Keyword research is the practice of finding the best keywords for searchers to find your site, which is crucial to SEO. Keyword research includes identifying, organizing and determining the importance of your keywords.
We’re now into week three of our quest to learn SEO. At this point we should have a pretty good grasp on the essentials of SEO importance, how search engines work, how search engines rank pages and keyword basics.
Today’s lesson covers keyword research, which is the practice of finding the best keywords to help searchers find your site. Keyword research can be broken down into three primary parts: thinking up keywords, organizing those keywords, and prioritizing those keywords.
Consider the keyword research process like you would find a place for a retail store. You wouldn’t want to place your new store in an area of customers completely uninterested in your business. If you’re selling discount flip-flops, you wouldn’t want to be in the snooty part of town, would you? Thus, you would want to figure out where demand for your product is, if there’s a niche-market in that neighborhood and how many similar businesses are nearby.
Same thing with keyword research – you need to identify search terms used by customers interested in buying your products. You’ll also want to see how competitive those keywords are and if there are opportunities to utilize less popular keywords to boost growth of relevant traffic.
And just like a prime piece of real estate, effective keyword research can make or break an online business. Just think, if your site shows up as the top search result for the wrong keyword, your site traffic may be high, but you’d have no sales and a huge bounce rate. Same thing with your flip-flop store on Fifth Avenue – there may be a lot of people coming in your store, but if they don’t buy anything you can’t pay the bills.
Okay, so now that you’ve been beaten over the head with the importance of keyword research (and why you shouldn’t sell cheap flip-flops in Manhattan), let’s discuss how to get started. All underlined terms can be found in the glossary at the bottom of this post.
Step One: Think of potential keywords
The first step of keyword research is to internally brainstorming potential search terms and keywords. A good method is to scan through your site content (yes, your content should already be written) to identify key terms and patterns that appear. It’s also useful to think about the key phrase that describes your product offering – something like “organic hot sauce.”
Then, come up with a quick list of around a dozen search terms you think customers would use when searching for your product. Some of these terms for Matt’s Organic Hot Sauce could include:
- Organic hot sauce
- Homemade hot sauce
- Hot sauce
- Buy hot sauce
- Local hot sauce
- Fresh hot sauce
- Organic salsa
Again, this is only a start. To take things to the next level, look outside your business and ask friends/family what terms they would enter into Google to find your products. Since these individuals aren’t working with your product or industry, they can provide great insight into what terms the average person would use when conducting searches.
Next up, don’t be afraid to take insights from your competitors. If they’re already ranking highly in search engines, you can learn quite a bit from the keywords they’re utilizing. There are several tools out there you can use, but check out this simple method:
- Go to a competitors’ website.
- In your browser’s toolbar, click “View,” then “Page Source.”
- Then, find the meta keywords section (take a look at the screenshot).
Looky there! We hadn’t thought of using the words “pepper sauce” or “cayenne pepper sauce.”
Finally, take advantage of some free tools to think of more keywords. One of the most popular is Google’s Keyword Tool. Once you get there, type in the key phrase for your business. Take a look to see what we get for our key phrase of “organic hot sauce.”
Now we have even more ideas. There’s also other useful information this tool has given us, but we’ll get into that a bit later.
Step Two: Organize your keywords
This step will allow you to take the large list of keyword ideas you’ve compiled and turn it into a format that is actually digestible. This step in keyword research can be done by separating your keywords into various categories. There are several ways you can organize and separate your keywords, but here are some to get started with:
Branded keywords vs. category keywords
Branded keywords are those that include a word or phrase directly related to your business. For example, “matt’s organic hot sauce” is a branded keyword. Category keywords are those that are much more general, such as “what is organic hot sauce.” This is an important distinction to make because you can see that someone entering branded keywords is already aware of my business. On the other hand, if someone enters a category keyword, they likely aren’t aware of any brands and are seeking information.
Large-scale keywords vs. long-tail keywords
Large-scale keywords are those that have a very high search volume and can drive a substantial amount of traffic to your site. Looking at the keyword tool results, we can see that “homemade sauce” is a widely used search term. Long-tail keywords are those that bring in little traffic on their own, but combined with other long-tail keywords, can account for a huge push in traffic.
Competitive vs. “not so competitive” keywords
This is where a keyword tool can really come in handy. By looking at the level of competition and the number of conducted searches, you can see how popular certain terms are compared to others. More than likely, the terms with the highest search volume are the most competitive. Another way to check this is to conduct a search for some of the most competitive search terms. If I enter a search term for “yummy salsa” and salsa-giant Pace shows up as the first result, I might reconsider targeting this keyword.
Other categories pertinent to your business
You have full freedom on how you want to organize your keywords. Others can include, “level of sophistication,” “category keywords vs. branded keywords,” “keywords used by my competitors vs. opportunities for underutilized keywords.” Whatever will help you organize your data is what will be most effective for your business decisions.
Step Three: Prioritize your keywords
By performing step two, this process is much easier – to prioritize your keywords is to take the findings from your organization and decide which ones to shoot for. These decisions are on a case by case basis, but some additional thoughts to apply include:
- Which keywords are most relevant to my content? If my hot sauce business wanted to prioritize “Texas made hot sauce” but there are no references to Texas in my content, I would either need to go back and revamp my content or select another keyword to prioritize.
- Which keywords will bring the highest quality traffic? Matt’s Organic Hot Sauce is not a picante sauce and is made in a completely different fashion. Thus, if someone were looking for information on picante sauce, they would get no help from my site. I don’t want that traffic, so I won’t be using “picante sauce” as a keyword.
- Which keywords do you have a fighting chance with?” This goes back to looking at the competitiveness of keywords – if you find a keyword with millions of monthly searches, your chances of coming to the top are low, especially if you’re new. That’s why focusing on long-tail keywords in the beginning can be a great practice in building traffic.
A Note on the Long-Tail
Before we wrap up this lesson, let’s take a closer look at long-tail keywords. These are particularly important to small businesses since these keywords are less competitive and targeted. Most long-tail keywords are category keywords since searchers using long-tail keywords are earlier in the buying process. This is great news since you want to bring in new customers that haven’t heard of your brand before. Of additional importance, search terms are growing in length – the average search term is now three words instead of one, so branching out into more specific search queries can serve as a springboard for launching your online business towards the top of several SERPs.
Phew! That was quite a bit. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from studying keyword research it’s this: keyword research is important. Don’t be afraid to invest time in this piece of your SEO puzzle – if your strategy isn’t based on solid findings and insights, all your efforts could be a waste. Even worse, your competitors will be laughing their way to the bank.
Join us next time and don’t forget to look at the SEO glossary at the bottom!
-Matt Winn, Marketing Associate
.SEO Glossary – Lesson Five: Keyword Research
- Keyword research: The practice of finding the best keywords to help searchers find your site, including keyword identification, organization and prioritization
- Branded keywords: Keywords that have direct or indirect references to your particular brand, indicating awareness of your company
- Category keywords: Keywords that are more general in nature with no relation to a specific brand, indicating an earlier stage of the buying cycle
- Large-scale keywords: Keywords that have a very high search volume and can drive a substantial amount of traffic to your site
- Long-tail keywords: Keywords that bring in little traffic on their own, but combined with other long-tail keywords, can account for a huge push in traffic. These keywords have generally low search volume and tend to be category keywords.
Learn SEO One Step at a Time Series:
Step One: An Important Introduction
Step Two: How Search Engines Work
Step Three: How Search Engines Rank Pages
Step Four: An Introduction to Keywords
Step Five: Keyword Research
Step Six: The Long Tail of SEO
Step Seven: Building a SEO Friendly Site
Step Eight: Link Building Basics
Step Nine: Basic SEO Measurement/Conclusion