Updated: Apr 29
An effective SEO strategy starts with a well-planned keyword list. It is the framework for nearly every facet of SEO including content creation, anchor text for links, meta data and more. In this post we’ll cover everything you need to know about performing keyword research for SEO and ensuring you’re targeting the right terms for your campaign.
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What is Keyword Research?
Keyword research is defined as the process of identifying search terms and queries that are relevant to your target audiences’ interests. Organizations use keyword research to help identify which terms they are going to target within their sitemap. By doing so, they greatly improve their chances of ranking on search engine result pages (SERPs) and capturing more traffic.
Why is Keyword Research Important for SEO?
When keyword research is complimented with a well-thought-out SEO strategy, websites often reap the reward of more website traffic. The best part about ranking on page one is the fact that you don’t have to pay for each click like you do with PPC! Yes, there is the upfront cost of getting the site to a point where it is ranking, but assuming you maintain your positions for an extended period of time, each click that comes in further decreases the overall cost of getting to the top.
What’s more, next to no one searches beyond page one on Google. Sistrix conducted a study that showed the vast majority for clicks for a given search term went to the first three spots. Just 12% of searches in their study of millions went beyond page one!
So in summary: higher keyword visibility leads to more traffic, more traffic will drive more conversions, more conversions will bring in more money to your business. Not having a well-defined keyword list literally means you are leaving money on the table for your competitors to grab!
5 Tips to Improve Your Keyword Research Process for SEO
If you have a fundamental understanding of SEO keyword research, these next five tips will help bring your abilities to the next level.
Know Who You are Targeting
Before you start the keyword research process, you should be able to answer these two important questions:
Who is my target audience? Being able to define this will ensure you are selecting the right keywords. If you are a recruiting agency, are you looking to target job seekers, job poster or a mixture of both? Your answer will shape the terms you go after in a big way.
Where is my audience located? In most keyword research tools, you can see keyword data that is curated by country. Be sure you have the right search engine selected in this case. Your target audience may also be regional. If you’re a local plumber that serves a radius of towns around your headquarters, you’ll want to search for longtail keywords that relate to each town like “plumber in [town]” and “drain cleaning [town].”
Keyword Intent and the Conversion Funnel
You’ll want to clearly define where in the conversion funnel you want your site to live, and what terms best match your desired intent. In simple terms, the conversion funnel is defined as:
Awareness – AKA top of funnel, represents searchers in the beginning stages of their research.
Interest – AKA upper mid-funnel, this searcher has a defined interest in the product or service you offer.
Desire – AKA lower-mid funnel, this searcher is turning to Google to make a purchase decision and is likely searching with keywords that express purchase-intent. Using ecommerce SEO as an example, this searcher may be using product category terms like “trail running shoes.”
Action – AKA bottom funnel, this searcher is ready to buy and likely knows what they are looking for. They may even search by a specific product name.
Let’s use a runner as an example and we’ll name her Beth. It’s New Years Day and Beth set a goal to improve her cardiovascular health in the new year. She started searching for exercises that can improve her cardiovascular system and came across a post from a running shoe store that discusses the cardiovascular benefits running has to offer. She clicks through, reads the information and decides go back to the search results to read more information.
What that running shoe store just did was target Beth with a top of funnel keyword search. By creating educational content that relates to the product they sell, they were able to plant the seed in Beth’s mind that she may need to become a runner.
After reviewing a few other workout possibilities, Beth decided running makes the most sense for her. She lives in an urban environment with plenty of sidewalks and a park near by with trails. After reading a few other articles about running and tips for beginners, she decides it Is time to purchase a pair of shoes. She turns to Google again and does a mid-funnel search for “best running shoes for beginners.” She comes across a running shoe guide from that same running shoe store she went to at the beginning of her search. Developing a bit of brand loyalty at this point, she decides to click and see what they have to say.
In the guide it lists out a number of shoes, their fit type and what ground surfaces they are most suited for. Beth finds a pair she likes but is not yet ready to pull the trigger. This is the first time she’s ever bought running shoes and doesn’t think it’s in her best interest to buy it online.
After sleeping on it, she decides to go with a local store. She types in “running shoe store near me” (bottom funnel aka ”action”) and finds that the company she had been referencing this whole time is a franchise of running shoe stores, and there is one 10 miles from her house! She hops in the car, heads to the store and buys her first pair of running shoes.
This was a longwinded example for why it is important to consider all tiers of the conversion funnel when doing keyword research for SEO. It’s not just about targeting conversion intent keywords, it’s also about educating your target audience and converting them into loyal customers. Variety is the spice of life and having a well-balanced keyword strategy will provide the best results in the long run… (pun intended 😊)
Are Your Keyword Synonyms Really Synonyms?
Google has spent a lot of time and money over the years perfecting semantic search. In a nutshell, they seek to understand natural language the way a human would. This is why it is important to consider synonyms when doing keyword research for SEO.
In most cases, you won’t come across many issues when validating the intent behind synonymous keyword terms. For the sake of this exercise though, let’s use an example of something many of us have purchased: T-Shirts. Can you think of another way to refer to this staple clothing item?... Yea, “tee’s!”
It may seem obvious that you would want to get the search volume for t-shirts and tee’s within your keyword research and you will find both come with substantial, yet different search volume:
Being a thorough keyword researcher, you may be wondering if Google is interpreting the search term, “tee” as golf tee’s or maybe even a miss-spelling for tea? The best way to find out is by searching yourself!
Wow we were way off! After searching for “tee,” we see that Google is actually showing results for Transesophageal Echocardiogram, better known as TEE.
*side note: a couple local searches also come up for golf courses further down on the SERP
Given the fact that Google isn’t showing any results for t-shirts with the synonym “tee,” we should keep it out of our strategy. You can track it if you want but keep in mind that the keyword list will ultimately create your keyword map and you’ll want to be sure you target the most important keywords within your headers, title tag, site content, and more.
Let Keyword Difficulty Scores Help You Out
Many keyword research tools provide an additional piece of data called Keyword Difficulty. This is basically a score that indicates how competitive a SERP is for a given keyword. High scores indicate a ton of competition while low scores signal less competition.
When doing SEO keyword research for a new site, I like to take these scores into consideration. We know Google favors trust when ranking a webpage so new domains are up against some major hurdles. Having a keyword strategy that is diversified in keyword difficulty is a great way to focus on long-term objectives while also getting some quick wins in the process.
Let’s say we are an online bike shop and we are doing keyword research in SEMRush for “bike helmets.”
From the list above, we can see “bike helmets” has a high keyword difficulty score. As a new store, it is going to take time for us to compete with the big brands that have been around a while. What we’ve identified though, are some additional terms that would make great cluster content for our pillar product category: bike helmets. Though still on the higher side for keyword difficulty, we see terms like mountain bike helmets, road bike helmets, kids bike helmets, and mens/womens bike helmets that should provide rankings at a faster pace.
What’s more, defining pillar and cluster content opportunities is an awesome way to create a cohesive SEO strategy. As the cluster pages build in keyword visibility, it will help increase the value of your pillar content as well. As they say, the rising tide lifts all boats!
Explore Multiple Data Sets When Doing Keyword Research for SEO
There are many ways to gain valuable insights when it comes to doing keyword research for SEO. Below are a few of my favorite methods:
Use a keyword research tool – Yup this one is obvious, but there really is no substitute for it. Keyword research tools offer a ton of value when it comes to exploring the search terms that relate to your products or services.
Reviewing what your competition is ranking for – Within many SEO tools is a function that allows you to see what terms your competition is ranking for. This can provide valuable insight should you be in the process of creating a new website or want to see if you can fill any holes within your current sitemap.
Google Search Console – Assuming you have an established site and a Google Search Console account setup, head over to the Search Results report under “Performance” and take a look at what you are already ranking for. See any terms you like? Note the page that term is ranking for and make sure it is properly optimized for the keyword.
Using Google’s Search Engine Result Page – every time you do a search on Google, they are giving your keywords related to what you are searching. This can be seen within Google Auto Complete – when you are typing and Google tries to guess what you are searching, and “Related Searches – The field all the way at the bottom that suggests other keywords you could have searched.
In summary, keyword research for an SEO campaign should be an extensive process. It is the foundation of an SEO strategy and you can save yourself a lot of time and aggravation by putting in the extra work in the beginning. I hope you found these tips to be helpful and I encourage you to reach out to me directly should you have any questions or would like assistance with your keyword research.