A simple, easy to follow guide to keyword research for beginners. Answering the questions ‘what is keyword research?’ and ‘how to do keyword searches?’, as well as looking at what to do with the results of your research, this article is full of tips to help get you started with this valuable SEO tool.
In my last blog, I looked at ‘writing web content for SEO’ and as part of that I briefly touched upon keyword research. Now I’m going to delve a little deeper into this subject, to give you a jargon-free guide to follow.
What is keyword research?
Keyword research is the process of identifying the actual search terms (keywords) that people use on search engines. It is about discovering how popular your keywords are by both the volume of searches and by how competitive they are.
Why research keywords?
Without keyword research for your business, you have no idea if the terminology you use online matches that of your target audience. Rather than guessing and hoping for the best, taking the time to research your keywords will help you to:
- Learn about customers
- Inform your content strategy – both for organic search (listings on Google results pages that appear because of their relevancy) and advertising
- Get found for the terms you think your customer is using and that are important for your business.
Step 1. Customer research
The starting point for any marketing activity should be your customer or target audience. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. What do they want? What do they ask? How do they describe your product or service?
Do some research with actual real-life customers.
This research could be as simple as asking a few contacts what they would type into Google when searching on a certain topic. Try to get a mix of customers, prospects, influencers and other friends of your business to give you their opinions.
Perhaps you could conduct a short survey using a free online research service like Survey Monkey. Or how about building the question into your telesales script for a couple of weeks, so at the end of the conversation you ask “could you tell me when searching for X online, what would you type into Google?”
These authentic examples should give you valuable insights into how your target market searches online.
Step 2. List the topics important to your business
Back to marketing basics now, focus on your vision and mission and think about what your goals are.
Are you selling something, advising, informing and helping people or influencing and making change happen?
With your head fresh and full of inspiration, write a list of topics that are important to your business. For example, if you sell upcycled furniture, then some of your topics might be ‘upcycling’, ‘furniture’, ‘sustainability’ ‘vintage’.
At this stage, keep the topics general, maybe listing five main themes of what you do.
Step 3. Add keywords to each topic
Around each business area or topic that you came up with, start adding associated keywords – include the words from the customer research you did in step 1 and anything else that comes to mind too.
Here, you are simply trying to think about specific keywords and phrases related to your subject, put everything that you think of on a list, don’t worry about refining it yet.
At this point, I start a simple Excel spreadsheet and list all of the keywords in one column (later on you will use this spreadsheet to add the results of your Google Keyword Tool research). Feel free to download my (very basic!) Keyword research template.
Tip: make sure you do this before you jump in and start using any keyword research tools! Otherwise, you could easily get distracted and go off on a tangent.
So, taking the example of selling upcycled furniture a step further, your topic of ‘upcycling’ might then become:
- Upcycle projects
- Upcycle ideas
- How to upcycle etc.
- Upcycled tables
- Upcycled chairs etc.
Step 4. Put your keywords in context
To enhance your list and identify more realistic search terms, come back to your customer or target audience again and think about:
- Questions – e.g. ‘how to upcycle furniture’
- Problems – e.g. ‘how to fix a broken chair’
- Solutions – e.g. ‘repurposing a broken table’
- Advice and information – e.g. ‘upcycling tips’ ‘best paint for upcycling’, ‘upcycling blog’
- Purchasing intent – e.g ‘cheap upcycled furniture online’, also ‘review’, ‘sale’, ‘free delivery’, a location e.g. ‘upcycled furniture Manchester’ and ‘comparison’
Perhaps there are relevant variations using words such as ‘UK’, ‘2016’ and ‘online’. Not forgetting any keywords and brand names specific to your business, as well as plurals.
Step 5. Find related keywords
Google ‘searches related to…’
There are a couple of ways that you can find other ideas for keywords or related keywords. The first and most obvious, is to search on Google and then scroll to the bottom of the results page to see Google’s suggestions ‘searches related to…’
You can see below that a search on ‘hairdressers Bristol’ brought up a variety of related terms – would you have thought of all of them?
If you see a related term that:
- is relevant to your website and its content
- will make people feel you have matched what they were looking for
- fits the profile of your target customer
- will bring the right kind of traffic to your website (i.e. to help you meet your goals)
- generally feels like a good fit for you
then go ahead and add it to your list.
Keyword research tools
The second way of finding related keywords, is to use one of the many online keyword tools. These can be useful, but only offer limited ‘free’ functionality – so you might get one or two searches a day or you might only see part of the results before you are prompted to subscribe for more. However, if you use a combination of different tools then you can get some good results free of charge.
Some of my favourites are:
SEMrush – type in a keyword and it will provide you with a list of related phrases, along with their search volumes and a rating of how difficult it is to rank for that term. You can get quite a few free searches per day, but you don’t get to see the full report. See below for my search on ‘leather handbags’.
Moz Pro Keyword Explorer – a nice simple tool to discover and prioritise keywords to target. Gives you two free searches a day and you get 1,000 suggestions. See my example below for a search on ‘video production’.
Keywordtool.io – gives you both keyword suggestions and keyword question suggestions, as demonstrated below through my search for ‘management training’. You can’t see the search volume or competitiveness of the keywords in the free version though.
Step 6. Check what terms your competitors are using
Part of any marketing activity should be to check what your competitors are up to, so get yourself back to Google and type in a couple of the most obvious keywords for your business, then see what and who comes up. How do they rank in the search engine results vs. you?
Have a look at the competition and see what they are doing, make sure you’re not missing anything off your keyword list that seems to be working for them. Also, look for any gaps in search terms that you might be able to capitalise on.
The aim here isn’t to copy your competitors, just to be aware of what they are doing and to gain an understanding of who they are and your chances of competing with them for keywords. For example, if your competitors are Amazon and other colossal organisations, then you will have to be realistic about what you can achieve and find strategies to compete on more unusual or longer keywords and phrases.
Step 7. Determine the search traffic and competitiveness for your keywords
The next stage in the process is to refine your keyword list so that it becomes a ‘hit list’ of keywords to target.
Google Adwords Keyword Planner
The Google Adwords Keyword Planner, although meant for creating Google adverts, is a great free tool to use next. Once you have signed in, select ‘Tools’ from the top menu and click on ‘Search for new words, using a phrase, website or category’. Then simply copy your keyword list from your spreadsheet and paste it into the ‘Your product or service box’.
You can leave the rest of the options blank and hit ‘Get ideas’ – see below for the upcycled furniture example.
Next download your list as a spreadsheet, delete any columns you don’t need and then copy and paste into your template.
Step 8. Keyword analysis
So, you’ve got a nice long list of keywords, along with data for how many searches are made on that keyword per month and a rating from Google as to how competitive it is. But what to do with it? How do you analyse keywords?
I always like a bit of colour coding to give you a quick visual overview and to help clarify your thinking. But first, add some filters to your columns and sort them by search volume and then by competition.
- Any keywords or search terms that have a negligible search volume
- Any keywords that are far too competitive and not relevant enough.
These are the keywords that you’re not really going to bother with. If they fall into your web content naturally and you feel strongly they are the right terms to use, that’s fine, but you will use your amber and green keywords alongside them. In my brief example, I’ve highlighted two phrases in red that didn’t have any monthly searches.
- Any keywords that have a reasonable amount of search volume and are not too competitive.
These are going to form the main bulk of your keyword strategy.
A word of warning – beware of choosing a very generic keyword that has a high search volume and seemingly low competition. It is unlikely that people searching on that topic would be relevant for you. E.g. searches on ‘recycling’ are unlikely to be people looking to buy upcycled furniture. It often makes more sense to go for lower volume, more specific and longer keyword combinations. E.g. ‘upcycled furniture ideas’.
- Any keywords that have relatively low competition, but a decent volume of search.
These are going to be your little treasures and you will take specific action on them. For example, ‘how to upcycle furniture’ has 590 searches per month and the competition is low. Entitling a blog post ‘how to upcycle furniture’ would be a great way to capitalise on this gem of a keyword.
If you wanted to investigate a specific term a bit further, within Google Adwords you can find out if certain months have had more searches than others. In the Keyword Planner Tool click on ‘Get search volume data and trends’, type in your term and you get a graph like this:
You might then decide to avoid publishing this particular blog in the winter months when there are fewer searches.
By now you should have a good selection of keywords for your business. You should be avoiding your red colour-coded keywords and prioritising your ambers and greens. Also, double check to ensure you have a balanced mix of:
- Short keywords, a few generic keywords – e.g. ‘video production’ (often called the ‘head’ of the search term by SEO types)
- Medium length keywords or phrases – e.g. ‘corporate video production London’ (sometimes called the ‘body’ of the search term)
- Longer keyword phrases or questions – e.g. ‘how much do video production companies charge?’ (called ‘long-tail keywords’).
Step 9. Check your website and update
I imagine you are feeling exhausted by this point; the sheer amount of data can be completely overwhelming. However, the most important part is still to come – putting your keywords into practice to help with SEO for your website.
There is no point spending lots of time researching keywords, if you then just carry on regardless, using the same old words and phrases that you have always used.
Here are a few tips on how to use your keyword research results effectively:
– Revisit your company’s key messages and edit appropriately to ensure your new keywords are incorporated naturally.
Note: if you haven’t got any key messages (the statements about your business that you want your target audience to remember), now is the perfect time to write some!
– Keep your key messages and your keyword research to hand whenever you, your employees or any contracted agencies are communicating online – make sure you include them in a natural way (see my blog on ‘writing web content for SEO’ for tips on how to do this).
– Conduct a review of your digital communications, look at your website, blog, email newsletters, social media and links to your website – do they include the keywords and phrases you have prioritised?
If not, create a plan to update your web content.
– Revisit your green colour-coded keywords, allocate some time to come up with ideas to capitalise on these little beauties. A blog is the most obvious, perhaps also a Youtube video or PR stunt that highlights them and claims them as your own. You might even reconsider website page titles and the names of your products and services, if appropriate.
Step 10. Review, revise and repeat
The final step, as with all good marketing practices, is to review, revise and repeat.
Give yourself a couple of months’ breathing space, then review your position on Google for your targeted keywords. If your keyword strategy is working, then you should see some improvement in your ranking and in visitor numbers to your website. You might need to make some tweaks and revisions to get the best from your keywords.
It is advisable to repeat your keyword research several times a year, to keep up with changes in search behaviour and trends.
But however often you do it, you can be sure that investing some time in keyword research will definitely pay dividends for your business if implemented correctly.
So, what are you waiting for? Fire up your spreadsheet and go Google!
© Julie Waite, July 2016.