It should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: Thorough and comprehensive keyword research is a must have for any Search Engine Optimization (SEO) campaign to be successful.
The vast majority of your audience – or 9 out of 10 internet users – are utilizing search engines when seeking information online. That means savvy keyword research will greatly improve the number of people that eventually land on your site, as well as funnel more qualified prospects to pages designed to convert them into new business leads.
Keywords will fit into various aspects of your marketing strategy differently, depending on the medium, the piece of content, and your business goals. Understanding this will go a long way when preparing to launch a digital marketing campaign of any kind.
What is Keyword Research?
Keyword research is a process of discovering how people are searching for something online, determining the keywords that support the objectives of a given piece of content, and understanding how those keywords should be strategically woven into the content.
In other words, it’s finding not only the keywords you want to rank for, but also the ones you should rank for. This requires knowing the most optimum words and phrases that your audiences are likely using to search for your products and services.
Long-Tail Keywords vs. Broad Keywords
For keyword research to be truly successful, you must be prepared to dig beyond basic, overused keywords and incorporate what are known as “long-tail keywords.” Long-tail keywords generally consist of three or four words, and are extremely specific to your product or service. It’s the difference between something extremely broad like “clothing” and a much more defined variation of that word or topic, like “top men’s clothing brand.”
Even though long-tail keywords appear to have less search interest than more common one- or two-word phrases, we can reason that most users who submit long-tail search queries are further along in the sales funnel, with a more defined idea of what they need or want to learn about. These are the users that are more likely to engage with your content and convert, making them more valuable in the long run.
Why is Keyword Research Important?
Keyword research helps marketers understand the language your target audience uses to express themselves. It enables marketers to understand the specific terms and verbiage their prospects use when researching solutions to their problems—and the context behind how those terms are used within each industry.
Great keyword research does more than just produce a list of words for your online content to include and target–it makes you a better marketer.
Properly-executed keyword research elevates your understanding of important topics, your target markets, and the mentality of your prospective audiences, helping you create more strategic content and campaigns that drive qualified traffic to your site.
How Keyword Research Helps Your Business
Great keyword research can uncover which targeted queries your competitors are ranking for, while also revealing all the target keywords you are not ranking for. Any keyword that falls into both buckets will likely (but not always) be a strong candidate for your target list of keywords. This may indirectly deliver key insights into your business as well as your SEO strategy.
For example, you may notice that a competitor suddenly ranks for keywords related to a new service or product that signals their interest in serving a new or different market in the industry; you may then decide that your own business wants to pursue that market as well, or you can use the intelligence gathered to adjust your keyword strategy so it avoids that market, and then publish content that differentiates yourself from competitors targeting that market.
Some other market changes that can prompt or necessitate new keyword research include:
- Shifting needs or desires of your target consumers
- New queries that hadn’t appeared before, or new terms searchers are using to look for what you offer
- New competitors entering the market
- Changes to search engine algorithms or search features
Regardless, having a perspective on the keyword metrics related to your industry, topical expertise, and business offerings will provide valuable insights as you develop and optimize your keyword strategy over time.
Here are some tried and true best practices that will help you gather the right keywords for your digital marketing content and campaigns:
Steps for Conducting Keyword Research
There are equal parts art and science involved with ascertaining the best words or phrases to target with your content. Knowing how prospects in your industry typically identify your business and signal their intent to learn about and purchase your solutions is key.
The process of researching keywords can be broken down into a number of simple steps that involve both internal and external factors:
- Formulate your goals – What are you trying to achieve with your content? Whether it’s a website page, a blog article, a social media post, a video on YouTube, or any other piece of digital content, you should start with your end goal and work backwards.
- Analyze current keyword trends – Use keyword research tools to assess the current search landscape, including the keywords that have high search volumes and the different terms or phrases your target audience is using to search for topics related to your digital marketing goals.
- Build your keyword “wish” list – You may not win every keyword you’re targeting, but you should still identify all keywords that are relevant and valuable, then adjust your expectations for each content piece according to the difficulty of winning your best possible options.
- Assess the competitive landscape – You’ve done broad research on keyword volumes across all internet traffic, but to extract even more valuable insights, observing which keywords your competitors use on their website and in their content. You can both identify the keywords you’ll be competing with them for, and also note which keywords they might have overlooked so you can capitalize on the better opportunity to win them.
- Expand your keyword horizons – Don’t just focus on the most obvious and basic keywords. Think of keyword variations, including long-tail keywords that identify a specific need or pain point that matches your buyer personas.
- Prioritize by opportunities vs. investment – Some keywords will be easier to win than others. Try to estimate the time and effort it will take to win less-competitive keywords vs. the broad keywords that your competitors are also likely targeting; then distribute your digital marketing efforts for each keyword group according to the best opportunities for ROI.
The good news is that by following the steps above, choosing the right long-tail keywords for your website pages can be a fairly simple process — one that’s made easier and quicker when you use the proper tools to aid your research.
Google Tools for Keyword Research
Google isn’t the only search engine out there, but it is by far the most dominant. Because of this, their research tools are usually the most helpful in identifying the best keyword opportunities and who your top online competitors are for each topic. Here are a few options and how they help:
Yes, Google itself is a great keyword research tool–in fact, one could say research is the primary purpose and function of Google Search to begin with.
So use Google to get started with your keyword research by simply searching for the products or services you sell, then observing who and what shows up in the top few search results consistently.
Which companies or brands are winning the keyword? What kinds of content (video, blog post, social media, news article, etc.) are typically included in the top results? The results you see in real-time provide the clearest evidence of which content is truly “winning” Google Search for the keywords you care about most.
Next, perform a Google “site search” for each keyword and its alternative names for each competitor domain. To do this, enter into Google the search term and then “site:[domainname.com]” (using the domain of the competitor). This search tells us which pages of the competitor’s website are visible to Google for each keyword, in addition to how each page ranks relative to others with that keyword.
Google’s Keyword Planner
To get started using Keyword Planner, you’ll need to set up an AdWords account. The tool easily allows you to find various words and phrases related to your product, brand, or any other search term.
Keyword Planner also provides historical data that details the amount of traffic any given keyword receives. It also provides monthly search volume graphs to assess the popularity of keywords, as well as the ability to forecast your likely costs for Google’s PPC ad campaigns that target your identified list of keywords across search and display networks.
Google Trends started off as a simple fun experiment that showed people the changes in search popularity for various terms, but it has blossomed into a pretty neat tool for digital marketers to understand more about keyword trends and changes over time.
One of the more useful aspects offered by Google Trends is its ability to view topics geographically, because it allows you to determine what people are searching for in a specific area–an invaluable insight when deciding where to test new products or services, and extremely helpful when considering where to geo-target your campaigns.
Google Search Console
Whether you’re monitoring the performance of your site’s pages for targeted keywords or auditing your site to determine where it needs to perform better, Google Search Console offers invaluable insights into what Google believes your pages are about, based on how highly each page ranks for specific queries and how many clicks or impressions they get for those keywords.
Search Console also makes it easy to use the date or query filtering options to drill down into the data and understand even more about how your site’s pages change rankings over time, which you can measure against your knowledge of content publishing and changes that might have affected those performance metrics.
How Agencies Leverage Keyword Research
At DBS, we understand the proper application of keyword research is particularly important to achieving the goals of your overall digital marketing strategies. Diligent keyword research supports comprehensive SEO campaigns you need to make all your marketing channels work together so they support the customer journey and nurture prospects to conversion.
Whether your digital presence includes a company website, social media, other online mediums, or a mix of these, targeting the right keywords is essential to ongoing marketing success. That’s why an experienced digital agency will take a “3-dimensional” approach to researching your keywords:
1. Internal Research
- First we determine what keywords are driving traffic to your website pages, including long-tail variations of the more common terms.
- Next we figure out whether the keywords your site is winning are driving traffic to the right pages.
Note this phase of our research will vary based on whether a client is starting out with a brand new website (meaning they cannot yet provide any traffic data) versus revising/redesigning an existing website where there is measurable traffic data we can examine and use to inform our plan/strategy.
2. External Research (Competitive Landscape)
- The first question we endeavor to answer is simple: What keywords are your competitors winning?
- The second question we answer provides us with helpful business intelligence: How are your competitors winning the keywords you also want to win?
- Finally, we analyze in detail how your competitor’s websites are using keywords in their URLs, Page Titles, and other areas of the site.
3. Goal-Oriented Strategy
Armed with helpful insights regarding the keyword performance of your website and your competitors’ websites, we revisit your business goals for digital marketing and determine whether your current keyword strategy is still viable and ideal for achieving those goals. If we notice there are gaps or new trends that need to be addressed, we incorporate them into your new keyword strategy.
Our Keyword Strategies Achieve Marketing Goals
Are you researching keywords correctly? How can you leverage keyword research to improve your marketing content so it focuses more on your business goals?
At DBS, we can help you answer these questions and understand what it will take to form a content marketing strategy that focuses on your audience of prospects and what they are searching for, helping you strategize content that drives more visitors to your site organically and converts them into new business leads.