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Keyword research is a fundamental part of doing SEO. Knowing how to really research and analyze keywords can make a tremendous difference for your website’s organic search campaign. Let me walk you through some of the most important parts of this vital process.

1. Know Your Website

Before you dive into the world of keywords, it’s critical that you know why you’re diving in. Sure, you know that ranking highly for keywords means more people will visit your site, but you need a deeper understanding of your current website.

Take a look at your website; what kind of content do you have on it? Are your pages simply a catalog of products, or do you have resource pages, blogs, and FAQs? Gone are the days where sites can rank highly for keywords simply by stuffing a bunch of keywords in your title tag and meta description. Panda (the codename for a change in Google’s search algorithm) rewards sites with high quality and valuable content, and penalizes websites with low quality or “thin” content. If your site is like the latter, you need to be prepared to beef it up with more authoritative, relevant copy that’s useful to both the search engines and your users.

Ultimately, a site without exceptional content is going to struggle to rank for any keywords, so before even starting keyword research you need to know where you stand. If you’re in bad shape, it might be time to figure out how you or your company can allocate the resources that it’s going to take to create the quality content needed to rank for increasingly competitive search terms.

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Google Panda Will Destroy Your Weak Content

2. Know Your Goals

Let’s say that you are the owner of a really terrible website; you hardly have any content, your pages aren’t helpful for users, and no thought was put into user experience. However, you’ve somehow magically managed to rank for a keyword that has a monthly search volume of 100,000; that’s fantastic! Right? Wrong! Even if you manage to rank for a high volume term, if your website doesn’t satisfy the user’s intent they’ll leave (or bounce) without taking the actions you want them to take – like making a purchase or filling out a lead gen form.

For most websites, just getting people to your website isn’t the end goal; the end goal could be having people subscribe to your newsletter, buy a product, or share your content on social media. How is this relevant to keyword research? Well, you need to have your ultimate goal in mind when deciding which keywords you want to optimize your website for. For example, if your goal is to sell wine, ranking for the keyword ‘wine’ may not be the best use of your time and resources. A keyword like ‘buy wine online’ might have lower search volume than ‘wine’, but ranking for the former will bring users to your site who are actively looking to buy wine. With this information you can now start building content on your website illustrating how your site is the best place to buy wine online.

Many people in the SEO profession are not working on their own website, but a client’s. If you have clients it is critical that you have recurring discussions with them about what their goals are, not just for the SEO campaign, but for their business at large. A company looking to break into a new product market should be focusing on different keywords than a company looking to appeal to a new demographic. It is your job as an SEO to know what these goals are so you can run the best campaign possible.

3. Know Your Tools

So, you’ve taken a good hard look at your website and established your goals. That’s great…but now what? You need to know how you can gather keyword data and how to assess keywords. Lucky for you, dear reader, I have compiled a short list of some of the best keyword research tools out there.

  • Google AdWords Keyword Planner: This tool from Google is an SEO’s bread and butter for keyword analysis. While it won’t provide you with new keywords, it will give you estimates of monthly search volume, keyword competition, and a recommended cost-per-click bid.
  • SEMrush: SEMrush is one of the best tools around for keyword research and analysis. It not only shows a keyword’s monthly search volume and cost-per-click, but it also shows phrase match terms, related keywords, and the current site rankings. What further differentiates SEMrush is that it provides historical keyword data, so you can see how rankings have changed over time. This kind of data is invaluable for SEO’s.
  • Ubersuggest: An aggregate of Google’s autocomplete results, this is a great tool that I’ll use when trying to find a long list of related keywords or researching a content strategy. Simply type in your keyword and the tool will present you with dozens of related queries.
  • SpyFu: SpyFu is an incredibly comprehensive keyword research tool. With it you can see a keyword’s click-through rate, ranking difficulty, top advertisers, historical data, and much more.
  • Buzzsumo: Buzzsumo is not a keyword research tool, but I always use it when doing keyword research. Why? Because, with Buzzsumo you can enter in a keyword and see what type of content based around that keyword is receiving the most ‘buzz’; the most likes and shares on social media. Having this kind of information can provide valuable insight into what topics associated with the keyword resonates with people. Of course, you should avoid simply trying to copy the most shareable content you see on Buzzsumo as it’s unlikely you’ll experience the identical success.
  • Moz Keyword Difficulty Tool: This tool from Moz is useful because it provides you with a Difficulty Score for any keyword based on the strength of the websites currently ranking for the term. Knowing how difficult it is to rank for a given term is essential, as it is often smarter to target a keyword with lower search volume that is less competitive than to try and outrank strong competition for a keyword with more search volume.
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An Example Of A Buzzsumo Search For ‘Keywords’

4. Don’t Ignore Long-Tail

I touched on this earlier, but an oft-overlooked part of keyword research is long-tail keywords. A long-tail keyword is simply a search query that is more than 2 or 3 words. While long-tail keywords individually can’t match the keyword volume of a single term (a head keyword), the combined volume of all long-term keywords is far greater than that of head keywords.

Take an example that could be from your own life; say it’s Saturday night and you’re looking for a good place to eat. Do you type ‘best restaurant’ into Google and dig through the results? You could, but most people would search for something more like ‘best restaurants in LA,’ or ‘best Italian restaurants in LA’. Even though ‘best restaurants’ has significantly more search volume than ‘best Italian restaurants in LA,’ if you are an Italian restaurant in LA the latter keyword is much more important for you to rank for. Your website can focus on being the best website for Italian restaurants in LA rather than trying to compete against every other restaurant on the web.

So, while it’s always good to rank for head keywords, you should also try to rank for long-tail keywords. People searching for long-tail terms are often further down the conversion funnel and more likely to purchase your product or join your cause campaign. After all, conversions are (typically) what it’s all about.

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Long-Tail Keywords Can Still Drive Traffic To Your Site

5. Keyword Conversion

Speaking of conversions, it’s a good idea to do some research into how well certain keywords result in conversions. Sure, ranking well for a high-volume keyword is helpful in terms of brand exposure, but if nobody is ever actually visiting your site or helping further your goals, your resources aren’t being used efficiently. Luckily, you can use Google Analytics to get valuable keyword conversion data.

To do so, log into your Google Analytics account; go to ‘Acquisition’-‘Search Engine Optimization’-‘Queries’. On this page, you can see the search queries that are bringing people to your website. You can also see Impressions, Clicks, Average Position, and Clickthrough Rate (CTR). This data is incredibly helpful, as it shows you which keywords are providing the most impressions and clicks for your site; you will often find that the keyword with the most impressions doesn’t have the most clicks.

Unfortunately, this data only shows conversion data for the keywords your site is already ranking for. Thus, you cannot use Google Analytics to find highly converting keywords and then optimize your site around them. What you can do is see which keywords you are already ranking for that convert well, and then try to increase your average ranking position for the keyword in question. Doing so will improve your impressions for a keyword you know converts well.

6. Difficulty

The last thing we should talk about is keyword difficulty. Even if you’ve analyzed your website and your business goals, know how to find keywords using the tools listed above, completed research into long-tail keywords, and selected keywords that are highly converting…you’re still not quite there. You still need to get a sense of how difficult it will be to rank for your list of keywords.

There are many websites and tools out there that provide keyword difficulty scores, such as the Moz Difficulty Tool I listed above. These tools are incredibly helpful because they let you know (roughly) how much effort it will take to rank for a certain keyword. A keyword with a very high difficulty score might not be worth pursuing based on your budget or capabilities, even if it satisfies all other criteria of a good keyword. While it’s certainly not impossible to outrank websites for highly competitive keywords, it will take truly fantastic content to do so, not to mention the dozens of other factors that influence rankings. It may be the case that fighting tooth-and-nail for a particular keyword simply isn’t worth it. Very few of us have unlimited resources, and so keyword difficulty scores can help us better focus our energies on attainable terms.

I hope this post has taught you a few things about keyword research. Let me know in the comments below if you have any other tips!

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