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Sep 12th, 2017

How To Do Keyword Research – A Beginner’s Guide

If you’re reading our blog, it’s probably safe to say that you’ve embraced the value of search engine optimisation (SEO). But even after acknowledging that this is an indispensable aspect of online marketing, figuring out where to start is still a challenge. Fortunately, I’m here to help.

The single most important (and most challenging) thing you can do in an SEO campaign is select a list of powerful keywords to optimise for. In this post, I’m going to show you how to go about performing keyword research before you officially begin an SEO campaign.

Step 1: Begin by Defining Broad Keyword Categories

Keyword research begins as an offline exercise. Before you fire up your computer and take to the keyboard, begin with a good old-fashioned brainstorming session. Start by considering which topics you would like to rank for in the search engine listings. These are going to be broad categories that will be used to develop keywords later in the process.

At this stage in the game, you want to try to consider things from your target customers’ perspective. What types of topics are they likely to research when looking for a product or service like yours? Or alternatively, you may also consider what types of topics you would like your website to be connected with.

If your website already has a blog, these overarching topics are likely to correspond roughly to the topics you use to categorise your posts. This is a guideline and certainly not a hard-and-fast rule, but having a look at the broader organisation of your blog can certainly help jump-start the brainstorming session.

For Smart Traffic, we specialise in online marketing, with four overarching service areas:

  • Search engine optimisation
  • Pay per click advertising
  • Content marketing
  • Social media marketing

This is an admittedly broad take on our services, but this is the sort of big-picture approach you need as you begin your keyword research. With that in mind, here are some examples of categories that we could establish based on this list of services:

  • SEO
  • Digital marketing
  • Marketing analytics
  • Blogging
  • Paid search
  • Social media marketing
  • Inbound marketing

These are just examples, and other broad topics certainly apply. In any case, these categories are sufficiently broad to illustrate the level of category we’re talking about.

Step 2: Fill Out Each Category with Keywords

After you’ve developed the broader topics, it’s time to start filling in more specific keywords underneath each one. These are going to be words (or, more likely, semantic phrases) that you think people are going to type into the search engines, related to that category.

At this stage, we’re going beyond broad concepts to come up with ideas for what people are actually going to type when searching for information or products under a particular category. Let’s take ‘social media marketing’ as an example. Those in need of social media marketing services are likely to enter any of the following phrases in the search bar:

  • Social media marketing
  • Social media marketing tools
  • Facebook/Twitter/Instagram marketing
  • How to get more followers on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram
  • How much for social media marketing
  • Social media campaigns
  • Best social media marketing agency

The list goes on. At this point, there are no bad ideas – as we’ll be refining or even expanding this list later. If you think a particular phrase might be worth looking into, take note of it now. Do this for all of the categories that you laid out in Step 1.

Step 3: Develop Related Keywords within Categories

You may find yourself hitting a wall at this point. That’s when related keywords can come in handy. It’s time to fire up the computer and start using the search engine to help you come up with more ideas.

Take what you consider to be a promising keyword and Google it. At the bottom of the SERPs, you’ll see a list of related keywords. Some of these will only be tangentially related, but you’re likely to see a few good keyword ideas here that you hadn’t thought of yet.

You can take this as far as seems profitable, going down the rabbit hole with related terms. Keep going as long as they seem relevant enough to your products and services.

Step 4: Review Your Keywords to Ensure You Have a Healthy Mix of Options

As you’re filling out your list of potential keywords, it’s important to strive for balance. You’ll want to have a mix of short and snappy keywords (let’s say one to three words) and longer semantic phrases. The shorter ones are called ‘head terms’, and they’re likely to be more valuable (and therefore more difficult to corner). Longer phrases are called ‘long-tail keywords’. Competition is lower for these, but they’re still valuable.

Knowing the difference between short and long-tail keywords will help you determine where to focus and how much of your resources to invest in particular search terms. As we mentioned, you need balance. But we often find that those long-tail keywords offer high ROI.

Step 5: Check Out the Competition

Now we look to the competition. Open your browser in private mode (known as ‘incognito mode’ in Chrome), and start searching for the keywords that you’ve shortlisted. Browsing in private mode means that the search engines won’t personalise your results based on your previous search history and other demographic data they have collected about you and your computer. In other words, the results will be more or less objective.

Googling your terms will show you who is ranking well for them already. If there’s already a strong showing by your competitors for a specific term, you’re probably on the right track. Invest in outranking them for these terms, and your website is likely going to benefit.

It’s also worth noting which of your keywords they aren’t ranking for. Competition is likely to be lower for these terms, which means you can grab more (or even all) of the market share in this regard. With that in mind, don’t dismiss the phrases that aren’t turning up much of a showing from the competition – not yet anyway.

Step 6: Refine Your Keyword List with Google’s AdWords Keyword Planner

Google’s Keyword Planner allows you to view the search volume for the keywords on your list. This will give you an estimate of how many people are searching for these terms on a monthly basis, which will let you know how much traffic you stand to attract by optimising for that word or phrase. We should note that the Keyword Planner, alone, has limited offerings. However, you can couple the information from this tool with the functionality of Google Trends to get a bit more done.

Start by using the Keyword Planner to identify the search words and phrases that are not worth optimising for. These are the ones that attract such limited interest that – even if you were to optimise successfully and corner the market – the overall benefit would be negligible. There’s no real point in spending time and money on these terms.

Opposite this, the Keyword Planner may also reveal that some of the terms you’ve chosen have exceptionally high monthly search volumes. These can be attractive, but you can bet that competition is beyond high. All said and done, the ROI from targeting these keywords may be negligible. This isn’t to say that high-volume keywords aren’t worth anything – quite the opposite – but greater volume means greater competition. And this attracts major players with major budgets.

Step 7: Use Google Trends to Make Projections

Google Trends is an extraordinary tool when used in conjunction with the Keyword Planner. Once you’ve narrowed down the list with the planner, you can use Google Trends to get an idea of how a particular keyword may perform in the future. You might be surprised to learn how many of your competitors aren’t doing this. In other words, there’s plenty to gain by taking this additional step yourself.

In some cases, you’ll find that a particular search phrase with current low volume is projected to see a significant uptick in the future. Google’s algorithms are excellent predictors in this regard. If a particular keyword has low volume now, it will be much easier to optimise for it – even to dominate, as your competitors probably aren’t giving this semantic phrase much consideration.

If the keyword takes off in the near future and you’ve already cornered it, you’re going to get the lion’s share of that surge in traffic. As the competition periodically audits their keywords, this new phrase may come on their radar. But the fact that you’ve already invested time and resources in optimising for it means you’ll have a head start. The search engines will consider your website an authority, as it was active in this semantic realm long before it became an online movement in search.

Step 8: Take Voice Search into Account

These days, voice assistants such as Siri, Google Now and Cortana field more queries than ever, and it’s worth noting that the way we type a search query isn’t the same as the way we would ask one out loud. That’s why optimising for a specific keyword or phrase also requires thinking about how users are likely to phrase their query.

Voice search is usually carried out on a mobile device, and it’s often locally focused. In fact, optimising content for local search makes it more likely to be picked up by voice searches simply because search engines see it as more relevant.

But there are also advantages to actually optimising content for the semantics of voice search. Whereas typed searches usually hover in the one-to-three word range, voice searches are longer. Modern users have seen enough science fiction films to feel comfortable talking to computers in a conversational tone. Seven- to ten-word queries are in no way uncommon, and long-tail keywords are prime targets for voice search optimisation.

Due to the nature of voice search – which users generally employ to obtain fast, easily digested information on the move – it’s wise to incorporate voice-related keywords on informational pages. This will naturally happen on your business’ FAQ page, which in most cases is literally a list of semantically phrased questions and answers. You can also experiment with inserting voice key phrases into product pages to help drive highly relevant traffic directly to internal pages when possible.

Contact Smart Traffic to Launch Your SEO Campaign

I’ve given you a general idea of how anyone can begin keyword research. However, there are many other more technical tools at your disposal in this regard. If you’re ready to take your search marketing efforts to the next level, get in touch with Smart Traffic to learn more about how we can help.

James Fisher

About the author

James Fisher

James is a specialist in Social Media Marketing and likes to keep his ear to the ground with the latest trends. With a wide range of knowledge on the subject, he makes sure that our clients get the most out of their social media marketing strategies. In his spare time James enjoys travelling, reading and extreme sports.

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