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I am sure you’ve heard of the term “keyword research” before. Everyone is talking about it, yet it’s often misunderstood.
Keyword research is the process of finding words and phrases that best represent what your site does. Keyword research is heavily based on searching behavior: We research keywords that people tend to type in the search box. The main goal of keyword research is to get your pages rank for keywords we optimize them for.
It’s been in attention baiting headlines many times: Many of those claim both SEO and keyword research on deathbed and it’s been nothing new for as long as SEO exists.
The truth is, neither keyword research nor SEO are going anywhere. They are evolving and maturing, yes, but not dying for sure.
There are more tools and trends emerging making keyword research more interesting and insightful. While it was merely finding terms with lower competition and high volume a few years ago, it’s more than that today.
Do better keyword research with these three free downloadable resources:
Keyword research starts with defining the core terms (or seed terms or head terms). These are the most essential terms that your industry revolves around. Further into keyword research your task will be to expand the list of your core terms with various keyword modifiers.
That being said, you may come across slightly different ways to explain the keyword structure, but I prefer to stick to the most simple one. A keyword consists of:
Your core term can be as broad and as generic as the nature of your business dictates. In most cases, you are the best (and maybe the only one) to tell which words define your business best.
For example, if you are running a restaurant, your core term isn’t really [restaurant] because you don’t want to rank #1 when people simply type [restaurant]. The real word you want to rank for is whatever city you are in plus restaurant: That’s what will drive customers your way.
So in this simplistic scenario, your core term is something like [Austin restaurant]. On top of that, your other core terms may be:
It may be really hard to rank well for [Austin restaurant], so depending on the nature of your restaurant, your keyword modifiers may be:
More generic keyword modifiers that may help you get some targeted visits may be:
Now, enough with restaurants. I understand that this article is primarily for content creators but I needed a very concrete example to illustrate the concept better. Let’s say you are creating an in-depth content marketing course, then:
The basic and traditional goal of keyword research is to expand your core term using all kinds of modifiers and assess which of those phrases will give you more chances to rank as high as top 5 Google search results.
So let’s talk about distinguishing your core terms first.
Like I said, in most cases those will come from your common knowledge. If you’ve been in the industry at least for some time, you’ll know which words flow around. However there are tools to help, of course. Google AdWords Keyword Planner Tool is perhaps the most useful one to start with. Type the first word that comes to mind and it will suggest more terms and phrases.
For example, for [chocolate] top suggestions are:
These are all solid core terms to start your research with.
Another solid idea to start your keyword research with, especially if you are somewhat new to a niche, is to look for industry thesauruses and glossaries to go through most common terms and definitions. This will give you a few more ideas of core terms to start with. Even generic thesauruses will help. For example, Thesaurus.com is always a good start. Here are its suggestions for chocolate terms:
Searching Google for [chocolate terms] will give you lots of more words to play with. Here’s what I found:
Simply expanding your list with longer phrases isn’t enough. The actual goal is to find valuable keywords.
Simply put, a valuable keyword is the one that has a high demand and a low competition. This means that enough people type this phrase in a search engine for you to go into trouble to create content for it while not too many publishers have already created content targeting that exact word for you to have a chance to rank high.
As you can imagine, it’s not really easy to find keywords like this because web publishers and marketers have been searching for them for many years now. Luckily, there are tools to help.
I have explained a quick keyword research exercise here. In short, using the tool like Serpstat, you need to find keyword phrases with high search volume (i.e. high demand) and low competition (i.e. low offer)
If chocolate is your major topic, here would be your lower-competition phrases that offer pretty exciting content ideas:
Mind that any of the above can be expanded further: Just click any phrase and the tool will suggest even more ideas:
These are all great content ideas and you can estimate the demand (search volume) and offer (competition) at a glance too.
However, take the competition number with a grain of salt. It is based on the aforementioned Google AdWords Keyword Planner Tool competition metric, however it doesn’t reflect the organic search competition: It shows how many advertisers want to pay to show their ads for that term, so it is not always the competition you are looking for.
For example, Google will label competition for the word [chocolate] as “low”, however it’s almost impossible to actually rank for that word in Google, because it’s too common and too many powerful publishers already rank for it…
When you finally have the list of the keywords you want to base your content around, make sure you actually search Google and scroll through top 10 results. Here are a few flags I am using:
You can go even geekier and search for [allintitle:keyword]. This will show how many web pages have that term in the page title (i.e. headline). This is exactly how many web pages you are competing with.
Another thing to always check in Google is the presence of blended results, i.e. other types of search results Google may show on top of their generic blue-and-white results. These can be:
This is an example of shopping search results:
Serpstat shows whether these blended search results appear if you search for any keyword in their list:
These may indicate that a particular keyword is not worth too much effort because there will be too much of something else all around search results for users to find your article:
Apart from signaling of a potential cluttered search results page, these “blended” search results often signal of two important things:
Keyword intent represents what the searcher may be willing to do when searching for a particular phrase. Keyword intent is the most important concept when it comes to keyword research. It determines how well you can satisfy the user who comes to your site from search results.
There are three major types of keyword intent:
Content marketers also distinguish “commercial intent”, that is when a user researches something before buying one.
Taking our chocolate example above, if a user searches for [chocolate gifts], they are most likely to be interested in buying some gifts but they may also be interested in reading your article listing most unique chocolate gift ideas together with suggestions where to find them.
So you go through lists and lists of keywords… how to make use of them to turn into a long-lasting content marketing plan? Here are a few ways to organize your keywords:
The first step is to organize keywords by intent:
Depending on your site, different keywords may become different content forms:
Finally, not all keywords need to represent a separate content piece. Lots of keywords will become sections of broader articles which is something we’ll talk about in more detail.
Excel or Google Sheets are by far the best way to play with your keywords and organize them using multiple labels:
As I mentioned above, not all keywords will necessarily become a separate piece of content idea. Some of them will become subtopics of articles. When doing keyword research, I usually create “tree-like structure” for sets of phrases that would make separate articles.
For example, if you decide to write an article on [coffee quotes], a separate article idea would be [morning coffee quotes].
All those were taken from the actual Serpstat export:
You’ll save lots of time writing future article creating these trees while still doing your keyword research. They will direct your writing helping you create more in-depth content.
These will also make up your article subheadings (those H2 or H3 headers you see in most articles here). If you get even geekier, you can generate the clickable table of contents using those subheadings. This way there will be even more visible instances of the keyword in the page:
Use this plugin to generate a clickable table of contents for each of your articles.
If you prefer to write long-form content, those tree-like notes will help you expand your article using different angles. You can also move each tree to a different file or tabs. To avoid spreadsheet overload I do two things:
This is another highly misunderstood area. It used to be as simple as making sure your keyword is placed often enough in the text and that every page of your site targets one specific keyword.
A few years ago you would have been advised to create two separate pages, one target [Austin restaurants] and another targeting [restaurants in Austin].
Things have changed dramatically since then. For one, search engines have become much smarter and you cannot trick them into thinking your page is worth ranking simply because it has a high “keyword density”. Besides, in-depth content covering many sets of different keywords is a preferred optimization model these days.
So where to put those keywords?
For good keyword prominence, I suggest making sure your keyword is included into:
Of course, you’ll end up with more keyword instances throughout the article (because you’ll actually write about the topic) but the above placements will ensure your keywords are easy to notice and associate with your content.
Google is going beyond exact strings of words that make up phrases. It is now looking for signals of quality content, mentions of known concepts, related terms, synonyms. All of these will tell Google that the author has done your research and tackle different aspects of the topic.
That being said, keyword research is not enough to create high-quality high-ranking content.
You need to research the topic, and then research some more, making the lists of notable brands, events, places, etc. (these are all entities) and thinking which of those should be covered in your content. Here’s a good guide on content research process for your further reading.
Make sure you are well versed with industry terminology, that you know different ways to explain those niche-specific terms, that you use lots of synonyms and that your writing is rich in references and visual explanations. Those are all signals of high-quality content but not just that. The more effort you put into your content research, the more backlinks and social media shares it will generate, driving long-lasting traffic to your website.
January 25, 2017
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