What’s the importance of keyword research for SEO? Keyword research is important because it finds the topics people are searching for that are related to your products or services.
This allows you to build content that answers the questions people are asking online. And by picking the keyword phrases they’re actually using, you’ll lead them to the content you have provided.
This gives you a foot in the door for a conversion when you promote your brand and provide links to your products or services.
So, we do keyword research to find the exact phrases people are using. These will lead us to topics to build content around that promotes your brand.
Understanding Search Engines
Each page or post online can have hundreds of keyword phrases for which Google will return it. Each of these keyword phrases is like an index entry to the article. And Google keeps these indexes for every web page across the entire World Wide Web.
The same principle applies to all search engines, but Google is the most important. Google receives 87% of search traffic is the U.S., Bing garnishes 7% and Yahoo gets about 3%.
So, for any topic on which you may write, there can be hundreds or even thousands of keyword phrases from which to choose.
Finding Related Terms Can Suggest an Outline
SEO research of keywords, then, means identifying the phrases people are using to return any given topic. But it’s more than that. It also leads us to keyword phrases with less competition and to related phrases as well.
You may have a primary keyword phrase and its synonyms for an article, e.g., “SEO research of keywords” is synonymous with “keyword research in SEO”. Google has it listed both ways, along with many other related phrase listings.
So, you can use these related keywords to develop sub-topics in the article with section headings. Each sub-topic will use a keyword phrase people are actually using, bringing in additional search traffic. These related keywords can become an outline for the intended content.
Keyword Analysis Begins with Finding Seed Keywords
So, what phrases do you think people will use to find your goods or services? The answer to this question will provide a “seed” keyword list, maybe of one or two words each. With this short seed keyword list we’ll generate a much larger list of variations.
With that expanded list in hand we’ll cull through them to find the very best ones for your business.
Understanding the Buying Cycle
The buying journey of an online shopper often begins with seeking general information before a purchase. They need to know more and your content can meet that need. This is an opportunity to help them and plug your own brand and direct their purchase to you.
I hope you’ll soon see that keyword research is all about building content for your website. Each page you create gives Google another opportunity to direct searchers to you!
With more information they may want to navigate to specific product pages. For either an online store or affiliate marketing program you’d provide great content pages, with reviews, thus creating a purchasing funnel.
Whether it’s products or services they are looking for, they’re going to want to see comparisons with reviews. If you can fulfill their need, you’ll get an opportunity to promote your brand.
Each buying cycle phase requires different content to be developed. An informational article would have different content than a comparison article. The former may be background information while the latter could be a list format.
And finally comes transactional pages, which gives them an opportunity to buy your product or contact you. These also need different content. So, each stage of the buying journey requires different content, each page with its own content and keyword phrases.
From getting their attention, to peaking their interest, to leading them to buy, you can guide them along their path.
Building Your Keyword List
You can add to your seed keyword list by typing a seed keyword or phrase into the Google search box. As you type Google will make some suggestions. Take as your own anything that looks good.
When you hit the enter button, and you get the SERP (search engine result page), there will be another list of suggestions at the bottom of the page.
You can also add any of these to your growing keyword phrase list, and we’ll do further evaluation of each one later in our research.
Using a Keyword Research Tool
To do a good job with our keyword research we’re going to use an online keyword research tool. Two of the top research tools are Ahrefs and SEMRush, but there are many other less effective tools out there.
Are there free keyword research tools? Yes. What are the best free keyword research tools? The best free keyword research tool for SEO is Google Keyword Planner. However, it lacks many of the key features of the paid tools.
Now we’ll put the keyword list that we have accumulated so far, related to your niche, into our keyword research tool. From that, the tool will compile hundreds of variations, along with important statistics for each one.
From these, through our SEO keyword analysis process, we’ll narrow them down to 3 or 4 main phrases to use with a single article, keeping only those that will yield the most traffic to our content with an acceptable level of competition.
What Important Statistics Does our Keyword Research Tool Provide?
Important statistics for each keyword includes search volume, traffic potential, and key information relating to ranking difficulty, along with organic traffic, i.e. vs. paid ads. Examining these values will help us select the best keywords.
Beyond theses metrics the keyword should have business value, and match the searcher’s intent of the query.
We’ll look at these one at a time.
What is Search Volume?
Search Demand Curve
Search volume, or search demand, is a number that represents how many times per month someone enters a particular phrase into Google’s search box.
If the search demand for a term is very low, that means few are using it. These tend to be longer more specific terms, labeled Long Tail in the demand curve graph.
So, the 100 most popular terms could be used millions of times a month, while at the lowest end of the scale a term could be used 10 or fewer times. Both Google and our tools keeps track of this.
If the search volume is very high, then that phrase is going to be super competitive. This usually happens with shorter keyword phrases of one or two words, such as your seed keywords.
However, “Long Tail” doesn’t refer to how many words the phrase has but how often it’s used as a search term. Its name is derived from the long tail of the demand curve.
We’re usually interested in somewhat long-tail phrases but with at least double digit activity, or better yet, a couple hundred monthly searches. These are lower competition but still have enough traffic to make it worthwhile.
Search Volume and Organic Traffic
When looking at search volume we also have to consider how much organic traffic a particular query receives. Just because a term has a high search volume it doesn’t necessarily mean people are clicking on the organic results.
That’s because there may be ads and/or a Google generated info or knowledge graphs on the top of the SERP (search engine results page). It’s possible that even with a first page placement your snippet could get few clicks because its placement is towards the bottom of the page. But a very high search volume could offset this deficit.
So, what is a good search volume for a keyword? That depends on the placement of your snippet on the SERP and the strength of your own website in terms of authority with Google. We’ll discuss site authority with keyword competition, below.
What is traffic volume? This metric reveals the average daily traffic of any page listed on the SERP. This can be much higher than search volume for the main keyword, and is a better indicator of the keyword’s strength.
Remember we said that any single page can have hundreds of keywords for which Google will return it in the search results pages?
All those keywords combined can drive far more traffic to any given page than a single keyword phrase would. And with a good research tool you can see all those related search terms that generate the additional traffic.
And you don’t have to have hundreds of exact keyword phrases stuffed into your page. That’s because Google can and does lump some of the related terms together when returning a piece (class) of content.
Some of these related keywords may be good ideas and will be added to our growing list of phrases. And others will seem to be “off the wall”, and you say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Still others will become sub-topics for the outline for our article.
What is Keyword Competition
Some keywords are more difficult to rank for because there is more search demand and thus, more web pages competing for them. But there’s another factor.
What is Rank Difficulty?
Rank difficulty is another metric and it indicates the perceived strength of the competition’s web pages that are returned in the SERP. Let me explain.
Every website domain has an authority rank score assigned by Google from 0 – 100. This is a measure of the trustworthiness of the domain.
At one time it was visible to those who cared to discover it (us SEOs), but now Google keeps it under wraps, so our research tool will estimate its value.
Additionally, every web page also has its own ranking score, and all of a website’s pages together contribute to its domain’s strength.
How is Page Ranking Determined?
Google judges a web page’s authority by the number of high-quality links pointing to it from other web pages. These are called backlinks.
If others like a web page well enough to link to it, it’s sure a sign to Google of quality and trustworthiness of content. And Google keeps track of all these links to every web page and where they came from.
Because they’re trying to give you the best results possible, Google likes to return pages with higher page and domain authority first, unless there’s a compelling reason not to.
Competing with Domain Authority
So, to use a keyword that high-ranking domains are listing for, your domain ranking will have to be on par with theirs. And we’ll consider your domain’s rating to see if your site can tackle a particular keyword. If not, it may be better to choose another keyword that’s less competitive.
But if your article is stronger or better targeted, then you could still push your way to the top. If your article is stronger, then it should be able to garner more quality links, and so make its way to the top.
More targeted has to do with search intent, which is discussed below.
But there are quality links and there are junk links. The latter are considered spam and can actual hurt your ranking.
Ranking Difficulty and Authority on Topic
The last consideration of rank difficulty is topical authority. But unlike the others, this is a judgment call. When considering the top pages in the SERP, I ask the question: “Is this domain authoritative for the topic on which they have written?” That should lead you to the right conclusion.
If the top pages seem to be authoritative, then you’ll also have to be in order to get to the first page. That is, you’ll have to appear to be an expert in the field.
Summary of Ranking Difficulty
Both high search demand for keywords and competing webpages good backlink profiles make a term more competitive. If you want to tackle more competitive terms you’ll have to develop your website’s backlink profile to compete.
Long-tail keywords are less competitive by definition so we’ll tend to go that way, but there are other factors to consider.
What is Business Value of a Keyword?
Business value is another important criteria for targeting keywords. It is a measure of how profitable any keyword would be to your business.
We’re going to assign a letter grade to some keyword phrases to score their business value.
Examples of Keyword Business Value for SEO
Say you’re a wedding photographer and one of the keywords on your generated list is “amateur wedding photography”. That would be no good for our professional photography business. So it has no business value to us at all, give that keyword an “F” for business value.
Now, an article written for the phrase “your wedding ceremony in pictures” would be good for our business. This a terrific opportunity to showcase your work. For a business value, let’s give it an “A”.
While an article written for “best wedding venues near Philadelphia”, would give you an opportunity to share a link at the bottom of the page, they’d actually have to click on the link to see your great work. However, it still promotes your brand, so we’ll give it a “C” for business value.
All those with passing grades will let you both serve the searcher’s need and introduce your brand and/or direct them to your product or service page.
Business Value for SEO Means ROI
So we need to make sure any topic we develop has a return on your investment. That is business value!
Using Keyword Phrases without Business Values
Sometimes you may want to target a keyword even when you won’t be able to promote your brand. This could be done just to get lots of backlinks to a page on your website, which will boost its ranking with Google.
Now that page can link internally to other of your pages or articles that do have business value. This will relay some of that page’s Google-rank to these other pages, boosting those page’s prominence. Yes, that’s the way it works!
If we did this we’d look for higher competition keywords for which we can build clearly better content, and best the competition’s pages (those results on the top half of the first SERP). Thus, we hope to earn more links than the competition and move to the top of the SERP.
What is Search Intent for SEO?
Your goal is to get your article listed on the top half of the first page of the search results for the content’s main keyword. Yet, to be successful, your content must match the intent of the searcher’s query. Otherwise Google won’t show your page at all for that keyword.
So say, a searcher is looking to “replace a leaky faucet” but only sees how-to guides when they wanted product listing instead. That keyword didn’t return the content they’d expected. In this case, she will be disappointed with the results.
Who gets to define what content should be returned for any keyword phrase? Google does, of course! They look at the headings and keywords on a page, and return content that more or less fits what they’re expecting. And, if we know what content they expect we know what content to give them.
So, we must examine the SERP for the proposed keyword phrase to determine the kind of content being returned. That will reveal the search intent for any keyword phrase, or at least what Google’s concept of it is. And we may have to pop open the articles to get an idea what’s being said and how the article is structured.
Content Type Reveals Search Intent
There are different types and formats of content. There are product pages, videos and blog posts. Blog posts can be opinion pieces, product reviews, product lists or comparisons, or information articles
All the types of content correspond to one of the four broad categories of searcher intent shown in the marketing funnel diagram below. And these content types also corresponds to one of the phases of the buying cycle.
With informational pages, you’ll have an opportunity to raise awareness of your brand. Also, there’s navigational intent where they’re interested in a specific page, product, service or brand that they’ve heard about. Then when they have commercial intent, they want comparison formats in order to make a buying decision. And finally they’ll move on to transactional intent when they’re ready to place the order or make the call, at which time links to your product or service pages are made available.
Better Targeting Refines Search Intent
But beyond that, the more you can laser focus your article to respond to the searcher’s question behind a keyword phrase, the more closely you’ll match the intent of the search.
If after looking at the SERP we think the articles there haven’t done an excellent job of answering the searcher’s question, then that’s the exact place where we can jump in and provide a better answer.
If you can provide the best answer available you may be able to surpass even more authoritative sites that have given less well focused answers to the same keyword phrase. There’s always room at the top for those who can nail search intent!
Concluding Search Intent
So, for a particular keyword phrase we’ll look at the SERP to determine the kind of content being returned. The content we see there must be consistent with the content we propose to build for our article.
If you can’t match search intent of a keyword phrase, then you’ll have to move on to another keyword phrase. But the more thoroughly you can answer the searcher’s question, the better your article will do in Google.
The article you write doesn’t necessarily have to be long, but it does have to fully answer the searcher’s question, that is, the searcher’s intent of the query.
Important Aspects of SEO
There are several factors that contribute to a successful SEO strategy, but keyword research ranks 1st among them.
Other SEO Factors
- On-page SEO involves the choosing and placement of keywords on the page and use of headings, i.e., page structure. It also includes quality, depth and/or length of article. Additionally we’re concerned about page load speed, the faster it loads the more user friendly it is. For more information on on-page SEO, see this article for writing great content.
- Off-page SEO means link and citation building, along with social media use, which builds your domain authority. Building website authority is a process that takes time. For more information, you can see this link building article.
- Also there are knowledge and info graphs and “featured snippets”. These requires us to use structured data coding, which Google then uses to build them. But you must rank on the first page to garner this prize.
- Another major factor is the activity on your Google My Business account. This means regular postings to your My Business (Maps) account. Also important is getting reviews regularly, along with your timely response to those reviews!
Keyword research leads you to phrases that have the most traffic and potential value for your business, and avoiding those that are too competitive for your own domain’s Google rating.
A good keyword research tool will help us build a keyword list and then pare it down with the qualifying metrics it provides for each phrase. The metrics are search demand, traffic volume, organic traffic, and ranking difficulty scores for both domains and pages, along with business value.
While building a large backlink profile is profitable, it’s also time consuming. Keyword research, however, is always essential and profitable and by contrast requires much less time and expense.
And by matching a keyword phrase with content type and fully answering the searcher’s question we’ll do a good job of matching search intent. This will be rewarded with better placement in the Google listing.
Although keyword research is challenging, it’s the quintessential element of a winning SEO strategy. To say it another way, you can’t succeed in SEO without excellent keyword research!