Keyword research is one of the most important, valuable, and high return activities in the search engine marketing field. Through the detective work of dissecting your market’s keyword demand, you learn not only which terms and phrases to target with SEO, but also more about your customer base as a whole.
Keyword research enables you to predict shifts in demand, respond to changing market conditions, and ensure that you are producing the products, services, and content that web searchers are already actively seeking. In the history of marketing, there has never been such a low barrier to entry in understanding the motivations of consumers in virtually every niche.
Every search phrase that’s typed into an engine is recorded in one way or another, and keyword research tools such allow you to retrieve this information. However, those tools cannot show you (directly) how valuable or important it might be to rank for and receive traffic from those searches. To understand the value of a keyword, you need to research further, make some hypotheses, test, and iterate the classic web marketing formula.
Keyword research tools provide valuable insight into the thinking of your potential customers. When users go to search engines and type out their search queries, they may use language that is entirely different from what you expect. Even if your product or service provides a solution they can use, they may start with a description of their problem. Someone with diabetes might simply type diabetes in the search box first, and the next search might be for diabetes medication or relief for diabetes symptoms.
Searches often go through a progression, with users trying certain searches, checking out some sites, refining their searches, and repeating this process until they finally find what they want. Taking the time to understand typical search sequences will impact your keyword strategy.
Other aspects include the demographics of your target population (male/female, age, income, etc.), where they live, and the time of year. Demand for seasonal products such as Valentine’s Day cards, for example, peaks sharply at the relevant time of year and then declines rapidly.
Understanding the Long Tail of the Keyword Demand Curve
It is wonderful to deal with keywords that have 5,000 searches per day, or even 500 searches per day, but in reality, these “popular” search terms may actually comprise less than 30% of the overall searches performed on the Web. The remaining 70% lie in what’s commonly called the “long tail” of search The tail contains hundreds of millions of unique searches that might be conducted only a few times in any given day, or even only once ever, but when assessed in aggregate they comprise the majority of the world’s demand for information through search engines.
Traditional Approaches: Domain Expertise, Site Content Analysis
One of the smartest things you can do when initially conducting keyword research is brainstorm original ideas with business participants before getting keyword tools involved. This can be surprisingly effective for coming up with numerous critical keywords. It can also help you understand if your organization thinks about your offerings using different language than your customers, in which case you may want to adopt!
Start by generating a list of terms and phrases that are relevant to your industry and pertain to what your site or business offers. The brainstorming phase should ideally result in a list of several dozen to several hundred or more keyword searches that will bring relevant visitors to your site.
One easy way to begin this process is to gather your team in a conference room and then follow these steps:
- Produce a list of key one- to three-word phrases that describe your products/services.
- Spend some time coming up with synonyms that your potential customers might use for those products and services. Use a thesaurus to help you with this process.
- Create a taxonomy of all the areas of focus in your industry. It can be helpful to imagine creating a directory for all the people, projects, ideas, and companies connected to your site. You can also look at sites that are leaders in the industry and study their site hierarchies as a way to start your thinking about taxonomy.
- Broaden your list by thinking of higher-level terms of which your products or services are a subset.
- Review your existing site, and extract what appear to be key phrases from your site.
- Review industry association and/or media sites to see what phrases they use to discuss your topic area.
- List all your various brand terms.
- List all your products. If your site has a massive number of products, consider stepping back a level (or two) and listing the categories and subcategories.
- Have your team imagine they are potential customers, and ask them what they would type into a search engine if they were looking for something similar to your product or service.
- Supplement this by asking some people outside your business what they would search for preferably, people who are not directly associated with the company.
- Use your web analytics tool to see what terms people are already using to come to your site, or what terms they are using within your site search tool if you have one.
Gathering intelligence on how potential customers discuss related products and services is what a traditional marketer might have done prior to initiating a marketing campaign before the Web existed. And of course, if any of this data is available to you from other departments of the company, be sure to incorporate it into your research process.
Include Competitive Analysis
Your competitors face the same problem you do, and unless you are very lucky, they are also probably resourceful and creative. You can likely count on their having invested in learning how their customers think and the best ways to appeal to them. So, add these steps to the process:
12. Review your competitors’ websites and see what key phrases they use for their products and services that compete with yours.
13. Record what nonbranded terms they use for their business.
14. Read any articles they have written that are published on sites other than their own.
15. Observe what the media may have had to say about them.
Add these ideas into the mix and you will have a wonderfully robust set of keywords to use as a starting point.
You may ask why you should go through all this trouble. Don’t the keyword tools to take care of all this for you? There are two reasons why the extra effort is critical:
- Your internal team has a rich array of knowledge that the keyword tools do not: they know where to start. Keyword tools require the initial input of information, and the quality of the data they provide is only as good as the quality of the “seeds” you give them.
- The upfront brainstorming helps your organization’s stakeholders better understand the market and the opportunities.
Once you have completed these steps you will have in hand a rich set of terms of interest. The next step is to expand those terms of interest using keyword research tools.
This post contains the content of book The_Art_of_SEO_2nd_Edition