What is keyword research in SEO?
Keyword research is the process by which you research popular search terms people type into search engines like Google, and include them strategically in your content so that your content appears higher on a search engine results page (SERP). Keyword research is a fundamental practice in search engine optimization (SEO).
The keyword research process involves chosing a topic for your content that is focused on a set of targeted keywords that you want your content to rank for.
The History of Keyword Research
SEOs have performed keyword research for algorithms since 2005. But keyword research as a practice has evolved a lot since then. Now search engines prioritize well-written content aligned with search intent when ranking content. Keyword density (how often you place a keyword in your content) is no longer the most important factor for search engine optimization. Keyword research tactics have adapted, and continue to adapt to ever-changing search engine algorithms.
Generally keyword research takes place in the early stages of campaigns and at times lays down a foundation for future projects, campaigns, or content. You can use keyword research to help you ideate around a new piece of content you are writing, to help you decide how to name your product features, or to optimize your website after publish.
Of course, keyword research strategies differ from small business to enterprise -- but we’re going to take a look at all types of best practices that can improve your ability to find the right keywords for your audience at the right time.
The Buyer’s Journey Defines Your Keyword Journey
Identifying your buyer personas and your buyer’s journey to purchase is a good business initiative and can help you decide which keywords you should target for pieces of content you plan on writing. The buyer's journey is important for many teams in your organization, not just your marketing team. Your sales team will have an easier time deciding how to approach a prospect or potential customer if they can identify where they are in the buyer's journey.
Since each user has their own unique journey, finding out what their demographic, intent, and goals are can yield many different keyword ranges for your use. Which is why it's important to create a content map. Your content map plots your buyer personas and your buyer's journey stages on a map, and will show you which personas or buyer's journey stages you may need to write additional content for.
Let’s look at a B2C journey: a user who wants racecar parts is going to have a much different search behavior than a user looking for a racecar toys for their child. But since they have similar keywords, it’s important to understand your buyer personas so the terms can be easily found for both parties.
SEO Keyword Research Process
Once you have your defined personas, you need to create a plan for the keywords you already rank for and keywords you want to rank for.
A good easy structure to follow is the PIE method. It’s something we recommend to our customers at the beginning of our onboarding process.
The term PIE, in this instance stands, for Protect, Improve, and Expand.
The Protect portion is concerned with keywords that you already rank for and want to keep locked in their position. Quick examples of these would include brand names and keywords that are closely related to your product or service. They are generally late-stage so conversions with these keywords are highly valued.
The Improve portion deals with opportunity keywords where you rank in the second to tenth Google search result pages. These are great “low hanging fruit” keywords that you can increase in authority with tweaks to the pages.
Finally, Expand is for the opportunity terms that do great in PPC but have no visibility in organic. These are keywords that do not rank in the top ten pages on Google. They also include new campaign keywords that you want add to your arsenal.
Bucketing them in this way, you can prioritize your time based on gaps that you find from this analysis. From there, you can begin your keyword ideation.
Keyword Research Best Practices
1. Searches Related To & People Also Ask
Along with learning how to do research with Google Keyword planner, here are some other ways Google gives us clues.
First, we have the search box itself. This gives you clues to keywords intimately related to your search that people are looking for. They are also time sensitive as Google only fills them in based on recent trends and search volumes.
The “Searches Related to…” Section further expands upon these keywords. Clicking on them can give you even more related keywords allowing you to build a keyword matrix that we will discuss further down.
2. Wikipedia’s Table of Contents
Wikipedia has a trove of information on topics. Its moderators do a great job of keeping the posts up to date with new content and relevant links. The table of contents on the side gives great information on categories that have been written about with close keyword relevance to the subject matter.
Clicking through these can give you additional topics to add to your keyword tracking.
3. Competitive Content Gap Analysis
Google Keyword Planner has a great function where you can submit a landing page and get the keywords related to it. If you have a specific topic in mind, you can input the top competitors for the term and see what supplementary keywords they mapped that page with.
For the example below with racecar parts, we input the top ranking URL and found the keywords listed on Keyword Planner.
How to Build a Keyword Matrix with LSI
Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) is an interesting topic in relation to SEO. A normal keyword research plan generally has a list of keywords alongside their volume and competition so an SEO could pick and choose depending on those 2 metrics. LSI adds a new dimension by giving supplementary relevance from keywords that are topically relevant. The Google and Wikipedia examples show easily available ways to creating a great keyword matrix.
Here are things to keep in mind when creating a keyword matrix:
1. When it Comes to Keywords Choose Quality Over Quantity
Now that you have a great keyword matrix, you’re looking to find the sweet spot with keyword competition and search volume. If the keyword is too general, they’ll likely be too diluted, and even if ranked for that keyword, the searcher may not convert as they are looking for specific things. At Conductor, we’ve found that using two to three word keywords bring us the biggest success.
Google Panda has hit many websites for using low-volume keywords and creating hundreds of pages. Build 10 well-optimized pages versus 100 that you may sacrifice quality on.
2. Avoid Broad Single Word Terms
Consider the last time you looked for something on Google with a single word term. Did you get the result you were looking for? Single word terms are generally too broad and too competitive and even if you rank, you will not convert your traffic.
3. Avoid Longer Tail Keywords
The longer your keyword is, the more specific niche you are trying to reach. Larger than four keywords can really specialize your content but the popularity will decrease just as steadily, reducing search volume.
4. Find the Sweet Spot
The only thing that’s left is the in-between, which includes two to three word phrases. Supplement these with the keywords from your LSI Keywords and build the page with article best practices and you should see great results.
You’re looking for an industry-related keyword that is not too specific or too popular that will convert traffic to your site and into customers.
Keyword research may seem daunting. But remember: this research will lay down the foundation for the rest of your content strategy. All your customers aren’t the same. Create content for the right audience and reach them at the right time.