Over the last however many years we’ve spent a lot of time talking about keywords. When you’re working with Google it’s a term that comes up a lot, and more often than not our advice is to make sure you do your research properly, instead of just picking keywords out of a hat. This might sound simple, but the fact is thousands of businesses out there are trying to be found on Google without using proper keyword strategies to help them. So this week, instead of just telling you to go and do your research, we’re going to give you a crash course in how to do that research, and make sure your keywords are the right ones for you.
What Is Keyword Research, And Why Does It Matter?
Keyword research is the process of finding and analysing actual search terms that people use on a day to day basis. In other words – it’s finding out what people are actually typing into Google to find services like yours. Many business owners think they have a good idea of what those words and phrases are without much research, and are almost always surprised by how different the results actually are. By doing this small amount of research, you can hone your content and tweak your website to draw more and more visitors, and hopefully convert them into customers.
Keyword research has evolved a lot over the last decade – with new tools and techniques all designed to make the process simpler and improve results. Now, keyword research doesn’t just look to match the term exactly – it looks for the intent behind the keyword, and whether or not a piece of content can match that intent and solves the query. This means that keyword research won’t just help you rank higher on search results – it can also be used to find out what topics people care about, how popular those topics really are among your audience and show you where to focus your content strategy for growth.
So How Do I Do Keyword Research?
1 – Make a list of important, relevant topics
First things first, sit down and have a bit of a brainstorm. Write down around 5-10 topics you want to rank for in terms of generic ‘buckets’. These buckets will help you come up with specific keywords a bit later on. For now, these buckets should be relevant to your business and your services. Think of things you talk about most frequently, or things that come up the most in sales conversations. If you’re struggling, try putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and imagine what sort of things they would search to find businesses like you. Once you’ve come up with some buckets you’re happy with, it’s time to move on to step two.
2 – Full in those topic buckets with keywords
Look at each of those buckets in turn, and identify some keywords that fall into those specific buckets. These are key words or phrases that you think are important to rank for in the search engine results pages, because your target customers are probably searching for those specific terms. Let’s look at an example for this one. Say you’re a company that sells marketing automation software, and the keyword bucket you’re trying to fill is ‘marketing automation’. A few keywords and phrases people might search related to that topic could be:
- Marketing automation tools
- How to use marketing automation software
- What is marketing automation?
- How do I know if I need marketing automation software?
- Email marketing automation
And so on. The point of this exercise is to get a nice big selection of keywords you can choose from. This isn’t your final list – you still need to narrow it down – so think of it as a brain dump of phrases you think might be useful. This is usually the point business owners get to on their own – and then they stop. But if you want to make the most out of keywords, you’ve got a few more steps to go yet.
3 – Research related search terms
This is more of a creative step, and a really useful way to fill out some of those bucket lists you may have been struggling with. It’s a really simple exercise, and Google does most of the work for you! Simply go to Google and type in a search term – maybe even the title of your keyword bucket. Then scroll right down to the bottom of Google’s results, and you’ll see a box called ‘searches related to XXX’ (whatever your search term was). This little box does what it says on the tin – it shows you searches related to the term you typed in, which can help you build up that list and spark ideas for other keywords. If you want to take it a step further, you can even type those related terms into Google and take a look at the suggested terms for them!
4 – Check for a mix of head terms and long-tail keywords
Within your keyword buckets, you need to make sure you have a good mix of ‘head terms’ and ‘long-tail keywords’. In case you don’t know what that means:
- Head Terms are keyword phrases that are generally shorter and more generic – between 1 and 3 words long
- Long-Tail Keywords are longer keyword phrases, containing 3 or more words.
Head terms are searched more frequently, so they are a good way to kick-start your strategy and see results coming in quicker. They are also much more competitive because of that, so you might need to be more aggressive with them. Long-tail keywords on the other hand are not searched for as often, so are less competitive and ultimately more useful – since they allow users to search for very specific things. It’s important to have a mix of the two because it means your keyword strategy will be well balanced, combining long-term goals with short-term wins. So check over your lists and make sure you have a healthy mix of both.
5 – Check competitor rankings
This step is arguably one of the most important in the list, yet many people miss it out. Understanding what keywords your competitors are trying to rank for is a great way to help give your keyword list a boost, and give you ideas for things you may be missing. Far example, if your competitor is ranking highly for certain keywords on your list, it makes sense to focus on improving your own rankings for those words so that they don’t dominate the results. It also helps you find related terms they may not rank as highly for and help you get ahead of the game. You can find out what your competitors are ranking for in two ways – by searching in an incognito browser and seeing where they turn up in the results, or by using specialist tools that can gather all of that information for you. SEMrush is a favourite for us, since it lets you run a lot of free reports to help refine your keyword strategy.
6 – Use a keyword planner to cut it down
By now you probably have an enormous list of words and phrases, and are trying to work out how on earth you’re going to manage all of these things in a single marketing strategy. The good news is, you don’t really have to. The last stage of good keyword research is to narrow it down, trimming off the bits that won’t deliver results and leaving you with a shorter list of focus on. There are a lot of different ways you can do this, but our favourite is by using the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. If you have an AdWords account you will have access to this free tool already, and it can be worth its weight in gold. All you have to do is go to the planner and put in your terms. It will run a report to let you know the search volume and the competitiveness of each term. Once you have those numbers for each, you can cut out any words that have way too much (or too little) search volume, and any that are too competitive for you to realistically manage. Think carefully though, as some low-volume search terms can be incredibly valuable to invest in, so don’t just delete everything with low volume!
And that’s it. You now know how to research your keywords properly, and how to use them in your business more effectively. Keywords are particularly important if you’re going to be doing any advertising through Google Ads, which is one of the reasons we make sure our clients understand the importance of keyword research. If you would like to know more, just get in touch with the team today and arrange your free consultation.