How to carry out keyword research & identify opportunities
Search engines, like Google and Bing, use hundreds of ranking factors within their algorithms to find the most relevant results to users' queries. One of the most important factors is keywords. Described as a compass for any effective SEO campaign, keywords will often guide the direction of your online content and digital marketing strategy.
Not only can keyword research help you find trending words and phrases relevant to your business, it can also allow you to better understand your target audience and their needs. It involves finding the search terms people use to look for information and how often they’re used. Proper keyword research will stop you from creating content that nobody is searching for.
Keyword research also involves analysing and prioritising the best opportunities to attract users to your website. Finding high-volume search terms itself is not enough. You need to ensure that the keywords used in your content match what your business does, and what your audience is looking for.
Keywords: Past and Present
Historically, if you wanted to rank well on a search engine results page (SERP), all you needed to do was repeat high-volume keywords enough times throughout your website and meta-tags. Keyword stuffing and spammy content dominated the world of SEO, and there was an influx of website keyword stuffing to try to boost their search visibility. This was problematic because web pages were built for search engines and not for users.
It wasn’t until the Panda update in 2011 that Google started to penalise keyword stuffing, and there was a rise in more meaningful content. The update, which was incorporated into Google’s core algorithm in 2016, looks specifically for duplicate and low-quality content and lowers their page rankings on SERPs. Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013 pushed this further by focusing on the end-user. It uses Latent Semantic Indexing to identify related keywords based on semantic search. Consequently, keyword stuffing is now considered a black-hat technique.
Now, It’s Quality Over Quantity
Today, Google attempts to understand meaning and user intent rather than individual keywords, so keyword-centric optimisation doesn’t work the same way. However, performing keyword research is still essential for your site to perform well in organic search. The biggest change is the emphasis on high-quality site content that should aim to educate, serve, and engage users. If the content is structured for an algorithm, it can appear artificial and not catered to a user’s needs.
So, What Should You Do?
We’ve established that keyword stuffing isn’t great for SERP performance or user experience (UX), but what’s the correct way to do it?
Create a starting list of topics and seed keywords.
You likely already have a few keywords in mind that you would like to rank for, such as your products or services, and your brand name. Seed keywords are those initial keyword ideas that form the foundation of your keyword research. You need to describe your business as simply as possible and brainstorm what your audience might search in order to find you. Relevance and authority of keywords should be considered:
Your content will only perform well for a keyword if it’s relevant and meets the user’s intent. In addition, your content must be the best resource out there for the query. You need to know what your niche is and identify what your target customers are searching for.
Search engines provide weight to websites with higher levels of expertise, authority, and trust (EAT). You can become authoritative by adding helpful information to your website and promoting that content to earn backlinks.
Don’t forget the long-tail keywords
When people start out with keyword research, they tend to focus on short-tail keywords that are usually under three words long. They have high search volumes, which means if you perform well for them, you’ll get a lot of traffic. However, these keywords are mostly dominated by large businesses and require more effort to achieve organic success. Long-tail keywords are more descriptive: they get less search traffic, but there’s less competition too so it’s easier for you to do well.
Long-tail keywords even have a higher conversion value, because users are more intentional in their searches, meaning they are more likely to buy or sign up for a service.
Proper keyword research involves identifying a combination of short and longer keyword terms that have low competition but high search volume. You definitely want some quick wins from long-tail keywords, but you should also try to chip away at some short-tail terms if you can. If you’re not targeting the right keywords, you’ll struggle to get visitors to your website.
Expand your list using keyword research tools
The next step is to choose a research tool to track a keyword’s performance. They can also be used to help you come up with more keyword ideas or offer alternatives you might have missed. There are a variety of keyword tools available online, but here are a few options and some we use at I-COM to refine our search terms.
Google’s Keyword Planner Tool is primarily for paid advertising campaigns, but you can also use it to find new keywords. It is the most common starting point for SEO keyword research and is seen as the most reliable because the data comes from Google itself. You enter a seed keyword, and the tool will generate a list of associated keywords that you can then filter by search volume or competition.
Google Trends visualises the relative search volume of a keyword over time and can help you determine the trends to focus on. This tool can be really useful if you expect some of your keywords to be seasonal, for example, if you know a keyword will trend during Christmas, you can prepare your website content months in advance and have it ready to go live earlier.
Google Search Console offers accurate keyword data and provides insights into how your website is performing. The Performance Report shows you the terms that bring in the most clicks and make the most impressions, or alternatively, you can use it to find out which of your keywords aren’t performing well and remove them. You won’t find many new keywords, but you may spot some long-tail keywords that you can optimise your content for.
Some unique options are Answer The Public, which uses the auto-suggest feature on Google and Bing to predict questions people have about certain topics, and SEMrush, which shows you how competitive a keyword is and whether they are worth chasing. This is a great tool to scope ideas and opportunities from competitors.
Refine your list with competitor research
The final step is to take a look at why and how your competitors are ranking for the keywords you’re targeting. The better you understand your industry and your competitors, the better it will be for your SEO. The top results in SERPs are often a good indication of user intent. Looking at your current visibility on results pages in comparison means that you can highlight keywords that your competitors are ranking for but you aren’t - opening channels for growth.
Whether you should go after long-tail keywords also depends on your competition. If you want to increase visibility, it makes sense to replicate your competitors and their content, but just because your competitor is doing something doesn’t mean you have to. There may be keywords your competitors use that aren’t relevant for your business or your users. Similarly, you shouldn’t ignore some keywords just because your competitor has. This could be a great opportunity for you to own the market share on niche terms.
Your goal with keyword research is to end up with a list of keywords that will provide some quick wins but will also help you make progress towards bigger SEO goals in the long run.
What Can I-COM Do For You?
Staying on top of the ever-changing world of SEO best practices can be tough. Our Manchester SEO experts are here to help you and your business drive organic traffic and enquiries. Using techniques such as link building, keyword research, metawriting, and content marketing, we can assist you in getting the exposure you need.
If you have any questions about SEO, or if you want to know more about our SEO services and how they can benefit your business, give us a call today on 0161 402 3170, or use our contact form.