficult.
No, it’s not a specific keyword research tool! But Microsoft Excel helps you to bring everything together and start to visualise what you have found. Make a table in excel with a column for keywords, search volume and difficulty. First sort by volume to see which terms are the most widely used. Next, use colour scales to help the opportunities jump out at you.
In your column for volume, use a colour scale with green for the highest (lots of people searching, this one is good!) and red for low (nobody really looks for this, it’s not a great prospect). Now couple this with the next column, the difficulty score. Colour this with the highest red (this one’s really tough! It’s not going to be easy to rank) and the lowest green (easy win here!). You’ll find it’s much easier to spot where there’s volume to be had but not much competition, and you can cherry pick these phrases for your website where relevant.
Moz Bar (FREE)
If you don’t have the budget for tools to show you keyword difficulty scores, try out the mozbar for free. Try searching for one of the keywords you are interested in and click the Mozbar for an overlay.
Look at the page authority (PA) and domain authority (DA) for the pages that are ranking highly. Compare these against the same for your site, which the Moz bar will show you when you visit your own site:
If yours are much lower, like in the example here, it’s likely that you’ll have a tough time ranking well for this term. If yours are somewhat similar you might have a good shot.
You can also click the ‘Get Keyword Difficulty’ button at the top of the Mozbar for individual search terms:
The score will be loaded along with a description of what this means when you hover over it.
Soovle unites suggestions from all major search engines in one place, so you can get some useful keyword ideas to explore here.
KWFinder (Limited FREE, PAID for over 50 keywords)
This useful tool helps you find ideas, search volume and keyword difficulty all in one. However, it’s only free for up to 5 searches per 24 hours and 50 keywords per search. This might be enough for a small scale project. If you’re going to pay for a specific keyword research tool like this, you need to be planning plenty of research to make it worthwhile.
KW finder also shows interest over time, which is useful if you want to see whether certain keywords are gaining interest or losing it, and if certain things follow seasonal trends.
Revisit Keyword Research
It can be really enlightening to update keyword research for your website, even if you feel like you have done your research in the past. As all digital marketers understand, things don’t stay the same for long. People’s search habits might have changed, new items or questions could have entered your market. Your own focus, perception, business goals or aims might have shifted since your research project you did a few years ago.
I recently updated keyword research for a client we’ve worked with for some time and I spotted some keywords we weren’t targeting. These were certainly not new terms, but they were high volume, enough to offer an exciting opportunity for the client. When we had first researched their market a few years ago, the client had a slightly different focus and did not see these areas as important to the business at that time. However, a few years down the line the business has evolved, and we’re soon to start building some new pages to encompass these themes.
People are all different. Whatever your website does, chances are there are ways to look for it you’d never even thought of. Access the wealth of data that’s out there and see what you can find. Keyword research can offer more insight than you might be expecting!