Keyword Research is the process of figuring out which keywords would be best for you to try to rank for, so you can create content around those keywords to publish on your website. Each new page or post on your website is a new doorway into the site – a new opportunity to try to get that part of your website seen in the results for a particular search query.

The most important thing to remember when planning your keyword research and content strategy, is that search engine algorithms are trying to give people the best possible, most relevant results for their search, so we need to think about the ‘search intent’ of our target audience.

What are they typing in to the search engine? What are they saying when they search Google by voice? And what are they hoping to see at the top of the results?

What Are Keywords?

Keyword Research - What are keywords?

When I type something into Google, that’s my search query. But when I find out what other people are typing into Google, and I create content around that, including the same phrases in a relevant context, then those phrases are my keywords. These are words or phrases within my content, that make it clear what the content is about, so that the search engine algorithms and people themselves can assess the relevance of my content to their search.

Long-Tail Keywords

You might have heard people refer to “long-tail keywords”, but what does this mean? Single words and short phrases are likely to be more competitive than specific questions or longer phrases. A lot of people are trying to get the pages on their websites to rank higher in the search results, and a lot of them have been doing it for a long time now.

“The man who chases two rabbits catches neither!”

Trying to get a page on your website to rank for a single word or short phrase is likely to be difficult because of this competition with other people. It’s too vague – too general – and that basically means you’re targeting too wide an audience. You can’t please everyone. The man who chases two rabbits catches neither!

Using long-tail keywords just means that you’re using longer phrases or questions as your keywords, because you’re trying to rank for something more specific and be more relevant to a smaller audience.

Remember how I asked you to think about what your target audience are typing into Google, or what they’re saying if they search using their voice? Well, a lot of people don’t think about keywords at all. Older people still think in terms of going to Ask Jeeves and typing “how do you boil an egg?” and younger people are getting used to saying “Hey Alexa, how do you boil an egg?” This is how a lot of people word their search queries – as questions – as long-tail keywords. No one is just saying “egg” and expecting relevant results.

How do they know!?

Google wants to show people the web pages that have the most up-to-date, accurate and helpful content, that’s the most relevant to their search. It wants to give people what they’re actually looking for. But how does it know?

The search engines have a variety of ways of trying to measure whether your page is the best possible result for a search query. At the most basic level, if the words used in the search query actually appear in your content, in the same order, then that would be a good indicator that your page might be relevant enough to include in the results.

Next they’ll look at the context in which you’ve included those words and phrases. Have you used them in a meaningful context? And is that meaning the same or similar enough to the meaning intended by the person conducting the search?

Keyword Stuffing

Do you remember back in the olden days of the internet, when a lot of websites had loads of seemingly random words stuffed in at the bottom of the home page?

This was called ‘keyword stuffing’. It was a ‘black hat’ (very naughty) SEO technique that people used to trick Google into thinking that a site was relevant to a search query, even when it wasn’t. Google won’t let you get away with THAT kind of shady nonsense anymore!

We still need to use keywords so the search engine site crawlers know what our website is about, and what search queries to include us in the results for. But we have to make sure that they’re relevant and IN CONTEXT! Not just stuffed in randomly!

Retention/Bounce

Next they’ll look at whether other people (who found your site with a similar search query) seem to be finding some value in the content they find there. Did they stay on the page long enough to consume the content? Did they click on any links to navigate to other areas of your website? Or did they bounce out of there no sooner than they arrived?

If they bounce, this means your page has low retention – a low chance of holding somebody’s attention. Maybe it took too long to load and they weren’t prepared to wait. Or maybe it loaded quickly but they just didn’t like what they saw. Maybe it seemed irrelevant to them, or too wordy, or not wordy enough.

We need to think about all of this when doing our keyword research. We need to find out what kinds of questions or other search queries our target audience are actually searching for and consistently create content that reliably answers those questions or addresses those queries.

An important part that a lot of people miss here is that it’s important to CREATE CONTENT!

Write a blog!

You can’t include all of the keywords you want to rank for in a meaningful and valuable context on the first page. And it’s not really practicable to keep adding endless new pages without organising them into some sort of structure based on the topics they cover and the dates they were posted.

It would become unmanageable very quickly, so the best way around this is to have a blog section on your website. This will allow you to view and manage your posts by seeing them in date order and by organising them into categories based on topics covered.

The difficult bit is figuring out which keywords to try to rank for and then figuring out how to create the content around those keywords that has the best chance of ranking high enough in the search results to get you seen.

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How To Do Keyword Research

The goal is to figure out what your target audience is looking for – to look at the process that’s taking them to other websites instead of yours and reverse engineer that process, so you can do what those websites have done and get some of that traffic for yourself.

Who are your target audience or ideal customers? What are they typing into the search engine? And what information are they looking for? We want to find out what they’re looking for and then create that!

Free SEO Keyword Research Tools

You might already have a good idea of what kinds of questions the people in your target audience are asking…of what they’re typing into Google. But if you don’t already know what keywords to try to rank for or what content to create, then it’s time to do some keyword research!

The best place to start is by looking at trends, then use keyword research tools to check out your competition – to see what search keywords and phrases they rank for. Then you can try to create content that will compete with theirs in the search results.

Tools for Observing Trends
1. Google AutoComplete

Google AutoComplete showing alternative suggestions for the search query

Think of words that are relevant to the products or services you provide and start typing these into Google or YouTube.

Google AutoComplete will suggest search terms based on the sorts of things other people are searching for.

If hedge trimming is one of the services you provide, but ‘hedge trimming’ by itself as a keyword is too competitive, AutoComplete might give you some ideas…

If you were a gardener and I was your potential customer searching this on Google, a blog post with hedge trimming tips or information about the best tools to use might be very useful to me.I might not book your services this time around if I’m using your tips to have a go at it myself, but if you’ve helped me out then I’m more likely to remember your business next time my hedge needs a trim, or when someone asks me for a recommendation.

I’ll be aware of your brand. You will have built up my trust and earned my feelings of reciprocity in the longer term, rather than going straight in for the kill and then being forgotten about if you don’t win my business this time around.

2. Answer The Public

Check out answerthepublic.com. Try typing in the name of your industry, the products/services you offer or any other related words or phrases you can think of. Press enter and see what sorts of questions people are asking.Keyword Research - Result from answerthepublic.com showing examples of questions that people have asked search engines about hedge trimmingThe results will look something like this and will hopefully give you some more ideas. People are asking about how much hedge trimming should cost and when to do it, for example. They’re also asking about the legality and whose responsibility it is, presumably in situations where the hedge is on a property boundary or when birds are nesting, for example.

3. Google Trends UK

Use Google Trends. If there are two or more ways that people might word their Google search, you might like to see which search term people search for more.

Type in your first search term and press enter. You’ll then be given the option to compare it to other search terms.

Keyword Research - Google Trends showing search volume comparison between the search queries As you can see, ‘hedge trimming’ generally receives a higher volume of searches than ‘bush cutting’, but it isn’t winning that race by as large a margin as you might expect. ‘Bush cutting’ also receives a high search volume and might be slightly less competitive, but actually this probably refers more to rose bush cutting than to hedge trimming. You’d be targeting a smaller audience if you tried to rank for ‘rose bush cutting’, but it’s easier (less competitive) to be relevant to fewer people.

Scroll down the page on Google Trends to see suggestions of other related search terms you might also want to try to rank for.

You vs The Competition: Keyword Research Tools

Now that you’ve got some ideas, it’s time to go a bit deeper into your keyword research. We want to know more about how competitive and difficult our chosen search terms will be to rank for. We want to know what we’re doing wrong so we can stop doing it, and we want to know what our competitors are doing right, so we can do it too.

1. Google Search Console

Let’s start by looking at what keywords you already rank high enough for to get some impressions and clicks. Remember Google Search Console from my previous SEO blog post in this series? Log in again and click on the ‘performance’ tab in the menu, then scroll down.

Keyword Research - Google Search Console 'performance' tab

At time of writing, the Bigwheel Web Design website is currently not looking too clever. I’m not getting many impressions and my Click Through Rate (CTR) is very low on the impressions I do get. Not many people are seeing my website in their search results. And even when they do see my posts in their results, they’re not clicking on them.

This means that I need to look at the search appearance of the pages that show up for these queries and try to figure out why people aren’t clicking on them. If I use Google Advanced Search to search my domain for ‘guest posting service’ I can find the right result quickly. This is what I see.

Keyword Research - Google search result showing guest blog posting service page on this website

Perhaps it could be more eye catching and provide a more clear description of what’s on offer? Perhaps the people who saw this result weren’t convinced that it would be relevant to their search? Perhaps there might be a related keyword that would be easier to rank for?

The next thing to do would be to use the Moz Keyword Explorer or Ubersuggest to find related long-tail keywords and check their competitiveness or difficulty.

2. Moz Keyword Explorer

Use the Keyword Explorer at Moz.com. You can type in a keyword, your website address, the URL of a particular page on your site, or a page on your competitor’s website. Let’s start with a keyword. If Bigwheel Web Design was Bigwheel Gardening, I might be getting impressions for the keyword ‘hedge trimming’ but not getting the clicks.

Keyword Research - Moz Keyword Explorer showing results for the keyword

As you can see, ‘hedge trimming’ isn’t all that competitive a search term (difficulty score of 37). And the keyword suggestions and Search Engine Ranking Position (SERP) Analysis suggest that people’s main concerns seem to be that they want tips on how to do it themselves and information about how legislation might affect them. This is consistent with what we found earlier when we used Answer The Public, so now we really know something useful about what people are looking for. If we know what content people want, then we can create that content.

But what if I type ‘hedge trimming’ into Google to find the top ranking local result. This company would be my main competition for this keyword if I were also offering the same service in the same area. So let’s see what happens when I type their website address in to Keyword Explorer and search by root domain.

Keyword Research - Moz Keyword Explorer results for a root domain

Here we can see the other keywords they’ve ranked for, in order of their Search Engine Ranking Position.

This company would show up first if I searched for “tree care hatfield” or “tree surgeon stevenage”, which get up to 10 searches per month and apparently wouldn’t be very difficult to rank for. That being so, if we were in competition with this company then we might try to knock them off those top spots by producing better content than them around those same keywords.

3. Google Correlate

For more keyword and content ideas we can use Google Correlate to see which other search queries have search volumes that correlate with your chosen keyword.

Keyword Research - Google Correlate showing correlation between search terms

Some of the suggestions will be irrelevant due to chance correlations in search volumes, but there’s also some useful insights here. Some people are searching for ‘cutting’ rather than trimming. And a lot of people seem to be looking for the tools to do it themselves, not necessarily looking to hire someone at the present time.

We still want them to be aware of our brand though, and to feel a sense of reciprocity towards it, so it might be a good idea to write blog content about the tools available. Perhaps you could review the tools or recommend your favourites.

4. Google Search Console again! Moz Keyword Explorer again!

The fourth and final tip I have to help with your keyword research and content creation is to keep yourself up to date with what’s working for you and what isn’t, so you can double down or drop the dead weight. Go back to the Moz keyword explorer to see which keywords you’re ranking for and on which pages. Go back to Search Console to see which pages on your site are getting results.

Now ask yourself why? What’s so attractive about those pages when they show up in search results? If you can figure out what you did right, you can try to do more of that.

And if a page on your site isn’t generating any traffic, why? Can it be improved to achieve a higher Click Through Rate, or are you better off trimming the fat and creating some new content?

If a page doesn’t get results and it can’t be salvaged, just trash it! Delete it! There’s no benefit to having pages like that on your site and they’ll bring your overall rankings down with them.

‘Freemium’ Keyword Research Tools

‘Freemium’ means you can have a little bit for free, but you’ll need to pay to upgrade if you want the full kit and caboodle! The free SEO tools at Moz.com (mentioned above) are a great example of this. What they give you for free is enough to get started, but for higher limits and even more great features you’ll have to put your hand in your pocket and upgrade to Moz Pro!

Another couple of fantastic freemium tools are SEMRush and BuzzSumo.

1. SEMRush

SEMRush a very handy tool, with more features than you could shake a stick at! I’d encourage you to familiarise yourself with all of them, but for now we’re just going to look at the ones that can help us with our keyword research. You’ll have to sign up and log in to use it, and even then you’ll only get enough free credits for 10 requests. So use them sparingly until you’re ready to factor the extra £65 per month into your budget for the pro version!

As with the other tools I’ve demonstrated you can enter a keyword, your own domain name or a competitor’s domain name. You could also enter the URL for a particular page on your own or your competitor’s websites. Since we’re talking about Search Engine Optimisation, let’s give that a try.

The first page we see has some handy information on the average CPC (Cost Per Click) if we wanted to run a paid SEM (Search Engine Marketing) campaign using Google AdWords.

If you scroll down, you can even see some examples of high performing ads, so you know what you should be aiming for if you choose to run an ad campaign yourself. Good to know, but we’re not at that point yet because we haven’t created our content yet. We’re interested in doing keyword research so we can figure out what content to create.

For now it’s the ‘Phrase match’ and ‘related keywords’ sections that we’re interested in. SEMRush doesn’t seem to find any related keywords for ‘Search Engine Optimisation’, which is odd. I would have expected to see the acronym ‘SEO’ and perhaps the US spelling ‘Search Engine Optimization’ (calm down United States of Limp Bizkit! Putting a Z in words doesn’t make you a cool dude!)

The phrase match section has some info though. And from this we can see that it might be a good idea to create content for the people searching for a ‘Search Engine Optimisation company’, or for SEO in their locality. Location based long-tail keywords also seem to be much be cheaper when it comes to running ads and paying per click.

It also could be a good idea to create content to provide a definition and some explanation of what SEO actually is for those who don’t know.

Try it yourself by typing in a keyword, then your own website address, then a competitor’s website. Other great features of SEMRush include the Keyword Magic tool, Gap Analysis tools and SEO Content Template.

2. BuzzSumo

The final tool I want to tell you about is BuzzSumo – a tool that lets you “Analyze what content performs best for any topic or competitor”. The free version is pretty basic, but still quite useful. There’s a daily limit of searches of you can do though, so again, use your free searches sparingly if you’re not ready to upgrade.

Here we can see the content on this topic that performs the best across social media platforms. This is the competition to beat. This is relevant to SEO because, as previously mentioned, search engine algorithms are written with the search intent of actual human people in mind. If people love your content, Google will too!

If we want to create ‘Skyscraper Content’ that knocks our competition off the top spots in the SERPS, we can use the Moz Keyword Explorer and SEMRush to look at these particular pages on these websites, to figure out what they’re doing right so we can do it too and try to do it better!

Next month we’re going to be looking at On-Page SEO, so make sure to come back for that. In the meantime, I’d love to know how you’re getting on with your keyword research so please do leave a comment to let me know.

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Categories: SEO

Joe Ferris

Joe Ferris is a WordPress Consultant & Web Designer in Hertfordshire, offering website design, content creation and marketing services.

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