One part of SEO many have heard of is keyword research. After all, every time we use a search engine, we’re using a keyword (the name is a misnomer, most keywords have more than one word in them!)
Many SEO campaigns start with keywords – knowing what the audience within your niche is searching for is a powerful advantage. During this we’re going to use tools to research the real words people type in search engines. Speaking the language of your audience, and not technical jargon, is how you’ll reach them – just as in the offline world.
Once you have a variety of keyword ideas, you can then use them for on-page SEO, improving your content, building helpful pages and finding relevant sites in your niche.
1. Give your website a home for all topics:
Let’s begin with something practical – think of all the important topics our website is about. Don’t try and come up with every keyword variation, but do group your ideas in topic buckets – each bucket covering a page or closely related set of pages.
If you are blogging, then you’ll have a bucket for each of the major themes you cover, such as cake recipes or restaurants in Birmingham. If you have a business site, you’ll need a bucket for each product or service you offer.
Now expand these topics into a list of keywords. Taking each topic in turn, think of all the different ways someone might search for them. What would you like our site to rank for? Put yourself in the shoes of your audience – what words would they search with to find your content?
If nothing else, making sure you have a suitable home for your major topics means you are thinking about how visitors will find your product, service or content.
2. See what keywords your site is visible for:
Before finding fresh keywords, a smart way to get ideas is to see what you already rank for. These are the topics Google or Bing already think you are a relevant resource on – this can either highlight that they haven’t found you yet, some topics you’ll be surprised by, or where your site has already managed to make progress.
Using third-party tools, such as SEMrush or Serpstat (both of which let you run a number of free reports), you can get a snapshot of the keywords your site is visible for. You might not be high enough to earn traffic with these rankings yet, but you have to start somewhere!
3. See which keywords send traffic to your site:
If you’ve set yourself up with Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools, you can now get some free keyword ideas.
Both tools show exactly the search terms they have shown your site for, and how many people have clicked on your result.
For example, Search Analytics data details the queries you’ve appeared for, the average ranking position of your page and how many folks have chosen to click on your result.
4. Expand your keyword targets with related searches:
A fantastic and free way to get new ideas for keywords in your niche is by using the data Google gives for each search. After you do any search in Google, you’ll find Searches related to it at the bottom. Can you use any to improve your content?
Similarly, we can get lots of ideas using Google’s Suggest functionality (the list of ideas Google shows when you start typing in the search bar). These terms appear as Google is frequently seeing them used.
Even better, some of these tools let you do the same thing for YouTube, Amazon, Wikipedia and more to get other search types such as video or retail terms.
5. Check out your competitors:
Another quick, and valuable SEO tactic – see what your competitors are ranking for. Go to one of the tools used to check out our own rankings, but put in a competitor domain. You’ll quickly see what terms they are getting traffic from, and can take the best for yourself!
If you don’t know who your competition is, search for some of your most important keyword targets – sites that consistently rank well are the ones to take a look at.
Don’t put in a huge website that sells many items such as Amazon (unless you like digging through mountains of data!) Pick someone big enough to have a lot of keywords, but niche enough to specialise.
Now, just because a competitor is ranking well for a keyword, doesn’t mean you should try and target it. It has to be highly relevant to your site and audience. But, this is a quick and effective way to use others folks’ hard work to uncover audience interests.
6. Choose suitable keyword targets:
At some stage you are going to have a large list of potential keywords. We need to find a way of picking the best ones to concentrate on. Within this we want a mix of head and long-tail terms.
Head terms are searched more frequently, have less words (3 or less in most cases) and are often much more generic and competitive as a result. Long-tail terms are longer phrases (commonly over 3 words) and more specific. While long-tail keywords are usually less popular, we can usually tell exactly what the searcher is after. Think of shoes vs. men’s brown chelsea boots.
There are a number of tools we can use to find keyword volume data, including Google’s Keyword Planner (which requires an active AdWords account to make full use of), SEMrush (paid and free options) and WordStream (paid and free options).
Use these to remove keyword ideas that have too little, or even too much, volume, generate a healthy mix of head and long-tail targets, check out the competition and even find new ideas.
Want to learn more?
- An introductory guide to keyword research
- Keyword research for e-commerce websites
- Google Trends – a tool to show keyword popularity over time
- Is your keyword strategy affecting your search engine rankings?
- Are keywords still important for SEO?
Looking for more? You can read on or watch our video for a handy overview of some of the top tips covered in this guide: