In the world of search engines, keywords are what makes everything tick. They’re the essence both directly and indirectly. The reason you need to pay attention to them and how you use them is because most traffic you’ll get is going to be through search engines (most prominently Google). The days of typing an URL in the address bar are, statistically, gone.
Everything has shifted or is being shifted to favorites/bookmarks and search engines so you need to know how to use them to your site’s benefit.
Generally, there’s always going to be a steady core following for the content you put out or for the items you’re selling, and while those visitors shouldn’t be overlooked, your focus should always be wider – that’s where search engines come in. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the site management game for years, or you’re just starting out, the term SEO must have popped up. Because of the aforementioned reliance on search engines, you need to know how to work with their algorithms.
Over the years, these have changed drastically, and while some things always stand, there are many nuances that have evolved, and who knows, maybe you’re not up to date with all the changes and can get even better. We’ll dig into what keywords are, how the functions, how to identify those that will mean the most to you and what additional software you could use to make the whole process of keyword research easier. For the purposes of this analysis, we’ll be focusing solely on Google as the search engine of choice and will base everything on the presumption that your keywords should be optimized for their algorithms.
The keyword research is your first step in your quest to achieve high SEO ratings and getting to that coveted first page of Google (not counting paid promotions). Presuming you already know what your site/blog will be about and you know roughly what you’ll be selling if your run a webshop, the first step in keyword research is knowing the keywords potential visitors use to get to the sites in your field. This work can be “outsourced” to services specialized in getting this type of data, but you can also get enough info even by yourself (we’ll get to this later), and this is what we’ll focus on for the moment.
Get into their head
The right way to get into this is to put yourself in the shoes of the visitor i.e., ask the questions they would be bound to ask (or type in the search engine) to get your site as a result, or at least your general field where your site will be one of the top options. Let’s say you provide software development solutions for small businesses accompanied by a regular blog; a visitor would have to ask these types of queries:
- How to start a small business?
- Small business manager
- Small business app
- Best software small business
Again, these are lines that can be though or entered in engines outright, but these represent the thought process of someone hoping to find a service such as the one you provide. As you can see, in the core of everything there is “small business”, this is a so-called head term. Head terms consist of up to three words and are the absolutely closest thing to describing your business. At this juncture, it’s important to note the difference between keywords and tags in the context of how search engines work.
When you hear the term “keyword,” you would assume it’s just one word. In the past, this was mostly true, but with how search engines have evolved to conduct the searches, keywords are actually terms (shorter or longer), while singular words are used as tags. Tags are just fine to use, but you’ll get more optimal results if you search for a “Wilson tennis racket,” then just “racket.” In fact, it’s been documented that search engines have become much more attuned to phrases than singular keywords. Most prominent of those is without a doubt “How to…”, which really shouldn’t surprise anybody. Because of this, we need to expand on how we perceive keywords, terms, and tags to put our sites in an advantageous position on the market and net you more traffic.
With that out of the way, let’s circle back to the visitors’ thought process.
When we say to “get into their heads,” we’re really talking about finding the intent behind their search (that’s why phrases are important).
You’ll need to provide an answer to their query and not just match the word they use. It may seem complicated, but we all actually do it daily when we conduct our own searches. Go into your own research with the same mindset, and you should be just fine.
Know your words
By now, you already know what to focus on when starting your keyword research, but you still need to get in the thick of it and single out the best keywords to optimize your SEO potential. Part of the things you’ll need to go through is related heavily to your content, some are chosen based on the way the particular business field works, and some are simply the most used keywords you just can’t ignore. The strategy we’re going to cover starts large in scope and gets more and more specific as you go along.
If you think of it as a tree that branches out, the very first thing you’ll need to settle on is the roots. These will be the general topics your site/blog will cover, or in which goods your webshop specializes in. Try to be as broad as you can; you’ll get into more details later. Let’s say you’re running a regional news outlet; your topics will be very easy to single out:
- Breaking news
- Current events
Essentially, your news categories are your starting point. For each of these topics, you now need to assign keywords and phrases that will enable those pages to be found by search engines. You should look to get more specific now and, as we’ve said, try to put yourself in the shoes of the ones doing the search. Examples could be something like:
- Crash on freeway X
- Local election results for county X
- Review of the movie X
- High school X, high school Y box score
These are all relatively crude examples, but you’ll be much more specific since you know the region you’ll be covering, which means even better SEO scores. You probably won’t rank as well on all topics. Maybe you have a top-notch investigative journalist, but only list box scores for sports games, or maybe you have great reviewers or chroniclers but lack the manpower to cover a wide variety of subjects (quality over quantity). Either way, you’ll have to decide if you want to focus on aspects you’re already good at, or try to bump up those which you’re not so good at – both content-wise and SEO wise.
Branching out even further, you’ll need to pinpoint keywords that your pages are already shown as results and see the related terms in those searches.
For the first one, you’ll have to dig into Google Analytics. Once there, go through all the data and about your traffic sources and, as we’ve said, identify what the most common keywords currently used to arrive at your pages are. This process should be repeated until you have all your main topics covered.
Going a step further is much less scientific. After you’ve figured out what keywords visitors are using to get to your site, just type them in yourself and see what Google suggests as related searches. You can use this information to widen your preferred keywords even further, to encompass not just the immediate keywords and phrases your visitors use to interact, but also terms that are connected to those “direct” searches. Connecting both strategies ensures your maximally covered.
Know the market
Naturally, in order to navigate the market, you’ll need to the market. That means you know how to handle the content and how your competitors handle their content and their keywords. If everybody is doing things one way, it could get oversaturated, and then you’re better off going an alternate route. Just because some keywords are important to others doesn’t necessarily mean they’re equally important to you. Using and understanding, however, are two different things.
Even if your keywords they’re using aren’t your primary ones, you should still look to rank high with them, if only just to keep up with the competition. Also, you always need to maintain a balance between the most used keywords and the lesser-used, usually longer ones. There is always a reason why some keywords rank high, and that’s a fact you shouldn’t ignore, even though those will be the ones used the most. Saying that you’ll need to invest time to come up with “second-tier” keywords that will have a higher chance of directing to your pages – these will be the ones that will make the most difference in attracting new visitors.
A helping hand
In the beginning, we’ve mentioned that there are various solutions out there that will make your research much easier than doing it manually, and in some cases, they’ll be the only option for some features. We’ll go through some of the best ones you can get and what you can use them for. Without any particular order…
Google Search Console
The best thing about the Google search console is that it gives you data directly from Google. The biggest thing you’ll get here is the performance report. With it, you’ll get to see which of your pages are most popular regarding searches and what keywords were most often used to get your visitors to said sites. This feature will allow you to, much quicker than you’d do so manually, identify what to focus on and which pages can stand on their own without further interaction on your part.
The other great feature you can do is find “opportunity keywords.” These are sort of, second tier, keywords that range in the 10-20 ranking and are less used. If you incorporate them into your pages and they are searched specifically, because of lesser usage, your pages will be prompted significantly higher. These opportunity keywords, in this way, can be found only with the Google search console, and if for nothing else, you should give it a try just for that.
Google Keyword Planner
We’re staying with Google here. While not as a robust tool feature-wise, the Google keyword planner gives you the opportunity to dive straight into the Google database. Again, just like the search console, the biggest upside is using data that comes directly from Google.
Essentially, it’s a list of keywords with info like the average number of monthly searches, competition for the keyword, and top of the page bid. That last one is interesting when working out your marketing campaigns and/or budget. It lets you see how much advertisers are bidding on a keyword, per click (these are the sponsored links right at the top of related searches). Knowing how much you’d need to spend and how much others are spending are key for devising a successful strategy of your own.
By now, you probably see a pattern. Because Google is the go-to search engine, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we would use tools that are provided directly by Google. There are two parts to Google trends. You’ll be able to see related queries for a keyword and see how the trend stack up to the original keyword, and you’ll be able to see the growth or decline of the popularity of a keyword over time.
Now the first feature is important because maybe your original keyword idea isn’t necessarily the optimal one and this will help you adjust for the better. The second feature can be used to determine the perfect keyword if you’re in a dilemma – always go with the one that’s trending up if you can.
Another great thing about Google trends is that both of these features can be applied to YouTube searches. If you’re running a multimedia site that features videos, focusing just on Google will most likely not be enough to achieve that competitive edge, so branching out into YouTube searches could make a difference.
It’s always a good idea to try and anticipate the trend i.e., get right on the upswing of the popularity of the keyword. This will mean you’ll have a longer positive cycle. If you jump on the bandwagon too late, the downward trend will come much more sooner, and you’ll be hard-pressed to maximize the potential of a given keyword.
Moving away from Google, we get to Soovle. The great thing about this service is that it pulls keyword suggestions from multiple sources – Google, YouTube, Amazon, etc. Instead of working with multiple services and afterward combining the data into a singular spreadsheet, here, you’ll get all the data in one place, ready and waiting.
Often the same keywords aren’t used across platforms, at the very least, not in the same context, so you can take advantage of some lesser-known ones that are popular on one platform, but not the others. After all, everybody knows that getting any kind of advantage in today’s market is an opportunity that can’t be wasted.
SECockpit is probably the most advanced tool we’ll mention here. It has an abundance of features and is probably the best choice for those who want to dig deep. And when we say deep, we mean deep. The info you get for a keyword is staggering. You won’t be performing simple searches for keywords; you’ll be beginning projects (at least that’s what they classify them as).
The keywords you get back will include data directly from Google (suggests, related searches, ads, average monthly searches, etc.). You’re probably wondering why you shouldn’t just be using the Google apps and get your data directly. Well, apart from these, you can also filter out things like the “niche” rating (considers competition, search volume, commercial, etc. and boils it down to one number), “top results” (chance of the keyword breaking into the top 10 most used), the competition to search volume ratio, traffic estimates and much more.
This much data is, however, a double-edged sword. On one side, you have an immense amount of data at your disposal, but at the same time, most of it is used only in very specific situations and is therefore not as impactful. Because of the volume, the platform is not so easy to use as well – it’ll take time to get the hang of everything. Generally, a platform as vast as this is probably reserved mainly to those who focus solely on SEO and not any other aspect of a business; for anybody else, it will probably be a little too much.
The differences between sites, with all the available information, data, platforms, and services, are truly minuscule. You need to be chasing that competitive edge any chance you get. SEO has turned out to be one of the leading factors in gaining that edge, and subsequently, since they’re a key part of an SEO rating, so have keywords.
As you’ve seen, there are various steps you can take to enhance the keywords you’re using on your pages, and even if you don’t go all-in (even though you should), there is a real chance that even small changes can lead to better result prompts, traffic and ultimately exposure. The next time you’re publishing new pages on your site, do your homework and find out which keywords and/or phrases to focus on, and there is no doubt you’ll see the difference.