Keyword Research

A successful SEO campaign will always start with a solid foundation built on quality research. Ideally, you will do two types of research at the beginning of any SEO campaign: Keyword Research and Competitor Research. This week we are going to take a look at Keyword Research, which forms the primary foundation for optimizing your website.

What is a Keyword?

In the world of search, a keyword is a word that you use when searching with a search engine. For instance, a fisherman might search on the word “boat” or “bait” when trying to find information related to fishing. Most searchers will actually use several words together, which is called a “keyword phrase.” When the searcher enters the keyword phrase, the search engine will try to return the best results possible with the most relevant results at the top of the list.

What Is Keyword Research and Why Is It Important?

So, what exactly is “Keyword Research?” Keyword Research is the process of understanding the actual search terms that people enter into a search engine. It is how we understand the language your prospects use to search for your products or services. Without hard numbers that the research provides, you are left with your best guess, which more often than not will mean missed opportunities and a less successful effort.

Understanding Your Prospects’ Language

As a business owner and industry insider, you will often have your own terminology and industry jargon. But your clients and prospects don’t necessarily think with this same terminology and may not even understand it. So, it is critical to understand what language (terms and phrases) they actually do use. People’s language is influenced heavily by where they grew up, their education, their previous exposure to the topic, and even their exposure to advertisements and other media related to the topic.

Interchangeable Terms & The Popularity Contest

The other challenge is that there are often synonyms and related terms that are interchangeable. For instance, if I need to find someone to help me with my taxes, I could potentially search on a number of similar terms. I could potentially use any of these keywords or keyword phrases:

  • “accountant”
  • “CPA”
  • “tax preparer”
  • “tax accountant”
  • “accounting firm”
  • “tax help”
  • and the list goes on...

So, through keyword research, we try to understand which terms are the most popular, but we don’t just blindly go with the terms that are most used. In the example above, the single keyword “tax” would be one of the most popular keywords. However, that would be too broad. Tax could be related to many different areas beyond personal tax returns. It could relate to sales tax, gas tax, tax software, tax law, tax policy, etc. So, we need to be more specific and focus on keyword phrases.

Understanding the Why of Search

Using the longer keyword phrases also helps you to better hone in on the searcher’s intent. Why are they searching and what are they looking for? For instance, if someone just searches “south beach,” are they looking for the “South Beach Diet” book, or South Beach diet recipes, or directions to “South Beach” in Miami, or things to do in “South Beach,” or something you haven’t even thought of. This aspect of keyword research takes careful thought and often needs to be fine tuned as the SEO campaign progresses.

The Basic Process: Find Your Keywords

1. Brainstorm the Starter List

Keyword research will typically start with your own brainstorming session to list potential words and phrases to further investigate. You start with just getting your gut feel for terms you think your audience would use. You can also look in industry magazines, advertisements, competitor websites, and other outside sources to help broaden your starter list.

2. Use Keyword Tools For Research

After you have created a starter list, you would then use a tool (or tools) such as the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. For each keyword phrase, these tools will give you a list of related search terms and phrases and how frequently those terms are searched. You would then pull these terms into your favorite spreadsheet.

3. Refine The List

You want to examine the list and filter out terms that are irrelevant, too vague, or have the wrong intent. Once you’ve got a strong list, you then look to where you can combine terms and decide which phrases you want to be your primary focus. You would then use these terms to help guide your page titles, headings, URLs, and content.

It is an On-Going Process

It is important to understand that keyword research is an iterative process. It is not a one-time project and you are done. You will want to work on monitoring and refining your keyword focus as your campaign matures. You will need to understand which terms drive more traffic, which terms provide better conversion rates, and which terms are less effective. We’ll get into this more in future posts as we discuss analytics and the importance of SEO maintenance.

Stay tuned for next week when we discuss the next critical research aspect: Competitor Research.